Chickens react to horrible experiences the way many other animals do: They can sink into a depression and show signs of fear and distress for a long time afterward. I saw this in a friend’s flock after a weasel snuck in and killed nearly all of her two dozen hens. Only three of them escaped to the rafters. One had a bite wound on her ankle and was visibly shaken.
Once brought to safety, the three survivors seemed to suffer some sort of posttraumatic stress. They stopped laying eggs and spent their days hiding. My friend spoiled them with fresh vegetables and added new roosts and other distractions. It took months, but eventually the traumatized hens began behaving more normally and were able to become part of a new flock.
Studies have shown that chickens recover more quickly from stressful situations when in the company of friends. They associate being with their flock as being safe and prefer to be with familiar chickens over unknown ones. With familiar companions, every chicken knows where she stands. With unknown chickens, rankings in the pecking order must be established, which is stressful for them.
‘Their coos are quiet, soft mutterings that you have to lean into to hear - chicken whispers’