Most people have considered getting a rescue dog or cat but what about hens? And ex battery hens at that?
In 2009, my husband Geoff and I decided to get some rescued battery hens. We got in touch with the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, (now called the British Hen Welfare Trust) and registered our name.
Geoff decided to build a coop rather than buy one so we bought some wood and then began the hard job of clearing the part of the garden where we wanted to put them. A couple of days later, (and a couple of bad backs) the patch of land was prepared and new turf laid. The coop was coming along nicely too.
Soon we would be adopting four hens but we had time to finish the hen-coop, get it weather proofed and get the enclosure ready. It also gave us time to do some homework as neither of us had kept hens before. Eventually we were informed of the day we could collect them.
On the morning of the re-homing day, the coop was made ready. Food and water was put into the appropriate dispensers and wood shavings put into the nest boxes. In the afternoon we went to get our hens. When we got to the farm our name was checked against their list, we gave a small donation and we were told to go to the barn at the back to collect them. In the barn were dozens of hens. The helpers caught four of them and put them into the boxes we had taken. At last we had our ‘girls’.
At home we put them into the coop. All four of them looked rather bare and bedraggled. They were obviously traumatised so we left them alone to get used to their new surroundings. After about an hour, one was brave enough to venture outside briefly, the others had a look but stayed inside. The poor things had very few feathers, their legs were weak and they couldn’t stand up straight. Later that evening we shut them in the hen-house for the night.
The next morning was a little different. Two were happy to come out and have a look around. The others stayed inside for a bit longer but eventually they all had a bit of a wander outside, and mid-morning in one of the nest boxes we discovered our first egg! Geoff was nearly jumping for joy. A little later we found egg number two.
The next day the hens were much friendlier and we had another couple of eggs to collect out of the nest boxes. By the afternoon two of the hens would take grapes out of my hand. It was good to see them relaxed and beginning to feel at home. They were standing up better and flapping their wings having a good stretch, something they had never been able to do before.
The last two days must have been very stressful for them. They’d had so much to get used to with the change in their environment, the people who dealt with them, lots of different sounds and the
weather. They had never felt the wind blowing or the rain wetting them. As it was October, and they would have to wait a few months before they felt any warm sunshine on their backs.
Within two weeks or so their new feathers were growing and they were very settled in their new home but the grass we had laid for them, that had grown so well, was gone! They’d eaten every blade down to the roots but didn’t seem to mind; it just meant they could scratch in the earth easier to find worms and grubs. Soon, Heather, Daisy, Poppy and Sweet-pea were fully feathered and looked beautiful.
Hens are friendly, curious and very easy to look after. At night they even put themselves to bed. I was surprised how little they cluck. Most of the time they make cooing or little trumpety noises; they cluck when they are alarmed or sometimes they announce that they have laid an egg! I read in a book that hens sing when they are happy. Well our girls sing to us every time they see us.
Geoff and I get so much pleasure watching them as they preen and tend to themselves, ruffling their feathers in the rain, having dust baths when it’s dry enough and lying on their sides with a wing lifted, sunbathing. They love a bit of cabbage or some grapes as a treat and will clear a weedy patch of garden in no time and their poo is great to put in the compost heap. Over the last few years
we’ve had as many as ten rescued hens, given them more of the garden and never had to buy an egg from a shop. At the moment we are back to four, one of which is Poppy, the last of our original
Thankfully, commercial hens are no longer kept in tiny ‘barren’ battery cages in the UK. British farmers now use the enriched colony cages, which is better for the welfare of the hens – but it is still
a cage. The British Hen Welfare Trust is a charity that re-homes hens and is now in its 10th year. They can be found at bhwt.org.uk where you will find lots of information on their website, everything from how to look after hens, to recipes on how to use all those lovely eggs. They are also on Facebook and Twitter. So far they have saved more than 460,000 hens from slaughter and are on their count down (count up?) to 500,000. They manage to re-home around 2,000 hens every month or so. Think about it, might you have room in your life and your garden for some ginger feathered friends?