New hens and the horrible truth about debeaking

In the last post, I announced the arrival of the 6 new ladies in my life. They join our existing flock to bring us to a total of 12 hens.

I intended to re-home some ex-caged hens but the person I was put in contact with said they weren’t having a clear out for a while. She was, however, getting some new stock and said I could order some point of lay hens for just £6 each, from her. That’s a good price as I paid £10 per bird from another local breeder.

There were a couple of weeks to wait before they were ready to go and I eagerly awaited the phone call. When the cal came, Dave and I popped down the road to collect them the following morning.

They were in a very small crate when we arrived and their feathers were scraggly from the cramped conditions. I instantly noticed that they have been debeaked which saddened me, but at least these 6 hens have escaped their original destiny. You may notice in the first picture that the end section of the hen’s top beak is missing. Debeaking is the process for laying hens having their top beaks removed, usually with a hot blade, without anesthetic.   It’s a treatment all industry caged hens, and even ‘free range’ hens get, to stop them damaging each other from pecking. They live in such small spaces that they can’t run away from each other and can therefore sustain constant pecking from hens higher up the status ladder.  The cramped nature also makes hens attack each other more aggressively.

The process is controversial and there is pressure for it to be banned. Studies prove the birds feel the pain at time of removal and also long term pain is endured, often changing their natural behaviour; they peck at their environment less and shake their heads less after drinking and eating. You can read more about it on this website I researched.

The ban hasn’t gone through yet, with the argument that an alternative solution to protect hens from being pecked is required for their welfare.

Surely the solution is obvious; more space to roam and act naturally? Pecking is completely natural as chickens need to establish a hierarchy among their flock.  But the change in behaviour due to cramped conditions leads to cannibalism. It’s not natural.

Anyway, back to my hens…

They were destined to be caged hens and so far they are acting like them. For the first week they didn’t dare come out of the coop and when I carried them out of it, after two days of hiding in there, they ran back in! The original 6 ladies, Clementine, Peach, Sienna, Ginger, Pumpkin and Paprika have been hen-pecking them a lot. It’s upsetting to witness but it’s natural and they have lots of room to get away from each other.

One of the new hens is definitely bolder than the others (the one stood in the doorway of the coop in the photo above) and will peck seed from the tray at the same time as the original ladies. They have started to establish a new order and should start hanging out together in a few weeks. At the moment they are divided into two distinct groups.

The new hens have learnt to enjoy the outside and dash around the enclosure, in what appears to be joy, with their wings open when I let them out of their coop on a morning.

I’m sad that my hens look quite ugly with their wonky beaks and the thought that they may still endure pain, but I am happy that they are now enjoying a new life in a woodland environment with lots of space to roam. I let them all out of the enclosure and into the wood to roam freely last weekend. The new hens were cautious but curious. They scratted the ground in search of food which was lovely to watch.  I don’t let them out of their enclosure when no one is around because we have foxes in the wood and don’t want to risk them being killed!

One last word…

Please support local, true free range hen owners and buy your eggs from them. These hens will lead a happy life, with space to roam and full beaks!

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By Jenni Tulip

I'm a bright-haired, hill walking, magpie whispering, skull collecting, tree hugging, money saving, bird watching, happy campervanning, ferret fanatic, woodland dweller sharing my stories and passion for the outdoors to inspire you to immerse yourself in nature.