We talk to a new henkeeper who saved some ex-battery hens
When Lizzy Page heard from a friend that 4,000 battery hens were due to be slaughtered nearby, lack of experience didn’t prevent her from stepping in.
“I was pretty sure saving four would be better than saving none,” she says, though even that seemed daunting at the time. Lizzy, from Stratford-upon-Avon, was encouraged to save some battery hens by a friend who had previously rescued 12 from slaughter.
The experience was not what Lizzy was expecting. “I had some notion of choosing birds from a grassy pen,” she laughed. Instead, she was asked to crawl up a ladder into a cramped coop. Then the smell hit. “Nothing could have prepared me for the smell of urine and the hectic noise of frightened birds.”
What followed was chasing frantic chickens while holding her breath against the smell and balancing on the beams of the coop – with the warning of the farmer that to fall off was to fall through echoing in her ears. At the time, Lizzy had never even picked up a chicken, so it was a while before she made her first catch. Eventually though, she was loading her four chosen birds into a borrowed dog cage she had in the boot of her car.
After a night in the kitchen for the birds – the only option, as Lizzy did not yet have a coop – the next morning, she went out to buy them a new home. Her coop was purchased and a neighbour enlisted to assemble it; while they waited, Lizzy decided to heat the temporary home, an outhouse, using an oil-filled radiator.
“It was a few days before we got into a routine,” she said. “I visited a local store for some advice, bought oyster shells as grit and added vinegar to the water as a tonic. One chicken needed to be treated with cream for sore skin that had been pecked at.”
It wasn’t long before the chickens started to feel like part of the family. “I began handling them daily. They seemed to like a cuddle and a stroke, and the eggs became more frequent.”
Lizzy saw her rescued chickens change in only a few short weeks. After carefully fox-proofing the garden – a process that involved taking up her patio – Lizzy transferred her hens to an outside run. They’re very happy there. They started to use the sand bath and to sunbathe, as well as entertain themselves, trying to grab the cabbage leaves Lizzy dangles from string down into their run.
Where they were quite bald when they arrived, Lizzy can now see a great deal of feather re-growth, and is rewarded for her efforts with an increasing number of eggs. “They have brought a huge sense of happiness and calm to me,” she said. “Despite my haphazard way of going about things, I do not regret getting them one bit. Sometimes you just have to find some chickens – and run!”
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