Rescued Battery Hens

March 11th, 2010 by Geoff Leave a reply »

Last year I decided to join the growing band of poultry keepers but instead of buying point-of-lay pullets I decided to start a small flock of rescued battery hens. I felt I could best play my small part in rejecting the high-intensity egg producing business but giving a better life to birds that had already suffered too much. There are a number of groups who re-home battery hens such as The Battery Hen Welfare Trust, but I used Hen Rehomers UK because they have a distribution network here in Oxfordshire. All they asked was proof that the hens would have somewhere decent to live and a donation of 50p per hen.

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In August I collected my 3 ex-batts, and they were in a pitiful condition. None had any neck feathers and they looked very sorry for themselves. However, they were soon producing eggs, despite appearances!

After a month I was having so much fun from my chickens that I decided to get two more. These were in a far better physical condition. There was a short squabble, as the new hens found their place in the pecking order (at the bottom, because the first 3 had strengthened so much in that time) and the flock has now settled down to a tranquil co-existence. The hens’ appearance has continued to improve, so much so that by Christmas they were beginning to look quite handsome. Can the one in the centre foreground really be the same hen above left?

Feeding

My feeding routine is to give the hens hot cooked grain and mash with vegetable scraps every morning. I put in the outer leaves of sprouts, the stalks of cauliflowers and broccoli chopped up, diced pumpkin and swede skins and carrot and potato peelings, They also get stale bread and porridge left-overs, and I add roasted, ground-up egg shell to ensure they get enough calcium for strong shells. In the run there is also a supply of layers pellets and water available throughout the day. Once a week I make a natural worming drink for them with cider vinegar and water – they love it!

The Accommodation

Basically, the house is an old wardrobe laid on top of a pallet frame with holes cut in for doors. I decided to keep them above ground level to minimise the risk of vermin, so a ladder runs down from the pop-hole to the ground. Initially I made this too narrow and the birds had difficulty getting up, so it is now wider than in this photo. On the back of the house are two nesting boxes – but all 5 use the same one all the time! You could spend a hundred pounds on buying a nice designer house, but I don’t think the hens would notice the difference!

The hens spend most of their day in the pen – but they soon demolished all the vegetation. So I now try to let them out for about an hour each evening and they’ve proved to be excellent lawn-mowers. If you are going to let them out you must fence off the parts of the garden you do not want ruined, otherwise the whole area will look like a First World War battlefield.

The rewards? Well, in addition to the constant stream of eggs – I’m getting between 3 and 5 eggs a day from the 5 hens – they are great consumers of slugs and garden pests and great fun just to watch. Would I recommend you have a go? Absolutely. I just wish I’d taken this step years ago.

Geoff Branner.

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2 comments

  1. Richard says:

    Great article Geoff!

    Very interesting. I would love to have chickens but not sure our landlord would be too please :-(

    It looks like your ladies are keeping up with non-exbatts in regards to egg laying which makes the whole deal much more of a winner!

    Tell me. Do chickens lay less eggs in the winter months or do they lay roughly the same all year round?

  2. Geoff says:

    Hi Richard,
    Thanks for your kind words. I have to say my girls have laid eggs throughout this cold winter. There is folklore to tell us that feeding them hot mash every morning keeps them going, which is what I’ve been doing. I also took pity on them in the very cold spell and bought an infra-red lamp for the daytime. Because I’ve got photovoltaic cells on my house I figured they would provide the necessary green energy for the 500 watt bulb with no environmental cost. The average production of three and a half per day is throughout the period I’ve had them, summer and winter. I picked up 4 this evening when I got home.
    Geoff

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