Friday, 25 July 2008

Caring For Ex Battery Chickens

When you first get your ex-battery hens home you may find that they look like they are in a pretty poorly state - most hens that survive their life in a battery farm will have up to two thirds of their feathers missing. Their beaks will have been trimmed to prevent them pecking at each other. Legs will be lumpy and bumpy. Toe claws are usually long and their combs will probably be quite large and pale. Happily, most issues will be aesthetic and resolved relatively quickly with a few weeks of 'the good life'!

© Photo By Andy Pike

Re-homing ex battery hens is not just about putting them into a big enough space with shelter, food and water and hoping they are going to be okay. They will need a little supervision and guidance to become a 'real' chicken again. Food and water dishes may need to be a little deeper to allow for their trimmed beaks. It will probably take a few days (even weeks) for them to get used to having space to move around in and fresh air to breathe. You may find that they hardly move at all to begin with, and they might even surprise you by wanting to stay inside the coop!

When you consider the life that the battery hen has become used to (in fact the only one she has ever known), it is easy to see how her new life outside of the cage may seem quite bewildering to her. It will be the first time she has walked about, pecked for bugs, seen the sky, felt grass (or straw or mud) under her feet, dust bathed and even roosted. Everything will be new - and probably scary. This may result in a very timid bird, or it could even cause her to be a little aggressive. She could 'flop around,' as if unsure how to use her limbs. She may not want to move about a lot, and it can take a little bit of time before she will be ready to explore. In fact, in many ways, ex-battery hens may not act like 'normal' chickens at all, but be patient; a transformation is taking place.

You will need to make sure you have some kind of layers feed available for your new hens. They will most likely have been fed a layers mash at the farm (you can double check that with the farmer / rehoming organisation), so if you can continue with the food format they are used to, at least for the first few weeks, then that should also help them settle in quicker. Additionally, a poultry vitamin / nutrient supplement can also help give them an extra little boost.

Where there is already an existing flock it is best to keep the two groups separate, at least until the 'new girls' have built up their strength and confidence. Whenever two flocks are mixed, whatever the situation, a quarantine period of at least 30 days is always advisable. Each flock will have built up its own immunities to their own particular environment. Couple that with the stress of a move, and/or the upset new additions can bring and even seemingly healthy flocks can 'catch' something if mixed in together straight away. With battery hens you have the additional consideration of their appearance - bare and sore patches are often an invitation for others to peck (surprisingly this can happen even amongst themselves). There is also a good probability that they will already be at less than full strength and confidence, which can sometimes prevent them approaching the feeder and waterer if other more confident chickens are around. All in all, a separate safe area for them to get used to things is likely to be very beneficial. As can be expected with any flock of chickens once they have settled in a little there will probably be the usual squabbles as they sort out a pecking order between themselves.

Their new home should be a sturdy, comfortable, draft free place that offers good protection from predators. These hens might not be physically very strong due to a lifetime of inactivity, so you may wish to make sure that they have a ramp up to their roosts or nest boxes, or perhaps even start them off with a nest box or bedding on the floor. As they probably have never roosted before they are likely to huddle on the floor at night initially and so it must be safe for them to do so. Despite having reached the end of their commercial egg laying life, you will probably find that they will still continue to lay a few eggs. They might take a few weeks to get back into the swing of things, and don't expect them to always lay in the nestboxes - some hens will lay eggs as they are walking around. Do not worry though as most hens eventually do start laying in the comfort of the nest box. Golf balls or other 'pretend' eggs left in the nests can sometimes help give your new hens a nudge in the right direction.

The satisfaction that you will receive from watching each of these hens become more like a normal healthy chicken is beyond words. They will show you how much they appreciate this second chance, not just by the amount of eggs they lay, but in the life that you can see being injected back in to them!


There is more about caring for ex-battery chickens in the July 08 Newsletter, including several subscriber stories and photos of their own ex-batts. You can subscribe to the Keeping Chickens Newsletter at the top right-hand corner of this blog, for access to the current and past issues.


Holly said...

How do you obtain battery hens? I am interested in adopting some but am not sure how to begin in my area. I live in Utah which has plenty of poultry "factories" around.

Unknown said...

Sometimes it is a case of catching them at the right time. It is usually possible to contact the egg farms directly - they regularly replace their laying stock, and so there are often times when hundreds, if not thousands, of hens become available at once. If the farm(s) doesn't sell directly, they may be able to direct you to a livestock auction that they are planning to sell at. Another contact for rehoming hens may also be the ASPCA.