Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hen Therapy

Kids and hens helping each other heal. Photograph by Signe Langford

by Signe Langford

If you’ve spent any amount of time online, no doubt you’ve seen the adorable videos of fluffy hens visiting seniors’ homes in the UK and Australia. If you haven’t; do, you’ll be glad you did!

Then there’s Little Miss Sunshine. No, not the movie, but rather, the genius chicken from down under; and Jokgu the musical hen from America’s Got Talent; she’ll make you reconsider your menu choices tonight.

Miss Vicky was my most eager gardening assistant and a real snuggler too. 
Photograph by Donna Griffith.

Baby came to me from another backyard coop; she would have spent every hour of every day
 in my arms if I'd let her! Photograph by Donna Griffith.

Most folks don’t give a second thought to the inner life of a chicken. But, if you’ve spent some one-on-one time getting to know them, they you know there is so much more going on than meets the eye. Yes, we eat them, and yes, they have personalities, intelligence, and a social life. They can do us humans good – beyond supplying us with eggs and meat.

It was at Cobble Hills Farm Sanctuary, just outside Stratford, Ontario, where I began learning about the good hens can do. Author and adoption advocate, Christen Doidge Shepherd, was in the business of rescuing ‘spent hens’ from local egg factory farms and mentoring troubled kids from two nearby group homes. Her eureka moment came when she put the two together – broken, unwanted hens and throw-away kids – to look after each other on her farm. That’s right, look after each other.

A "spent hen"; a throw away of the industrial egg business. Photograph by Signe Langford

Discarded egg layers feel a loving touch for the first time. Photograph by Signe Langford

Fast friends! Photograph by Signe Langford

Christen lets each kid pick a hen of their own to care for, starting with a much needed nail trimming for these cage-bound hens. “It’s incredible to see the gentleness these kids show to their hens; to see them so gently handling them and giving them pedicures. It’s just lovely.” Christen just beams when she tells me this. And this is huge. These are kids who have suffered every manner of neglect and abuse. Love and gentleness isn’t something they know or express with people very often, if at all. But it’s different with the hens. Christen has seen the transformation first hand; “People think these kids are lost, but they’re not, they just need the chance to show how good they really are.” Caring for a little hen that was treated much as they were is the key that unlocks their hurting hearts.

As the days pass, the hens and kids learn to trust each other. The hens get healthy in body and mind, and so do the kids, gaining self-esteem, empathy, and a real sense of accomplishment. These are kids
who have been labeled “aggressive” or “incapable of connection”, but when they lovingly hold a soft, clucking, hen they can trust and make eye contact – perhaps for the first time in their short lives.

Backyard chickens can be just as loving a pet as a dog or cat. Sadly, as a society, we continue to underestimate them. Each little lady I’ve had in my coop has had her own personality, quirks, and food preferences, but they all come running just the same, when they hear the front door.

This post was written by Signe Langford

Signe Langford is a restaurant-chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes. She is a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Life, Canadian Living and Garden Making magazines. In 2105, Signe published her first book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden- with 100 Recipes
Raised in the town of Hudson, Quebec Signe grew up surrounded by an ever changing menagerie of critters, both wild and domestic, and her special affection for all feathered creatures has never flagged. At present, she shares a downtown Toronto Victorian with a tiny flock of laying hens. For more stories and recipes please visit


  1. I was amazed at how quickly my factory farmed adoptees responded to kindness and care. Beautiful little girls cuddling those chickens!

    1. I find Signe's pictures of the girls very touching. It is amazing how quickly animals respond to a little love and care even after an extended period of neglect, isn't it?

  2. Lovely to see hens being rescued & needy children so lovingly looking after them .. I taught many children with similar needs and I wish they had hens to learn to love & care for. Congratulations on a wonderful program and making a difference.

    1. Sounds like you can identify with this story on a personal level Gerrie. It is lovely to see that someone has joined hens that need a little love with kids that need the same. There ought to be more programs like this in other locations, don't you think?

  3. Replies
    1. Once you form a connection with animals it is hard to live without them, isn't it?

  4. It was you who first introduced me to Signe and I became a fast fan. This post is so heartwarmingly wonderful. What a beautiful pairing. I've always loved chickens. My mom raised chickens, geese, and occasionally pigs. Through her love and tenderness, I too came to truly enjoy our chickens. So much so that now all it takes is an image of a chicken and I get all warm and fuzzy inside. Bravo to her lovely program.

    1. Glad to make the introductions. I am a fan too!

  5. This is indeed a heartwarming story. I like hens and other creatures we eat. We had a go at turning vegetarian a while back, it lasted three months, I am not proud of myself in failing, I reckon its because we are lazy cooks.

    1. I am not a big meat eater, but I do like bacon. It would be a huge change to be totally vegetarian, but I have toyed with the idea many times myself.

  6. This is truly such a touching post, Jennifer.
    Those sweet little ones just melt my heart.
    Thank you so very much for sharing this here.

    1. Lisa, I'm going to pass your compliment on to Signe. I am sure she'll be glad to hear all the positive feedback her post has generated.

  7. Wow! So much love here! Thank you! xoxoxo


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