House Chickens My Chicken Story

My Chicken Story: House Chickens For Emotional Support

When scrolling through online chicken pages I sometimes come across posts that catch my eye. I read a couple by Rhonda Hammons and asked if I could use them here. She obliged and I set to preparing them for publication. As with all my guest contributors I asked for a bio – one or two paragraphs – that accompanies their piece. Rhonda surprised me by sending 1300 words apparently challenged by brevity: “This is a bio. Not short. I apologize, but it is me. I strive to not leave anything unsaid. And it would take me much longer to summarize and compress my thoughts than to just flow.” I liked her style, the content was interesting and the focus was chickens so I decided to use it just as it was, as a stand-alone post. I hope you enjoy it as well.

I am a Georgia native currently living in Monroe, named the best small town in America and the antique capitol of Georgia. It’s a 30 minute drive east of Atlanta, and located in Walton County which is quickly becoming a county divided with a suburban bedroom community on its west side and rural farming on the east side. I live in the suburban area, and have been raising house chickens only since April 2021.  

My flowers make me happy. I wish they could say they felt the same about me. I only need to walk by them and they die.

In 2006 my youngest daughter was diagnosed with autism at two years old. She’s now 18 and is the reason we first opened our home to chickens. Being a teen with autism isn’t an emotional high point in life, so my husband and I thought she would benefit from an support animal. Little did we know she would take to chickens.  

Our first birds were purchased by my husband and daughter at Tractor Supply: white Leghorns which were too big for the gentle emotional support our daughter, Kensington, needed as a quiet child with autism. She was 16 at the time but socially and emotionally functioning somewhere around the age of a 13-14 year old. Leave it to a prideful southern U.S. redneck to jump head first without any prior research and come home with the wrong kind of chickens. These babies ended up on a friend’s farm in the mountains where they could happily live outdoors after I found that Silkies and bantams would be a better fit.

In April 2021 we purchased four chickens, two Brahma bantams and two Silkies that I was told were all hens. Surprise!  The farmers who sold us the birds were half off… and all the way off the rocker.  

Our entire family was already in love with them by the time we found out we ended up with two roosters.  We always intended to build a place for our daughter’s chickens on our back deck. Surprise, again! The crowing and predators became a concern … oh, and that love thing got in the way, too. By then the weather had turned cold and they had already become acclimated to life indoors. We couldn’t let them go, even if it were only a few steps away.  

By October, when eggs started to drop, we knew we had to buy an incubator. Our girls weren’t in the least bit broody. So our first round of chicks were hand raised. Only two hatched that November. At that time we thought we could do this, we had six tiny house chickens that weighed no more than 3 pounds each.  

Then we started taking our chickens in a pet stroller to our downtown farmers market and, on occasion, in downtown shops and our local arts center.  With the response we had I knew I had a calling to share this newfound love with our community. It was then we hatched what would later be named Finley’s Feathered Friends: House Chickens for Emotional Support, a not-for-profit service to provide emotional support birds to people with developmental disabilities, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s and dementia. That March we began hatching a second clutch of eggs and raising the chicks to be emotional support birds.  Well, Finley, our hen from the first hatch was the one who raised the chicks from the third clutch. Around that time we discovered only one of our hens was laying and she was not interested in taking care of her chicks. Her daughter, Finley, became the surrogate mom, and that’s how we knew we needed to name our project after her.

Even being raised in the suburban portion of the county, Finley’s Feathered Friends still live in a heavily wooded community. My neighborhood is called Thompson Mill Forest for very good reason. Our property is covered with hardwoods and has a large creek on it. It’s so large locals actually call a river.

I was born and raised in Atlanta and attended Georgia State University. I worked in legal until 2002 in the city. My shade was furnished by high-rise buildings with very little grass under my feet. I didn’t see my first tick on a human (pretty common in the South) until I was around 33 and it was on my 7-year-old daughter. I can bet the pediatrician and his nurses laughed about me behind my back when I walked in with a live tick in a ziplock bag to make sure its head hadn’t been left in my child or that it wouldn’t cause Lyme Disease.

It’s been quite an adjustment learning how to live in the woods among all of the wildlife, which have always been a major concern to me with keeping and protecting my chickens. Hawks and snakes are unwelcome neighbors, but they were here first. I respect them so long as they respect me. So far that has worked 100% of the time.

My family has a love of animals deeply ingrained in our DNA.  It certainly made it into my blood. Since I was a child my greatest goal was to be Snow White. First, I’m a brunette and can identify with her. All of the Barbies were blonde and lived the California lifestyle, so we had nothing in common. And second, I loved animals and they came to me naturally with little or no hesitation. If only I had seven little men to go out and mine diamonds for me I would be ecstatic that I had met my goal.  And my chickens would enjoy a life of sand between their toes and ocean breezes. I wouldn’t be opposed to providing them with their very own cabana and splash pad, either… non-slip, of course.

Even still, growing up in Atlanta I had the opportunity to meet the goal of caring for animals and birds like Snow White. In the 1970s many people living there raised their own chickens in their neighborhood. This is the Deep South and it was hard to get past the fear that many of our grandparents and great-grandparents who had survived two World Wars, the Depression, Korea, Vietnam, and tales of fear passed down to them from their parents who survived the American Civil War.  I grew up right in the ashes of Sherman’s one mile wide March to the Sea. But if that is what it took to break the back of slavery, so be it. I believe my generation has come to know hope and has finally come out of that mindset. We have risen from the ashes mentally as The Phoenix City should have decades ago.

And being that we are now a New South with our own kind of crazy I am a woman with more eccentricities than you can shake a stick at. It is quite fashionable in Atlanta now to raise house chickens. In the more urban areas we don’t raise them for food although some people keep them for eggs. Many of us just raise them as pets. I believe the pandemic gave us all the opportunity to make us a little bit more understanding, a little bit more compassionate, and a little bit more kind so we can look at a bird like a chicken and be able to see it as having personality, even a mind of its own, like any other house pet. There is a loyalty in a chicken, a loyalty to its owner who provides its care.  Once you commune with a chicken you come to see it is a caring bird with a playful and affectionate side who wants to be cared for and shown care in return for all it can give… well, either that or for a miniature marshmallow every now and then.

Rhonda Hammons lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia where she lives with her husband, daughter and four house chickens. Many thanks to her for sharing her story and photos, used with permission.

2 comments on “My Chicken Story: House Chickens For Emotional Support

  1. Really, really, really enjoyed Rhonda’s essay. As part of a family that has a strong genetic leaning to autism, I wish I had had a support chicken many many decades ago! Hurrah for Findley’s Feathered Friends!!

    Liked by 1 person

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