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Chicken Therapy

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How many times have you had someone recommend chicken soup when you’re sick? Some believe this to be merely a placebo, while various studies have shown that chicken contains an amino acid that is released when the soup is made, aiding in the healing process. And of course, on a baser level, we just know that chicken also plays its role as a great source of protein for your muscles, helping with that achy feeling. But did you ever think that chickens–real live chickens–could be a source of emotional therapy, providing a feeling of wellbeing to people in need?

Such is the story of our own Kimberly Mullen, founder and former owner and editor-in-chief of HERLIFE Magazine Central Valley. Selling her beloved magazine to stay home with her two young girls and a move across the country due to her husband’s job found her feeling down, anxious and homesick. Adjusting to the New England weather and moving to an area of the world where she knew absolutely no one was difficult and downright depressing. After being stuck inside for what she says felt like an eternity, the moment the freezing temperatures broke, she was outside doing yard work, clearing land on the back of the property, raking leaves, and uncovering flower beds. And there, looming toward the back of the property, stood an existing chicken coop and run. As Kimberly unlatched the door and stepped inside, her life was immediately transformed. 

Finding that filthy coop brought back memories of all the times she had begged her parents to keep backyard chickens, trying to convince them of the benefits–the fresh eggs and the compost for her dad’s garden–but to no avail. She immediately went to work, spending two days cleaning out the hen house and nesting boxes, shoveling out decayed chicken droppings and dirt, and raking up old feathers, until her city hands were blistered and sore. Before she knew it, she had purchased new bedding, laid down fresh soil, cleaned the feeders and waterers, and Kimberly’s Klucks was born.

We’ve all heard that chicken soup is good for the soul, but apparently, for Kimberly, the sense of accomplishment from cleaning out the coop and starting on the backyard immediately affected her mood. “I didn’t even have chickens yet, but I could feel the positive effects lifting my spirits.” Using yours truly as a sounding board, she excitedly called and texted me every day and the discussion of chicken breeds and egg color took on a life of its own. “I’ll start with three hens, well, maybe five,” she told me, but she soon learned about chicken math, the intention of only buying three chicks but bringing home 13. Her excitement was contagious, even to an OG chicken keeper like me, snapping me out of my own winter doldrums to dream and research new breeds and more colorful egg baskets. Her questions were endless and stimulating, making me stop and think outside my own nesting box.

For Kimberly and many others who are just finding the joys of backyard chickens, collecting fresh eggs, caring for their hens, watching their personalities develop and meeting whole new groups of people online and in person who share a love of chickens has been a dream come true. “My mornings are filled with excitement and purpose as I greet my flock. No longer sleeping late and detesting the sunrise, I am popping out of bed with a smile on my face, ready to take on the day.” Kimberly believes that spending time in the yard, sitting in the coop as her hens happily peck out of her hand, has a calming effect. She feels the benefits of raising backyard chickens are endless and have also given her the opportunity to share these life experiences with her children. 

Kimberly has learned more than she ever imagined about raising chickens naturally and she’s finding this new adventure spilling into other areas of her family’s lives as they plan and prepare their new garden. For many, including Kimberly, keeping chickens may just be the gateway drug, as she contemplates building a mini barn to house goats and small sheep, and definitely a rabbit or two. “My flock, lovingly referred to as Kimberly’s Klucks, is a blessing and I have to thank my friends, Sharon (Filomeo Baker) and Dee (Yates) for taking my phone calls and listening to me ramble on about all things chicken.” And, of course, she thanks her husband, Bryan, for his patience with chicken math. 

As for me, there is nothing more relaxing after a hard day’s work than to sit on the patio with a glass of pinot, watching my girls dust bathe and scratch contentedly for grubs. I will continue to encourage friends and readers to experience the benefits of raising chickens, not only as a source of fresh eggs and organic insect control, but also as pets with personality. As my dear friend Kimberly and many others are finding, they are amazing creatures, full of life, with the instant ability to entertain and make us laugh and smile. Whether placebo or science, keeping chickens truly is good for the soul.

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