After posting about making a treat for the chickens on Sunday, I remembered that not all of our chickens have had the same start. Earlier this year Binty bought some ex-battery hens who are now in retirement with her. This is retirement in the sense that they weren’t bought with the expectation of eggs, simply to give them better lives.
Please note that if you are easily upset, you may not want to look at the pictures below; they are of very sad chickens.
When these ladies arrived they hadn’t seen the big outdoors and they didn’t know what grass was. They’d not had the ability to scratch around in the dirt, and in essence, they didn’t know that they were chickens, all they knew was the life inside.
They weren’t cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see sky, and they remember what they are.
— River Tam, Firefly
For the first week or so after their arrival they lived inside with a heat-lamp, only coming out when the weather was dry. Unlike our other chickens, they didn’t have enough of a covering of feathers to keep them dry or insulated, and the last thing we wanted to do was to make their situation worse. After a couple of weeks of the inside-outside life the girls were released into the hen patch alongside the other girls and before long they began scratching and dust-bathing just like the others.
A few months on, and they still have a bit of a scruffy look about them. However, they are now proper chickens and are indulging in the usual chicken-y behaviour. The most recent picture of them isn’t very well focused and is blurry as they don’t keep still unless they need to; the are busy little souls that will come to see what is going on before darting off on their own agendas. They’re laying sporadically too, which is a bonus!
Our ex-battery hens were re-homed via the Battery Hen Welfare Trust. This charity has intakes of hens from battery farms that are destined for the obvious end that a commercial hen has coming to her. Not all hens can be saved, it is a sad fact, however the BHWT do what they can, as do the volunteers that work with them. The BHWT also has a variety of information on the egg industry and its practices.
The industry in the UK has been greatly improved in recent years through new laws and welfare guidelines, however these do not extend to the EU which is why it is important to buy British when it is possible. It is very easy to say ‘Buy British!’ and ‘Don’t buy eggs from caged hens!’, and in an ideal world we would all do that. However, we must be realistic and accept that for some people, price is a massive factor in helping them choose what they buy and 25p can be the difference between staying in budget, or going over. In the future, caged hens may be a thing of the past (we hope), however since 2012 they have benefitted from better, enriched cages that gives them a better life style, albeit far removed from the life of a free range hen.
If the industry carries on with improvements like it has been then the future is looking brighter for chickens.