Say Hello

The hens in this yard bring their keeper to a place of peace and re­flec­tion.


Find­ing zen with hens.

In Ja­pan, a walk through the woods is also known as for­est bathing, which refers to the ther­a­peu­tic prac­tice of tak­ing in the sights, smells and sounds of the wilder­ness. In essence, the hiker is bathing in the woods. This ac­tiv­ity, as many a lover of the out­doors can at­test, of­fers im­mune­boost­ing and stress­re­liev­ing ben­e­fits.

On my home­stead in cen­tral New York, we reg­u­larly en­gage in chicken bathing. This does not mean giv­ing our feathered friends a good wash­ing, but in­stead is our name for time spent in the chicken yard with the Brah­mas, Buff Or­p­ing­tons, Amer­au­canas, Barred Ply­mouth Rocks and Rhode Is­land Reds. The chick­ens’ fenced-in yard pro­vides plenty of room for them to roam, with a few chairs scat­tered about for hu­mans to sit and of­fer treats or take in the sights, smells and sounds.

For there’s some­thing about spend­ing time with chick­ens in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment that soothes the soul. Per­haps it is their quirky per­son­al­i­ties, how one chicken’s call can stand out. (Our loud­est hen is Jelly­bean.)

Or maybe it’s how they fol­low be­hind us like duck­lings, how lead­ing them across the grass can make one feel as im­por­tant as Moses guid­ing his flock.

Their con­found­ing dumb­ness is en­dear­ing, too: the way they plop down at night, one hen atop an­other, on a ramp lead­ing to a closed coop door, when only two feet away an­other door is wide open. And there’s the ob­vi­ous: their mirac­u­lous daily eggs.

All of these qual­i­ties are part of the chicken charm, but there’s some­thing else, some­thing that leads me to prom­ise you this: Spend just 15 min­utes “bathing” in the yard, and you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence mo­ments of won­der.

Our docile Buff Or­p­ing­ton, Sunny, may be for­ag­ing through the weeds, her fluffy blond- feathered butt in the air, and in an in­stant, she’s chas­ing a wren from her ter­ri­tory like a ve­loci­rap­tor af­ter its prey. Look deep into chick­ens’ yel­low eyes, ob­serve their scaly clawed feet, and you, too, will be­lieve they de­scended from di­nosaurs. Fall asleep in their yard, and they might peck you to death, in their in­no­cent, be­ing-a-chicken way.

And so maybe this feathered con­tra­dic­tion of do­mes­ti­ca­tion and wild­ness is what draws the chicken lover to spend a few ex­tra min­utes in the yard. No one in the know will ques­tion you when you say you’re go­ing out to check the chick­ens and you’re gone for an hour.

There’s no age re­stric­tion for chicken bathing. In sixth grade, my daugh­ter wrote an es­say about our chick­ens to doc­u­ment a year spent ex­pe­ri­enc­ing their won­der. All you need are a few hens and space for them to be their nat­u­ral chicken selves, and you have ac­cess to some of the best ther­apy in the world.

Spend just 15 min­utes “bathing” in the yard, and you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence mo­ments of won­der.

Time spent with Stripes, a Sil­ver Laced Wyan­dotte, soothes the soul.

For Becky Ser­nett and her daugh­ter, Amanda, hang­ing out with hens like Lily, a Light Brahma (be­low), is great ther­apy.

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