LAST UPDATED: 15 March 2016
Make a new feathered friend, and show a factory-farmed animal just how great life can be...
Each year in Australia, millions of hens are condemned to a short and miserable existence in factory farms, all for the sake of cheap eggs. These hens, who are social, inquisitive and affectionate, have no quality of life in tiny battery cages that they share with up to four other hens. After years of confinement, boredom and frustration, their egg production begins to reduce, and the vast majority are sent to be slaughtered. Their journey to the slaughterhouse is often the first time they have ever seen the sun, or breathed fresh air.
A lucky few of these 'spent' hens are spared from slaughter by groups and individuals who believe that these animals deserve to know how good a real 'life' can be — one that bears no semblance to the misery of a factory farm. Hen adoption programs are emerging across some states in Australia, giving caring people the opportunity to share the experiences of rescued hens as they learn to adjust to a life of freedom and kindness.
Opening your heart and home to an ex-battery hen will not only reward you with the joy of seeing these long-abused animals 'come out of their shells' and learn to experience a new and wonderful world, but it will mean giving the most important gift there is to an animal in need: life.
Am I suitable to be a carer to an ex-battery hen?
Ensuring that chickens are matched with appropriate people (and vice versa) is of the utmost importance to rescue groups, who ultimately want to ensure that the hens will be given the best that life has to offer in their new homes. If you're interested in welcoming a hen into your life, here are a few questions to keep in mind before contacting your local group.
- Are you looking for an egg, or a chicken?
Battery hens have spent their whole lives being valued as nothing more than an egg-producing machine. Their rescue heralds the beginning of a new life when, for the first time, they will be valued as living, thinking, feeling creatures, valued for more than the eggs they produce. So, if your reasons for wanting to adopt a hen is for the eggs — then an ex-battery hen is not the right choice for you.
- Do you intend to give a battery hen as a gift?
Like all animals, hens do not make suitable gifts. If you know of a friend or family member who is interested in adopting, put them in touch with their local rescue group so that they can fill out the application. Then, the gift part is easy! You can surprise them with supplies for their new feathered friends, such as water bowls, a box of fresh fruit and veg, a new perch, or supplies to build a chicken enclosure (or renovate a current one!)
- Are you prepared to take more than one hen?
Hens are highly social animals, and a happy hen is one who has a friend to chat to! For this reason, most organisations will not adopt less than two hens at a time. Be mindful not to overdo it though. It can be tempting to rescue lots of hens at once, but overcrowding will ultimately cause more stress to a rescued battery hen. Particularly if you are new to rehabilitating and ex-battery hen, it's important to focus your energy on two or three hens to begin with.
- Are you willing and able to pay for any
As with all companion animals (and people for that matter!) unforeseen medical problems can arise, which may require costly medical treatment. If you have a dog or cat at home, you'll probably be familiar with regular flea prevention measures that help keep your beloved four-legged friends happy. Similarly, chooks can suffer from similar parasites and it's important to keep on top of this with regular preventative measures to ensure your hens are always as healthy — and happy — as possible.
- Have you got, or are willing to construct,
appropriate hen housing?
Even in suburban areas, hens can be at risk of predators like foxes, cats and dogs. They will require a fox-proof enclosure that will keep them safe between dusk and dawn.
- Do you already have animal companions living with
If so, are they going to be as keen as you are to share their house with some feathered friends? Many companion animals will co-exist with chickens quite happily, however some dogs can pose a threat if they are not used to chickens, even if they do not mean to! Chickens will identify even the friendliest canine as a natural predator, and as such, if they are shown a little too much interest by your beloved four-legged friend, they may become extremely frightened and go into shock.
- Are you aware of the special needs of rescued
Chicks destined for life in a battery cage suffer the painful procedure of de-beaking and may have difficulty eating normally. These hens will require a little extra attention and it's good to keep a closer eye on them to ensure that they are getting the food they need. Providing deep food and water bowls will enable them to 'scoop' food and water (as they are unable to peck at food like they would normally).
- Are your living arrangements suitable?
Ensure you are in a stable and long-term environment, and if you are at a rental property it is vital that your landlord is informed and consenting to chickens being on the property. It is also important that you check with your local council about any regulations or restrictions that might apply, as by-laws do differ in different areas and can affect your ability to build appropriate chicken housing or limit the number of chickens you are allowed to keep.
The adoption process
The following organisations are actively involved in battery hen rescue and adoption. Please note that, as with many animal rescue and adoption organisations, there is often an application process that needs to be undertaken. This is done to ensure a perfect match between prospective adoptees and hens — and is well worth the effort!
- Edgar's Mission (VIC)
- NSW Hen Rescue (NSW)
- Freedom Hill Sanctuary (SA)
- The Battery Hen Adoption Project (QLD)
- Brightside Sanctuary (TAS)
- Big Ears Sanctuary (TAS)
- Little Oak Sanctuary (ACT) *please note that Little Oak are currently not rehoming hens but they are experienced with ex-battery hen care and happy to provide advice for new hen carers
Tips on ex-battery hen care
Learning to live a normal life
Battery hens have lived in an artificial environment their whole lives, so this means no access to natural light. The normal routine of a hen to 'roost', ie to return to a safe place to rest at night, may take a little getting used to for hens who have never seen night or day. Hens will naturally prefer to sleep on the highest point possible — this is called 'perching' and in the wild, this behaviour keeps them protected from predators. Initially, ex-battery hens may not be used to this concept, and if they have damaged feet it will make this more of a challenge. For these reasons, it's important to provide the hens with an easily-accessible nesting box, and note that they will likely want to sleep together for comfort. Ensure you check their nesting box/es daily to keep them clean and dry.
Making new friends
Ex-battery hens will have never seen or smelled another animal in their lives. If you have pets at home, particularly those that a hen might see as a predator, such as a cat or dog — it's vital that you allow the animals to get used to each other slowly, and monitor them together. Even if you are certain that your animal is safe around chickens, remember that the hens have lived in a cage for their entire lives and may be very nervous to begin with, and can even go into shock.
Hens from factory farms have lived in an environment where the temperature, light and even air is controlled They have had no stimulation, no ability to exercise or express their natural behaviours. You will find that hens will need little help as far as 'learning' to be a chicken — they will embrace a new life of freedom and enrichment as if they've been waiting for it their whole lives (indeed, they have.) However, after years in such a sterile environment, it's important to keep in mind that there is a lot for them to take in. At first, even the sight of an open field might be frightening and they will need time to adjust to their new lives. For this reason, it's important that you be patient with them — allow them time to slowly adjust to their chicken coop, provide them nesting boxes to rest in, and plenty of food, water, and shade. Once they are settled and more comfortable, you can gradually allow them to explore their new environment.
Ongoing medical care
Rescued battery hens should be treated for worms, parasites and coccidiosis. It's important to note also that the severe living conditions imposed upon battery hens, coupled with their unnatural egg production inflicts a heavy toll upon them — some moreso than others — with few ever expected to live as long as their non factory farmed cousins. At the first signs of ill health it is important to be prepared to act; either personally or if you do not have the experience, by consulting your veterinarian. The most common issues to plague ex-battery hens are those that involve their reproductive organs due to excessive egg laying. Other common conditions include respiratory problems and brittle bones.
Your hens may have long toenails, which should wear down over time once they have the opportunity to scratch about. They can be very carefully trimmed with dog toe nail clippers, although only remove a little bit as taking too much length off will cause the nail to bleed. Due to the stressful environment of a battery cage, your hens may be missing some or nearly all of their feathers when you bring them home. Whilst a ‘naked’ hen is not necessarily an unwell hen, she will require some extra care to ensure she does not suffer as a result. It is advisable to keep featherless hens indoors at first, particularly during times of extreme temperature, whilst they adjust to life outside the cage and begin to regrow their feathers.
A safe night house with a nice, soft floor covering will assist in rehabilitation. A straw bed is great. Please ensure that the environment is kept clean (daily cleaning is a must) and safe. Remember, rescued battery hens have spent their entire lives trapped within small wire cages, devoid of the very things that make a chicken’s life complete. In adopting a hen, it is important to ensure you are able to provide them with a life truly worth living, which includes enough space for hens to move around freely, privacy to lay their eggs, safety from predators, access to the outdoors to scratch in the soil, dustbathe and enjoy the sunshine, protection from the elements and, of course, love and kindness.
Other ways to help hens
Ultimately the only way we will get ALL hens out of cages is by refusing to buy eggs from factory farms. Current demand for eggs in Australia can only be met by factory farming. But this demand never would have existed if people knew the truth about how animals are being treated. Head to www.MakeitPossible.com for 5 easy ways you can play your part in creating a battery-cage free Australia!
Have you any experience with looking after battery hens? Please share your stories, and any tips you have for looking after hens, in the comments below!