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This past week ‘Til The Cows Come Home, rescued and rehomed 300 hens. We arranged the collection with the farmers of 2 organic free range egg farms; Reserve Creek Organics and Kyogle Organic Hen Farm. These farmers wanted to do the right thing by these retired laying hens so they worked with us to arrange pick up of the hens instead of culling them (as per common practice of hens in the egg industry).

At the end of 18 months on a production farm, the pressure for hens to lay burns them out and they lay at just 50% what they laid in earlier months, making them unviable to keep at the farm. Most farms chose to cull the hens. You may be wondering why they don’t go on to be meat.. Hens bred for meat are bred to be obese, so heavy that they can barely (and many can’t at all) hold their own body weight up to stand. Hens bred to lay eggs are far more lean with near to no breast (meat) at all.

The Arrival

When adopting commercial laying hens, you need to prepare somewhere safe, quiet and dry. They must have places to hide, perch, nest, peck and drink before you make it out of bed in the morning to let them out to free roam through the day. Show them where their water is on the first day. Splash your hand around in the water feeder gently if required. They must have access to dirt (they love dust baths!) and grass (yes they eat grass) inside and outside their coop. In addition to this, their coop and run needs to be 100 percent fox (predator) proof, you need to ensure that a fox cannot dig under and climb over to reach the hens.

As this will be their new home and you their new family, guardian and trusted friend, try not to overwhelm them, give them time to settle into their new surroundings. Once a few days have gone by, slowly and carefully you can start to get closer to them and handle them.

We use Diatomaceous Earth for lice treatment, we massage it into their feathers upon arrival at the ‘Til The Cows Come Home holding station, you can sprinkle this generously twice a year into their nesting box, coop, feed and water to keep lice, mites and worms away.

Feeding

We recommend the organic, vegetarian coarse mix available at all rural supply stores along with your families scraps daily.
Yes: berries, melons, seeds, corn.
No: meat, dairy, avocado skin or pit, onion, potato, apple seeds, citrus, tomato, eggplant, rice, beans, salt, chocolate.
Always make sure you provide them with clean water and a cruelty free grit (this can be their own egg shells crumpled up and fed back to them and/or lime stone grit from the rural store). We recommend that you feed the eggs of the hens back to them daily in order to replace the depleted nutrients from producing too many eggs. Hens are bred, fed and kept in ways to produce far more eggs than their bodies are designed for, this will help them with this.

Health

It is essential that you familiarise yourself of what a healthy chicken behaves like so you know when one is unwell. Commercial laying hens may suffer from egg yolk peritonitis, vitamin and mineral deficiency (calcium usually), respiratory disease and assorted infections.

Closed eyes, standing hunched chicken, not eating, sluggish and not running for food are all worth noting. Their crop may feel full of liquid and squishy or full and hard. If it is full of liquid and squishy then it may be sour crop or another underlying issue. If it is full and hard then it may be impacted crop. A chicken suffering from sour crop will consume water frantically as they are wanting their digestive system to work again. Any chickens suffering from Coccidiosis will have diarrhea with blood present, will be tired and hunched up. If they have a respiratory diseases, the chicken will be sneezing and may have discharge coming from their nose and eyes.

Egg Yolk Peritonitis, ( ‘EYP’ for short) is an infection caused by the presence of an ectopic yolk within the main body cavity. It is because of the demand on their bodies to lay a financially viable number of eggs. You can tell if this is happening to a hen because her torso will look very puffy and swollen and she will feel much heavier than the rest of the hens to pick up. Let your (farmed animal friendly) vet know if a hen is experiencing this.

Sickness

Depending on what is wrong with the hen, she may need to be isolated from the flock. A warm, safe place to rest with access to a hiding space will also help her. Contact your local farmed animal sanctuary for advice on the nearest farmed animal friendly vet, many vets suggest putting down farmed animals instead of treating them, let the vet know that you want her treated how she would treat a dog.

Feather Loss

They can lose feathers if they are ill or being pecked by other hens but often it is due to Moulting. During the moulting period, they need to eat all the eggs they lay (so you and your dogs absolutely should not have any during this time) this is her special time to be eating her own eggs and she’ll also really need access to roaming gardens and compost scraps in order to find foods i.e. live worm who are higher protein meals for her than grain, fruit and vegetables.

Breeding

We know, they’re so cute! But, there are so many chickens out there suffering and in need of good homes and love. We have our hands full with rescued Chicken Hatching Program chicks and older hens from egg farms. Consider rescuing chicks from us each year if you want more hens. That way you are not breeding roosters, there are around 20 billion hens in the world today, please don’t breed more.

Thank you with all our hearts for choosing to adopt not shop. It means life to these deserving girls.

If you don’t have the space for hens, you can still support our mission by donating here: https://www.paypal.me/tilthecowscomehomeau

Written by Donna Wild

Edited by Seyi Adeoba