Monday, March 06, 2017

A Second Chance At Life

We've been without laying hens for a little while now. My Silkie flocks have been providing eggs, but not in the reliable way that a laying breed does. Even though my line of Silkies are quite good layers for their breed, Silkies spend a lot of time going clucky, and other times I think they just stop laying to ponder life before they go back to it.
It's hard to find good breeders of heritage birds in this area. There are a lot of serious health problems that many breeders don't seem to worry about, there are breeders continuing to sell birds as purebred show quality when they have been told that their chickens are clearly crossbred. And then there's the bad laying ability. When you step outside of keeping some chickens to lay eggs, and move into the breeding and showing world a lot of things change. If you thought odd attitudes only belonged to other animal clubs you've got it wrong. Among the problems that can ensue from this single minded breeding is the laying ability of the birds.

Which is why this time around we went the easy way. A bird that is guaranteed to lay - the commercial laying cross, called an ISA Brown.
These four girls came home a few days ago and have been given a second chance at life. They're from a battery farm.

You've probably heard about battery farm rescues before. In most cases those birds are two years old - past their laying prime for this breed and have already spent a long time living in those cages. It's a lovely thing to give them a nice life after the one they have had.
These four girls are a little different though. They are pullets - young chickens that have only just started laying a few weeks ago.

I knew we were going to a battery farm, but I didn't realise these girls were actually battery hens. I thought alongside eggs the farm must also be one of the breeders for the replacement birds. I had to stop myself from getting teary, therefore, when we walked into the farm office adjacent to the chicken shed, and I saw through the door all those chickens in cages. I'm guessing that, as far as battery farms go, this one was pretty small and of as good a standard as it can be. It wasn't smelly, and the birds that I could see all had their feathers in tact. But the cages were still small, crowded and looked uncomfortable (wire bottoms with nowhere for the hens to rest their feet). And knowing chickens, they must be stressed living surrounded by that many birds. Right outside the shed were paddocks of lush grass, and I couldn't help but think how much happier those hens would be out there.

One of the workers went through the doors to collect our girls. How lucky they are that they were the ones chosen from the cages that day. They were facing a sentence of sitting in that wire cage for the next 18-24 months of their life, and instead they only spent a few weeks there before being set free.
Now they are living life in a chicken pen that is massive in size (it really is!), and full of grass, weeds and other things for them to forage in. They can stretch their legs, flaps their wings. Know what it is to feel the wind, sun and rain. They can perch, dust bathe, hunt for bugs. They can live.
Their beaks are clipped, but as beaks keep growing (similar to a finger nail, just at a slower rate) I'm hoping they will grow back.
On their first day they were very bewildered at the sensation of grass underfoot, wind overhead and had a bit of a fright when a butterfly flew past. Lucky for the butterfly, these chickens don't quite know how to hunt yet. They stand much closer together than normal chickens do, most likely due to the crowded conditions they have known since birth.
For the first time in their life they have a choice of where they lay their eggs, and so they have indulged and made two nests. One in the grass, and one in their night shed.

Due to their orange colour they have been named after varieties of the fruit - Valencia, Tangerine, Cara Cara and Clementine. Even though they are hybrids there are still differences in their appearance, however slight, so I will be able to remember who is who.

Slowly, with each day, they are learning how to live. By the afternoon of their first day they were scratching a little, and one had a dust bath, probably the first in her life. They are spreading out a little, learning to go into their shed each evening and come out again in the morning.

I smile every time I see them, knowing how much happier they are here. I'm so glad they have come to live here.

If you have the space (you don't need much!) to keep chickens yourself, then please do. It's very easy, and you only need 3-4 hens to keep you in as many eggs as you want. I've written before and shared resources for keeping chickens here and here. Also this book is invaluable for backyard chicken keeping.

If you are unable to keep chickens, please source pasture raised eggs. They will be a little more expensive - but they are the product from a living animal, not an egg machine. Pasture raised eggs are a step above "free range" - a term that is loosely applied and can even mean birds simply "free range" in their crowded shed rather than being caged. If possible visit the producer and see the farm your food is coming from so that you know that the hens those eggs are coming from are living, as opposed to merely existing.

Locals: Pasture raised eggs from Mungalli come from happy hens. After seeing them myself on a visit to the cafe I was happy to purchase the eggs. Aside from all that green grass, those hens enjoy the most wonderful view!

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  1. What a wonderful story. I loved this. We are in a similar situation with our mixed breeds bunch moulting and so taking a break from laying but we still get a few a day. Our frizzles now have children that are a mixed cross with next door's ISA Browns. Now there chooks are producing chickens with feathers on their legs. Pure breeding and free range doesn't work. Just enjoy them all.

    1. The only way purebred and free ranging could work is if they were all the same breed. I like to have a mix of both - purebred to keep breeds alive, and crossbreeding is fun as you never know what you'll get :-)

  2. Such a positive post Sarah, lovely photos too from Amanda R

  3. Four lucky and very happy chooks Sarah, what a lovely story x

  4. this post touched my heart. i'm hoping and working toward having a tiny place in the country where i can raise chickens (again), have a garden and forage in the woods. i live in a lovely apartment in town and i love my place. but my heart and soul long to be in the country. blogs like your give me my daily/weekly country life fix.

    1. Thank-you Julie! I'm so happy my blog is inspiring for you. I'm a country girl at heart too :-)

  5. What a heartwarming post. Bless your heart for caring so much about your chickens. I feel the same way you do and wish all chickens could have a wonderful life as yours do.

  6. How lucky those hens are, Sarah, that people with lovely hearts brought them home so they could be chickens and live in a way which is humane and natural. While we have no chickens of our own (sigh!) I always buy organic eggs where the chickens are truly free-range. Yes, they cost more but that cost, as far as I am concerned, is the difference between cruelty and a decent life for a hen. It is such a shame, here in Australia, that free-range can be applied in such a way that it doesn't mean what it is supposed to!

    1. It is a huge shame! But it's also encouraging that there are a lot of farms around doing the right thing. Hopefully all farms will be like that one day x

  7. I have two very boisterous puppies so keeping chickens has been off the cards for a while, now that they are both over 1year I am looking into rescuing 3 or so chickens! I have fenced off half my yard, to give them room away from dogs and am looking into building a pen soon! I'm very new to the whole idea but I'm looking forward to it greatly!

    Kez |

    1. That's so exciting Kez! Best of luck with your new girls when you get them x

  8. Lucky little hens. We started this programme at school in Science class when you get ten eggs and an incubator and you watch them hatch one by on. Kids at school absolutely love it, they were guessing which one will hatch first. One of my colleagues keeps chickens and I started getting eggs from her only, as the hens run around on a large grassy pasture and have lots of opportunities to express all of their natural behaviours. I have ten baby chicks at home for the weekends, just wishing we had a garden to keep them in :( We'll find thema good home by the end of the week, I am sure.

    Battery farms are sad and I think your girls are maybe frightened because they have never been in open space so large, so they keep together because of anxiety. I hope they get more confident soon and that they'll have a lovely life.

    1. I can imagine that program would be extremely popular with children! I hope you found some lovely homes for them.
      The hens have settled in quite well now x

  9. I welled up with tears reading your second paragraph Sarah. A friend of mine has rescue chickens who are now free to roam, scratch, feel the sun and grass etc.
    I'm going to read your next two updated posts on these girls now.


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