From Farm to Backyard: The Evolution of Poultry as Pets
In recent years, a new trend has been sweeping across both urban and suburban landscapes – the rise in popularity of backyard poultry. Once relegated to rural farms and agricultural settings, chickens, ducks, and other fowl have found their way into the hearts and backyards of many pet enthusiasts. This charming movement is not only changing the perception of traditional pet ownership but is altering the landscape of the pet industry as well.
The concept of keeping poultry is far from new, as humans have been raising domesticated chickens for thousands of years.1 However, what was once primarily an agricultural endeavor has evolved into a thriving trend that merges the joys of pet companionship with backyard farming. Modern urban and suburban dwellers are now discovering the appeal of raising poultry in their backyards. Chickens and ducks have distinctive personalities and can form strong bonds with their human caregivers. Many backyard poultry enthusiasts find joy in interacting with their feathered companions and observing their unique behaviors and vocalizations. Like dogs, there are many different breeds of poultry, selectively bred for egg production, meat production, or exhibition. Prospective owners have a multitude of different breeds, colors, shapes, and sizes to choose from when growing their flocks.
The trend of keeping backyard poultry as pets has been growing steadily in recent years,2 fueled by social media platforms, online communities, and the availability of resources that guide poultry care. Owners share their experiences, advice, and cute photos of their feathered friends, inspiring others to embark on their poultry-keeping journey. Following this trend, local municipalities and communities are increasingly adapting, revising zoning regulations to accommodate backyard flocks.3 Many cities now allow a limited number of hens and/or ducks in residential areas, acknowledging the benefits of this rewarding hobby.
As the number of people who consider their chickens to be their pets grows, so too does the demand for products specifically targeting these species within the pet space. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports that, of the 9% of households surveyed that own backyard chickens, 6% of those consider their birds to be pets.3 Products designed for chickens, that could once only be found within farm or livestock feed stores, can now be found on the store shelves of common pet retailers. In addition to the expansion into new retail spaces, the products themselves are evolving as well. Premium products, including supplements, enrichment toys, and treats, are being marketed toward small pet flocks. As consumers place more value on these alternative pets, we can expect the demand for formulations by nutritionists specializing in poultry to increase. While traditional poultry diets focus primarily on maximizing productivity, whether it be in the form of egg production or meat growth, the owners of pet chickens may want products that help promote longevity, wellness, and quality of life. Ensuring these products are properly formulated to be nutritious, palatable, and safe for these feathery companions will be essential for their success in this new area of the pet space.
As more people discover the joys and advantages of keeping backyard poultry as pets, it's clear that this trend is more than just a fad. As the number of pet backyard flocks continues to grow, so too will the demand for products marketed toward increasing the health, happiness, and longevity of these animals. There is endless opportunity for innovation and expansion within this emerging space, as backyard chickens continue to weave this new chapter in the ever-evolving tapestry of pet companionship.
- Laatsch, W. by D. R. (n.d.). Origin and history of the Chicken. Livestock. https://livestock.extension.wisc.edu/articles/origin-and-history-of-the-chicken.
- Flynn, D. (2010, June 22). Nation’s cities debate Backyard chickens. Food Safety News. https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/06/nations-cities-debate-backyard-chickens/.
- American Pet Products Association (APPA). (2023). https://americanpetproducts.org/Uploads/MemServices/INFO_Chickens_10-22_reduce.pdf.
About the author: Dr. Mary Cope graduated from University of Georgia in 2021 with her PhD in Monogastric Nutrition with her research centered around poultry nutrition. Dr. Cope has a variety of animal experience including agricultural animals, wildlife rehabilitation, and exotic pets, in addition to companion animals.
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