Ex-battery hens have some special needs when it comes to health and welfare. Jo Barlow explains
Ex-battery hens are very special ladies who make great pets and will relish every moment of their new free range life. They are as easy to care for as other hens, but the effects of their caged life mean they will be unfit when you first re-home them. However, with a little time and tender loving care, they will blossom!
Your girls legs may well be weak at first. A wonder treatment for this is arnica gel which can be rubbed on their legs and reduces bruising and swelling. They may have trouble negotiating the ramp into their coop so will need your help initially. Also remove the perch to start with as it may get in their way, causing them to stumble over it.
Ex-bats emerge from their cage in various states of featherlessness. Some have a pretty healthy set, some are almost bald but most are somewhere in between. Their feathers will soon grow back, but remember that the emerging quills are delicate.
Feather pecking can be a sign of protein deficiency so ensure your girls have the correct food. Smallholder ex-bat crumb is designed especially for ex-bats and contains everything they will need. They have only ever eaten crumb in the farm, so if you want to introduce pellets, do so slowly. You can also add a few extras such as poultry drops, apple cider vinegar and garlic to give them a real boost.
Always treat any pecked skin with purple spray to deter any more’ interest’!
Your hens will never have met until rehoming day so will need to establish a pecking order. All the same rules apply as when integrating other hens, and the BHWT have an excellent helpsheet for this common problem (http://www.bhwt.org.uk/cms/merging-and-establishing-a-new-flock/). Things do settle down in a week or so.
Avoid chicken jumpers as these restrict that vital feather re-growth – hens are little furnaces and even in mid-winter can keep warm. Make sure they have plenty of dry bedding, a draught-free coop and a covered run. However, if like me, you worry, explore other alternatives such as putting the coop in the greenhouse or polytunnel in mid-winter so the girls have an added layer of protection.
When they were in the farm the hens will have had a full set of vaccinations. However, they will have no immunity to worms or coccidiosis and, once they are free ranging, will be exposed to these, ingesting worm eggs from the droppings of wild birds, especially crows, as well as from slugs and snails. They will therefore need worming with Flubenvet three to four weeks after rehoming and then at three monthly intervals. Apple cider vinegar and diatom powder are natural preventatives that can be used in addition.
The symptoms are being hunched over, anaemic (pale comb) and blood in the faeces. If you are in any doubt, take her to the vets for a faeces analysis and if positive. He can prescribe an anti-coccidial drug such as Baycox. Two months after re-homing they will have built up immunity to coccidiosis and will no longer be susceptible.
It is worth noting that, after antibiotic treatment, and as a general all round tonic, Beryl’s Friendly bacteria is a godsend. It is like chicken yakult and restores friendly bacteria to their gut. I have had amazing results with it.
Egg laying varies from hen to hen – I have some ex-bats who produce a perfect egg every day and a couple who never really got started! But, to me, eggs are an added bonus to rehoming ex-bats. They may stop laying after a week or two due to the stress of re-homing, but will soon settle down and start laying again.
It is important to note that each egg uses 4g of calcium so your hen’s caged life will have taken its toll on her calcium levels. Provide her with supplements in the form of oyster shell.
These are often caused by the hens getting too many treats. I confess, I am as guilty as the next person of succumbing to their expectant little faces but treats should only be given in moderation and late in the afternoon after they have filled up on crumb. As well as stopping them getting sufficient nutrients from their feed, treats may make them put on weight and obese hens do not lay eggs as their liver becomes fatty and it is the liver that produces the yolk.
However, they can also be caused by respiratory damage which can cause the ovary ducts to eventually seal over.
A lash is part of the reproductive system lining that has broken away. It can be nothing to worry about or it can indicate the end of your hen’s laying days. Either way, your hen will need to be kept an eye on.
An egg bound hen is very rare, but I have found that occasionally some ex-bats have trouble passing their eggs, especially when they are settling in. A warm bath will help her expel the egg, as will some KY jelly just inside her vent to lubricate. Afterwards, place her somewhere warm, quiet and dark to lay her egg. Once she has finished and if she is still damp from her bath, a blow dry (on coolest setting) can be a welcome treat!
This is when the oviduct does not immediately retract after laying and whilst it looks quite scary, can be relatively easy to treat. Clean the prolapse, then wash it with honey or sugary water, or rub in pile cream, to shrink it. Lubricate it and push it gently back in and hold for 10 minutes. Definitely a two person job! If it pops out, try again. If this works, isolate her until you have seen how successful your administrations have been and lubricate her vent with Vaseline each day before she lays her egg. If the prolapse does come out again, she will need to see a vet as it will be a target for pecking which could result in a fatal bleed. If you are unsure about doing any of this this then take her straight to the vets.
One long term solution is a superlorin implant, which is a hormonal injection. It will stop her laying for anything up to six months, giving her body a well-earned rest and removing the danger of further prolapses. It is not cheap, about �60, but it is a quick injection, to which my Dolly, at least, has had no adverse reaction to (See page 30, October issue, for more about this).
Finding a good chicken vet is possibly the most important thing you can do for your girls. There is nothing more frightening as a novice chicken owner than being faced with a sick bird and having no clue as to how to treat her.
The BHWT careline 01362 822904 is a great first port of call for the worried owner. The BHWT also have a list of recommended vets (http://www.bhwt.org.uk/cms/recommended-poultry-vets/) as do Chicken Vet (http://www.chickenvet.co.uk/associated-practices/index.aspx). If your vet isn’t on these lists, tactfully suggest they go on a Chicken Vet course. But don’t ever be fobbed off with the ‘chuck in some Baytril and hope it works or we will put them to sleep’ approach. If you are unhappy, seek a second opinion! And don’t underestimate the power of your TLC – it can make all the difference. Remember, also, that Your Chickens vet Victoria Roberts has an excellent new website: www.vicvet.com