Alpine Skilled nursing resident chicken expert Glen Sanders (left) and Wellness Director Amanda Millwood show off the facility’s new chickens. Photo courtesy of Alpine Skilled Nursing.

What do you call four chickens sharing a home? Simple: Bobbie, Bailey, Nugget and Roxanne —  if you’re at Alpine Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Ruston, LA. Rather than an overpriced studio apartment, they reside in a new chicken coop clad in Kentucky Fried Chicken colors. 

“[Last year] we had our maintenance man build our garden area, so that was what we started out with initially,” said Alpine Wellness Director Amanda Millwood. “This year, we decided that we wanted to implement something that would be a little bit more interactive as well, which would be our chicken coop. So we got permission from our administrator and it has just been amazing; it’s been a little bit more [popular] than I thought it was going to be.”

The adventure started with the incubation of the eggs during the COVID-19 lockdown. Residents checked in on their progress up until they hatched and moved to a pre-built coop bought at a local Tractor Supply Company. Today, residents are the primary caretakers of the former hatchlings. This gives them some important responsibilities and a rewarding role reversal. 

“[The chickens] have been very therapeutic for [residents] to hold because a lot of the residents here have grown up on farms, being very familiar with farm life, animals and chickens,” said Millwood. “Part of the reason behind all of this is just to implement something for the residents to see something that they can take care of. They’re in this facility here for a reason, they’re being taken care of. So this gives them the opportunity to take care of something and I love that. ” 

Not only do these chickens give residents unique duties around the facility but they also provide much-needed companionship. Chickens may not have the wings to take to the skies but that does not mean they are incapable of making hearts soar. 

“We had a family member approach me one evening and she said, ‘My dad is in hospice and he grew up with chickens and loves them. Can you bring it in here?’ So we brought it in and I put it on the bed,” said Millwood. “He wasn’t very aware, but he knew something was going on. I saw his eyes light up and then that night, he had passed. But he had that moment of joy I feel with the chicken and something that he was very familiar with and loved.”