Many people have heard about the benefits of therapy dogs, cats and even horses, but what about chickens? Can this common backyard animal bring comfort to people?
Wholeheartedly, I believe they can!
Chickens are able to feel a range of emotions, whether it be their own or that of the flock around them. They are extremely intelligent animals, each created with their own distinct personality.
Chickens are able to feel positive and negative emotions and can act according to how they feel.
Lori Marino, founder of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, concluded in her article “Thinking Chickens”(Animal Cognition, March 2017), which examined peer-reviewed studies of chicken cognition, emotion and sociability, that:
- Chickens have complex negative and positive emotions, as well as a shared psychology with humans and other ethologically complex animals. They exhibit emotional contagion and some evidence for empathy.
- Chickens have distinct personalities, just like all animals who are cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally complex individuals.
Many chicken owners know that when their chickens are feeling sad or lonely, it can affect their personality. I myself have borne the brunt of a rooster’s cold shoulder upon returning from a holiday away from the flock!
Birds of a Feather
Because they are very social creatures, being in a flock is extremely beneficial for chickens. If they aren’t able to experience that connection with other chickens, they can become extremely lonely and stressed.
Their caretakers can also offer companionship to them.
When my rooster Otie passed away, for example, my hen Rosie was the last member of the flock left. Before I was able to get more chicks to keep her company, I sat with her in the coop every day for at least an hour. I
would talk about my day, and she would give quiet coos or clucks to let me know she was listening. Sometimes I would even bring her into the house to sneak some treats.
So if people can give companionship and comfort to chickens, why can’t chickens give that to people? The relationship between the caretaker and the flock is a special one indeed.
As chickens are social, they love to be around other people, especially those that care for them! Your arrival at the coop will always be met with much fanfare.
Whether you visit once or 10 times a day, your birds will excitedly flap their wings and run to welcome you back! This brings great joy as well as a sense of comfort and belonging.
Chickens are wonderful companions, which translates to great therapy animals! People who struggle with loneliness, anxiety, stress or depression would benefit richly from the addition of a small backyard flock.
Chickens are also extremely empathetic. By tuning in to the emotions of their caretaker, they can adjust their own behaviors to give comfort.
For example, if my hen Rosie senses that I am stressed or upset, she will cuddle with me on my lap, instead of playing outside with the rest of the flock. When she knows I am more at ease and settled, she will nuzzle into my neck one last time before hopping off my lap.
Humor also plays a role in healing. And a chicken is just the animal to fit the bill!
A flock of hens will provide you with endless hours of laughter and entertainment. From the ritual of a dust bath to pecking wildly at treats and watching them chase crickets, I can promise that your mood will be lightened!
It’s easy to spend hours just watching them go about their day and learning their habits. Their different noises, such as clucks and crows, can offer entertainment as well.
One of my favorite sounds is my rooster’s morning crow, and his afternoon crow as soon as I come home from school.
Having backyard chickens can also offer a sense of routine and calmness. Going out to take care of the chickens two or three times a day can give the day structure and provides a great reason to maintain responsibility for something.
Seeing my chickens in the morning before school gives me a great start to the day, as seeing all their faces brings much joy.
There are many benefits of having chickens as therapy animals. From their nurturing nature to their social personalities, it’s easy to see why chickens are a good choice for those struggling with loneliness, anxiety or depression.
I have personally experienced and benefited from the therapeutic nature of chickens.
So if you’re on the fence about getting chickens (or know someone who is), there are day-old chicks peeping and chirping, just waiting to add peace and comfort therapy to your days!
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Chickens magazine. The author, A.A., is a 17-year-old student currently attending a Christian high school in Canada. She looks forward to graduating and beginning her studies in Child Health at a university next fall. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends and has been raising and loving chickens for many years. A.A. has recently added three alpacas into the mix!