Last week I rescued 6 scraggy hens from a local free-range chicken farm just a few miles from our house.
You may have seen some of the publicity about them last week as posts on Facebook went viral and even Chris Evans reported on the story on BBC Radio 2 on his breakfast show.
Ellie, the daughter of the farm owner, Sheena Seels, put out a post on Facebook asking for help to rehome the 10,000 hens that were due to be slaughtered. She advertised the hens for just £1 each and the message went viral over Facebook.
It is normal practice for hens over a year old to be slaughtered as they become less productive.
It felt like to good an opportunity to miss as the farm is just a few miles down the road and we had space for a few more ladies after Mr Fox visited and took a few last year. I text the number advertised and was told to pop down with a cage to get my new ladies.
There were several other people at the hen barn when I arrived and a couple came walking out with several cages filled with hens. I, along with a few other people, were asked if we would like to see where the hens are kept. I stood in the doorway and looked out across the sea of red hens. Several gathered around our feet, not at all scared by our presence.
I could see that the hens have an ‘enriched environment’; there were different levels and nest boxes and they had access to a large outdoor area. I was quite impressed by the standards.
I asked if I could take a photo but the owners looked a little concerned by my request. They explained they had received negativity after someone posted a photo of the hens on Facebook recently. The hens were huddled together roosting as it was night time yet people on Facebook thought the hens were in crammed conditions due to the way they were pressed up against each other. People do jump to conclusions! I decided not to take a photo out of respect more than anything.
The farmers asked how many hens I would like. I asked for 5, however, they packed 6 hens into my cage while asking me whether I was ok with the extra hen! I couldn’t really say no!
Once back home, I released the girls into the pen with their new sisters, put down some layers pellets then quickly retreated in doors as it began to rain. That night I came down ill with the norovirus so didn’t actually get to see the hens for another couple of days.
Ian and Dave went out on the evenings I was still ill on the sofa to check the hens had gone into the coop and then feed them all the next day.
We have had the hens over a week now and they have settled in with their older sisters very well. They look scabby due to the lack of feathers from henpecking but they will grow back in time. The original eight are sorting out the pecking order meaning the new hens are currently subject to being chased away from food constantly.
This weekend was the first time I let the hens out of the pen to roam in the woods. The new girls followed the older hens closely and enjoyed scratting the fallen leaves and exploring the area. Both evenings all hens have returned to the pen successfully which is a good sign the new hens are happy and feel comfortable on their new home.
I think it’s really good of the chicken farmers to give these hens the opportunity of a longer life with local people. They risked the potential backlash from people who don’t agree with the way the hens are farmed, and they spent several days taking calls and visits from strangers wanting to buy the hens.
I know quite a quite a few people who also bought some of the hens and I have enjoyed following their stories on Facebook. I believe that all of the remaining hens were taken by a local animal rescue who are temporarily holding them until they find new homes.
If you’re interested in rehoming ex-commercial layer hens, ask around your local area or search the internet for organisations that help to rehome hens.
It feels great to give our 6 new ladies a new loving home and, best of all, we get lots of eggs in return!