What are the benefits of having backyard chickens?
We absolutely love our chooks. And chicken keepers will agree that there are lots of benefits to keeping chickens.
Some of the most obvious benefits of having chickens are:
- Home-grown eggs
- Knowing that your food comes from happy, healthy hens
- Saving money
- Fertiliser, aka black gold
- Garden pest and insect control
- A natural kitchen and garden waste disposal system
- Turning food scraps into eggs
But there are lots of unexpected benefits to keeping chickens too. Including the fact that they make great pets. In fact, 90 % of chicken keepers would call at least some of their birds pets.
What other benefits of keeping chickens have scientific studies uncovered?
Six unexpected benefits of keeping chickens
If chickens, some of them anyway, are pets, then they provide a whole range of other benefits that we are only just beginning to recognise.
1. Chickens strengthen social relationships
Strong social relationships are recognised as key to happiness, well-being and even longevity!
A number of studies have looked into the benefits of chickens in lower-income and rural communities in the developing world. One of the most significant findings was that chickens strengthen the social relationships of chicken keepers through the exchange of gifts and assistance in the form of eggs and birds, and through the non-tangible sharing of advice, mentoring and chicken-keeping tasks.
The context is different, but I definitely see the same social benefits of chickens in my community:
- Eggs are given away and/or traded when they are in abundance
- Fertilised eggs are shared when someone wants to grow their flock
- Excess chicks are given away
- Neighbourhood kids are invited around to enjoy new chicks when they hatch
- Roosters are sometimes loaned out, and are forever being given away
And in the community, as well as places like Dine a Chook social media online, chicken keepers share advice and ideas for looking after their birds. This not only builds community but strengthens social relationships.
2. Chickens build community
One study has suggested that pet ownership builds social capital because it causes more interaction with others. In particular, pet owners have more cause to speak to their neighbours.
For example, you might ask your neighbour if they mind you getting chickens, apologise for a noisy rooster with a friendly dozen eggs or look after each other’s birds when you go on holidays.
In fact, “perceptions of neighbourhood friendliness” are greater among pet owners.
3. Chicken owners have better physical health
To begin with, chicken owners who eat their home-grown eggs could, potentially, have better nutrition than those who rely on store-bought eggs. Although it hasn’t been replicated, one comparison did find that free-range eggs contained less cholesterol and saturated fats, plus far more vitamins A and E, more omega-3 fatty acids, and more beta carotene, than your standard supermarket eggs.
Furthermore, although scientists are unsure why, there are numerous studies that link better health with pet ownership, including cardiovascular health. One explanation could be the additional exercise and physical activity associated with pet ownership.
Animal ownership has also been shown to buffer the effects of stress, and lower levels of stress decrease susceptibility to disease. Additionally, watching aquariums can lower blood pressure levels, and there are suggestions that watching chickens forage or preen has a similar calming effect.
4. Chicken owners have better mental health
There are numerous studies examining the psychological benefits of keeping pets – and remember, chickens can be pets. In a series of studies, pets were found to:
- Improve self-esteem
- Improve responsibility or care for others
- Fulfil social needs
- Build resilience in the face of social rejection
- Decrease negative responses to stress and stressful life events
Oxytocin is a hormone that is linked to a range of positive functions, including forming social bonds, decreasing stress and increasing generosity and empathy. Oxytocin production can be triggered by hugs (why not from a pet?) and physical interaction with pets. One study (admittedly, on humans not chickens) found that any interaction where a sign of trust was displayed, such as chickens letting you pick them up, could cause the release of oxytocin.
5. Chickens are good for children
A study examining pet ownership among children found that kids with pets benefited from the unconditional affection of the animals – and if you’ve ever had a pet chicken, you know they can be as dedicated as a dog – and the interdependent relationship helps develop empathy and responsibility.
Other research posited that pet ownership among children leads to improved autonomy, self-control, responsibility and trust. It's no wonder an increasing number of Australian primary schools are including chickens as part of a kitchen garden program!
6. Chickens make great therapy animals
There is increasing use of a range of companion animals to assist in the treatment of individuals with conditions including ASD, ADHD, mental illness and age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. And that includes therapy chickens!
In nursing homes in the US, Australia and the UK, chickens are increasingly being used as therapy animals. In the UK and Australia, HenPower is a program that installs chicken coops in aged-care facilities. Residents are involved with caring for the chickens and even selling their eggs. There are suggestions that trial programs have led to improved health and well-being, decreased depression and loneliness and improved social relationships.
So it's no wonder we love having backyard chickens. And we hope you will too!
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia