Love, Chickens and the Ikea Effect

Last week I heard a piece on the radio about the Ikea Effect. Basically, the Ikea Effect says that labor done by the purchaser adds to a higher valuation of the product. Food manufacturers could easily make cake mixes that require only the stirring in of water, but instead, they formulate the product to require eggs: cracking an egg and mixing it into the batter makes the consumer feel that she has baked a better cake. When we work to build a bookshelf (however crooked it turns out) we value it more than a similar shelf that we haven’t made. This concept expands beyond consumer satisfaction. We get attached to things that we work hard at, whether it is an idea, or a model airplane.

I take this further. I believe that work increases love. Do I take such good care of my chickens because I love them? Truthfully, that’s only part of it. The flip side is that I love the work of taking care of chickens. Today is a beautiful, mild winter day. I am out in the barns, wearing just a sweater, my eyes squinted against the brilliant white light bouncing off of the snow. I clean and fill waterers, add sand to the dust bath, cut the goats a pine branch to snack on, toss alfalfa to the Gems, and fill the oyster shell dispenser. I sweep the barn floor, and scoop dog poo off of the shoveled path. My animals appreciate my efforts. We interact and talk to each other. This work feels satisfying. I feel useful. It gives my day value. The love for my animals increases because of the work that I do caring for them. We don’t love in a vacuum. We love within the context of our interactions and effort expended. The love that I get from my animals doesn’t satisfy me half as much as the work that I do for them in the name of love.

Sometimes, the Ikea Effect doesn’t help the animals. Do people change their schedules and lives to accommodate the neediness of their rescue dogs out of love for those dogs OR do they love those dogs even more because they require such effort  – and therefore make excuses for their pets and don’t, in the end, alleviate the issues? When a chicken is separated from the flock for an illness, and we spend days nursing her back to health, does she then become a favorite – and sometimes isn’t put back into the coop because we feel good about the intense caring that we are doing?

Lately, I have been dreaming about owning a horse again (thanks to a ride on a most wonderful Ranch Tennessee Walker.) I imagine outings on horseback in the woods (always in perfect weather and without deer flies bothering us), but mostly I daydream about the work. The grooming, the mucking, the saddle cleaning. I think about the smell of the barn and the quiet time caring for a horse. Maybe this is why I’m not one of those people who spend hours on the internet looking at cute pictures of kittens (or chickens.) Separated from the work of love, it’s fleetingly interesting, but ultimately not satisfying. Put a manure fork in my hand. That’s love.


Buffy, a hen who has required much work.

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  1. What a beautifully reasoned essay!

    I was thinking this morning of the bond that has built up between myself and our oldest hen Phoebe… almost every day (that’s except for some holidays when a friend steps in) for nearly 6 whole years I’ve cared for her and chatted with her as I cleaned and brushed and put down the bedding. I’ve done minor surgery on her bumble-foot and let her live in my studio one Christmas to New Year, after she moulted all her feathers on the coldest iciest day of the winter! Phoebe trusts me to looks after her and I trust her to lay the occasional egg … but only if she’s ready to.

    • There’s much to be said for those longterm care relationships. Six years is a long time for a hen. Jane (from Hawaii, comment below) had the good fortune to know a horse for 36 years!

      • Happy Valentines Day to you and all your girls! Enjoyed your essay very much, they are blessed today w/the sun shine! I saw you feeding them this morn. Now after I take care of my chickens I run to see how your chickens are doing! Great Site! :)

  2. Great article, although I’ve not been to an ikea store! I too miss caring for a horse and have considered getting another. Not sure my knees can take hauling hay cubes again though. My last horse lived to be 36 and the one before that almost as long! (They did overlap some) my cow would love another horse for company.

  3. Wow, Buffy must be feeling the love today. She made it outsde to enjoy the warm sun. She surely is the star of the show on his Valentines day!

  4. Thanks for that – I really enjoyed that article. We have a hen that is needing extra work at the moment and I do love it. She needs me to help her get through this and it makes me feel good to be useful.

    • Because we put time into being with the ailing hens, we do get to know them better than the others, so that developing knowledge is part of why it feels so valuable. I hope that she recovers.

  5. I have chickens, and I know where you are coming from. They are a lot of work, but you don’t mind the work, because you love your girls. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  6. Terry, So true! Loving an animal is one thing loving the work to properly take care of the animal is a love in itself which in turn makes the love for the animal deeper and richer.

  7. Such a lovely post. We lost power for three days and nights (the coldest days and nights) during the storm and it certainly made caring for the chickens much more work than usual. I didn’t mind the extra work and oddly enough, I didn’t mind the snow or loss of electricity and heat as I normally would have. Perhaps keeping chickens has made me tougher against the elements and extra labor. I think it has. It was also just more fun though, to keep them (and myself) entertained and less stressed. Shoveling the long path to the coop, lugging water, hanging cabbages, pushing snow off the run roof, and making warm mash. I didn’t really fully get why that was fun until I read this. It was the love. Nicely done.

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more. Now in retirement, my partner and I find most of our days are devoted to work somehow involving our animals (or the garden, in other seasons). Somehow it seems a little embarassing to admit how good I feel after having cleaned out the chicken coops… shouldn’t I be doing something more profound?
    Recently a friend remarked: “The most important lesson to learn when growing older is humility”. Experiencing the unpretentious dignity of animals and doing the “chores” involved in their husbandry helps with this.

    • Very nice to link these thoughts with those of humility. If find the work grounding and peaceful, too. Much more centering than yoga!

    • In a way, that’s what growing old is — lurching from one humbling experience to another, at ever-increasing speed. Wheee!

  9. I can truly relate to this essay. On Sat. I had to make the decision to let my dog of 17 years cross over the Rainbow Bridge. I’ve been caring for her medical needs for the last two years eye and kidney disease, meds four times a day, hand feeding three times a day, special diet and she was healthy and spoiled and I loved taking care of her. Now I miss this routine and her and seem to be at a loss as to what to do although I have four other dogs to care for. She was my special girl with a special love.

  10. I totally agree! As much as I love riding, I think I love barn chores more. There have been many times when I had a little extra time I could spend riding and spent it tidying in the barn or grooming horses instead.

    Another thing about caring for livestock is that it forces me to get out of the house, into the fresh air, and moving around at least twice a day, regardless of the weather. I might resent the cold or foul weather at first, but after a few minutes of barn work I’m warm and happy and enjoying even the crappiest of days!

  11. I was just looking at the webcam and noticed one of the girls going into the nesting box at 5:23 pm. My experience with my girls has been that they usually don’t use the next box after 3:00 pm. Just wondering if that is common with your hens. I monitor my girls on a webcam but I don’t broadcast it.
    Harmon in Cincinnati

  12. I enjoy the same hard work. I’m currently building a large run and large coop. I have spent daylight hours on the weekends, (even in light rain) and gone out in the evenings afterwork before the daylight fades. I am an animal lover and will do almost anything for them. I have 9 chicks on order and look forward to their arrival and introduction to the home I’ve put so much love into building. I’d love to share my building journey…
    I enjoy checking in on your chickens during my work day and reading your blog.
    Thank you for sharing!
    Austin, Texas

  13. Loved this post. I also have 1 brd with extra needs. She had bumblefoot. I tried to take care of myself in oct but we wound up at the vet. No surgery needed. She was fine after some antiobiotics and foot soaking daily. it came back a few weeks ago but I’ve been doing Epsom salt bath every day and giving her a “boot” to wear. I have a feeling she will alwas require extra care. But she is laying and seems healthy. I have come to look forward to our mid morning spa soak.

  14. thanks terry for the thoughts on ikea – and thanks to the respondents who added their thoughts. i’m in a ‘relationship’ with billy ray cyrus (cat) and charlie (dog) and that’s all you can call it. i love them. they cause me to love them, therefore, i work for them. and work is important to me. i get up in the a.m. because i have the chores to do for them. and i’ve been feeling guilty because this seems to be all my life. why don’t i go and do something useful?? but i don’t. i’m 80, i love it – i do love my old age and i’m glad i got this far – shouldn’t i be doing something useful? your essay, all the posts helped assuage my guilt and i’m going to leave itlie! thanks again!

    • I’ve been thinking about why Buffy, of all of the hens, has been such a favorite of HenCammers over the years. It must be that she exudes calm.

      • I too have a soft spot for Buffy. I think it’s because she has a way of beating the odds. Just when it seems like she won’t make it, she comes through somehow.

  15. I can relate to so much of this essay, and the follwoing comments. I too have just lost an animal (Tommy, cat) over the Rainbow Bridge after 20 years, the last 2 being quite difficult for all. I spend so much more time outside on my 3/4 acre land now than I ever did when I lived in a tract house. We’ve plowed up twice as much land for this year’s garden as we did last year, partly because I learned that my Grandmother has a victory garden in Chicago that fed her family through the war. Many of us are in a different kind of war these days. A war of isolation where we don’t know our neighbors, or care too, a lack of fresh air and an intimate relationship with nature. Where emails and texting replaces letters and a visit over the fence. I so appreciate the opportunity to share a bit of my life, not just of the chickens, with all of you and I definately feel the ‘ikea effect”. :)

    • I’m sorry for your loss. I heard from one man who came to my chicken workshop, that now that he has backyard chickens, that he has met his neighbors and their children. They all love his hens and they meet frequently to spend time with his flock.

  16. Which came first, hard work or love?- not unlike the relationship between the chicken and the egg! :-D

    I find myself wondering how we can consider our modern way of life so successful, when so many of us must devote our time to careers which we do not enjoy, simply to be able to afford to do the work that fills us with joy (“hobbies”).

    -Not meaning to sound so glum! I hope that many people find as much satisfaction in the work that pays the bills. :-)

  17. Excellent post! I know we certainly have more invested in our chickens, garden, etc. because we did it ourselves, than just paying someone else to set it all up, and the eggs/veggies/fruits/herbs all taste better (of course).
    Nancy, Little Homestead in Boise