Hello, I’m Helen one of the Frugi crusaders and I work as a volunteer for the Essex branch of the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT – http://www.bhwt.org.uk/) Here’s what that entails…
On a rescue day we will go to a battery farm and rescue from the cages anything between 200-500 hens. The farmers let the BHWT know when they want to get rid of the hens and the BHWT pay the farmers £1 per bird (far more then they would get if they sold them on as chinese or dog/cat food, their other option…)
The birds are normally only about 16 months old but will have lived in a space the size of an A4 piece of paper for all of their life. They are packed about 5 in a cage, its dark in the barn and filled with the sound of chickens clucking and a strong smell of ammonia. The birds are still quite young but past their egg laying ‘peak’ (if you’re a farmer and have 10,000 hens that go from laying 7 eggs a week to 6 eggs a week you can see the profit margin dipping – so they get rid of them and start again with new younger birds)
After we have pulled the birds from the cages, we put them in crates, load them into a van and take them back to the ‘base’ – for us that’s the co-ordinators big garden in Essex. There we get them out of the crates, give them a health check, clip their nails (which have grown far too long because they are on wire netting rather then solid floor in the cages) and give them food and water. In the afternoon the new owners that have registered their interest via the website come along and take home between 2-50 plus chickens, mostly to live as pets in the back garden (chicken keeping being the fastest growing hobby in England)
The new owners pay the BHWT a donation of a minimum £1 per hen. Some chickens come out looking ok, some are more ‘oven ready’ it largely depends on the farm, some have health problems but most are ok (they won’t lay eggs if they are poorly so is in the farmers interests to feed them well, give them the right jabs etc)
The main issue with battery farming is just how much of the chickens natural behaviour is suppressed. They have no nesting box to lay an egg in, nowhere to dustbath, they have never seen sunlight or grass before in their lives – yet on a sunny rescue day, within minutes of getting out of the crates onto the grass you can see some of them sunbathing already, lying with their wings out. That instinct is there and one of the many not able to be fulfilled in a cage. A new EU law has been passed to ‘ban’ the battery cage. Britain has recently fulfilled this, however many countries in the EU have not. We now have enriched cages to rescue hens from. They are larger (but hold more hens – so each one only has a cigarette packet sized area of space more then in the original cages.) They have a nesting box but otherwise are no better then the original battery cage. We, as a charity will rescue from these and also barn and even free range chickens if needed to avoid their lives being so short too (though how we are going to catch them i have no idea!)
Here are some photos of one of my rescue hens – Sparky – from when we got her ‘oven ready’ and a year or so later, feather up and healthy and enjoying a free range life in my back garden.
How can you help?
Most people are aware and know to buy free range eggs these days but where the majority of battery eggs go is ‘hidden egg’ in quiche, cake etc… If it doesn’t say ‘Free range’ on it, it most probably isn’t… Please think about shopping with animal welfare in mind.
Also, If you are looking into keeping some chickens I urge you to consider adopting from THE BHWT it’s so rewarding seeing how much the birds change and blossom as they enjoy proper ‘life’. Check out the website for details.
Chicken keeping is fantastic fun, not too expensive and they are very easy to keep. And what other pets would provide your breakfast for you?!