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Different types of poultry owners and their requirements

Article discussing different types of poultry owners and their requirements
Two hens ride in the back of a small child’s toy tractor
© British Hen Welfare Trust

Keeping hens as pets rather than for any specific purpose has created an explosion in the pet marketplace with pet owners driving demand for products such as fashionable hen houses as well as treats and swings designed purely for keeper and pet interaction.

Domestic hen keeping can be broken down into three categories:

  • Pet owners will often keep a few hybrids for egg laying alongside fancy breeds for variety. The drive to rescue hens from slaughter is often paramount, yet perversely many owners do not care if their hens never lay an egg.

A show home will select show or breeding specimens that reflect their particular interest, be it light or heavy breeds, bantam or gamebirds. Pure breeds are usually sourced through breed clubs, agricultural shows and poultry magazines. Livestock markets are the least desirable option due to lack of provenance and health history.

  • Smallholders tend to keep larger numbers of poultry, but fewer than commercial systems, often alongside small numbers of other animals.
  • Allotment keepers are increasing in numbers, with many opting to keep poultry as they are very effective at ground clearing. Some breeds are kept for both meat and eggs, such as Welsummer, Sussex or Marans.

The British Hen Welfare Trust collects over 50,000 laying hens annually, often referred to as ‘ex-bats’, at the end of their commercial laying cycle, and re-homes them predominantly as family pets.

Poultry purchased for domestic flocks largely consists of pure breeds, fancy show birds, traditional utility breeds as well as point of lay hybrids similar to those used within the commercial sector.

Ex-commercial birds, often described as ‘spent hens’ offer the following advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages Disadvantages
All birds are fully vaccinated Birds are not designed for longevity
Routinely Salmonella tested Egg production and shell quality prone to lessen
Adaptability to differing environments Initially prone to poor feather coverage
Continued egg production  
Suitability as family pets  
Low cost to adopt  

Poultry purchased through other routes similarly have pros and cons:

Advantages Disadvantages
Often greater longevity Not all birds are fully vaccinated
Good feather coverage Egg production variable
Wide choice of species and breed Varied adaptability
  Unregulated sources of purchase (i.e. markets)
  Can be expensive

Re-homed ex commercial hybrids are classed as ‘end of lay’ by the egg industry at around 72 weeks although genetic modification is always seeking to extend the length of laying cycle.

Laying hens from any type of commercial system may be poorly feathered for a number of reasons. For example, birds may drop feathering to help regulate temperature within caged units. Nutritional imbalance may also lead to stress within laying hens which can in turn lead to injurious pecking.


Establishing a routine for newly re-homed hens is important. These hens will have had no experience of life outside a commercial environment. It is not unusual for hens to stand in the rain because they have not previously experienced it and have no concept of the need to shelter.

Natural behavioural instincts will manifest themselves immediately with hens dust bathing and stretching out their wings to benefit from the sunshine. Commercial caged hens will not understand the need to seek the safety of the hen house at dusk and may need to be placed inside for the first few nights until they learn this behaviour.

© University of Nottingham and the British Hen Welfare Trust
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