This is a more personal post, as I want to tell you about the amazing work the British Hen Welfare Trust do.
To start, I'll give you a little back story. My next door neighbours had 13 hens, and then few years ago decided that they would re-home them. We'd never had chickens before, but decided to give it a go with their help, and took 5 of them.
Well, that changed my life! I'd always been a little scared of them, simply as we don't get the chance to be around chickens often, so they were an unknown entity. I soon learned how entertaining they are, how they have such different personalities, how they love a good cuddle and a bath and how lovely their eggie presents are compared to the shops.
Fast forward a year or two, and some of our girls had gone to chicken heaven :( Since then, we've adopted 8 ex-free range hens from the BHWT. It has been interesting as the first 5 we got all came in pretty good condition, just a little pecked from squabbling. The second lot was in a terrible state for free-range, and certainly opened my eyes to the fact that not all farms are the same. I knew at this stage that giving a good retirement to hens would be a big feature of my life, so my next step last year was to build a bigger-than-I-meant-to build chicken house. It's built up high to make it easy for us to clean and give them shelter underneath from the rain and is fully insulated. I used old bits of wood I had, wood donated to me and even old laminate flooring on the inside. It was fun to make :)
I've had a few years on this planet now, and enough to know that I feel passionate that large-scale industrial animal farming is not the right way. Farming is a wonderful thing, and I'm not commenting as I'm a vegan or even a full vegetarian, but I think it's only sensible that we farm with care for the planet and compassion for the animals we are going to consume. Industrial farming has been shown again and again to be having a negative effect on the planet, and it certainly is not the life that the animals should be having. Our second lot of free-range re-homed hens showed me that we are moving in the right direction, but there is work to be done.
We've learnt that our rescue hens have a shorter life than our first ones and our two fancy Poland chickens with afros that we bought back in the day, and we've just been given the chance to house 4 ex-colony birds. This is the new name for battery/caged hens, but they are given a little more of a natural environment in their cages with perches etc.
I jumped at the chance as these are hens in real need of seeing that life can be lovely. We touched back up our old smaller chicken house with its own run, so that they could adjust slowly without having our girls up in their faces with a bit of turf warfare.
The next step, last Saturday, was to go to the collection day and get our new girls. It was, as I expected, the most difficult of the re-homing days. The staff were amazing of course, and it was run with impeccable efficiency. What was difficult, was that there were 4 poorly hens outside of the big pen that the staff had the re-homing girls in. All 4 were wrapped in coats and were in the sun, and it transpired after talking to the staff, that they were suffering from hyperthermia and trauma. These girls were not well, and it broke my heart. Once we got to the holding pen, I could see why. They were scrawny, with barely any feathers and had probably never been outside. They were wondering what the hell was going on and their bodies were in shock. The staff kept them all as calm as they could of course, and it was worth the move from the farm in order for them all to find new homes. They deserve to enjoy a free-range retirement after all their hard work commercially egg laying for their whole lives so far. It was just too much for those poor 4 girls. The staff were going to look after them as they had the experience, and hopefully most of them pulled through with all their TLC.
We packed our 4 girls in our lined crate, and brought them straight home. They were certainly unsure, and were pecking madly at me, but I managed to give them a little bath (they loved it and calmed straight away) and a good dose of vitamins before they moved into their temporary house within our big run. Welcome to the family ladies! We named them Hilda, Frida, China and Villanelle (big Killing Eve fans!).
They have spent the last week in their little house and run, and have settled in so well. Hilda is a little poorly, but she is further forward with her feathers coming back, and it looks incredibly sore. She loves her pet-friendly hot water bottle. Villanelle is living up to her name, and spends her time trying to escape the smaller run when I open the door. She's ready for her freeeeeeedom! She's been out a few times and with her extra confidence will really help the other 3 when they integrate.
I think I will integrate the two most confident this weekend, as Hilda is just not ready, but Villanelle is going stir crazy! Villanelle and probably China will be placed in the main chicken house at night, as this is the best way to have them accepted. The older girls will wake up and see them in their house in the morning, and realise there is very little they can do about it now! Hilda and Frida can then stay in the little house together until Hilda is ready.
If you've ever thought about getting chickens, I totally recommend it! Get a good guide-book and speak to others for advice (me included!). The BHWT has a wealth of information and supplies, and can advise if you are starting with rescue hens. It's a learning curve, but they are so much lovelier than I ever imagined, and will really make you smile.