Hen care

Battery hen care and general information

Age & Life Expectancy

  1. Your hens will be approximately 1-2 years old. This is the time they would ordinarily go for slaughter.
    At this age, they will have laid around 300 eggs.
  2. Please note: There is no guarantee on the lifespan of a rescued hen.
    Some may only live for a few weeks, however if these weeks are spent in the fresh air being able to stretch their wings we feel they are luckier than a lot of battery hens.
    On average they will live for a further 1-3 years.

Accommodation for rescued battery hens

  1. The most crucial thing is that your housing is weather and predator proof (rats, dogs. mongoose, owls, birds of prey)
  2. We’ve had swimming pool issues/deaths.
    You’ll need to decide if you’re going to risk it.
  3. You need to decide on your preferred system: either keeping the hens in a smaller coop (house) with attached portable run and frequently moving it onto fresh ground,
    or building a larger permanent aviary type enclosure
    or let them trash the garden and confine them to their run area when you need to rest the garden/grass ; ).
    Chicken coop imagery on google to give you inspiration.
    Videos on google on how to make a chicken coop/run
  4. Decide on a cordoned off area of the garden.
    NB: Access to a shade!
    NB: Access to wind protection.
    Ideally: Access to grass! This ensure your hen has good nutrition throughout he year, especially in winter when needs extra energy to maintain day/night body heat.
  5. We recommend initially that your chickens be kept to their enclosure while they adjust to space, sunlight, finding food/water and their new environment.

    As their confidence grows, you can give them chaperoned/limited ranging around your garden building up to allowing them to perhaps range freely during the day and being put back to their enclosure in the early evening.

    If it’s safer to have them permanently located to their enclosure only, consider whether their access to grass will be sufficient and whether you need a portable setup to rotate them to fresher ground every now and then.

  6. Chicken coop (house): You may decide on a solution with a flat surface, ideally using straw for them to sit in.A floor made of concrete pavers/slab or recycled bricks can be helpful as it is easier to keep clean (hose pipe).

    Make sure there is easy access for yourselves when you need to clean / replenish items.

  7. At first the hens will not know how to perch but they will work it out in time.

    Remember they have lived their whole life on a slanted wire floor.

    You can start by having a coop just 10cm up off the ground with some soft straw for them to sleep on, raising it over time if required or providing a ramp for access.

    Even a cardboard box on its side with shavings or a bit of hay will suffice until they are fit enough to use the proper facilities.

  8. If you purchase nest boxes for your hens it may take a few days for them to get the idea of going into them, but they will soon learn.
  9. It is difficult to advise you on how many hens you should reserve for the space you have.

    Most coops will have manufacturer’s recommendations on hen quantity stocking, although we advise you always buy/make a house to accommodate more birds than you would like.
    i.e buy a house to accommodate 6 if you would like 4 hens.

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Temperature

      1. They have never experienced ANY change in temperature and it may take a few weeks to acclimatise.
        It’s better to be safe than sorry and end up with ill hens.
      2. If it is hot you need to keep them as cool as possible. You can put wet sheets or towels over the coop wire or move the hens to a cool spot and make sure they have lots of fresh cool water to drink.

        Please DO NOT spray them with cold water.

      3. Your rescued hens will have come from a controlled environment we recommend putting blankets over the coop or bringing them indoors (house/garage/shed) at night if it is cool for the first few nights, depending on how bald they are.

Care / Husbandry Tasks. Do you have the time to attend to these needs?

      • Daily/Twice daily: Checking food & water in the morning and evening
      • Hosing down environment regularly/when dirty
      • Observing the hens regularly to spot differences in behaviour which may indicate health issues

As well as keeping your hens secure, well fed and clean there are three routine tasks you should undertake to aid good husbandry:

      1. Worming – We advise you worm your hens 3-4 times a year and recommend using a veterinary approved product such as Flubenvet.
      2. Parasites – Red mite is the most common parasite to all poultry and this tiny mite feeds on the hens’ blood at night and during the day lives in the shed, usually under perches or in the nesting area or simply in cracks and joins in the house.

        Mites can be controlled with the many products on the market and like fleas will flare up in the warmer weather and die down during the winter months.

        It does not usually prove fatal, though in extreme cases if left untreated can cause death.

        Treating your flock for lice should be another routine task; spring and later in the summer being good times to treat them.

      3. Health Awareness – The more you know your hens, the better placed you are to spot when they are off colour.

        Please see these examination guidelines for further information.

Anticipated costs

      • R20-R30 To buy the chicken from the farm
      • R30-R50 petrol aid (optional)
      • Chicken coop (house) + run vs Aviary
      • Food
      • Deep food bowls
      • Straw
      • Water bill (spraying area clean)
      • Health costs: E.g. parasites, 3-4 times a year dewormingChickens will have received vaccinations as part of the commercial farming practices so this is not a necessary expense.
      • Contingency budget for unexpected visits to the VET
        Initially it’s likely that you will receive your rescued hen(s) directly from the farm so our initial/priority adoption candidates need to confidently indicate on their adoption form that they are comfortable with any health incurred costs.

        For those who prefer to receive a stable rescued battery hen that has been initially nursed by our core set of volunteer homes, please do still contact us and we put your name on a list and will keep in regular contact with you on progress and likely timelines for receiving a stable hens.

        Please note that despite all efforts a hen received may or may not at any point in the future require a visit to the VET.

Eggs

      1. Expect a few in the first couple of days, then none for quite a while. They take time to adapt.
      2. Some battery hens may never lay eggs again but generally they will still readily lay.You may get an egg every other day per chicken, although some lay very regularly each day.
      3. You will see that egg quality HUGELY improves over time! Some folks report that you will notice the difference in flavour the more they settle in.
      4. You’ll find they lay ‘where they are at the time’, so search their environment and pen all the time. You’ll never know where you’ll find one.
      5. It may be est to not eat the eggs for the 1st month while your chickens are recovering.

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What to expect

      1. Most hens settle in quite quickly but it is best not to handle them or spend too much time ‘fussing’ with them for the first few days.
        You do need to keep checking them to make sure they are alright, just a quick look in to the coop to make sure they are all OK.
        Some of them will make their way outside very quickly.
        It’s surprising how soon they learn the art of flight.
      2. When they are first let out you may need to encourage them in as darkness falls (or if it rains) and tempt them out again in the morning.
        As they have been in artificial light for 18 hours a day, it takes them a couple of days to get the hang of things!
      3. Very often the hens will sleep on the floor of the house initially – do not be tempted to put your birds up on perches as
        this can lead to bruising or at worst broken legs if they jump down whilst unfit.
        Instead allow them to gain strength slowly and you will find they soon learn to perch for themselves.
        If they are fit enough to jump up to the perch, they are fit enough to jump down.
      4. Try to keep other animals away from the coop if possible.
      5. Laying hens are bred for docility and you will find they are gentle, endearing, inquisitive and VERY friendly, eating out of your handand following you around the garden (and into the house if you let them!), pecking at your shoe laces in only a few days.

When they arrive

      1. When you first let your hens out of the coop give them a small area to walk around in and explore.
        If you let them free range in a large area they may get disorientated and feel quite frightened.
        It’s better to start with small steps because EVERYTHING is new to them.
      2. Your hens will be slightly ‘stunned’ for a few days after adoption,they have spent all of their lives in tiny cages and when you take them home it will be the first time they have felt grass beneath their feet, and seen the sky.

        DON’T WORRY – it’s amazing how quickly their instincts return, and they will be scratching around and sunbathing with their wings stretched out before you know it!

      3. Some of them will make their way outside very quickly.

Health upon arrival

      1. The hens sometimes have few feathers, but most people are surprised that the majority of birds don’t look too bad.
        If you adopt feather-bare hens, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they blossom.
        They usually start to re-feather within a few weeks and look amazing within a couple of months!
      2. It is not uncommon for some hens to suffer bruising for a few days after collection.
        In our experience, with a little rest, bruised hens make a full recovery.
      3. Caged hens can very occasionally develop fractures of their wings / toes / legs when they get moved around,your hen MAY require veterinary treatment soon after adoption.
        For those who adopt ex-battery chickens it will be so rewarding to see them flourish into healthy happy hens!
      4. The beaks will be cut (well burnt off actually), usually only the top one.
        This was to stop too much injury to there cell mates.The legs will be lumpy and bumpy and, although not ‘documented’, their necks may appear longer which be from the reaching out the cage to get at the food.
      5. The combs on top of the hens’ heads are usually large, pale and flaccid because they act as heat dissipaters in the warm cage environment.The combs will slowly shrink and become vibrant red once they are free ranging.

Other Pets

Your hens know no fear and will get along happily with most other family pets.
You will need to be particlarly careful when introducing dogs; do not leave the hens unsupervised until you are satisfied your dog is hen friendly.

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Food

This is a big topic. Here are kickstart suggestions, we advise reading up more and learning as you go along.

Here is a fantastic Ex battery hen forum site for you to bookmark, you can sign up and get lots of advice from others who’ve been where you are.

      1. Start your hens with commercial chicken food (mash or crumble). Please DO NOT feed them treats.

        Take care that the birds do not choke on commerical ‘mash’ feeds.
        They have never had anything but commercial mash or crumble food so resist the temptation to ‘spoil them’ with treats or you may end up with very sick hens.

      2. Introduce new foods slowly and one at a time over a number of weeks.
      3. Access to clean fresh water at all times
      4. Access to grit (a tiny stone consistency to help them swallow food and aid digestion) at all times. In a sep bowl from food.
        Grit is optional & helps chickens to grind seeds in their stomach, taking the place of teeth! It can be in the form of fine gravel or small, sharp granite chips
      5. Make sure each hen knows where the food and water is.They have never had to find food and water before.
        Jiggling your finger in the water often gives them the idea.It may take them a while to grasp the concept of having to get up and walk to eat and drink.
        Check to make sure each hen is drinking and eating.
      6. For the first few weeks in order to help the hens settle, it is useful to place down several feed and water pointsorder to ensure all birds get access and low ranking hens are not kept away by any other dominant birds that you may have.
      7. You will need to put their food into a deep dish to begin with.Some of the hens may never be able to eat except from a deep dish,it depends on how mutilated their beak is from the debeaking process.
        Keep an eye on them and make sure they are able to eat and that their beak is not hitting the bottom of the dish and causing harm to an already damaged beak.
      8. DO NOT trim the beak, often the bottom beak is longer than the top due to debeaking, the bottom beak should wear down in time.
      9. Chickens eat more in cold weather and less in hot weather.

When you start to slowly add items to their diet one-by-one

      1. Chickens are omnivores and will eat grain, seeds, fruit, other vegetation, corns , worms and other insects.Laying hens also have a relatively high protein requirement, as well as needing a lot of calcium, much of which goes straight out again as eggs.
        And of course, chickens also need a whole range of other minerals, vitamins and fatty acids to thrive.
      2. 80% of the diet should be carbohydrates.
        The most concentrated sources are the grains – wheat, barley, rice, oats, as well as vegetable seeds that chickens integrated with Permaculture vegetables can access.
        Unless you are growing these yourself, or can get a steady supply of stale bread from your local baker, you’ll need to purchase grain locally. Luckily it is relatively cheap.Roughly 50 to 100 grams of grain is needed each per day, depending on what else they are eating and the season (feed more in cold weather).
      3. Calcium is best made available to laying hens ad lib as crushed oyster shell or cuttlefish, or sprinkled in appropriate quantities on other feeds as crushed limestone (lime sand).

        Various foods are rich in calcium and can also be included in your chickens’ diet, served fresh, dried and sprinkled over fresh food.

        These include many green leafy vegetables (e.g. collards or mustard greens), brewer’s yeast, oats, milk, kelp, cooked beans (beware of legumes) and peas, sunflower and sesame seeds.Herbs and vegetables you can grow for your girls which are known to be high in calcium include:dandelion, chickweed, mustard greens, kale, cabbage, dandelion, watercress, parsley, comfrey, plantain, nettles, raspberry (leaves), alfalfa, red clover, horsetail and chamomile.

      4. There is some degree of protein in the regular shop mix feed packs. Selecting a mix pack that contains seeds (sunflowers etc) will help add protein to their intake.

        Over time as your hens free range they may acquire all their protein & mineral needs themselves by grubbing around for insects.

      5. You can also add surplus fresh or sour milk, stale bread, table scraps, pasture and garden waste to further cut the amount of commercial feed needed.
        Only feed fresh (1 day or less) lawn mower clippings (as these can become mouldy quickly)Make sure scraps don’t contain anything that is high in fat or salt or animal matter
      6. Never feed spoilt or mouldy feed to your birds. Feed is best fed fresh so don’t buy more than what you would expect to use within a few weeks.And no matter what diet source you go for, make sure your chickens get plenty of fresh greens (weeds, vegetables, grass) every day.
        Consider local supplies of these resources – such as the waste from restaurants, bakeries, fruit and vegetable outlets.
      7. The formation of egg shells requires considerable amounts of calcium. Provide it free choice as either calcium grit, natural lime sand, or oyster shell
        (we’ll advise soon on a local Cape Town recommendation)You can also recycle egg shells back to your hens after first washing the albumen off them (to prevent bacterial growth), then drying and crushing them.

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Bonus points:

      1. Provide access to earthworms and burrowing insects in leaf litter and compost
      2. Provide access to garden plants including pulled weeds (beware and avoid any poisonous plants)
      3. You can acquire earthworms (high quality protein and ‘good fats’) and start a worm farm to help your composting and dish out these treats every now and then.

        Earthworms are also easy to grow, converting almost any organic waste material – from used tea bags, paper and potato peels, to horse manure, weeds, hair and vacuum cleaner dust – into a primo poultry food ingredient.

        Under ideal conditions earthworms reproduce rapidly.
        Grown on horse manure, one square meter can yield 1.7 kg of earthworm protein a year, enough to exceed the protein needs of 1 hen.

      4. Make a maggot bucket (chicken delicacy and high quality protein and ‘good fats’)

Other Hens and Cockerels

      1. The hens will usually need to be kept separate from existing birds for at least a few weeks.

        Initially they are unfit and may have poor self confidence which can lead to them being easily bullied.Most will regain their confidence within a few days and fitness usually returns within two weeks.If the hens can be kept so they can see your other hens at first, it will make final integration easier, but there will always be some squabbling as a new pecking order is established.

      2. It is very important to keep the hens apart from cockerels for at least a month.
        The hens can easily be damaged by the cockerel’s advances as they are not strong enough to take his weight and their backs may be poorly feathered.
      3. The hens you take home will not know each other as they will have lived in different cages and some re-homers find the initial settling in period distressing to watch as a new hierarchy is established.

        If you have bullying problems when you get your hens home, here are a few tips to try:
        Smear Vaseline on the combs of the hens being bullied (this prevents beaks getting a grip)

        Hang up distractions for the birds, whole cabbages or corn on the cobs, just above head height (this will take focus away from the ‘low ranking hen’ in the flock.

        Put several sources of food and water in the coop to ensure all the girls can eat and drink/

        It shouldn’t take them long to realise there are more fun things to do than squabble.

      4. If you have a bully who does not allow the group to settle, refer to information on merging and establishing a flock.
        The pecking order should generally settle over a two week period.

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