The hens are doing well. Really well. It would help if they would, you know, actually lay eggs, but you know. Well.
We do have one hen (the white one named Mathilds) regularly laying eggs. You get one a day (and on one day, she popped out two).
She emerges from the hen house once she lays it and stands there, flapping her wings and making insane amounts of noise for a while. It’s really quite funny and I suppose if I squeezed out of my ass something larger than the size of my brain, then I would likely make a big goddamn deal about it, too.
And I love having chickens. I think it’s brilliant – they’re fun to watch, they are startling obedient (out of bed in the morning and put themselves to bed at night), and there’s that whole “I have a flock of hens should the zombie apocalypse come!” I’m all in for chickens and even signed up on a chicken forum for questions (don’t judge).
We were due to get three ex-caged battery rescue hens this weekend from British Hens Welfare Trust. There was a scheduling mix-up, so I’m waiting for the rescue hens now in mid-March.
The reason I am posting though, is this – last weekend we picked up two ex-battery hens from BHWT. The difference with these chickens, though, is that they are ex-free range hens. Chickens are moved on after they are 18 months old as most of them only live to about 3 and farmers expect they’ll start to not lay. Thus it’s off to a new home or a slaughter house, with no other hope of re-homing for the hens.
A rescue is a rescue, so we went to pick them up last Sunday. We were taken to an enormous pen filled with clucking hens, volunteers, and people re-homing one or two hens. The volunteers there asked if we could possibly take anymore and we said no – I am keen to take home two ex-caged hens so that they have a nice, happy retirement, and any more hens would have put me in crazy cat lady territory. A large number of chickens would be facing slaughter at the end of the day, and I knew that, but I can’t rescue them all. I know that too. I can’t be a charity, even though I want to save as many as I can (all of which turn out to be non-layers, as it happens).
We took home two hens, happily named Henry (the black one) and Rapunzel (the ginger one).
And here’s the thing – they’re free range hens from a free range farm. I only ever buy free range eggs.
But the hens weren’t in the best shape.
They had feathers missing here and there. They had pale, flopped over combs. They stunk to high heaven.
And we have now understood that free range eggs you buy at the shop, it doesn’t always mean that the hens really are happy hens. It just means they’re intensively laying in a much better environment than a cage. All this time I’ve banged on about free range eggs – and I still will because I think the hens have a better life than caged hens – but it didn’t mean the animals really do get the best care.
There are the high end organic free range eggs that do ensure the hens have a happy life, but the eggs cost an arm and a leg and this household is filled with egg lovers. We eat a lot of eggs. Kings’ ransom eggs couldn’t work here.
And I think the ultimate lesson in all of this for me is if you want to be sure that you have happy eggs from happy hens, you need to have your own chickens. Which isn’t possible for everyone, I know. But I guess I envisioned happy hens prancing through fields, producing eggs which they popped out of healthy, nourished bodies. I thought our only rescue hens would come from cages, but instead we have brought home two hens that really did need some rescue.
I’m not lecturing here, or preaching a hen-living life for all, please don’t think that. People make the choices they make based on economy and availability most of the time. But if you can pay a bit more for the eggs, and if you can try to aim for the happy hens ones…well, let’s just say that poorly hens are a very sad sight.
One week on and the hens are looking much better. They’re not laying any eggs and maybe never will, but they’re here to stay. They’re sweet, they’re curious, they no longer stink, and they look much better.
I guess I really am a charity, after all.