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Autumn is upon us

Of all the seasons I hate the Autumn the most. I find it hard to find joy in anything. The balmy warmth of Summer is retreating and only dank damp decay is creeping over the still landscape. I am looking out of the window now and I can see partially bare trees with limp leaves which can hardly muster enough energy to look alive. Yes, the colour is there but there is no wind. Autumn has a sort of stillness as though it is waiting to be something else. Dismal is how Autumn makes me feel. It’s as though I have just lost a friend that I will not see again for ages. I am feeling maudling today.

It’s time to go and see my chooks. Sitting with them always cheers me up. They should bottle the sort of therapy they give me. At one time once Autumn raised her stifling blanket of dreariness I never left the house. Now I have a reason to be outdoors, which is helpful. It gives me some much-needed exercise too. Roll on Winter. Now winter is a proper season. It is invigorating, wild, stark, architectural, crisp and bright. Winter isn’t pretending to be anything it’s not. I love winter.

Ex-battery laying hens milestone reached

Ex-battery hens on rehoming day

Major rescue milestone

Ex-Battery hens say the British Hen Welfare Trust is about to hit a major milestone. Ever since they started in 2005, they have rehomed around 50,000 hens a year of ex-battery and ex-colony hens, affectionately known as ex-batts or ex-battys. It has been their mission to educate people to no longer tolerate the conditions that these creatures have to endure in order to provide your chucky egg. On Sunday 1st October as part of a release of 5000 ex-battery hens, the total numbers rescued will hit 600,000. Hen number 600,000 is shortly going to arrive somewhere in the south of England and the Trust is very excited about it. They should be, their sterling work has ensured that public pressure has encouraged the governments and food suppliers to think seriously about hen welfare and what sort of category of eggs go into their products.

Why do hens need to be rescued in the first place?

The battery cages, as they were known, only allowed for a space of about an A4 sheet of paper per hen. She was kept in warehouse style conditions consisting of tiers of cages where thousands of hens were kept. High concentrations are solely to provide cheap eggs. Thanks to public and celebrity pressure, the old style cages throughout Europe and UK are now outlawed in most countries, in favour of a cage system known as a colony cage. I don’t personally think they are any better than the old system, as there are about 50 birds per cage. The cage has a nesting area, a perching area and a dustbathing area but they are still cramped, albeit not to the same degree. The lights are kept on for 15 hours to keep the birds in laying condition. At 72 weeks of age, they are considered “spent” and their economic value suffers. Many are rehomed but this is a drop in the ocean given the billions of birds in the systems. Much more are sold off at between 30p and 50p per bird to go into the processed meat chain for things such as pies, and animal foods.

How to get hold of Ex-Battery hens

If you want to rescue an ex-batt lady then there are many rehoming charities, the main one is here British Hen Welfare Trust. They are countrywide and have regular rehoming events. You will need to register on their website and they will let you know when the next rehomings are in your area. You will be vetted so be prepared.

Ex-commercial hens are usually poorly feathered, but this is not because they have necessarily been mistreated. In preparation for their exodus from their cages, the supplier can often squeeze the last few eggs out of the hen by cutting their final food bills as a bonus. By withdrawing or lessening the feed that these birds eat, it often causes a spontaneous moult. Their bodies still have enough resources to produce those final eggs but the profit margin is much greater for the supplier. Most chickens at the age of around 18 months will moult for the first time then anyway.  It is a natural phenomenon but can be prematurely trigged by reduced feed intake.

Ex-batt hens come out of confinement with poor feathering, weakness or damage limbs. This can be because of the rough handling of their rescuers in their attempts to extract frightened birds from their cages. The combs are very pale and flaccid due to being in a high heat environment. Lots of birds can generate significate amounts of heat. The hens are not used to moving around a great deal so are often limited in their limb strength. They have never seen the daylight and to be thrust into a strange world can be very disorientating for them. Given time, and patience, they will blossom into fully feathered and very happy little creatures.

Moulting -Now you see them now you don’t

What is a Moult?

Moulting is an annual phenomenon in approx 18 months and older hens. In reality, she will experience her first full moult in her second Autumn, and then every year after that.

What happens?

Bam! At a time when you think that hens actually need a good feather covering, almost overnight, the coop looks like an explosion in a pillow factory. The girls drop feathers like it’s a drunken pool party in Ibiza. They also renew the scales on their legs too. It can be quite upsetting for people who have not kept hens before, to see how sad they look when they are stripped of their finery. Hens can look really unkempt and uncared for when this happens. The reverse is true, as they are provided with more protein and are not handled too much to avoid pressing the newly forming quills back into their skin. This is the reality of keeping hens.

A moulting hen will lose condition, she will look quite dejected if she finds herself at the bottom of the pecking order. Her comb will shrink and go pink, her face may even pale up. Other changes in her body will occur such as reversal of the bleaching which removed the colour from legs, skin, and vent areas.

This affects the pecking order

When a hen moults, her status within the flock plummets, and hens who were once high up in the pecking order will find themselves struggling to find any peace. They are often in hiding places and are unable to eat when they want. This becomes an ideal opportunity for a lower ranking hen who may not yet be moulting, to seize power. Sometimes these once meek hens, turn into little monsters and can really give the shrinking ex-head chickens a really hard time.

In the normal ranking or pecking order the head chicken (always a girl by the way) eats first, then number 2, then number 3 etc. The lowest ranking hens must wait until all the others have eaten and even then must be given permission by those of a higher rank. Such is the life of a lowly hen.

Why do the hens stop laying

A moulting hen needs good quality protein in her food as protein makes feathers, to conjure up new growth. Egg production also uses a lot of protein, therefore, no eggs will be laid for the duration of the moult. Something has to give, as all the protein has to be diverted to their feathering needs. A full moult can last 8 weeks with some hens taking much longer. The moult coincides with the shortening of days which in itself can trigger a shut-off the egg-laying hormones. These will normally be reactivated once the days start to lengthen again after Christmas. Lack of eggs seems like a sort of curse, but it is a good thing. It gives the hens a well-deserved break from the rigours of laying for a few weeks.

Moulting at other times

A mini or partial moult, usually a neck moult or a chest moult, can occur due to stress. Stress can anything from a predator fright, or extremes in the weather, too hot, very wet, very windy. Firework, loud banging, DIY, dogs, or cats will take their toll. It can be caused by you wearing the wrong wellies, or a change in the environment. Getting the picture? Chickens are stressy creatures. Stress can depress their immune response and egg laying can also be interrupted or erratic for a while.

Internet Rat Trap shopping till I drop

Rat Trap Internet Shopping

I like to internet shop. I hate drudging round shops unless its a camping or outdoor gear shop. I can then bore my husband to death pointing out some really naff “must have” gadget to make our camping lives so much better.

Today however was all about shopping for rat traps and rat removers. What a minefield. I now know how to psycho-analyse the little furry bar steward and get inside its devious little head to outsmart him (it surely must be a him – sorry guys) into getting into my traps. I will be wearing some fetching gloves so as not to transfer my “human” scent onto the means of their destruction and they will meekly submit to my wrath. Here’s hoping I get it right. Today I spent the grand total of over a hundred quid on rat traps, bait, and other little ratty things so I can rid myself of this rat problem I am having. Apparently rats send a taster rat into a strange place and get them to eat the bait. Then it is told, that this taster rat, lets call him Nobby, gets to huff his breath all over the other rats so they can smell the good stuff (assuming Nobby is not dead). Now the other rats seek out the same smell now that Nobby has done his ratty duty. The rats will how happily gobble up your bait. I think for this to work you have to bait your bait with more Nobby style bait so you don’t kill Nobby but you kill all the others. A bit of a flaw in the old logic there, but hey ho. I am thinking that as my rats (notice I am now claiming ownership) like the smell of chicken poop that I will smear it over the traps and job done. Nobby is now a dead rat if the theory pans out.

Normally as with internet shopping you get excited about your parcel arriving. I have to confess to being a little excited to received my new rat traps which probably makes me rather a saddo but a girls gotta get her excitement where she can. Especially as Uhtred son of Uhtred or Poldark is not likely to come calling around very soon.

Have I seen a rat – well no – or droppings – but I have seen a hole big enough for a rat. The bait is going missing so hopefully I have e-raticated some already. My carefully placed netting “doors” have all got more than one rat sized hole appearing nightly that my chickens are using as escape hatches, so I must have quite a problem.

Rat problem, drat and swearing

Rat problem, war is on the cards

Today I think I have a rat problem. In the chicken run, I noticed a hole, not a mouse hole but big enough for a rat to get its grungy little body though. Now I hate rats and I know that rats are a severe threat to my beloved chickens so I needed to attack. First of all, I armed myself with a trusty garden spade. Then I decided to find out how far had that rat needed to dig to get into the run in the first place. I dug and felt a real sense of evil pride that I was demolishing the tunnel that little fiend had dug. Que evil laughter here….. All the while being on high alert in case one popped its head out, and I needed to run, screaming girlie fashion, to the nearest high spot. I am that brave!! After inspecting the rat traps I noticed that they were empty of rat bait, so being a girl who excels at delegating, I got my man to glove up and fill all the mouse and rat traps up with poison. I am usually quite a caring person who respects all animals, but not the rat I am afraid. They spread disease and will show my hens no mercy at night when they are at their most vulnerable. Rats will also severely p*ss my neighbours off if they think that I am attracting them.

What should I do

Rats are vile creatures (in my humble opinion). They will contaminate my chickens feed and water and now they are munching holes in my netted segregation areas. Also more worryingly, rats are known to munch on chickens during the night. Ratty is not getting away with that especially as I have just cleared my bedroom of chickens and the house smells nice again.

Moral of the story

Remind yourself to keep on top of your inspections. This way you will quickly notice any strange holes or gnawing appearing and tackle them straight away.

Hopefully, I have done enough to protect my lovelies from becoming victim to the vicious teeth of these nasty beasts. I am most definitely on the case.

Our world of chicken keeping

Doris our first head ex-batt chicken

Welcome to our world of chicken keeping. A place where everything is not quite what it seems. A world where once there was no noise in the garden, where no crooning from contented voices happened and where chicken poo seemed something only mad people even looked at – let alone touched. This has become our world and we welcome you to it.

Now I am not the most prolific blogger in the world as you may find out but I do have an enduring passion for these lovable and interactive creatures. So much so, that I could not imagine life without them.

This is Doris. She is a Lohmann Brown. She was one of our first chickens. A very lucky girl as she was rescued from a battery farm existence and was destined for the knackers yard. She came to us virtually oven ready, with two friends that we called Queenie and Beryl, and she blossomed into the lovely hen you see here. We are so lucky to have rescued her as she taught us a lot about chicken-kind and so our story began….