I am very privileged to co-ordinate rescues for the British Hen Welfare Trust. This amazing charity works hard to get the nation to go free-range. Sorry about the poor quality photos, but it was a frantic day and I only had seconds to stop and take pictures using my phone.
We liaise with battery farmers up and down the country to rescue as many hens as possible from slaughter when they come to replenish their 'stock'. Battery farming exerts a huge toll on the health of the hens and very often for reasons of disease or exhaustion, egg production drops slightly and the hens stop being commercially viable after about a year in the battery. They are often sold to cat food or stock cube manufacturers and sent to slaughter.
The lucky ones - 360 of them on Sunday, are re-homed as domestic pets via the BHWT. Although we can only hope to save a fraction of the 20 million battery hens in the UK, it is effective because each little rescue hen acts as an ambassador for the silent majority - getting neighbours and schools talking about the use of battery eggs and the industry and drawing attention to the issue. Very often re-homers turn up and burst into tears at the sight of some of them - (they are often very scraggy looking, particularly the ones at the front as they rub against the cage and loose their feathers) and if that is not a powerful way of delivering a message then I don't know what is!
|The hens have at least an hour to rest and have a drink after their journey before the re-homers arrive to collect them.|
But after 3 months or so, they re-feather beautifully and learn to act like proper hens. This transformation is heart-warming to see.
It is easy to blame the farmers for producing battery eggs, but the BHWT takes the view that they are only meeting consumer demand - if we did not buy cheap processed cakes, mayonnaise and confectionary which calls for battery eggs, the farmers would not produce them. The charity runs educational programmes for consumers and works with the egg industry to work towards a free-range system. Check out their brilliant website here for more information.
We finish the day covered in hen poop and this time, red spider mites - but it was very satisfying to know that 360 hens would be waking up the next morning to their first ever free-range day.