Things have improved a little for Battery hens over the years but it is still the case that millions of chickens spend their lives in a cage too small for them to do their natural chickeny things such as walking about and pecking for grain, or to stretch, flap, dust bathe and roost. They are usually given about 2 years before they are considered ‘spent’ hens. It is at that point they are removed from their cages - there are always more to take their places.
The ‘spent’ or ex-battery hens are then usually sold on - as you might imagine the fate of a lot of these hens is in some kind of cheap processed food, but farmers are often open to letting them be re-homed. If you have the facilities and the resources to re-home battery hens, you'll find that the experience can be a very rewarding one, but it is important to understand a few things about the birds that you will be adopting and homing.
In the first place, you should understand that a battery hen is unlikely to be in prime physical condition, and it can take a few months to get them to a point where they are looking and feeling like a healthy free range chicken - but they can get there!
There are several, essentially aesthetic issues, that a battery hen might have;
- Beaks : The first and most obvious issue is that of a trimmed beak. In the battery system, a hen will be debeaked by a hot machine knife. A debeaking is permanent, but in the majority of cases it will not affect your new hens ability to peck about - if for some reason it did, then mash rather than pellets as their feed would help (and is probably what they would have been used to). Food and water dishes may also need to be a little deeper to allow for trimmed beaks.
- Toe nails : Having lived on a wire floor for so long there is a good chance that they will have very long toe nails; they will usually wear down on their own, but if the length is excessive, you can and should trim them.
- Missing Feathers : You'll also find that battery hens will often have some feathers missing - particularly around their neck and chest due to the repetitive action of reaching through a feeder fence to get to their trough of food. Boredom and neighbours are other causes of featherless patches.
Although the above issues could have led to pain and infection in some of the hens, it is very unlikely that you will be given any that have any major problems - as far as possible rehoming organisations will always do their best to only pass on healthy ones that can really benefit from a second chance at life. In most cases any issues will be essentially superficial and easily overcome with a little t. l. c. - feathers grow back, toe claws can be worn (or possibly trimmed with dog nail clippers - let them settle in before handling too much though), and pale combs redden and reduce as these undernourished hens start to taste a bit of ‘the good life’.
The life expectancy of an ex-battery hen can vary - you may be giving her a few months, perhaps a few years. However long she has outside a cage is great, as she will no longer have to be an egg laying machine but can have a real life - a life that she would otherwise never have known. You will be rewarded by more than just the eggs you get, as you watch her develop and grow in health and confidence before your eyes.
© Copyright 2008 Gina Read
Gina is the author / editor of a free monthly online poultry magazine ‘The Keeping Chickens Newsletter ’ full of raising chickens tips, articles and subscriber coops and photos. Go now to http://www.keepingchickensnewsletter.com and join!