Ren Lanzon

Aged clucky about chooks

AN AUSTRALIAN-first study in Casino has found pet hens are pecking away at loneliness, apathy and depression in their carers' lives.

Whiddon aged care home has found nurturing hens and participating in social and creative activities based around hen-keeping is improving residents' health and happiness.

Aubrey Lavis and Pam McDowell are two people looking after chooks Snuggles and Priscilla as part of the Creative Aging program.

"I have seen changes in some of the other residents, an interest we each share, conversation and stories," Mr Lavis said.

"It is not like having a dog or a cat, it is a chicken and they will stay with you and sit and enjoy your company."

Research from the trial, which is at its halfway mark, has shown pensioners are developing pet-like bonds with their "hensioners" donated by community members, staff and purchased locally.

It is also providing a simple way for people suffering from dementia to connect with others.

Even when the hens drive residents cuckoo, it is a positive experience.

"They do sometimes escape through the garden fence into the car park and we have to chase them back home," Ms McDowell said.

"They are naughty little chickens sometimes."

Whiddon Casino leisure coordinator and local chicken wrangler Jeremy Watson-Hunt said one of the nicest stories to come from HenPower, which was developed in the UK, was of the "invisible rooster".

"When we all go down to the pen, Pam will always make the cock-a-doodle-do noise and it makes everyone giggle as they see the chickens run around looking for the rooster," he said.

"This will often get other residents making the same noise which brings laughter to the group on a daily basis.

"The residents often say when we go down to visit the chickens 'we seem to go down into a different world'."

Whiddon now wants to get the community involved.

"It has a much deeper resonance in effectively tackling health issues and improving well being for older Australians," Whiddon's Karn Nelson said.

"We want to bring the way we think about caring for older Aussies to the next level and encourage the community to get involved.

"There are opportunities for schools, kindergartens and community groups to participate in the program and interact with our 'hensioners' through HenPower."

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