es! In rare cases when they feel lonely or getting bullied, chickens can get depressed. Just like human beings, chickens react to traumatic and horrible experiences. Eventually, they sink into a state of depression, despair, and loneliness. Some even go the extra mile to show signs of distress and fear for quite a long time following a traumatic experience.
While distressed, chickens can behave strangely and abnormally. They can suffer from post-traumatic stress and become unproductive. Depressed birds may also stop laying eggs suddenly. In extreme cases, they may spend most of their time hiding from humans or other farm animals.
Many incidents can greatly contribute to depression among your flock of chickens. Separation from other flock members, staying in the coop for long hours, and losing other flock members are some of the causes of distress in chickens.
For instance, mother hens that lose most of their chicks may resort to moments of depression. Such hens can spend many hours on end calling for their lost chicks in the hope of seeing them come back. The same mother hens may try to take baby chicks from other flock members in an attempt to feel the gap left by her missing chicks.
As a chicken farmer, you should know that these birds have emotions and can get sad, distressed, or depressed. Unfortunately, some people assume that chickens are just there to be bred, raised, lay eggs, and butchered for their meat. That is not the case if you care about your flock of birds.
The main reason for your chickens feeling sad and depressed is that they can’t just act on instinct as human beings do. But with experience, you can get to understand your chickens’ behavior and personality in different situations.
Knowing your birds can help you handle them well, especially when they are under depression. Normally, happy chickens show classic behavior. They stay active throughout, scratch around in the garden or grass, lay many eggs in summer, and preen or take a dust bath in the dirt around the yard.
Most importantly, the entire flock will stay calm and relaxed. So, how can you tell if your chickens are depressed? Let’s find out in the following section.
Signs of Depression in Chickens
The behavioral dynamics of each chicken in your backyard can be quite remarkable. The more hours you spend around your flock of chickens, the more you become familiar with their behavior.
However, it is worth mentioning that each flock of chickens is unique in one way or the other. This calls for a proper mindset when handling each chicken under different circumstances and situations. Having said that, you must take a while to study the emotional state of your backyard chickens.
When not under depression, chickens are likely to relate well with at least three main variables which are the size of your flock, relationship with other farm animals including your family members, and the amount of shared time with other birds (just in case of a loss). Here are additional signs of depression in chickens to look out for:
1. Separation from Flock
You should understand that a flock is the ultimate family for your birds. So, staying together in such a family setup brings a lot of joy and happiness among the flock members. Anything that can disintegrate that particular family can also cause a lot of distress among your chickens.
For example, if members suffer a loss due to death or separation, the entire flock may be affected. Also, taking one or several chickens from a given flock can cause a lot of loneliness, which can also lead to depression.
On the other hand, depressed chickens will isolate themselves. They will do so simply because they feel more vulnerable than when they are happy and relaxed. Some may even drop down from the ranking within their flock.
Through isolation, their health can deteriorate. This shows that there is a link between the physical well-being of your chickens and their mental well-being. So, before you separate your flock, you should take a while to study individual chickens to know their personalities under different situations.
When you separate them, make sure to choose those birds that interact well with each other to avoid loneliness and conflicts. Bear in mind that chickens are among the most social animals, so putting them apart or keeping one bird in isolation can affect them negatively.
2. Staying in the Coop
Just like human beings and other animals, chickens too can resort to avoiding other chickens or people when under depression. In this regard, they will choose to stay inside their coops when others get out to roam or free-range the yard.
This innate behavior should automatically tell you that a section of your flock is in distress. As such, you need to take drastic measures to help the affected birds get back to their usual way of life before their health deteriorates.
3. Lack of Appetite
Chickens spend most of their time foraging for worms and grubs in the yard. But if one or several of your flock suddenly stops eating, then you need to find out the reason for this strange behavior.
Loss of appetite and refusing to drink are some of the top signs of depressed animals including chickens. These behaviors are not good for your flock of birds. Careful observation is necessary to help resolve this problem at the right time before things get out of hand.
4. Stop Laying Eggs
When distressed, hens stop laying eggs. Usually, a hen will lay all the eggs and then go broody. This is the time when she will stop lying and it is perfectly normal. However, if your hen stops laying abruptly, rest assured that there is something wrong with her. Most probably, your bird is experiencing stressful moments.
5. Feather Plucking
A hen, in particular, loses feathers during her egg-laying phase. Once lost, these feathers will not regrow until the molting time, which usually happens once a year. A period of molting sets in when your hen hatches her eggs or when the eggs are taken away from them.
So, the molting period will make your bird lose its feathers in preparation for growing a brand new set. It is at this molting stage that your hen may become depressed. This is because she realizes that she is of no good as an egg layer, so she drops down her ranking within the flock.
Furthermore, she gets bald patches that eventually expose her bare flesh. At this stage, your hen may become a prime target for pecking at or bullying by other members of her flock. Alternatively, your hen can become settled as her system converts from egg-laying to feather growing. This biological process can take several weeks for your hen to be integrated back into her flock.
How do You Make Your Chickens Happy?
The most effective way to help your depressed chickens is to simply appeal to their innate instincts. Bear in mind that chickens are naturally friendly and social animals. So, whatever you do to help them get out of their depression, make sure it promotes their social behavior.
Remember, every instinct in your birds, regardless of their respective ages is to lead a happy life, eat normally, and move around freely. All these factors will help take your chickens’ minds away from what could be bothering them.
Make sure to hang tasty treats like cabbages and fruits for your birds to peck at them. Also, hang a few swings and patches around the run to make your chickens busy all day long.
Ensure that you have not less than three birds in your backyard. This is attributed to the fact that chickens are flocking birds, so they need some company to feel comfortable and safe while roaming the yard.
Don’t forget to provide scratching areas and dust baths for your chickens to play and even get rid of parasites from their feathers. Most significantly, keep them well-fed with nutritionally balanced food and clean fresh water.
Can Chickens Live Alone?
Yes, but this is not always recommended. As a reminder, chickens feel happy and comfortable when they share the same living space with others. So, living alone will make them more distressed than happy. Make sure to start with at least three birds to prevent cases of loneliness and isolation
Can Chickens Die of Depression?
Most likely yes! Depression can negatively impact their general well-being. As a result, your distressed birds can develop some health complications. Some may stop eating and drinking, thus deteriorating their health.
With poor health, your chickens will become vulnerable to all kinds of diseases which can eventually kill them. Therefore, depression can possibly cause death among your flock of chickens.
The main secret to a happy and healthy flock of chickens is to closely monitor their general behavior. If you spot anything unusual about their personalities, you should be able to find a quick remedy. Depressed chickens can become unhealthy, unhappy, and unproductive and this is uneconomical to you.
Whatever the circumstances that may cause depression in your chickens, spending quality time with them or understanding their basic needs is crucial to maintaining their happiness and health.Chickens