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.