Regular followers of our Blog may remember that on 5th November we rescued five hens through The British Hen Welfare Trust based in Chulmleigh, Devon. This charity rescues Battery Hens that have outlived their most productive months as egg-layers and are destined to be slaughtered.
What follows are some shocking facts about the life we have helped our hens escape from – please don’t read on if you’re likely to find the realities too upsetting ….
In their previous lives as factory/battery egg-laying birds our five hens were packed into a cage of only 45 x 50cm (slightly bigger than an average microwave oven) and weren’t allowed out at any time.
It is instinctive and natural behaviour for hens to move about almost non-stop during daylight hours – scratching in the soil and pecking around. When restricted in tiny cages hens need to somehow substitute this behaviour. The only source of interest left to them is the feathers and flesh of their cage mates which they frequently peck - sometimes to death. Imagine if we were forced to live in a phone box (with no natural light or fresh air) squashed in with four other unknown people - we might also become aggressive after a few weeks …. or days ….. This could be stopped by providing hens with a decent amount of space - but instead of this many farmers practice beak trimming – using a red-hot blade to remove part of their beaks when the birds are young. Some die from bleeding or shock.
Public protest has led to a small victory for hens. The EU agreed in 1999 to phase-out barren battery cages. From 1st of January 2012 the use of conventional cages will be prohibited. Only 'enriched' cages will be permitted. This sounds like an improvement - but tragically "enriched cages" still mean hens being crammed together in small spaces, with only a tiny amount more space than they have in the current caging system.
The five ‘girls’ that we adopted have settled in well so far. They’re staying undercover in the safety of our ‘Pets Corner’ area for the winter months – allowing them time to adjust to being free to roam. They still look scruffy, with lots of bald patches, but new feathers are beginning to grow through. They’re becoming more confident, ‘chatting’ to the Keepers and following them around, and of course tucking into their food with relish! I’ve included a couple of photos taken earlier today – with Fern and Charlotte doing the cuddling!
If you can offer three or more hens a good home (they like to be in a small flock) please consider contacting The British Hen Welfare Trust.