A sorry tale today, but one with a happy ending attached. It’s no news that battery hens are kept in horrible conditions with barely the space to turn round and nothing to do but pull each others feathers out. But the story of what happens to these unlucky hens next is less well publicised. Battery hens are hybrids, bred to lay, and most battery hens can lay an egg a day for their first year (after reaching maturity). In their second year that decreases to more like 270 eggs in the year. In intensive farming terms this is just not efficient enough and most battery hens are sent to slaughter at around a year old. They’re not particularly tasty or well nourished so they end up in dog food or stock.
In our current economic climate farmers are having to keep hens for longer than normal before they can afford to replace them with new. I can’t get my mind round which situation is worse for the hens: die early or have an extended stay in detestable, miserable conditions. But hey, I said this was a tale with a happy ending. Four weeks ago Eva, Henrietta and Gloria retired from the battery cage and came to live with us in veritable chicken luxury.
Picking our three girls up on rescue day was rather more of an emotional rollercoaster than I had been expecting. Five hundred stressed, neglected hens is a harrowing sight but the remarkable folk at the Battery Hen Welfare Trust had new owners queing out of the yard and down the lane to whisk all five hundred hens off to happy new homes.
Our three lovelies are in varying degrees of featheriness. Henrietta appears to be a normal hen (until you pick her up and see her poor little bald tum). Gloria is clothed primarily in her white underfeathers. Poor Eva has had her neck and shoulders so badly pecked that she looks positively oven-ready.
While Nik and I have been learning all about henny behaviour over the past weeks so have Eva, Gloria and Henrietta . How do you explain to a hen that has never had an “outside” or a nesting box all about going to bed and laying your eggs in the right place? Happily they’re fast learners and all three already know how to take themselves off to bed at dusk and how to help themselves to the kale in my vegetable plot. Henrietta has even taught herself how to make a dustbath by relieving a hollow in our lawn of its grass. Oh and there’s an added bonus too; we’re currently averaging two tasty garden-fresh eggs every day.
Find out more about chicken welfare and adopting your own
Battery hen welfare trust information for consumers
Battery hen welfare trust information potential hen adopters
Compassion in world farming poultry pages
Animals Australia Free Betty campaign