The British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) state there are 16 million battery hens in the UK, yet only 60,000 a year are re-homed, with the rest going from cage to abattoir. So there’s plenty of scope for anyone to become involved in keeping ex-battery chickens.
Henny Penny fully supports the work of the BHWT.
The good news is that, even for the chicken keeping novice, ex-battery hens are quite easy to look after. Re-homing is an extremely rewarding way to give these helpless victims a better life, and it will also provide you with the most wonderful tasting eggs! Chickens are always great to watch, and often ex-batts will soon begin to display their own distinct characters. There’s also that feel-good factor of knowing that you’ve saved some hens from a sad end to a miserable existence.
So to help you make a difference, here are some tips on re-homing ex batts:
1. Hens need have enough space around them during the day in their run, with sufficient shelter from the sun and rain. At night the coop needs to be spacious enough for them to sleep comfortably, as well as being weather proof. Good ventilation is also a must, but make sure there are no draughts.
2. All areas must be safe from Mr Fox – if there is a gap or a weak point, he will find it.
3. If you have an area of garden for your chickens to forage in then great. But don’t worry if not. To ensure they have sufficient food, water and a little love will be sufficient.
4. Having made preparations to house them safely and securely, you need to find some ex-batts looking to be re-homed. Contact the British Hen Welfare Trust or other re-homing organisation to find out when their next event is happening. Make sure you have a suitably sized cardboard box or dog travel basket with a blanket or some newspaper bedding, and adequate ventilation holes to transport them home safely.
5. Look to take at least 3 – 4 hens. They like to flock, and it may be too traumatic if you only have two and one doesn’t survive the re-homing process. Once ‘home’ your hens need to stay in their coop and run for a little while or they will simply wander off. They need to understand this is their new home.
6. If you have young children, involve them! Looking after ex-battery chickens will help them to understand where their food comes from, as well as the benefits of looking after animals.
7. Your new girls may not look ‘great’ and will probably have feathers missing and pink patches of skin showing, but they will be quite healthy (if not very fit). As chicks they will have had all the necessary injections to protect them against nasty diseases, so don’t worry. They’ll soon bounce back over the next few weeks once they get settled and looked after. Initially your hens may not be able to stand on their perches, but most will be able to manage this in their own time – there’s no rush!
8. Ex-batts are likely to be very fragile and nervous until they settle in, so make sure everything you do around them is done in a calm manner. Talk softly to them to let them know they no longer have anything to worry about. It’s just commonsense really.
9. If you already have chickens, then you must keep the new girls separate for at least 2 weeks. This is because the ex-batts will not be strong or experienced enough to stand up for themselves with your existing girls, so you’ll need sufficient space to accommodate this temporary arrangement. As the phrase goes, they need to establish a ‘pecking order’, which can be a distressing and potentially brutal process to observe. It’s only nature’s way, but if it really gets out of hand (and blood is drawn) then you can always use some anti-peck spray.
10. Chickens normally put themselves to bed around dusk, but you’ll find ex-batts may need some ‘help’ to go to bed initially. If they are still out and about, gently encourage them into the coop, or if they’ll let you, pick them up carefully and pop them inside.
11. As battery hens they will have been fed a form of layers mash. It is very important to continue with a similar feed such as ‘Ex-Batt Crumbs’ for at least 3 – 4 weeks. Crumbs provide all the nutrients to support egg production and to help their feathers to re-grow. Layers pellets can be gradually introduced over the initial weeks, along with some grit. Putting a garlic clove in their water drinker also helps to protect against respiratory diseases, which can be quite serious in chickens.
11. When your girls are ready to join any existing hens, put them into the main coop at night when the others have gone to bed. This is far less confrontational than doing it in daylight – the hope is that when your older girls wake up they won’t be phased by seeing someone new in their space – they’ll just accept it and go about their normal business.
Re-homing ex-batts is a wonderful experience and may well be one of the best things you ever do with many direct and indirect benefits. It will help to educate your children in keeping animals, you’ll feel great about producing your own eggs, and perhaps best of all…it’s a great stress-buster as you can’t help but relax and enjoy the funny things these charming creatures get up to!