Jo Barlow, from Cornwall, is devoted to her ex-battery hens – and one in particular

It seems unbelievable that it was three years ago this month, that Effie came to live with us. Even though it still seems like yesterday, it feels as though she has always been a part of our lives. I cannot imagine my life without her.

Seeing her transform from a traumatised little scrap of feathers into a happy, healthy, mischievous hen has been possibly the most rewarding experience of my life. Effie and I have a unique bond, I love her unconditionally and she holds my heart in her wings. Maybe it is dangerous to love so much, as I know that great pain awaits me in the not too distant future, but I think it is that very capacity to love so completely, regardless of the consequences, that makes us human.

However, Effie’s life as a free hen has not always been easy – the scars of her previous life still remain. She has struggled with soft eggs and has had three implants so far, enduring the associated moult and depression, and early last summer she lost her beloved soul mate, the gentle Miss Basket.

Now with her three bantams to keep her busy, she has yet to realise she is an old lady, in ex-bat terms anyway. Three years free would make her about five, which considering the abuse her body endured in the cages, is rather miraculous. She has her quiet days; she enjoys a lie-in on these dark winter mornings but most days she is just happy to pootle around her garden, her devoted bantams in tow.

Many years ago, when I was considering getting my first ex-bats, an experienced chicken keeper told me to always pick the strongest hens. This struck me as odd, as I had planned to pick the weakest. Surely that is the whole idea behind having ex-bats, or any rescue pet? Effie was one of the very weakest – physically and emotionally – and she has proved to have the biggest, bravest spirit I have had the privilege to know.

Jo and Effie x

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