Owning a hen can be relatively simple and they make great therapy animals

Caring for hens is relatively simple and their personalities and behaviour are elaborate, making them super therapy animals, writes Geraldine Walsh.

I’ve recently become a hen owner. What started out as a spur-of-the-moment decision has ended up a way of life.

I finally understand how easy it is to become obsessed with your chickens. I wasn’t sure how I would like being a hen owner, so sought out Erika and Gary Dunphy from Hen Friends, who cleverly rent out chickens and a coop to see if being a hen owner is for you. Little did I know that caring for my new feathered friends would mean more than fresh eggs.

There is something about tending to these hens that grounds you. Their routine and care is relatively simple, but their personalities and behaviour are far more elaborate. I’ve suffered anxiety and depression and can honestly say there is an unexplainable calm in keeping hens.

In fact, it’s becoming more and more common for care homes and nursing homes to take on a few chickens. The aim is to keep isolation, loneliness and depression at bay for the residents and Erika and Gary are visiting with their coops more than ever.

Hens are literally giving people a new lease of life, reducing the risk of depression, dementia and, overall, improving their quality of life and health.

Grá Conway has been an avid hen owner for many years, reaping the benefits for herself and her family. She says: “We decided to keep hens mainly for the eggs and in an attempt to eat more ethically. Hens are amazing for mental health and I say that as someone who has dealt with anxiety and depression. Even my husband has commented that I’m better after visiting ‘the girls’.

“While hens are completely low maintenance you do find yourself being absorbed by them and the quirky ways they establish their pecking order. Our whole family love ‘the girls’. Our two-year-old son is nothing short of obsessed. He feeds them every day and collects the eggs each morning. I think that’s one of the biggest benefits: It’s teaching him responsibility, empathy, and how to be consistent.

Getting up early to let them out and feed them is a great way to establish a routine and start your day with purpose and productivity, as well as a dose of fresh air. They are also a completely absorbing animal, with far more personality than you expect and I always leave the chicken run laughing!

Georgina Pullein saw first-hand the therapeutic effects of caring for hens after her daughter Lily went through a traumatic time at school with bullying. Georgina says Lily, “has always been into ponies and competed up and down the country in all the major shows very successfully. Fairly suddenly, she started to become withdrawn and down and her confidence in everything was suffering, including her riding.

“Lily started to have severe anxiety and panic attacks and we could not understand why. Eventually, we discovered the cause and, after several meetings, we placed her in another school. During this time, it was clear that her riding was not helping her and, although we tried to encourage her, it was not to be.

“My dad has always kept poultry and shows them and is also a poultry judge. Her interest was piqued when my mum asked her if she would try tame a fairly feisty Pekin hen that she wanted to show. Within a few weeks, Lily had the feisty Pekin following her around and sitting on the kitchen table eating bread. The little Pekin went on to show with great success and so began her love affair with the hens.

Erika Dunphy from Hen Friends and Allegra Walsh with her first hen.

“These little birds have given her tremendous confidence and she is now one of the most successful junior exhibitors in Ireland. Showing chickens gives her such pleasure and she’s made some great friends. They really are very special animals and she’s even now returned to riding. It is with thanks to Dotty, Scotty, Lotty, Spotty and Zebo that got her through this tough time and we are now panic free for two years.”

Laura Meade, a self-confessed animal lover who comes from a farming background, says: “Having worked with animals for 15 years, along with being involved with The Irish Therapy Dogs for the last five years, I know just how therapeutic animals can be and the positivity they bring to the lives of both children and adults. We had the space and figured it would be good for the kids to add three hens to our family.

“Despite growing up on a farm, I had never kept hens, so I was surprised at what amazing and quirky personalities they had and how they were all so individual in mannerisms and character.

Everybody who calls, family or friends, enquire about Susie, Rosie and Miss Hen and love our rich tasty frittatas when we serve them up! The kids love ‘the girls’ and I must say I love when I come home alone from the school run and the hens come tottering over chatting to me and I can’t help but smile.

Keeping hens is about more than fresh eggs. These docile, quirky and lovable birds will outwit you, make you smile and slow you down as you watch them bathe in the dirt and find the best spots for shade. As therapy animals, they will surprise you with their comforting ways.

ssion and can say there is an unexplainable calm in keeping hens

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