Chook-loving numbers are increasing as keeping chickens in the backyard is no longer just for country bumpkins. Like crafting (and craft-brewing), having home-grown eggs for breakfast is on the rise.
If in doubt, check out #chooksofinstagram or, better yet, #fluffybuttfriday. This Instagram hashtag has amassed nearly 60,000 posts, and is mostly filled with the feathery derrieres of chickens.
“I have a teenage daughter, so I can never post a picture of her again, but I can pimp my chooks!,” says Jessamy Miller, who keeps five adorably fluffy chickens in her Melbourne backyard.
Miller is one of 35 chicken-lovers featured in a new book, This Chicken Life, a riot of chook-inspo with words by writer and comedian Fiona Scott-Norman, and more-than-Insta-worthy pics by Ilana Rose.
The Insta-love for chooks features in a few stories. “There’s a lot of quirky fun on Instagram, you can be your crazy self and get instant acceptance,” says Miller, who knows a thing or a thousand about chooks thanks to editing Australian Poultry Magazine along with her mother, Megg Miller.
“There is community and connection as well as knowledge sharing,” says Adele Scott, a burlesque performer, interior designer and chook-lover whose story also features in This Chicken Life.
In an increasingly crazy world, it is delightful to read about people who are crazy about their chooks. What is more surprising is the discovery that the love of chooks is far from one-sided – chickens give their owners a lot of love too.
The theme of chicken-related positive mental health runs strongly through the sassy text of the book. Like 12-year-old Summer Farrelly, from Bundaberg in Queensland, who has used observation of chicken flocks to help her – and others who, like her, have autism – to understand social dynamics. “Chickens don’t discriminate,” she says in the book. “They love everyone.”
Scott finds spending time with chickens akin to meditation.
“The dog is very high energy, my parrot is very intelligent but it’s like being with a three-year-old, and the cats are lovely but aloof,” she says of her myriad pets. “But there is something so calming about watching chickens just do their thing. It brings me down to earth. I find watching them really grounding.”
Miller agrees. “Chickens are ridiculously good for your wellbeing,” she says. “I don’t think people know how amusing they are.”
The feathery birds can also be powerful creators of community. “It’s one of the factors that ties our street together.”
Community and mental health are super strong themes in some of the less glamorous stories in the book. Reading about the HenPower program, run in an aged-care home in Bathurst, NSW, reflects research from the UK version of the program showing that hen-keeping ruffles a few feathers in a good way when used therapeutically in aged-care homes.
“It’s made people come closer together,” says 89-year-old Naomi Smith. “You’ve given up everything to come here [so] having the chickens reminds you of your home, it’s comforting.”
There are other serious sides to keeping chickens. This Chicken Life touches on social strata stress and frightening foxes but does not aim to be a how-to manual (for this, Miller recommends this handbook or the Happy Hens book that she edited with her mum, as well as checking any regulations with your local council).
Scott and her husband live a waste-free lifestyle on their western-Melbourne suburban block and are like many in that keeping chickens is part of a wider lifestyle choice.
Backyard chooks fit well for those who like the idea reducing food miles, connecting with nature and reducing reliance on battery-hens, and chooks play a key role for many interested in permaculture.
Miller describes chickens as the ultimate in “pets with benefits”. “Chickens are a great accessory to your house and garden lifestyle – they give you eggs for your breakfast, manure for your garden fertiliser and you can put them to work scratching your garden,” she says. “But at the end of the day, watching them be hilarious is the real benefit and why everyone loves them.”
This Chicken Life is published by Plum, RRP $32.99 and available from your local bookstore.