Keeping ex-battery chickens in London N21
When our chicken Dorothy's best pal Camilla the chicken passed away we put our names down with the British Hen Welfare Trust (www.bhwt.org.uk) to re-home 6 ex- battery hens. It was a long, lonely two months for little Dorothy who spent her days staring at us through the window desperate for some company. Finally we received the email to let us know that the next rescue collection was in a couple of week's time. On the day of the collection we set off with our straw lined cardboard boxes to an address in Essex .
Earlier that morning the co-ordinators from the BHWT had visited the farm and taken as many hens as they could to re-home. The hens were brought to one of the co-ordinators barns where they were given a health check and had their nails clipped. Any poorly hens were removed to the chicken clinic.We arrived at 2pm and joined the short queue of people all clutching boxes or pet carriers. A co-ordinator filled our boxes with 6 hens and we set off with them on the journey to their new happy lives of freedom.Once home we placed the boxes in the chicken coop run and opened them. 6 frightened little heads appeared. It took a few minutes for the bravest of the hens to venture slowly outside of the box. The least brave hen had to be gently coaxed out a couple of hours later.
It was shocking seeing how bald, pale and scrawny these hens were. Their combs were very large and floppy as a result of being kept in overheated sheds. Their comb disipates heat. Seeing them taking a long look at the sky and knowing that this was the first time that they had seen it was heartbreaking. At least now they were free and many happy days lay ahead for them. These hens had spent the first year of their lives in tiny, overcrowded cages with no space to flap their wings. They had to stand on wire so they could not scratch and had to fight for every mouth full of food. Their muscles were weak from lack of use and they didn't know how to be chickens.
Dorothy didn't look too pleased about these new hens so was strutting up and down the coop run fence letting them know she was top bird. She was kept outside of the coop while the new ones got used to their new home. Having just been freed from cages they were too weak to deal with any dominant behaviour that she may choose to exert.
For the first couple of weeks the hens required a fair bit of looking after. They didn't know that they should return to the coop at night time so they had to be lifted back in and then out again in the morning. Slowing the stronger ones started making their own way up the ladder at night. In the morning when the pop hole was opened they would roll down the ladder or try to jump but without feathered wings this wasn't easy. It was hard not to laugh at them landing on their heads day after day until they finally mastered the correct way to exit a chicken coop.
At first there would be a frantic race to get to the food and to eat as much as possible as quickly as possible. Small bowls of food were left around the run to prevent any guarding of food and to ensure that all hens were able to feed. They soon realised there was no need to squabble over food as there was always plenty and there were far more interesting things to do then pull each others feathers out. Luckily they had Dorothy to learn from, although she did bully a couple of the hens drawing blood on occasions, to maintain her position as top bird. The application of purple spray (an antiseptic that also disguises the blood) and Stockholm tar (taste horrible and prevents them gripping feathers) helped to keep this in check. Once the pecking order was established the hens all settled down.
Watching these hens adapt to a life of freedom is so rewarding. To see them start to scratch in the dirt, to see them stretching their wings out and flapping them, watching them run the full length of the garden for no other reason then because they can, watching them grow stronger, watching their feathers grow back, watching them attempt their first dust bath, seeing them bask in the sun. They genuinely seem so happy and lay 3-4 eggs a day to thank me.
Sadly Dorothy passed away during the extremely cold spell that we had. She was an old girl who had lived a long life. She died peacefully in the nest box surrounded by her new pals. Now she is in chicken heaven with her best pal Camilla.
All of the new girls except for one have now grown their feathers back (the one baldie is growing feathers but just at a slower rate) and are living in harmony. They love meal worms, porridge and to be allowed to free range round the garden. They even worked hard preparing the vegetable patch for planting. They cleared all the weeds, fertilised the ground once it was dug over and then helped to spread the compost evenly around.
It has been a joy to watch these bald, weak, terrified little hens become confident, fully feathered and extremely happy girls.
When our chicken Dorothy's best pal Camilla the chicken passed away we put our names down with the British Hen Welfare Trust (www.bhwt.org.uk) to re-home 6 ex- battery hens.