Chookin' good: Meet the Aussie women who love keeping chickens as pets
For these women, welcoming chickens into their lives has been the best thing that’s ever happened to them.
Jul 10, 2020 9:43am
By As told to Take 5
Fiona Scott-Norman from Melbourne shares her personal story
Scrolling through the internet, I sighed with longing at the sight of so many adorable chooks.
I'd recently started looking at the birds at the local farmers' markets and thinking about how much I'd like to have some of my own.
Although my partner, Greg, and I loved our cat, chooks were something else entirely.
I guess you could say I was a bit clucky!
The day before my birthday, I stepped outside and saw a large object draped in a tarpaulin at the bottom of the backyard.
Well, Greg obviously hasn't bought me jewellery this year, I thought.
"Surprise!" he cried, showing me the chicken coop he'd been building in secret.
Turned out he'd been hiding timber behind the garage and working unnoticed for weeks.
Soon after, we put an empty cat-carrier into the back of the car and drove to regional Victoria to meet a chicken lady who had some bantams for sale.
Greg and I thought three was a good number to start with, but the lady persuaded us to take four.
"The girls have all been raised together," she said. "Stevie will be lonely if she's left behind."
How could I say no?
I didn't expect to love my chooks so much, but Marilyn, Missus, Stevie and Rihanna became more than just pets: they were company and friends.
As the months grew warmer, Greg and I would sit outside drinking cups of tea by their side. We learned that they went nuts for sweet corn and prawns.
Our cat got along with the girls, too.
We'd created a fox-proof coop, but the pests could still find a way in. Over time, I lost all my four original girls, but my collection grew to include six more.
We even planned a move to a bigger place with extra room for our chooks.
Then one day, Greg and I had been out when we returned back to the most horrifying sight: all of our girls had been killed by a fox.
I was distraught because a house doesn't feel like a home without chickens.
We planned to buy more once we moved and were shocked to learn that, along with toilet paper and pasta, people had stockpiled on poultry, too! We haven't been able to find any yet, but hope to welcome more into our home soon.
My love of chooks grew to the point I wrote a book, This Chicken Life, with photographer, Ilana Rose, to show the world that chickens are more than just a source of eggs.
The bond they have with people is a legitimate one and they deserve to be treated with respect: they are as smart, affectionate and complicated as any cat or dog and can bring so much joy to our lives.
Summer Farrelly, 13, Bundaberg, Qld:
Looking around the school playground, I watched groups of girls sitting together laughing and telling stories.
Sadly, the human pecking order didn't make school life very easy for me.
"I feel like there's something wrong with me," I told my mum, Cynthia.
It was hard for me to join in conversations with other kids because I didn't follow their interest in music, clothes, TV and celebrities.
Along with Mum and my two brothers, I was diagnosed with autism.
Making friends proved difficult as most people simply didn't understand me.
The chooks were an exception.
Eventually, Mum decided to have me home-schooled.
Now, my chooks were always by my side.
But at 10 years old, I wanted to teach other people, too.
After much thought, I created a program on Facebook called Chickens to Love, an animal-assisted learning class that uses chooks to educate people about things like animal-handling and how chickens can be a great form of therapy by helping to develop trust and form bonds with others.
We have yoga sessions in a local Zen garden, where we stretch and pose outside amongst our feathered friends.
Many people who attend have disabilities and like me, have experienced being an outsider.
"That's the great thing about chickens," I told them. "They don't discriminate."
Soon, chooks were taking over my life, and I was happier than ever.
But when I learned about a rooster named Jack in the US who had lost part of both his legs from a frostbite injury, I knew I had to help him somehow.
After attending a 3D printing workshop, I had an idea.
"Maybe I could print Jack some new legs?" I suggested to Mum, who thought it was a great idea.
Jack's owner, Molly, took casts of his stumps and sent them to me to scan and create some prototypes from the printer.
It's great to know that I've helped Jack get back on his feet.
I don't plan to stop there.
My dream is to work as an animal behaviourist.
In the meantime, I'm busy with my 10 chickens who I love so much.
I tell people I have OCD: obsessive chicken disorder, and I'm proud of it!
WATCH BELOW: Chickens on the loose! Story continues after video.
Emma Grose, 37, from Ferntree Gully in Victoria, shares her story
Sunlight beamed down on my arms as I crouched on the grass with the troubled teenage girl.
"Just let the chooks peck you," I soothed to her.
The girl and I sat in silence, feeling the gentle prodding of the chickens' beaks against our skin.
Soon enough, the girl started to relax and tell me how she was struggling emotionally.
I'm a peer support worker at a mental health recovery program for young people who stay here for 12 months.
When I started, I had an idea to introduce chicken therapy to help the kids who came here.
As someone who had a history of self-harming and attempted suicide, I was proof that animals really can save lives.
For six years, I'd ran a dog rescue organisation and knew that if it weren't for the dogs, I probably wouldn't have made it through.
Despite putting together a proposal outlining all the benefits, my colleagues were sceptical of letting in chickens, until I met with the Victorian general manager, who had some of his own.
"Chickens are fantastic," he said, giving me the green light at last.
I didn't want just any chickens, though.
It was important for me that we brought rescue hens that had once been part of battery farms into the organisation.
This would give the poor animals a second chance, and also show the kids in our program that you really could change your life for the better.
We bought a flat-pack coop and welcomed ISA Browns called Roast, Penny, Nugget, Gary, Helen and Hei Hei to our little family.
The chooks had been so badly damaged from being confined to a battery farm that many had broken beaks, missing feathers and didn't know how to take more than a few steps because they were so used to being cramped in tiny enclosures.
But just two weeks in, the girls started laying eggs, which was a sign they were finally comfortable.
It was so sweet to see how the chooks and residents both learned to love each other unconditionally.
When one resident changed bedrooms, he noticed the chooks would come to his window each morning to look at him curiously.
So he moved his bed to be as close to the window and possible. The chooks' presence had such a calming effect on him.
Sadly, over time the chooks all fell prey to foxes, but we've since got four more: Bellafonte, Saskia, Svetlana and another Gary.
But my work isn't the only place you'll find them. At home, I took in 16 chickens – many from rescue centres – and I've recently rescued a duck, Tiffany, who gets along with them just great.
My job can be pretty stressful at times, so there are days when I sit on a picnic blanket and just watch the chooks roam. It's a great way for me to clear my mind and remember that what I'm doing is so worthwhile.
I might be a mother hen to the young people I look after, but it's no exaggeration to say that chickens have saved me, too.