I’ve blogged about the joys of adopting creatures in need as well as my love for our backyard chickens. Well today I want to tell you about our recent adoption of battery hens.
It just so happened that I picked up our 3 new additions after my sister-in-law’s hen party, and then brought them home to my two daughters both suffering from the chicken pox. As you can see there was definitely a theme that weekend!
My eldest, so used to seeing our healthy fully feathered chickens, saw the newest flock members and was shocked. She asked me what was wrong with them.
The poor things were missing half their feathers, covered in excrement, and so terrified they wouldn’t come out of the carrier I brought them home in for hours.
Battery hens are named after the cages they’re housed in. Each cage is roughly 67-72 square inches, less floor space than a letter-sized sheet of paper. The cages are in rows and columns like an artillery battery. For their entire lives they’re kept in a space not large enough to stretch their wings.
Most hens have already reached their peak laying age by 72 weeks, or 1.3 years. All hens, “battery”, “free-range”, “organic”, are usually slaughtered by 1.5 years old. A hen’s natural lifespan is anywhere from 5-8 years.
Battery hens often aren’t fully feathered due to other hens pecking at them as well as the constant mid-summer lighting conditions they’re housed in. Chickens moult, or grow new feathers seasonally. When chickens moult they tend not to lay eggs as 80% of feathers consist of protein-most of their energy is then put toward new feather growth instead of egg production. That’s why farmers try to avoid moulting by keeping the lighting static.
It has been over a month since our new girls arrived. It was hard for me at first to watch them fearfully venture into such a foreign natural space (our grassy backyard). They’d never seen grass, sky, or food in any form other than pellets before. Husband and I were even afraid they’d get sunburned due to their lack of feather coverage and placed blankets over the run to protect them!
Now I delight in watching them take dust baths, rolling luxuriously under our apple tree; and scrimaging for bread crusts and other tidbits from my kids’ un-eaten meals. They’re even growing new feathers out of the purple feather shafts, or “dinasour spikes”, as my little A likes to call them. And both girls love checking every 10 minutes for eggs, of which we are beginning to find!
So, take home message:
1) Purchase organic eggs when possible– as even “free-range” may mean they never see natural light.
2) And, if you’re able, give a few old girls (rescue hens) a little slice of heaven after a horrific beginning; it’s worth it, for everyone.