Rescuing Spent Free Range Hens


I heard about the organic, free range ‘spent’ hens through someone who had re-homed one of my surplus cockerels. I fixed up to go over with my friend, Jacky, thinking I would re-home between two and four hens. We were amazed at the sight of over 2,000 hens (a further 2,000 hens had already been re-homed) as they massed around us. There was a loud humming noise from their collective clucking. The hens had two large fields over which to roam and there were two alpacas on each side to protect these vast numbers of hens from foxes. They also had an area with small trees where they had made earth pits for their dust baths.

I knew that those who couldn’t be re-homed would be going to slaughter in just a few days. These are the Columbian Blacktails that supply Waitrose with their free range eggs but the stock of hens must be renewed every fourteen months to keep up supply. I must say there didn’t appear to be many black tails and I was surprised by how many feathers some of them had lost but the farmer said that was because they had been working so hard. In comparison to rescued battery hens these birds had not been debeaked (had the tips of their beaks cut off) and their combs looked red and healthy (not puffy and pale). I wanted reasonably well feathered hens so that I could integrate them with my flock as soon as possible. But every time I decided there was a particular hen I wanted she would disappear into the crowd; little did she realise the opportunity she was missing! All the hens were very fast on their feet but also very inquisitive and some went straight off to investigate my car and some flew into the back of the farmer’s Landrover. As I ran after hens, Jacky had them following her as if she was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The farmer said they were taught to range by following her round the massive field when they first arrived. We eventually got four hens into my animal carrier. But then, as we stood chatting, there was one more hen pecking at my shoelaces and I couldn’t resist bending down, picked her up easily and she just had to come with me as well.

I brought my new hens home, kept them confined for just a few days to get used to their new surroundings and let them out on a Sunday morning. A couple of hours later a friend called to say she has spotted a golden-coloured hen on the main road – was it one of mine? My husband and I rushed down our road and onto the A345 that runs through our village. I went one way and my husband the other; he spotted her on her way to the local shop – she had crossed the road twice. He ushered her back towards our house, snapped her up and she was reunited with her mates. To escape, she had got into our neighbour’s garden, out on to our quiet road and then headed up to the main road – not sure if she knew where she was heading but if she was heading back to her organic farm she was going the wrong way!

My five hens have now settled down well, are still laying and will continue to enjoy the free range life but without the scrum!