People really love their chickens. They hug them. They photograph them. And they bring them into the house and treat them like dogs and cats.
But if you're going to have a chicken strutting through your living room, you might want to invest in a diaper. (This is the too-much-information part of the story, but if you're sharing your home with chickens or thinking about sharing your home with chickens, you need to read it.)
Chickens eliminate several times a day. They don't urinate the typical way, instead depositing their urine on top of their feces together in one hearty pile of colorful, messy stink. If your poultry friend is in your yard or a coop, that's not a big deal. But it's a whole different matter if that deposit happens on your rug.
Enter the business of chicken diapers.
Tobi Kosanke created her first chicken diaper out of necessity. The owner of Crazy K Farm in Hempstead, Texas, Kosanke and her family have some 200 rescued animals on their property, most of them are poultry. Early on in their rescue career, the family took in two dozen chickens that had been impounded by the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Occasionally, one would get sick.
"We would have to bring the sick chicken inside and that was a real pain, cleaning up all the time," Kosanke tells MNN. She bought two different chicken diapers, but said they were hard to put on the chicken, and equally hard to keep on. So she sketched out some designs, hired a seamstress and tried out the prototypes on her most patient chicken.
"I would take her to shows with me to feature her as a mascot for the farm," Kosanke says. "She would go running off, so I put a D-ring on it so I could keep track of her. People loved it and started buying it."
Crazy K Farm's Hen Holster bird diaper/harness, shown above, starts at $29.99. Kosanke has sold about 5,000 of them since she started making them in 2011. When she took a break from her corporate geology job that year and started inventing animal products, she says she never believed they'd take off like they did.
"People fall in love with their backyard chickens. One gets sick and they bring it into the house and they fall in love with having them in the house," Kosanke says. "They find that hens have personalities, they're affectionate, they’re kind of like dogs, so then they start treating them like dogs."
Peeps who love their chickens
After raising a few backyard chickens of her own with no clue what she was doing, Traci Torres started My Pet Chicken to help other novice chicken owners with advice and products to make pet poultry easier to raise. She started making chicken diapers when her customers consistently kept asking for them. Although Torres says she's never had to keep a chicken indoors, she often hears from clients about why they need diapers. There are four main reasons, she says:
- People live in places where they aren't allowed to have outdoor chickens and they want just one or two for indoor pets.
- They don't like the idea of having their chickens outside (even if they can).
- Someone adopts a rescue chicken and, because they are social animals, the chicken can't be kept outside alone.
- A chicken is sick or injured and needs to be kept indoors while it recovers.
The need for diapers doesn't surprise Torres, who says her customers tend to be affluent, live in and around major cities, and are often female and relatively young.
"We cater to 'peeps' who love their chickens, and want to pamper them in exchange for breakfast," she tells MNN. "Ninety-five percent of our customers name their chickens, and often spoil them with treats, affection, bubble baths and a blowout!"
The company sells its own made-to-order diaper with a removable, washable liner ($29.95) as well as another manufacturer's diaper with a washable liner that can be lined with a paper towel ($19.95).
The diapers are simple to put on, and Torres says the chickens get accustomed to them relatively quickly. Her company sells several hundred of them each year.
"The market for them is bigger than you'd believe," Torres says. "Between Etsy and eBay and other sellers, we estimate tens of thousands are purchased each year."
Pick the perfect diaper
Mary Beth Bowman owns Castle Galliformes and Friends Microsanctuary in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she has eight rescue chickens and a few assorted other animals. She relies on diapers for chickens that she takes out in public and those that come in the house — like Boo, shown above.
"Boo is the one who is in the house most of the time," Bowman tells MNN. "He prefers to be around us as much as possible. He might be a feathered baby human."
There are a few things Bowman looks for when choosing a chicken diaper.
Functionality is important, but comfort is also a big factor," she says. "To be honest, looks are kind of a minor thing. It’s just that most of the diapers out there that people are making happen to be quite cute!"
In most cases, chickens adapt to diapers relatively easily.
"If the diaper is comfortable, the chicken can get used to it very quickly," Bowman says. It's helpful if there's padding on the straps, particularly the part that goes under the wings, she suggests.
"I would recommend easing the chicken into it. Maybe just keep it on for 30 minutes to an hour the first day and then go from there," she says. "Boo is very good about his diaper. He sits really still while I put it on and just kind of snuggles with me. It’s a routine now. I suppose it’s a bit like a harness for a dog."
Social media stars
Every once in a while, one of these diaper designers will see one of their products being sported by a feathered model on Instagram — chickens are very chic these days in case you haven't noticed. That still surprises Torres, who has made a career out of this popular poultry product.
"When my husband and I came up with the idea for My Pet Chicken back in 2004, we never dreamed it would be anything more than a small job for me as I stayed at home to raise our children. Instead, it exploded in a way we never dreamed possible," she says, pointing out that they now have more than 30 employees and are expected to do nearly $4 million in revenue.
"It amazes me the number of chicken Instagram stars there are. In this age of technology, people are yearning for a connection to nature. A few simple chickens roaming around the yard can bring such a sense of groundedness and wholesomeness."
Even when they're wearing a diaper.