Rehoming Ex-Battery Hens
Having lived in confinement for so long, giving a battery hen a new life as part of a family, on a smallholding or as part of a larger operation, can be very rewarding. As they have never even seen the outdoor world before; ex-battery hens are known for their curiosity, temperament and devotion to their new owners.
Where to Get Your Hens
After being victims of intensive farming their entire lives, these one year old hens deserve something better. The British Hen Welfare Trust liaise with 29 regional centres across the UK to rescue up to 60,000 hens a year from going straight to slaughter after having never lived. To adopt hens from BHWT, you can get in touch with them directly or contact your closest centre. You can adopt between 3 and 20 hens at £3-5 per bird; this is well worth it as they are far from the end of their laying days and are such a great addition to any flock.
The Start of a New Life
Battery hens are used to a strict routine; their first day of freedom will turn their entire existence upside-down and, as such, can be a very stressful time for them. Very mundane experiences for a regular chicken are wildly alien to a battery hen. Their lives will change massively; the feel of the wind, seeing by the light of the sun or even the ability to walk further than a few centimetres are entirely new experiences. You’ll be able to tell that they’re healthy if the hens seem alert, are scratching around, feeding and drinking well. They may limp or be weak on their legs but this is due to them being unused to walking (be gentle, they will soon build up their strength). As they are used to 18 hours of light a day; they will require help adjusting to a real day and night cycle. This means they may need tempting into and out of their coop at dusk and dawn.
A New Home
When choosing housing for your ex-battery hens, or any hen, make sure they have plenty of room in both the coop and their run. It should also be very secure; you don’t want their first taste of freedom snatched away by an inconsiderate fox. Their coop should be well ventilated but not draughty and should be furnished with nice soft bedding. Remove any perches, they’ll have no experience of being on a perch and these will probably trip them up, until the hens are strong enough to use them. As both rain and bright sunlight will be new experiences; make sure they have adequate cover against the elements.
When moving the hens into their new home; keep them in their coop and run for the first two weeks. This will imprint onto them that this is their home; a concept that escapes ex-battery hens. Be sure to give them things to keep them occupied; a dust bath is essential anyway but can also keep hens amused. Hanging up CDs and mirrors (out of reach or on the other side of the cage), as well as corn and other vegetables for the hens to peck at can keep them very well entertained and out of trouble.
Finer Dining and Drinking
Having always been on fed crumbs their entire lives; mix some in with their regular feed. Keep a high crumb to feed ratio to begin with and slowly wean them off it. Tonics and apple cider vinegar can help boost the hens’ immune system and make them stronger. Be sure their feeder is covered or has a rain hat to keep their feed nice and dry. Also be sure that they have a plentiful supply of grit separate from their feed. You may have to teach them how to use a drinker as up until now they will have been to using a drip drinker. It’s a nice idea to give them a little treat in the afternoon while assuring they eat their main meal in the morning. This may consist of corn, maize, mealworms or a dried insect mix.
The Same Hen less than a Year Later
Healthier Than They Look
Ex-battery hens may look rather unhealthy but this is not the case as they have been well vaccinated since birth against many diseases. They are just a bit unfit but after a few months in your care they should grow back their lost feathers, have a nice red hue to their combs and generally look healthier and happier. Parasites and red mites may pose a threat as they do to any poultry. Be sure to read our guide on fighting this common problem.
The Proverbial Pecking Order
If you already have a flock of hens, be sure to keep the ex-battery hens away from them for 2 to 3 weeks to avoid squabbles. Ex-battery hens are more than capable of defending themselves and will put up a good fight if challenged. Be sure to provide them with multiple feeders and drinkers to stop the dominant birds from denying the others food or water. If one is getting systematically bullied; remove her from the group and place her into the coop that night amongst her peers so that they all wake up together. There may be an exchange of words or pecks come dawn but let them duke it out unless blood is drawn. If you keep breaking up any fights then the process will just be drawn out longer. If worse comes to worse, anti-peck spray can be utilised to keep the peace. Once it’s all said and done, whoever comes out on top will become the guardian of the flock.