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Maat van Uitert For children, establishing a relationship with a pet can help them develop language skills, provide a fun sensory experience, and encourage the management of another life. Over the years I have found that chickens excite children the most. Kids know eggs are food, but they’re often shocked to learn Or where these eggs come from. They discover that hens lay eggs (out of their butts!), And can you eat these eggs? And you can keep chickens in your garden? What’s not to like?
As I share my experiences raising chickens and an autistic child with my readers, more and more people are telling me that they too have a young family member on the spectrum. They often ask which chicken breeds are best for autistic children.
Any chicken can make a great pet. But some breeds are more manageable, have calmer personalities, and enjoy human companionship more than others. I believe the excitement your child feels with chickens starts with choosing the right breeds to keep. In this article, you’ll learn about five chicken breeds that kids love and are especially good for those on the spectrum.
What makes one breed better for children than another?
Any breed has the potential to be an excellent pet. And, certainly, the way you raise your chickens also influences their friendliness. But genetically speaking, some breeds are more likely to make good pets for children than others. Because the birds discussed in this article are growing in popularity as pets, more and more breeders are selecting parents with big personalities. When it comes to keeping chickens with children, I personally recommend the breeds below as they are:
- calm and docile.
- small enough for young children to hold.
- ready to be held.
- don’t startle easily.
- tolerate the occasional hug too tight.
- both heat and cold tolerant.
- make it a fun petting and nurturing experience.
- roosters are generally not territorial or aggressive.
Even the name promises a wonderful experience: Silkies. Native to Asia, these birds don’t look like your typical chicken. Their feathers are very soft and look like clouds. As adults, they still look like hairballs.
Why is it? Silk feathers have no barbicels, which gives typical feathers their stiff shape. Instead of firm, resilient feathers that allow them to fly, Silkies feathers feel…well, silky. Their feathers easily hold bows, and this breed often allows children to play with them and dress them up (within reason, of course).
Nicknamed “the Muppets of the backyard chicken world”, they are also some of the quietest and most forgiving chickens. Our daughter loves spending time with our Silkies. She even took a nap with one! The graceful bird simply sat with her, knowing that she would receive all kinds of treats. While every child should learn how to hold chickens properly, Silkies will put up with the occasional cuddle that’s too harsh and will always come back for more.
This Belgian chicken is actually a variant of the Barbu d’Uccle breed. Mille Fleur means “thousand flowers”, and they were developed as ornamental display birds. As true bantams (meaning there is no full size equivalent), these chickens are very small, with hens weighing around 2 pounds. But don’t let their size fool you. They have big personalities, and these birds love human company.
Our Mille Fleur hens are waiting for their humans to arrive, and can’t wait to see us. They also let us know when we are late with the treats! Kids love to watch this breed because their feathers look a bit like a harlequin costume. Sometimes the black feather tips can even look like hearts!
Mille Fleurs doesn’t usually get flustered easily, so it’s perfectly fine to bring them inside your home for a quick visit. Due to their size, if a hen flaps its wings, children on the spectrum are much less likely to be frightened. The birds do not make sudden movements, preferring to perch on a swing. Roosters are generally not territorial and are just as patient as hens. Like Silkies, Mille Fleurs love to be picked up and snuggled up in little hands.
If you keep these chickens, remember that their size is also a disadvantage. When cooped up with normal sized chickens, they are often at the bottom of the pecking order. Have plenty of feeding areas to keep your Mille Fleur healthy.
At the time, my husband and I created our flock in order to have as many eggs as possible. So we bred normal sized Cochins. But when we found out our son had autism, our priorities changed. It is partially verbal and every day is dedicated to developing language skills. We wanted to raise chickens he might get excited.
Since then we have bred many Cochin bantams on our farm. Everyone had an even and friendly temperament, even the roosters. Cochin dwarfs are also excellent because they regularly lay eggs. Our hens love watching us from their perches and checking out any treats we might have. They are happy to be held or sit and swing with a child.
These bantams tolerate small coops and confinement very well. If your garden can only accommodate 2-3 hens, consider raising Cochin roosters. They are very fluffy, get along well with people and other chickens, and the feathers on their legs invite children. But more importantly, they have forgiving personalities. They love people!
Like full-sized Cochins, these dwarf hens have plenty of feathers and are hardy creatures. They do very well in the cold as they can fluff up their feathers to stay warm.
For all children, and especially for children on the spectrum, textures are very important. If you add a frizzle or five to your herd, you’ll see lots of smiles in your family. Unlike other chickens, curly feathers do not lie flat. Instead, they turn upwards, giving the chicken a messy appearance.
These birds are not a breed in their own right. Instead, it is a genetic variation present in many breed types. For example, you will see Curly Cochins, Curly Orpingtons, and even Curly Silkies. Over the years I have noticed that curly chickens are much softer than their “normal” counterparts. Their personalities are also more accepting of the restlessness produced by children. Children love petting them, as their feathers provide a great sensory experience. For parents, it’s a good opportunity to teach about stewardship, genetics and life sciences.
For example, these chickens are produced by pairing a curly parent with a traditional feathered chicken. Pairing a frizzle rooster with a frizzle hen is not a good idea; there is a 25% chance that the offspring will have brittle feathers, which can be life-threatening. (As a side note, if you want to buy these chickens, always look for a breeder who pairs a frizzle with a non-frizzle. Most large hatcheries produce frizzles ethically and are reliable.)
Our frizzles provide so many additional opportunities to teach stewardship. Most are not alpha hens. They are generally much more patient, which makes them great with children, but a target for bullies. They can easily miss a meal if you’re not careful. These opportunities help us teach our children that their favorite hen might need some extra help feeding herself before she gets gobbled up by the more aggressive flock members.
Bantam Easter Eggs
Easter eggs are popular with both beginners and experienced chicken keepers because Easter eggs can lay colored eggs. Kids think it’s hilarious that a hen can lay a blue, green or pink egg. We have a hen who lays beautiful green eggs; it’s a much deeper green than even my Olive Eggers. My kids talk all the time about “green eggs and ham!”
These birds are friendly and welcome humans into their coop. And, as they grow in popularity, breeders begin to preserve bloodlines that are especially kid-friendly. For example, many breeders use Ameraucanas, so the chicks have blue egg laying genes. I’ve noticed over the years that Easter Eggs with an Ameraucana parent not only inherit the potential to lay either blue or green eggs, but they also tend to be smaller, quieter, and more docile. They prefer to stay in the hen house rather than in freedom.
But as much as we love blue eggs, it’s just as important in this case to make sure the other parent isn’t of a flighty or easily scared breed. Leghorns, for example, are small, but tend to spook easily. If you are looking to breed easter eggs for colored eggs, be sure to ask the breeder about the bloodlines of your potential new pet.
Building relationships with animals has a cathartic effect on humans. For people with autism, raising a herd can open up a whole new world of possibilities. It starts with choosing chicken breeds that accept human companionship. Although this list is not exhaustive, it should get you started, and we have had great success on our farm with each of these breeds. When you look at chick catalogs or see the tiny balls of fluff at your local farm store, think of one of these types of chickens. You will love to see your children shine!
Maat van Uitert is the founder of Backyard Chicken and Duck Blog, Pampered Chicken Mama, which reaches approximately 20 million backyard poultry enthusiasts every month. She is also the founder of the store Living the Good Life with Backyard Chickens, which offers nesting herbs, foods and treats for chickens and ducks. You can catch Maat on Facebook and Instagram.
Originally published on Community Chickens, March 2020, and regularly checked for accuracy.