I’m sure most folks have seen the disturbing photos depicting how many animals, chickens included, are treated in the commercial agriculture business. The ability to know where your food comes from and to ensure birds are treated with respect are probably two of the reasons that have sparked an increased interest in keeping chickens. I think, for many, once they have spent some time with those birds they’re surprised that they form bonds similar to household dogs and cats. I think it’s the realization that chickens aren’t just ‘dumb birds’ with no feelings that makes many small flock keepers rethink their relationships with food and with animals in general.
I spend a lot of time on Facebook so many chicken sites pop up in my feed. I’m sure that they’re useful, but I don’t have the time to go down the rabbit hole day after day so I usually scroll by. One site – Belle and Fleur say NO to commercial Eggs – did catch my eye and I made the time to read some of those posts.
Large scaled ‘factory farm’ layers are referred to as battery hens because historically they have been kept in small cages all joined together in long units. With a little play on words you could also see them as battered hens, because their spirits and bodies have been beaten down by the miserable lives they’ve been forced to lead.
My interest was piqued so I reached out to the site founder, Haidy, and asked if she’d like to participate in an interview about how Fresh Start For Hens rescues ex-commercial laying hens in England.
I sent her a few questions and used some of the material from her site to give us an idea about the lives of these hens, the scope of the problem and what the organization she volunteers with is doing to help them.
My name is Haidy and I live in Dorset, UK. My partner and I re-homed three rescue hens in 2016; I fell in love with them and soon realized how depleted they were when they came out of the cages. I wanted to do more so I started to volunteer for a hen rescue and it spiraled from there when I met one particular hen, Belle.
There are about 40 millions laying hens in the UK. The various housing systems include caged (enriched as battery were banned in 2012 and are a tiny bit bigger with a perch and a nesting area) barn, free-range and organic. Rescue groups spend a lot of time organizing and relationship building with egg producers. Not many are happy to offer their hens for re-homing, as they would prefer to keep operations behind closed doors. A fraction of commercial hens are re-homed by charities, but we do all we can. Fresh Start for Hens is a non-profit and run by 100 volunteers, all of whom have day jobs and do this for the love of hens. We all work hard and it can be emotional. All the hens we take from farms have homes but only a fraction get a chance of a new life because many farmers do not want us to expose the truth of the conditions the birds live in.
Many areas of the world still use battery cages, which are so cramped that birds can’t walk, spread their wings or engage in other natural behaviours. Each bird has less floor space than the size of a sheet of notebook paper.
Caged, barn and intensive free range hens come to us with all kinds of health problems: bone and feet issues, internal and external parasites, injuries from pecking and bullying, prolapsed vents, broken legs, bacterial infections and respiratory illnesses.
I think an increasing number of owners are turning to using hormone implants on their hens to stop them from laying and extend their lifespan. They can be lifesavers because reproductive issues are rife for commercial hens as a result of their selective breeding to lay prolifically at the expense of their bodies. They are culled at 72 weeks, prior to their first molt when egg production would drop. Every bit is squeezed out of these girls with minimal nutrition. They produce eggs and at the point of slaughter they are termed ‘spent’ not because they are no longer able to produce eggs, but because they are so lacking in bodily health and condition. It costs about £3 ($3.60 US) per hen to rescue and re-home each hen, which is all funded by donations. Otherwise their fate is to be turned into pet food or other by-products.
Ex-commercial hens can live up to 8 years old, possibly longer, but many have shorter lives due to the rigours of egg laying. Hopefully their freedom post-production means, however long they have, they live and die with dignity and not in a slaughter house.
I started my Facebook page as the result of the impact one little hen, Belle, has had on so many people. I rescued her in December 2017 along with 239 other girls from a hellish existence as a caged egg producer. She inspires me every day with her fighting spirit.
The truth is I bought her home to die. I arrived at the farm and there was a barn full of scared girls who had been rescued from a battery farm that morning. This little girl was so very broken, even more than the others. I held her trying to warm her. She was lifeless, hopeless, destroyed. She was placed in our little Hen Hospital wing whilst the other hens were re-homed to loving people. I saw her at the end of the day, still huddled, eyes closed, lifeless. I didn’t want her to die alone. So I brought her home to hold her and tell her that despite all that had been done to her, she meant something. The church bells rang as I held her and so she was named, Belle. For me she was beautiful; a beautiful soul, precious and broken.
She has a lot to say about the egg industry and we will tell it to all who will listen. So please share Belle’s story. Only by standing together and educating people can we make changes.
About Fleur & Choosing Eggs
The first three photos of Fleur still break me when I look at them, knowing the spirit that lay within. That first night in the spare room, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, I didn’t quite believe she was alive. And THIS is the condition that millions of hens will be in: cages, barns and sadly, some intensive free-range farms. With no one caring enough to ‘see’ them or to help them.
My message is simple: the reason that hens are still in cages, crammed barns and crammed free-range facilities is because the demand for their eggs continues to exist. I hear so many times, “I only ever buy free-range.” Marketing labels dupe people and what they think they know about the industry.
I ask, no beg, you to look further than the assumption that free-range is the conscientious answer. There are better ones and there are worse ones. Beak trimming is a common practice in free-range farms and don’t forget, all male chicks are macerated alive, or gassed and frozen for reptile food.
If you haven’t got time to look for a local supplier with high welfare standards, choosing organic mixed size eggs is the best you can do if you want to buy eggs from a shop, but be warned, they aren’t what they’re cracked up to be when they supply large chains.
Of course, you could choose not to eat eggs from commercial farms, there are many alternatives now. I just feel we can all make better choices when we know what’s what and to discover the truth we have to sometimes feel sick and uncomfortable. But it will be nowhere near as sick and uncomfortable as any intensively farm egg production unit, known outside the industry as ‘hens’.
Myela had another glorious day out gardening. This first photo is brilliant. Look down and you can what her little hawk eye is looking at. She has consumed many woodlice and worms. She is satisfying her very natural instinct and I will not stand in the way of that for a second. She has been denied that for her whole little life. Whatever happens with this wee girl we are packing everything we can into each day.
I am continually inspired by these souls, they can teach us much when we stop thinking we are superior. We aren’t. I think we are becoming ‘un-evolved’ so many people are disconnected from the source of everything. It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that there is so much dis-ease in the world.
I performed my last obligation for Myela’s wee body, her beautiful soul packaging. A duty of care as I see it, although not sure how to best describe it.
An honouring of her body, the vessel that enabled her to experience this realm. I don’t know the reason she came as a hen, only she’ll know that, but I am glad that our paths crossed. Her passing was actually pretty sudden and took me off guard, her strength through the operation was amazing and I thought we could beat this infection.
About Blossom (who actually pays the true ‘cost’)
I have been pondering about Blossom’s remarkable renewal following her hormone implant to turn off her egg laying equipment. I have a myriad of thoughts whirling around my mind and an equal number of feelings regarding the absolute depletion that caged hens experience, both physically and emotionally. Suffice to say the ‘evidence’ for those who still believe that intensive housing of hens (or any animal) is just part of life and essential to feed the masses – the physical ‘evidence’ that Blossom’s body, her physical body, is displaying surely cannot be disputed!
It’s been just three weeks since her implant and the response to the removal of the need to build an egg is astonishing. She has turned into a paintbrush emporium; I can’t stop looking at her. Every day her little bald body is filling out to be covered, as it should be, in stupendous feathery finery, which is a clear signal that her body rests, recovers, heals, restores. It’s remarkable.
Those eggs that are laid by hens kept in anything other than the highest welfare systems deplete the hens a little more each day. Some just about manage, some don’t and they die a little more until they look like Belle, Fleur and Blossom did.
The true cost of an egg is to the hen and yet humans are consumed with how much they cost to purchase. Farmers, suppliers, manufacturers and supermarkets all want their cut, their ‘fair share’. The only way they can achieve that is if we as consumers stand up and say NO! We will not buy your eggs, we will source alternatives or eat fewer eggs.
Out Of Focus
This is how I think the majority of humans see hens. I feel a definite sharpening of focus as more and more people I encounter align themselves to the truth of just what it means to consume animals and animal products.
When the truth resides outside your focus, in the shadows, gently misted around the edges – a little like the old fashioned Vaseline around the camera lens to romanticize a scene, then your choices continue to be made without real thought, without connecting the pieces, without sharpening the image.
The truth of what Myela went through before rescue makes uncomfortable viewing. We only feel the discomfort when we know it is wrong. To sharpen your view you need to change your heart, not your mind. It is all in the heart. I see these souls so clearly. They radiate a pure love; it is beautiful and I am so grateful I became uncomfortable with the truth because it made me change.
Every single day, we have the chance to change.
Darling Fleur is never far from my mind, or heart.
I suppose she springs forth with more emotion because she only had such a short shot at freedom. Belle, my darling Belle, shared over two years with me. And whilst I know every day free is a blessing, sometimes I can’t help but feel the loss more greatly for those who depart so soon.
I think her spirit drives me on, even when I feel jaded and like I don’t really know what I am doing. Everything I do is because I want to make a difference in any way I can.
‘Who saves who from the dark?’ It doesn’t matter. What matters is being a source of comfort and trust to my rescues in the light and the dark. And the amazing thing is we can all do it. It requires no depth of knowledge or wisdom, simply the intent to support and be present. Flood that into your relationships with everything and boom, you have made the world a kinder place and you in turn will have a hand to hold should the dark come.
Many thanks to Haidy Mansfield and all those who work so diligently to give so many hens a much deserved second chance at a decent life. I appreciate her sharing their stories and photos, used with permission.
I live in Canada where, unfortunately, 90% of laying hens are still living in battery cages and will until 2036 when they will be completely phased out. According to a 2016 report, Abbotsford (an area just outside Vancouver, BC) chickens outnumber the human population 70:1, with 10 million hens raised on just 350 farms! Unfortunately these conditions are the norm for most commercial farms across the globe.
If you buy commercially produced eggs and are concerned about the welfare of laying hens investigate what the various marketing terms actually mean. ‘Enriched’ is deceptive because the reality is it still translates into being cages, just slightly bigger than some others.
If you’re a small flock keeper make note of the toll that egg laying takes on hens. I’ve only ever had one production bird, a rescue I found at the side of the road. Like others of her breed, she laid 6-7 large eggs, week in and week out – the result of which is a high incidence of reproductive tract issues and a shortened lifespan. Increasing the health outcomes for your birds might require a shift from no longer characterizing your hens as ‘slackers’ or ‘free loaders’ when they take a much deserved break. You can also stop using supplemental lights in the darkened months of winter, pushing them to lay more than is healthy for their bodies.
And next time you pick up a rotisserie chicken from your local grocery store, consider the living conditions that meat birds endure in their very short lives. But that’s a conversation for another post.
Couldn’t find the log in button on your blog, therefore I’m replying via email. In response to the March 23 2023 Ex Battery hens: a New Lease on Life:
Thank you for these moving stories and all the good work being done to heal these heroic creatures. I took note of the hormone patches mentioned. I wish we could get them here in the U.S. and that Veterinarians could supply and apply them. It is difficult enough to even find vets anymore who are willing or knowledgeable to treat backyard pet chickens. We used to have several here in our area, but since the pandemic they have mostly stopped seeing chickens or taking new chicken patients. And this is in the North Bay Area of northern California. I am conflicted on whether I can keep keeping chickens, as I am not great with treating them for more serious conditions. Anyway, so glad that someone is doing it.
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The hormone implant is done via injection and is available in the US. Thanks for the feedback on my work – much appreciated.
Thank you so much for putting this article together and sharing the truth about intensively farmed hens. This is a global issue so although I am in the UK I am happy chatting to anyone if they have any questions x
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And thanks for sharing their stories and all the great work you do to offer them a better life.
I adopt all my hens from those rescued by Fresh Start For Hens. They are the funniest, naughtiest most intelligent creatures. I’d never buy another egg ever again after seeing what these girls go through. Some girls I have had only lived a week and some have lived for years. But every second of freedom is a bonus from the life of misery they had before. To die free.
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Thanks for providing them loving homes
I have 24 ex-commercial hens from Fresh Start For Hens and if they lay it’s a bonus. I ensure they want for nothing and the eggs I do get I share with my village. These ladies are free to roam when bird flu restrictions aren’t in place but have a huge covered run for when rules apply. I try to make sure each one is happy with enrichment and treats and they pay me back by being healthy and inquisitive.
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