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By October 21, 2017 0 Comments Read More →

BHWT Rehoming Day

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Adele Hall, with volunteers and new owners.

Back in 2009, in the relatively early days of Home Farmer, I spent time with Adele Hall, the Trust’s regional co-ordinator for the northwest and the gang of volunteers on one of their rehoming days. Prompted by a call-out from the BHWT who want to get more co-ordinators I’ve revisited the article I wrote as which flags up the work of the co-ordinator and the volunteers – real unsung heros.

The work of the then called Battery Hen Welfare Trust (now called the British Hen Welfare Trust) received enormous exposure thanks to the efforts of the River Cottage Chicken Out! campaign and the active support of various celebs. The BHWT’s aim was to rehouse former battery chickens by finding them homes where they could enjoy their retirement in a stress-free environment, was/and is laudable. Actually that sounds patronising and trivial and I didn’t meant it. What I meant was: it was, and is bloody fantastic, challenging and commendable.

At the time of writing this originally there were over 20 million battery hens in the UK producing cheap eggs for the consumer. Most of these eggs are used in the processed food industry and are therefore hidden from view, just like the hens in their cages. Whilst the laws have now changed, thanks to the pressure apply by the BHWT and those celebrities, the work of the trust remains as important now as it did back in 2009.

There are many heroes in this organisation. Founder Jane Howorth for starters. There, there are the regional co-ordinators. I spent an afternoon at a rehoming day with Adele Hall and found out very quickly that it takes more than just compassion to be a rescue co-ordinator.

Firstly you have to be organised, and I mean Organised with a capital O.

Imaging 80-plus eager families driving up a 200yard single track to the co-ordinator’s venue, with little opportunity to turn round and parking spaces for just six cars. Then you can understand why the co-ordinator has to give everybody a time and match it with te number of chickens they are picking up. “It was sheer chaos one time earlier this year so I brought in a rough time allocation for rehomers to arrive at,” says Adele. Systems and controls have to be in place and you have to be pay attention to detail, put systems in place and be consistent. 

Then you have to be tough, really tough. “A real bugbear is those people who phone up to rehouse then they don’t turn up.” Adele admits to having a ‘feeling’ about a customer. “It’s usually the ones who want 20 hens,” she says. She then has to get on to the customer, sometimes having to make five or six calls to see if they are actually going to turn up. “I really don’t mind if they have changed their mind. I just would like the phone call to let me know.”

Among the heros are the volunteers who come on the day to help out. They sweep, they hose down, the show how to clip wings, they give advice on feeding and offer and nice cuppa and flapjack. They provide essential support for the organisation and for the regional co-ordinators.

Then there are the people who have gone to such extraordinary lengths to make sure that these hens are given the very best life from now on. The baldy hens go to the novice hen owner. Why? “because we know they will get stacks and stacks of attention and love which is what they will need.” It was warming to see the immediate bond people had with their new pets. And yes, before you cry out, Adele says quite firmly that these are pets., if they lay eggs it’s a bonus.

A volunteer talks through caring for the hen to the new owners.

On the day I visited we had folk who had traveled from as far away as Northumberland to pick up three hens. Adele remembers someone coming down from Scotland. Often the children would be holding out the pennies they had been saving up to ‘buy me hen’. And everybody had come prepared., the chicken arc already in place, the mash already purchased. These people want to make a difference.

Once in their new home the hens do make a speedy readjustment. Considering they haven’t had space, daylight or even the ability to make choices they settle in to their new homes quickly and feathers grow back quite soon – how rewarding is that.

Have any been returns? A couple admits Adele. The reasons: Well one was because a neighbour complained about the noise one hen decided to make each time she lad an egg and the other because the new ‘owner’ couldn’t cope with the initial vying for pecking order that has to happen in those early, crucial, days. It is vital and natural for the hens to establish a hierarchy and sometime it’s just not pleasant to watch. To the inexperienced it can be distressing for the short time it lasts.

Rehoming a rescue hen, or any hen for that matter, cannot be done on a whim.

I asked about vets. “Hmm, that is sometimes a bit of a problem” said Adele. A lot of vets do not have a working knowledge of hens, certainly not in towns or cities where the demand is for nothing more unusual than a chinchilla.

Finally I want to say a little bit about the farmers as many deserve a gong and hero status too. Would it not be easier and more profitable to sell these hens onto a fast food outlet? Why wait for the regional co-ordinator to come along so they can give the chickens to them? On the day I was there the chickens that were being rehomed had been sold to a Chinese restaurant. Once the farmer realised his mistake he bought the chickens back and gave them to Adele.

It doesn’t take long for instincts to return and wings to spread

Adele can spot which chickens come from which farm. Some are in better condition than others and they have different personalities depending on the hybrid, she says. Whatever the condition. It doesn’t take many minutes for instincts to return, wings to spread and absorb the sunshine and beaks to discover the joys of drinking great gulps of water. New owners are advised to keep them on mash for the first few weeks as “that’s all they have ever eaten, and all they know” but given the chance they will discover the delights of the veg patch soon enough.

At the time of writing this article, some 8 years ago, there were 17 regional co-ordinators with the majority being in the southwest and east of England. There was just one co-ordinator in Scotland, one in the northwest of England, one in the north east, 2 in Wales. The role was strictly voluntary and although the rehoming days were rewarding there was/is an awful lot of work to be done behind the scenes.

My reason for resurrecting this article was prompted by a rally cry put out by the BHWT recently who are asking for more co-ordinators. If you are interested contact the BHWT who have now rehomed over 600,000 hens.

Posted in: News Just in, Poultry

About the Author:

Ruth Tott is the publisher of Home Farmer Magazine, and together with her husband, Paul Melnyczuk, Editor,is founder of the company. But her background is far removed having specialised in Costume History with a Post-Grad diploma in Museum Studies to boot. A far cry from looking after chickens, growing veg and making bread!

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