Disabled and Keeping Chickens
Reading Time: 5 minutes
By Sue Norris
What does disability mean to you?
It can vary from person to person, but when we think of people being disabled, we quite possibly aren’t thinking of the thousands of folks who suffer from diseases such as fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalitis, severe arthritis, or spinal problems like ruptured discs. Yet all of these things can be very disabling, painful, and inconvenient.
Along with chronic problems such as these can come pain and depression, which can both be crippling and lead to a general deterioration in the health of the person affected.
For many of us, keeping chickens is a pleasure and provides us with contact with the earth and its creatures. Chickens are pleased to see you no matter what; your workday can melt away once those happy, raucous birds greet you.
When you think about it, they supply us with a great deal of comfort and peace from our hectic lives, and the thought of not having chickens simply because you are disabled is not bearable — especially if you are on your own.
Some of the actual benefits of keeping and interacting with chickens can be:
- keeping active and busy
- comfort and love; increases a sense of well-being
- decreases isolation and depression
- chicken TV
While keeping chickens is not intense physical work, there are definite aspects that can require some re-thinking if you have a disability.
For example: how do you get those 50lb feed sacks to the coop from the car? Or how do you “muck out” the coop when it requires you to bend over?
Many folks who have disabilities keep chickens or other livestock, but how do they do it? What tips and tricks have they mastered to make their lives more manageable while caring for their flock?
While farming is considered a livelihood, backyard homesteading seems to be considered more of a hobby, so help — such as AgrAbility — is not usually available to most people. Local volunteer groups will sometimes help install things like wheelchair ramps or grab rails to assist with mobility, but it depends on their goodwill and availability.
If you use a wheelchair, rolling your chair around on muddy, rutted areas can be a nightmare of maneuverability, not to mention cleanup!
Things such as paved paths and runs, ramps, and grab bars can all help but will necessitate a lot of time and helpers to install.
Joanna lives in the UK and suffers from severe arthritis, sciatica, and worn discs that make walking and bending very difficult for her, but she remains cheerful throughout.
She wouldn’t be without her Eglu cube coops; they make her life easier in several ways. They are lightweight and very user friendly, especially for those with mobility problems.
The coop is raised up off the ground, very easily cleaned, the poop tray slides right out for emptying, and can quickly be hosed clean. The birds have a walk-up ladder to access the coop.
She has them placed in a sheltered area, and despite the recent storms and high winds in England, she has never had a problem with them being damaged.
The coops can also be easily moved, but Joanna keeps her coop in one place since she allows her hens to free-range when she can supervise them. She has an add-on run which keeps her birds safe from predators when she cannot supervise their free-ranging.
She has the bedding and feed delivered, and the delivery person puts it away in her storage area. To get her feed and water to the coops, she uses a garden “dolly” trolley to take what she needs.
Her nephew stops by weekly to put the bedding into manageable sized bags, as Joanna’s arthritic hands can’t tear the compressed bedding apart. Her nephew also helps with tasks such as mite control and worming.
Deb is a 64-year-old retired mechanical design engineer; she lives in San Diego County, California. She suffers from various medical issues, including arthritis, and uses a Rollator to get around. Endurance is a problem for her, so she has bales of straw located at various points on her 18-acre farm so she can sit and rest.
She is fiercely independent and hates to ask for help. As a designer, she came up with innovative designs for wheelchair accessible coops and is building one on her farm.
She likes to reuse/recycle what she can, and to this end, she has made a “poop hammock” for the chickens from used feed sacks and PVC piping. These are easy to make, easy to take down, and free to replace.
She has also created an egg rollout system to make egg collection easier, and shelves for feed and bedding are wheelchair accessible.
Water will always be available from a gravity feed system.
So, what tips can we take away from these stories?
- We can break down tasks into smaller increments that are more manageable for us. Use a cart to carry feed and water to your coops. If you only have one coop in your garden, this should not be a problem, but for those with two or more coops, you can easily load up a cart or even a wheelbarrow with a gallon or quart jugs of water.
- The same principle applies to the feed; decant it into smaller, covered containers if necessary. Reusing a large plastic pail, such as cat litter containers, saves plastic from the landfill, and they can be reused numerous times.
- If you have a riding mower, perhaps you can hitch up a small cart to pull to the coops.
- Having family or friends who can help with some of the heavier chores, such as carrying feed sacks, would be a blessing. It need not be daily but maybe once every couple of weeks.
- Is there any way you can make coop cleaning easier for yourself? If you don’t use poop trays, hammocks, or boards, maybe it’s time to consider it. If you have some spare cash, perhaps hire a teenager to do full coop clean-outs once every couple of months and do a simple daily tidy up yourself.
- If you consider buying a new coop, get one easy to use, clean, and access. Even if you are fit and healthy now, looking to the future may save you some money now.
Look for ways to make it easier on yourself and still enjoy your flock. I can’t imagine life without my chooks; can you?
Heartfelt thanks to both Joanna and Deb for sharing their stories with us.
Sue Norris was born and raised in the UK. She traveled around the world as a registered nurse and settled in New York state with her partner about 25 years ago. She currently lives on 15 rural acres with 40-ish chickens, four rabbits, two dogs, and three cats, and assorted wildlife. Sue is happily retired and enjoying the serenity.
Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.