episode 62 | show notes & advice
Today, Arthur wants to introduce everyone to Jane Howarth, to learn more about her amazing work rehoming battery hens.
Jane has helped thousands of hens enjoy a happy retirement, earning an MBE for her campaigns to improve industry standards. She now runs the British Hen Welfare Trust which offers lots of advice and resources for anyone keeping hens, alongside their awareness raising campaigning. She talks to Arthur about her work, what she has achieved, and why it is so rewarding to rehome hens, sharing a wealth of practical information and all the things to consider if you are thinking about getting your own hens.
In this episode discover
- How watching one episode of Panorama changed the course of Jane’s life
- Learn more about Jane’s campaigns to improve battery hen farming standards
- Rehoming hens – what you need to know if this is something you are considering
- How to keep backyard hens happy and healthy
- Jane’s top tip for preventing red mite
Episode 62 advice sheet
Watching the Panorama documentary, The World About Us; Down on the Factory Farm, about the living conditions of caged commercial laying hens was a key turning point for Jane. Despite never having seen a live hen before, it inspired her to start campaigning and to dedicate her future to helping hens.
A move to Devon in her thirties and having access to some land, led to Jane deciding she wanted to rescue some chickens. She found a local farmer who was happy for her to take the hens that were headed to the slaughterhouse. She ended up with 36 rescue hens! She realised it would be possible to turn this into a nationwide scheme and to rehome ex-commercial hens across the UK. In 2005 she set up the British Hen Welfare Trust, the first charity dedicated to hens, and received an MBE for her services to hens in 2016.
Campaigns by Jane and the BHWT, working alongside farmers, have contributed to changes in the law. When Jane first started out battery farms used small cages, that housed four hens per cage with not enough room to stretch or settle down. These cages have been banned since 2012 and now enriched cages are used, big enough to house 80 hens. One unit can house up to 100,000 birds. They can move around the cage and have access to a nest box. But hens are curious, interactive, social creatures so really the goal is to have them all free ranging.
Since Jane started out she has always tried to work with farmers. She attends egg industry conferences and events, setting out to help find positive solutions. Her campaigns look to collaborate and work with industry and also make consumers understand how they can help make a difference. Battery farms exist because it is the most cost effective way to produce eggs. Consumers demanding low prices is a big factor.
What are rehomed birds like?
Physically rehomed hens have larger combs and some may arrive with sparse feathers. BHWT rehomes birds from both indoor farms and free range farms and the health of the birds can be down to a number of factors.
What causes feather pecking?
The following can all be reasons for feather pecking
- Feed ration not right and too low in protein
- Wrong lighting can cause flighty birds
- Lack of friable soil for hens to scratch around in
- Lack of covered space if it rains.
- Unnatural flock sizes
BHWT does a great job providing resources and advice for back garden hen keepers. Their hen advice helpline and the health pages on their website are used by vets alongside hen owners. Vets traditionally are only trained to know about commercial not domestic hens but there has been such a rise in backyard hen keeping that there is now a need for better training and guidance.
Why keep hens and what you need to know
· Great for fresh eggs – many ex-commercial hens will continue to lay eggs once rehomed
· Hens are wonderful sociable characters and make great pets
· They need daily care and good security to be kept safe from predators, with a well ventilated hen house and a good sized chicken run
· Nutritious feed is important – both Arthur and Jane recommend the Alan & Page smallholder range.
· It is important to learn how to handle birds and carry out basic health checks
· Diatomaceous earth to prevent red mite – use this as a preventative measure
· Worming programme – hens like cats and dogs also need regular worming.
To find out more visit the British Hen Welfare Trust Website. The website is full of fantastic resources and advice and has a handy shop selling chicken feed and sundries.
Arthur mentions this poem written by Pam Ayres about battery hens:
Oh. I am a battery hen,
On me back there's not a germ,
I never scratched a farmyard,
And I never pecked a worm,
I never had the sunshine,
To warm me feathers through,
Eggs I lay. Every day.
For the likes of you.
When you has them scrambled,
Piled up on your plate,
It's me what you should thank for that,
I never lays them late,
I always lays them reg'lar,
I always lays them right,
I never lays them brown,
I always lays them white.
But it's no life, for a battery hen,
In me box I'm sat,
A funnel stuck out from the side,
Me pellets comes down that,
I gets a squirt of water,
Every half a day,
Watchin' with me beady eye,
Me eggs, roll away.
I lays them in a funnel,
So that I don't kick 'em,
And let them go to waste,
They rolls off down the tubing,
And up the gangway quick,
Sometimes I gets to thinkin'
"That could have been a chick!"
I might have been a farmyard hen,
Scratchin' in the sun,
There might have been a crowd of chicks,
After me to run,
There might have been a cockerel fine,
To pay us his respects,
Instead of sittin' here,
Till someone comes and wrings our necks.
I see the Time and Motion clock,
Is sayin' nearly noon,
I 'spec me squirt of water,
Will come flyin' at me soon,
And then me spray of pellets,
Will nearly break me leg,
And I'll bite the wire nettin'
And lay one more bloody egg.