If you would like to adopt some rescued battery hens please read below, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.
When choosing accommodation number of hens and space available are the key issues. The hen house needs to be sturdy and secure to protect from fox’s and badgers.
Remember that foxes are native animals, chickens are not. It is completely natural for a fox to hunt for its food and so if a hen is taken, this is not the fault of the fox.
All meshing should be weld mesh and any doors secured by sliding bolts, not swivelling locks as these can easily be opened by a fox.
When selecting a house we advise you buy one to accommodate more hens than you actually intend to keep. For example, if you want six hens, we would advise you purchase a house to accommodate at least eight hens. This will ensure they have plenty of space not only to roost and nest, but also to take shelter from the weather during the day.
There are houses which are static with attached runs and others which are movable. You will need to assess the best option for you taking into account that hens like to peck and scratch grass – the bigger the run you can give them the better, not only for their own enjoyment, but also to keep the ground they are ranging in good condition. (Hens like to create dust bath areas which will become mud baths in the wet weather). If you decide to select a house you can move regularly and free range the hens you will need to ensure that the hens are well homed before allowing them complete freedom. This normally takes a couple of days.
Many people choose to adapt a standard garden shed with perches and nest boxes. As a guide a 6′ x 4′ shed will comfortably accommodate 12 – 15 hens.
A number of products are commonly used on the house floor, chopped straw can be used for larger numbers of hens and generally shavings for small numbers. If you are using shavings it is important to buy ‘first grade’ shavings with the dust extracted. This is available from most country stores and comes in bales. Do not use cheaper shavings as the dust can cause the birds to have eye and respiratible helath problems.
Nest boxes ideally need some soft material in order to make a cosy place in which to lay an egg. Shavings with some straw on top is a good option, although this can sometimes be a favourite hiding place of the red mite (more on bugs later).
Your girls will, of course, have done nothing other than stand in a tiny cage for their entire lives. Consequently they will be very unfit to begin with and usually completely unable to jump up to a roost or nest box.
This problem can be overcome by placing a ramp up to the roost/nest box or giving them access to a nest box on the floor (even a cardboard box on its side with shavings and a bit of hay in will suffice until they are fit enough to use the proper facilities). It doesn’t take them very long to build up their strength and within a couple of weeks most are capable of jumping to a standard roost height.
For the same reason as above, we always advise that it is best for the girls if they are kept separate from a cockerel for at least a couple of weeks – (a) they’ve never seen a cockerel and it’s a pretty scary experience when they do and (b) if he’s big and keen, he may do damage by jumping on a hen with weak legs and/or bald backs. If you can, give them a couple of weeks to build their confidence and strength.
We never knowingly allow a hen to go to a new home with health problems, although occasionally one does slip through the net because of the large numbers we are dealing with.
When the hens first go into the cages they will have had a long list of vaccinations to protect the farmer against large losses. These are usually administered through spray misting the chicks or in the drinking water. The most common diseases vaccinated against are Marek’s disease, infectious bronchitis, salmonella, Newcastle disease, Gumboro disease and epidemic tremor.
One of the more common problems with `spent’ battery hens is bruising, often to legs, sometimes to wings. This usually occurs when they are removed from the cages and can be so bad the hen finds it painful to stand. If you gently look you will see dark bruising under the skin and Anica cream rubbed in works wonders. As long as you see that she gets food and water, a bruised hen will recover within 7-14 days with no lasting ill effects. (If possible, do not separate her from the other hens, as when you return her to the group she will be seen as an ‘outsider’ and bullied).
Occasionally, a hen will have suffer from broken bones, particulary in the short period after they leave then farm, until they can build up thier calcium. If this occurs following adoption, please contact us imedicately. We can generally repair broken wings and legs successfully.
The hens have been used to very warm conditions within the battery unit; this is why so many have large, floppy combs (they act as heat dissipaters) – the combs will not only redden as they are exposed to the weather, but usually shrink as the hens need to ‘lose’ less heat.
Obvious precautions need to be taken – if the sun is very strong the hens can suffer sunburn, especially the ‘oven-readies’. Equally if it’s really cold, wet and windy, they will initially need to be encouraged back into their new homes otherwise they tend to just stand still and get wet – this in turn can lead to sniffles and worse.
Homing the Girls
When you first get your girls, it’s usually best to keep them in their house for a day to home them. Even the pleasure of discovering a shed is far more stimulation than they are used to, so they should be quite happy. (If you have a small enclosure restricting their range, then it will be fine straight away).
When you let them out for the first time, let them out about a hour before dusk which will encourage them to stay near to the house and return as darkness falls.
Although there is no guarantee of how many eggs spent battery hens will lay, generally you will get about a 40-50% production rate, i.e. 10 hens will lay 4-5 eggs daily. THIS IS A GUIDELINE ONLY.
We ONLY re-home hens to ethical, life-long homes where they will never be killed just because they have slowed down or stopped laying.
Battery hens have absolutely no concept of a nest box facility. You will find eggs will be dropped wherever they happen to be walking at the time of lay. Rubber or china egg balls are a wonderful way of teaching the hens about the pleasure of laying in a cosy nest. They can be quite clumsy to begin with and the rubber eggs are ideal because they’re realistic and indestructible!
Nails & Beaks
Toenails are often very long, although a new regulation now in force stipulates that cages should have a claw shortening device. They will often wear down quickly as the hen free ranges, but occasionally they are so long they will distort how the hen places her foot on the ground. We do try to clip as many as we can, but if we haven’t had time to clip the nails, and they are too long, dog nail clippers will do the job. Always take care not to cut the quick.
Beaks have nearly always been de-beaked; it is the top beak which is cut, making the bottom beak very often look like a shovel. DON’T be tempted to trim the bottom beak, in most instances it will wear down to its natural size and shape whilst the hen free ranges. The hen will cope with what she has, after all she’s lived for a year with the beak.
Layers mash or layers pellets available and feed for a minimum of four weeks – it is what the hens are used to and will help them settle. It is fine to feed pellets and corn straight away so long as mash is also available.
Allen and Page now do a special ex-battery mix which we recommend.
The girls will peck and scratch at everything in your garden, this will entertain them as well as make them more healthy and make the eggs taste so nice!
Don’t forget to give the girls your food waste, egg shells, rice, paste, cooked potatoes, small amounts of bread but NO MEAT.