Maat van Uitert recommends calm, friendly chicken breeds to work with kids.
For children, building a relationship with a pet can help them develop language skills, provide a fun sensory experience, and encourage the stewardship of another life. Over the years, I’ve found that chickens get children excited the most. Kids know eggs are food, but they’re often shocked to learn where those eggs come from. They discover that hens lay eggs (out of their butts!), and you can eat those eggs? And you can keep chickens in your backyard? What’s not to love?
As I share my experiences raising chickens and a child with autism with my readers, more and more people tell me that they also have a young family member on the spectrum. They often ask which chicken breeds are best for kids living with autism.
Any chicken can make a great pet. But some breeds are easier to handle, have calmer personalities, and enjoy human company more than others. I believe the excitement your child experiences with chickens begins with picking the right breeds to raise. In this article, you’ll discover five chicken breeds that children adore, and that are especially good for those on the spectrum.
What Makes One Breed Better For Children Than Another?
Any breed has the potential to be a great pet. And, certainly, how you raise your chickens also influences how friendly they are. But genetically speaking, some breeds are more likely to make good pets for children than others. Because the birds discussed in this article are gaining popularity as companion animals, more and more breeders are selecting parent stock with great personalities. When it comes to keeping chickens with kids, I personally recommend the breeds below because they’re:
- quiet and docile.
- small enough for young children to hold.
- willing to be held.
- don’t startle easily.
- tolerate the occasional too-tight hug.
- both heat- and cold-tolerant.
- make for a fun experience to pet and feed.
- the roosters aren’t generally territorial or aggressive.
Even the name promises a wonderful experience: Silkies. Originating in Asia, these birds don’t look like your typical chicken. Their feathers are very soft and cloud-like. As adults, they still look like balls of fluff.
Why is this? Silkie feathers don’t have barbicels, which give typical feathers their stiff form. Instead of firm, tough feathers that allow them to fly, Silkies feathers feel … Well, silky. Their feathers easily hold bows, and this breed often permits children to play with them and dress them up (within reason, of course).
Dubbed “the Muppets of the backyard chicken world,” these are also some of the quietest and most tolerant chickens out there. Our daughter loves spending time with our Silkies. She’s even napped with one! The gracious bird simply sat with her, knowing she would get all kinds of treats. While every child should be taught how to hold chickens properly, Silkies will put up with the occasional hug that’s too hard, and still come back for more.
This Belgian chicken is actually a variation of the Barbu d’Uccle breed. Mille Fleur means “thousand flowers,” and they were developed as ornamental show birds. As true bantams (meaning there’s no full-sized equivalent), these chickens are very tiny, with hens weighing about 2 pounds. But don’t let their size fool you. They have big personalities, and these birds love human company.
Our Mille Fleur hens wait for their humans to arrive, and look forward to seeing us. They also let us know when we’re late with the treats! Children love watching this breed because their feathers look a bit like a harlequin suit. Sometimes, the black tips on the feathers can even look like hearts!
Mille Fleurs don’t typically get easily flustered, so it’s perfectly fine to bring them inside your house for a quick visit. Because of their size, if a hen flaps her wings children on the spectrum are far less likely to be afraid. The birds don’t make sudden movements, preferring instead to roost on a swing. The roosters generally aren’t territorial, and are just as patient as hens. Like Silkies, Mille Fleurs love being picked up, and enjoy nestling into small hands.
If you do raise these chickens, please remember that their size is also a disadvantage. When cooped with full-sized chickens, they’re often at the bottom of the pecking order. Have plenty of feeding areas so your Mille Fleur stays healthy.
Back in the day, my husband and I crafted our flock so we got as many eggs as possible. So, we raised full-sized Cochins. But when we learned our son is a person with autism, our priorities shifted. He’s partially verbal, and every day is spent building his language skills. We wanted to raise chickens he could get excited about.
Since then, we’ve raised a lot of Cochin bantams on our farm. Every single one has had an even and friendly temperament, even the roosters. Cochin bantams also are great because they lay eggs consistently. Our hens love looking down on us from their roosts and checking out any treats we might have. They’re happy to be held or sit and swing with a child.
These bantams tolerate smaller coops and confinement very well. If your backyard only accommodates 2 to 3 chickens, then look to raise Cochin bantams. They’re very fluffy, get along well with people and other chickens, and the feathers on their feet are inviting to children. But more importantly, they have forgiving personalities. They love people!
Like full-sized Cochins, these bantams have a lot of feathers and are stout creatures. They do very well in the cold because they can fluff 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 flock, you’ll see lots of smiles in your family. Unlike other chickens, frizzled feathers don’t lay flat. Instead, they turn upward, giving the chicken a messy appearance.
These birds aren’t a breed unto themselves. Instead, they’re a genetic variation found in many different kinds of breeds. For example, you’ll see frizzled Cochins, frizzled Orpingtons, and even frizzled Silkies. Over the years, I’ve noticed that frizzled chickens are much gentler than their “normal” counterparts. Their personalities are more accepting of the hustle and bustle children produce, too. Kids enjoy petting them, because their feathers provide a great sensory experience. For parents, it’s a good opportunity to teach stewardship, genetics, and life sciences.
For example, these chickens are produced by pairing one frizzled parent with a traditionally feathered chicken. Pairing a frizzle rooster with a frizzle hen isn’t a good idea; there’s a 25 percent chance the offspring will have brittle feathers, which can be life-threatening. (As an aside, if you want to purchase these chickens, always look for a breeder who pairs a frizzle with a nonfrizzle. Most major hatcheries ethically produce frizzles, and are reliable.)
Our frizzles provide many, many additional opportunities to teach stewardship. Most aren’t alpha hens. They’re usually much more patient, which makes them great with kids, but a target for bullies. They can easily miss out on a meal if you’re not careful. These opportunities help us teach our children that their favorite hen might need extra help getting to food before it’s gobbled up by pushier flock members.
Easter Egger Bantams
Easter Eggers are popular with new and experienced chicken keepers alike, because Easter Eggers can lay colored eggs. Kids think it’s hilarious that a chicken can lay a blue, green, or pink egg. We have one hen who lays beautiful green eggs; it’s a much deeper green than even my Olive Eggers lay. My children talk all the time about “green eggs and ham!”
These birds are friendly, and welcome humans into their coop. And, as they gain popularity, breeders are starting 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 Eggers with one Ameraucana parent don’t just inherit the potential to lay blue or green eggs, but they also tend to be smaller, quieter, and more docile. They prefer to stay in the coop rather than free range.
But as much as we love blue eggs, it’s equally important in this case to make sure the other parent isn’t from a breed that’s flighty or easily startled. Leghorns, for example, are small, but tend to scare easily. If you’re looking to raise Easter Eggers for colored eggs, be sure to ask the breeder about which bloodlines your potential new pet has.
Building relationships with animals has a cathartic effect on humans. For people with autism, raising a flock can open up a new world of possibilities. It starts with picking chicken breeds that are accepting of human company. While this list isn’t comprehensive, it should get you started, and we’ve had a lot of success on our farm with each of these breeds. As you look at the chick catalogs, or see the tiny balls of fluff in your local farm store, consider one of these types of chickens. You’ll love watching your children glow!
Maat van Uitert is the founder of the backyard chicken and duck blog, Pampered Chicken Mama, which reaches approximately 20 million backyard poultry enthusiasts every month. She’s also the founder of the Living the Good Life with Backyard Chickens store, which carries nesting herbs, feed, and treats for chickens and ducks. You can catch up with Maat on Facebook and Instagram.