A Little Pet Hen

These days, hearing about (or admitting to) having a chicken as a pet might seem a tad unusual, or, in some circles, eccentric. But, back when it was common to have backyard flocks, it was not uncommon to have one or two special hens that were not only useful egg-layers, but were treated as pets, too.

This child’s activity book from 1942 shows what could have been Tillie’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother. Certainly, there’s a family resemblance, the little hen has the same commanding attitude. No wonder the cat is letting her drink the milk first!


  1. That is cute, so would have pet hens back in the day been allowed to have a normal life span and die of natural causes and maybe just old age at the grand old age of seven to eight years old while not ending up in the stew pot, like your flock of retired girls ? I could imagine more than one farm had a walking lawn ornament who was just there, and you said more likely a hen, and a pet. Probably a few roosters, I know I heard stories of old grandfathers having a pet rooster who come inside to listen to the radio with them in the evenings.

    • Good question, Kit! Most chickens, even the ones singled out for special attention, were still first and foremost useful farm animals. They were seen with affection, but were not spared from sale or consumption. However, the best laying hens were kept for breeding, and certainly a favored bird might have been slipped into that group. A few roosters were kept into old age (and how much better the flock would be if a gentleman was the sire of future broods!) What you did have were children mingling with farm animals. In the Victorian era it was a part of a child’s education to learn kindness to farm animals, and countless story books put names and personalities on farm animals (think “Black Beauty”) which today are faceless and unknown to most children.

  2. Thanks Terry, know I know when my grandmother was growing up on her family farm, she hated any slaughter and would get in trouble with her mother by trying to make the chickens into pets. The only thing on the farm animal wise that could have a name was the milk cow, the mules and the small dog she rescued and raised. Not even the barn cats would have names. Her father was the same way and if they had to slaughter the pigs or older cows he couldn’t stay any where near they were doing it, and he when he could always hired someone else to do and on that day would stay away. My mother can remember in the 50’s at easter they were given a pet chick, acourse it grew into a rooster, and it did, off to my great grandmother’s farm it went. The way my grandmother and mother are, I am have a feeling my grandfather had to pay for that rooster’s care all it’s life, and it never ever ended up dinner, otherwise I if my grandmother had found out, she would have had my grandfather’s hide because he had promised my mom and rooster that it would have a farm. I know her grandmother made a joke once that the chicken they were eating was that rooster, and she threw up all the table. Let’s say that subject never came up again. They also had a pet duck that ended up the same way, on a friend’s farm, the duck won’t ever eat corn like a normal duck, and my grandfather had to end up taking a bag of dog food over because that is what Quack Quack would eat, and had to feed that duck at least for a while on that farm too. His friend found Quack Quack to be the weirdest duck ever, she was a girl at least and hopefully provided eggs for his farm for however longer she lived. I am sure others have similair stories out their too.

  3. This happens a lot at my farm. The chickens always chase the cat from her bowl of milk and for some reason the cat never sticks up for herself. I have to feed the farm cats at night when the hens are roosting.