We could all use a cheery companion at times. That's where chooks come in. Many people are aware of the benefits of keeping a cat or dog: chickens are also terrific for mental and physical health. The Henpower project in the UK employs chooks as therapy animals in retirement homes. The company found hens measurably increased wellbeing and reduced loneliness and depression. That's on top of providing eggs for breakfast and manure for the garden. Talk about friends with benefits!
Hens for health
Caring for chickens gives a sense of purpose and encourages outdoor activity. To further boost your mood, take a few moments to sit with the girls. The more time you spend, the greater the positive effect. Socialising will be easier if the henhouse is well positioned. No-one wants the whiff of manure through the kitchen window, but if you can see the fowls from the veranda, or pass them doing tasks in the garden, you are more likely to catch their antics.
I have a garden seat near the run so I can have a cuppa with the girls after work. I also let them out to range when I do the gardening. They are very interested in what the spade uncovers; some movable fencing keeps them away from fragile seedlings.
Time spent with the flock is not only effective to relieve stress, it helps the hens bond with you. Chooks memorise faces and will know all the members of the family. Take a treat when you visit and you are set to become the favourite.
To tame chooks, manage them in a quiet and predictable manner. This means talking to them in a low voice, moving slowly around the henhouse, and allowing them to approach you rather than chasing after them. Daily visits to collect eggs, check feed and water, and lock up are ideal for this.
All chooks are different and some are not keen on cuddles. Certain breeds are naturally flighty and may grow more relaxed, but never want to be touched. I find chicks raised by a hen are always more wary than those I have raised in the brooder.
Rewarding chooks with healthy treats will encourage interaction and build trust so they feel safe around you. It may take time to deepen the relationship with new flock members so enjoy the journey.
If children are visiting, explain that a chook who walks or runs away is saying, 'No thank you', and should not be pursued. Encourage kids to sit quietly holding a handful of treats and let the hens approach them. Practicing being patient can be very beneficial for children when there is so much instant gratification about today.
Some poultry breeds are naturally social. Hybrids like ISAbrowns are friendly and lay plenty of eggs. Suitable purebreds tend to be the well feathered types who make great mums, go broody and lay moderately, but more than make up for it with personality plus. These include Pekins, Silkies, Australorps and Sussex.
For fun times with fowls, provide sliced watermelon, corn on the cob or plain yoghurt, and watch them dive in. Alternatively, hang a lettuce for them to jump up and peck. Treat toys filled with grains will put a smile on everyone's face, as will a bale of pea straw for the chooks to scratch. You can even train your chickens to peck at a xylophone by dabbing on yoghurt.
Just seeing my fluffy feather dusters run across the lawn lifts my spirits, but I'm probably easily amused. It is tough in many areas right now; make the most of your health support chickens, you will feel better for it.
Looking for more tips and ideas about having chooks in your backyard? The ABC Organic Gardener Essential Guides: Backyard Chickens are great reference guides to have on hand. And now you can get a digital version it's even easier to get the info you need when you need it. Visit mymagazines.com.au/merchandise/organic-gardener/ and download a copy today!
By: Jessamy Miller
First published: September 2021