Just sitting with your chickens can be a stress relief in itself. Watching them running round like miniature dinosaurs, chasing the same bits of food, coming to sit with you and have a chat...
And there are other behaviours our chickens instinctively do which are essential for their welfare and which we would do well to copy, to help calm our own feelings of stress and anxiety.
So if you feel like stress is making you sick, or you just need a bit of light relief - read on!
And if you'd like to share your own story about how your chickens relieve stress and give you joy, you can do it by clicking right here!
1. Take time for yourself each day.
Chickens are social beings but even so, hens take time for themselves every day.
It's called egg-laying.
During that time, they remove themselves away to somewhere they feel safe - hopefully your nest boxes. They prefer that the nesting area is a private, quiet, somewhat dark place where they can rest and relax.
If you've ever seen a hen in the laying zone, she'll often seem almost Zen-like in her relaxed state.
The relaxing part of this is so important to the successful, stress-free lay that many people (including me!) add a herb mix to the bedding. Lavender is a good choice.
Ever noticed how much of your flock's time is spent in the company of others? Chickens are actually very social birds and enjoy hanging out with each other - and often, with people, too.
Dust bathing has to be the obvious example of this. True, its other purpose is to help keep your chickens' feathers in prime condition, and to keep nasty unwanted things like the dreaded red mite away.
But chickens could do that alone. Instead, they choose to stay together.
Much as spending time alone can significantly reduce stress, having no contact with other people is known(2) to...
So take a leaf out of your chickens' stress-relieving textbook. Spend some time with friends. If you're fortunate enough to be able to, book in at a relaxing spa for a day.
But just a short walk, meeting up for lunch, or even a video (or phone) call is enough to get those happy hormones active!
Have you noticed that chickens are always on the move?
In the wild, jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) will spend around 61% of their time foraging(3, 4). Domestic chickens generally don't need to forage for that long, because their food is mostly provided for them.
Nevertheless, they'll keep moving (unless they're laying or dust bathing!). If they free range, studies(5) found that they'll roam further from their coop in the morning, and older hens will roam further than younger.
And the further they roam, into uncrowded areas with more space, the better their feather condition.
Conversely, chickens who don't get as much exercise, for example those in commercial farms where they're confined to barns, are more likely to become ill and depressed (yes, chickens do feel emotion(5)).
By and large, chickens will eat healthily if left to their own devices. If they free range, they'll supplement their feed and feast on greenery, including various plants and weeds, and bugs. Mine love a nice plump lizard or two, as well.
Despite their being able to fend well for themselves, we all love to give our chickens treats. It's hard-wired into many of us - feeding is seen as a way of expressing love. And we love our flocks.
And the same is, of course, true for us.
Everything in moderation is the solution, for us and for our chickens, to relieve the physical symptoms of stress.
A lot of the food which is good for chickens is also good for us - not chicken feed of course! But healthy fruit and veggies, some of the plants - garlic, pumpkins and sunflower seeds, for example - and weeds. Even fermented food.
You know how it goes. A basic, appropriate diet, and occasional healthy treats are key.
Some - but not all - chickens make great broody hens.
A good brooody will spend time with her chicks from the moment they hatch until they're about six to eight weeks old. She will teach them what's good for chicks to eat, how to avoid predators, how to dust bathe and forage...
And for the rest of the time, she'll find a quiet place to keep them warm and rested, away from the chaos of the rest of the flock.
There are two separate yet connected lessons to be drawn from mother hens:
As they get older, though, it becomes more difficult. Their wings can't carry their body weight for more than a few feet, so rather than the majestic flight of birds of prey, you see the awkward lollopping-hop-jump and fairly quick drop to the ground, which can make chickens so entertaining to watch.
It doesn't stop them trying, though. To the extent that I always need to clip the wing feathers of certain breeds (Red Stars are the worst culprits!) to prevent them from flying over my eight foot fence into the jaws of a passing fox!
And how else would chickens manage to get into my 40 foot bay tree to roost, when they know perfectly well they should be tucked up in their coop?!
Try to fly. It's that simple.
Pushing ourselves to do something outside our comfort zone can be exhilarating.
What should it be? That's entirely your choice.
For me, it was building this website when I started off knowing nothing at all about online stuff. (To see my story about that, take a look here).
For you, it could be anything. What did you love doing as a child? What do you dream of doing now?
Bite the bullet. Make like a chicken.
Spread your wings and fly.
I've written here about just a few ways our chickens can help us with stress relief. In response, I've had a lot of emails from people from all over the world, telling me how their chickens have brought them joy.
I've loved reading every one, so I decided that we should spread the love!
Do you have a similar story? Let's share the warmth and happiness our chickens bring us - tell your story here!
Click on the blue ? for help with each section.
1. Riemer, S., et al: Decreased stress levels in nurses - the benefits of quiet time. Pub. American Journal of Critical Care, 2015.
2. Cohut, Dr Maria: What are the health benefits of being social? Pub. Medical News Today, 2018.
3. Jacob, Dr Jacquie: Normal behaviours of chickens in small and backyard poultry flocks. Pub. University of Kentucky, date unknown.
4. Marino, Lori: Thinking chickens: a review of cognition, emotion and behavior in the domestic chicken. Pub. Journal of Animal Cognition, 2017.
5. Chielo, L. I.: The use of range, behaviour, nearest neighbour distance and feather condition of commercial free-range laying hens. Pub. University of Lincoln, 2017.
6. Mayo Clinic staff: Exercise and stress. Pub. Mayo Clinic, 2020.