Tips on Rehoming Ex Battery Hens

Not only is rehoming ex battery hens a wonderful way to offer victims of the intensive farming system a new and free range life but it also provides you with delicious eggs and some wonderful characters to share your garden with! Ex-batts have quirky, inquisitive natures and are an utter delight to have around.

If you are tempted to get some ex-battery hens, they are easy to look after, even for a chicken keeping novice. As with ‘normal’ chickens, all ex-batts require is a safe, secure and comfortable coop and run, preferably some piece of garden to free range and forage in, food, water and a little of your time and love.

How Do You Go About Re-homing an Ex Battery Hen?

There are 16 million battery hens in the UK each year and unfortunately only a fraction of these hens are re-homed. It is only the lucky few who get to feel the sunshine on their backs and enjoy their free range fun. However, there are a number of marvellous battery hen rescue charities in the UK who rescue as many of these girls as they can. The largest is the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT), which rescues about 60,000 hens a year. Their 25 regional co-ordinators liaise with battery farmers and purchase some of the hens who are due to go to slaughter although there are others listed in this Ex Battery Hens For Sale Article Once you have decided ex-batts are for you, locate the nearest co-ordinator to you via their website and email them with your contact details (all hens need to be traceable in case of a disease outbreak) and the number of hens you require. The minimum is three but four, maybe five, is a better number. Hens are sociable flock creatures and four to five chickens not only fit comfortably into a standard bought coop but will keep you well supplied with plenty of eggs. Then all you have to do is to get ready for your girls whilst you wait to hear details of the next rescue date from the co-ordinator!

Rescue Day!

The much anticipated Rescue Day is very exciting and the key to success is preparation. You will be nervous, your girls even more so. Hens don’t like change and up until today, their life will have consisted of a cramped wire cage with no natural light. Earlier in the day they will have been collected by volunteers and transported to a holding barn or similar until you collect them. Their whole world has been turned upside down and they will be anxious – if only you could tell them about the wonderful life that awaits them!

The best way I have found to transport them safely and comfortably is in a cat or dog basket lined with newspaper and bedding. Two hens seem to fit snugly into one basket without being cramped. It is worth investing in a second basket, not only to transport your girls on rescue days but they can also be used for vets visits and as a makeshift coop if one of your girls is ever poorly and needs to be kept away from the others. As well as an extra basket, take along an extra pair of hands to sit in the back of the car with the hens on the journey home. If you have older children this is a great way for them to be involved with the hens from the very first instance. My two teenagers developed a great bond with my first rescue girls – and incidentally have never eaten chicken since!

And finally, don’t forget to take along money or a chequebook! The BHWT ask for approximately £5 per bird, although any donation is welcome, and covers vet and transport costs and the money paid to the farmer. Personally I think it’s a bargain considering all the free range eggs you will soon be enjoying!

Start of a New Free Range Life

As with Rescue Day, preparation is the key to making the transition from cage to coop as stress free for your girls as possible. Caring for these rather fragile looking hens can seem a little daunting at first but all it really needs is just common sense, love and access to a good chicken keepers website!

I am most certainly not an expert just an ex-batt obsessed keeper who adores her hens but I have picked up quite a few tips on caring for them so far.

Coop and Run

Both, naturally, have to be completely predator proof, there would be nothing worse than letting your girls get a first whiff of freedom only for the fox to get them. Personally I am prone to a touch of OCD when protecting my girls and go down the route of more rather than less when it comes to safety. Bought coops are great for the first time chicken keeper but I have found the catches tend to be far too flimsy, so replace them with more sturdy locks and bolts. Also, on some coops, where the nest box slats can be removed for ‘easy cleaning’ they are easy to push up from the bottom by a hungry fox. We have cut two pieces of wood to wedge down the sides. If you are uncertain, imagine you are a fox and try to get in the coop! Don’t laugh, I did it!

The chickens need to stay in their coop and run for a little while until their new home is imprinted on them. Otherwise they would simply wander off as they will have no concept of ‘home.’ They also have no fear!

Another reason to keep them confined to the run is that they have no idea of night and day. Naturally chickens should put themselves to bed around dusk but an ex-batt, who has been exposed to 18 hours artificial daylight in the cage, will need encouragement to go to bed at night to start with. One of my batches of ex-batts had their coop inside our large greenhouse (as it was a chilly Cornish February) and were still dancing round the greenhouse long after dark.

Their legs will be very weak from lack of use in the cage or they may have sore feet as the cage wire digs into them so try and make the ramp less steep. Sometimes physically putting them in the coop each night until they are steadier on their legs is the easiest option. They will get the hang of it in good time.

A free range chicken will perch at night but ex-batts have no experience of perching. The perch in the coop can actually get in the way at first as they stumble over it with their weak legs, so remove it until their legs are stronger. Once they are hopping in and out of the coop and nest box, pop it back. That said, none of mine have ever mastered it and all tuck up snugly in the nest box together at night!

In the cage, the temperature is controlled so your new girls will not be used to heat or cold. Whilst ventilation in the coop is important to keep damp at bay, make sure it is draught free and bedding is extra soft, as sore pecked skin needs extra attention. Some bedding, such as straw, can cause irritation – in fact Brigit Chicken sneezed constantly when it was in her coop. I have since switched to Easibed and it seems to have stopped her sneezes plus it has the added advantage of being extremely environmentally friendly.

Make sure part of their run is covered so they can shelter from the sun or the rain. Many a time I have found new girls standing in the rain oblivious and soaked! At the other end of the weather spectrum, that naked skin is very delicate and will burn easily, so shade from the sun is just as important.

Food and water

Smallholder Ex-batt range is recommended by the BHWT, and even more importantly, by my girls! It comes in crumbs for newly released hens and also pellets for when they become more acclimatised to life on the outside. It provides all the nutrients the girls need to recover from their ordeal. I also add poultry spice to the food as well as a little garlic powder, just to give them every chance of optimum health. Garlic boosts the immune system to fight off respiratory diseases, quite a serious condition in chickens and, as in humans, generally improves health.

Also provide grit for them to help them digest their food - chickens don’t have teeth (remember the phrase ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’) either in a bowl, mixed in their food or scattered on the floor. Whatever works best for your girls. Also provide oyster shells for extra calcium as ex-batts can be prone to laying soft shelled eggs. These sound odd things to find but are readily available in farm shops for about £1 a kilo.

Apple cider vinegar is a great all round tonic for your hens. Buy the unfiltered stuff for horses (in the same farm shop you buy your feed, grit and shell) and not the supermarket stuff. It boosts the immune system, which helps the chickens from falling foul of any diseases, it keeps worms at bay (although does not prevent them) and my girls seem to like the taste!

Health

Contrary to appearance, ex-batts are not unhealthy, they are merely unfit. As young chicks they have been injected against all the nasty diseases and have been checked over by a vet on Rescue Day. Preparing yourself with a basic medical kit however will help you be ready for any eventuality. Include red mite powder and diatom powder for hens and coop, anti-peck spray, arnica gel, hibiscrub for washing wounds, iodine spray for disinfecting wounds, vaseline for any pecking or egg laying issues and Flubenvet to worm them (about 3 months after rescuing). However, just like with kids, you can never be prepared for everything – on her first cage-free morning we found Audrey motionless, on her back with feet in the air. Contrary to appearances she was not dead just fast asleep and protested loudly when picked up (to check she was alive!)

For anything else the poultrykeeper Ex Battery Hen section is a good starting point or the BHWT careline (01362 822904) is a wonderful help line for the anxious chicken owner and offers great advice on all aspects, no matter how small.

Finding a good vet, who has experience with chickens as pets and not just livestock, is also essential. Many vets do not have this experience so shop around for one that does. A good chicken vet is a blessing!

Pecking Order

(One of the many phrases from chicken behaviour used in our everyday life!)

These girls have had a rough ride through life so far, having to fight for every scrap of food and every inch of space. Your new hens are strangers thrown together and therefore will not know each other when you pop them all in their new coop. Consequently they will need to establish a pecking order which can be a brutal process. It is distressing for us humans to watch but our intervention can sometimes prolong the process. It is only advisable to break up the squabbles if blood is drawn. There are a few things though that you can do to help it along:

When they are asleep put them in the coop so they wake up together. Be awake early to supervise any squabbles but they should be minor ones. Bella, one of our ex-batts, was a nightmare the first night. In desperation we put her in a cat basket whilst the others went to sleep. We put her in the coop when everyone was asleep and next morning, bar a few minor ‘handbags at dawn’ incidents all was calm. Bella is now top chicken of a flock of eight and is remarkably good, fair and protective of all her girls!

Put Vaseline on the combs of all the hens so the dominant hen can’t get a grip. Chickens are attracted by blood so spray with purple anti-peck spray if any blood is drawn. A small dot of blood on the combs is quite normal, just keep an eye on it.

Make sure there are plenty of feeders and drinkers around so the dominant hen doesn’t prevent other hens from using them.

Hang up some tasty greens for them to peck at. Some hens like a mirror as well!

Use the anti-peck spray if needed!

To Roam or not to Roam…

Free ranging all day or just under supervision? This has to a personal decision. In my view these girls have spent long enough penned in and need to roam free in a secure garden. Foxes are everywhere and no matter how hard you try, I don’t think anything is 100% fox proof. So I made the decision to let my girls free range in the garden during daylight hours. However, I am in the very fortunate position of living where I work and can pop home every couple of hours to check on my girls if needs be. Other ex-batt owners keep their hens in their run during working hours and let them out when they get home. If you chose the ‘run’ option ensure the run is large enough with plenty to keep them occupied whilst you are out earning money for chicken food!

Ex-batts and other pets

Don’t be fooled by their frail stature, ex-batts are very capable of looking after themselves when faced with a family cat. My five cats are all terrified of the chickens, who very much rule the roost! I would however, take much more time introducing a family dog to the chickens and never have him/her off lead in the garden until you are completely sure of their reactions.

Children are included in this section too! Ex-battery chickens are the most amazing educator for them. Children start to become aware of where their food comes from and they feel the benefits of caring for another creature. It also highlights the evils of intensive farming in their minds.

Offering a home to ex-battery hens has been one of the best things I have ever done and I admit it, I am a complete ex-batt addict, an ex-batty if you will! My life has been taken over in all the best possible ways by these charming creatures and I can assure you yours will be too!

Jo Barlow

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