Emma Durston tells how she and her family give a new lease of life to rescued chickens.
I AM sure you have all caught an article recently either in a magazine, the newspaper or on television. It seems today's famous chef's are all chicken crazy and the debate continues over raising
chickens by battery, barn or free range.
As a smallholder with animal welfare and the desire for good produce both as a priority, we have always kept our chickens free range. We are fortunate enough to be able to have our chickens in a
good acre of land with plenty of grazing and space to explore.
So, having seen one of the TV chefs rescue battery hens, I had the urge for us to do the same and thought I'd share my experience with you in case you are thinking about getting rescue hens.
I set about finding the Battery Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) local co-ordinator to establish when the next rescue' would be. Having secured 16 we waited for the rescue day to come around and prepared
a new shed for their arrival.
Having made the round trip of almost three hours we were keen to get the birds unboxed and free in their new environment. We had been amongst at least six other families queuing to collect hens
and I could not help smiling at the thought of all the birds that had been saved that day.
On advice from the BHWT we kept our hens inside for a few days and at first collected a reasonable number of eggs. It was with surprise however once we let the birds run free that the egg
production seemed to diminish to nothing and sadly we had some fatalities.
If you have not seen rescue hens on TV, they are generally very slight and with hardly any feathers.
Their combs are big, floppy and light pink and they usually have long toe nails which the BHWT trim for you before collection.
As the egg production had dropped away we initially assumed that now they were free they were putting all their energy into exploring their surroundings and getting healthy. We put the deaths down
to stress', as some birds were afraid to leave the security of the shed.
With regular daily observation however we discovered that the hens were lying in wait to eat the eggs being laid and in some cases hens were attacking bald patches on other hens to the point of
With all the space that the hens had, we were amazed at the behaviour going on. Not to be deterred, we purchased and added to the shed a set of roll away nest boxes and caught up every hen and
sprayed their bald bits with purple spray. The reason for this is to hide any red spots which will encourage pecking from other bird.
We put clay eggs into the original nest boxes and we even mixed pepper and chilli with a raw egg and put this down for the hens to eat in an attempt to put them off by its taste. They however ate
it all with no ill affect and it seemed to make no difference.
We looked in books and researched on the internet and even called the BHWT. The general advice, over and above all we had done, seemed to be that if there is one main hen that is the culprit,
basically it has to go!' We didn't seem to have a main culprit and not wanting to have to dispatch any birds we persevered. We left the clay eggs in situ and just moved them from box to box,
collected eggs every hour and checked every hen daily for damage and kept our fingers crossed.
I can now say that things have come good' and I'm glad we didn't give up. The hens are back to good health and look well, they lay plenty of eggs and are very friendly birds that follow you
It seems to me that when they were rescued they only knew how to live in a battery environment so when they became free they had to start life all over again and as you know, life at times can be
a challenge! If you are interested in rescue battery hens, check out the BHWT website www.bhwt.org.uk