Before you commit to rehoming hens, you need to give yourself time to decide whether you really have the time, space and resources to keep them. They are not hard to keep, and don't need a great deal, but what they do need, they need absolutely.
You may find it helpful to read our "New Henkeeper's FAQs", which is available in an easy-to-navigate Word document
If you are new to keeping hens, you will also find a wealth of information on various internet forums, run by experienced and enthusiastic hen keepers, which you can browse even without becoming a member.
If you register as a member, you will find that you are welcomed by friendly people who will be very happy to answer any questions that you have, however big or small. We would particularly recommend the following
also another good forum
Not to be confused with another useful forum
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There is also excellent information about ex-battery hens on the web pages of Poultykeeper.com
How do Commercial hens adapt to life outside the cage?
Commercial hens have led barren lives, rarely seeing the sky or scratching the earth. There is sometimes not even space for them to open their wings.
Amazingly, however, it is only a matter of hours after their release before they start to discover their true nature and it is wonderful to watch them take their first tentative steps into a new world. Within days they become lively engaging creatures, interested in everything going on and clearly enjoying life.
At the point when we purchase the hens, they are often threadbare and may look quite frail. Whatever they look like when we get them, they are basically healthy, (if we find any unhealthy hens we keep them and rehabilitate them before rehoming) and many of them will have received vaccinations against the main diseases of poultry. They are also tougher than they look! After a few weeks, new feathers will start to grow, and they will soon become beautiful lively birds, rewarding you with much affection, entertainment and lots of delicious eggs. Even though they are "spent" from a commercial point of view, they are still young birds and in a kind, domestic setting they can thrive for many years.
Are they hard to look after?
They are no harder to look after than rabbits -they need food and water every day, shelter, cleaning out and a bit of stimulation. They need a safe fox-proof place to sleep at night (they quickly learn to put themselves to bed as it gets dark) and an outdoor area where they can scratch about - a minimum of 8 square feet per hen (ie almost a square yard), though more is always welcome. They may initially be very alarmed by their new world and its inhabitants, but they are typically very open to human attention, easy to handle, and very interested in everything you do.
Points to consider before applying to rehome hens
Number of hens...
Chickens are flock birds. 1 chicken on her own will be very miserable, 2 is the bare minimum, 3 is better. With three, if you lose one as does sometimes happen, then at least you will not be left with a lonely hen, and you have time to decide when to increase your flock again. (If you ever get down to 1 hen, please contact us, as we may be able to supply a companion through our contacts.)
Size of coop and space for a run...
Make sure your coop/housing is of adequate size, draught proofed for winter (with air vents near the top). If you buy a commercially produced coop, do not stock it with more hens than recommended - commercial coop suppliers always "talk up" the number of hens their coops will hold, so their recommendations should be seen as absolute maximums. If building your own run, allow at least 8 square feet per bird in the outdoor area, more if possible. The more space they have the happier they will be. In a too small run they will become bored and miserable, and will then start to peck each other. The coop should allow one foot of perching space for each bird, plus one nest box for every four birds.
Your garden and hens...
Chickens will trash your garden if free ranging for long periods every day. Consider leaving your grass longer than usual to give it a chance, and planting shrubs, tough plants and trees. Don't expect chickens to respect your borders and lawn! However, do let them come out under your supervision - they will love to "help" with gardening - mostly by getting in the way of your spade or trowel, in their pursuit of worms!
Any hen which is free-ranging is at risk from foxes, whether in town or country. (We have even had experience of a fox coming into an urban garden and killing hens whilst the owner was out of sight at the other end of the garden!) Foxes will also dig their way into a run if they get the chance - and will happily spend many hours digging in while you are out at work. To avoid this risk, place paving slabs or rubble around the perimeter of the run, and build your run very securely.
Most Commercial hens lay well for several years, but this cannot be guaranteed. They will lay more in summer than winter. If you want chickens just for eggs, ex commercials are not for you . The reason they have been rehomed is because commercially they are ‘spent’ : this means that when you take their food and other expenses into account, they will not lay at a level that will allow a profit to be made. Some may not lay after they are rehomed. They make excellent pets, so treat the eggs as a bonus.
Keeping your hen house clean and your hens healthy...
Be prepared to clean your coop very regularly to keep your chickens clear from parasites and some illnesses. If they are in a run, you need to move the run regularly or cover the bottom with several inches of wood chips, which will need to be changed every few weeks or whenever they get smelly (they will make an excellent supplement to your compost heap). You will need to care for your chickens as you do other pets, regularly checking them for any parasites or other health problems. You may incur vet bills if they fall ill.
Feeding your hen...
The basis of their diet should be dry "layers mash" - you need to find a local pet or agricultural store that sells or can obtain this, BEFORE you get your hens. Over time, you can move them to layers pellets, which is the same food in pelleted form, which some owners find more convenient; this is not recommended for newly rehomed hens. Your food supplier will also supply poultry grit, which should be available at all times (contains calcium for their bones, and gritty material that they need to digest their food). To supplement this, they will enjoy fresh grass clippings, broccoli, sweetcorn, a cabbage hung up for them to peck, the occasional apple etc - and of course any worms or insects that come their way. If your hens are poorly feathered or bald when you first get them, they will benefit from additional protein, either in the form of "growers meal" from your food supplier, or tuna cat food. It is wonderful to see the hens enjoying their treats, and they do love the variety that these provide.
Of course, hens should always have access to a good supply of fresh clean water.
Going on holiday...
You will need to make sure they are cared for properly if you are away. It will have to be a very good friend who is willing to get up early to let them out of their coop for you, feed and water them , and secure them before dark! (An expensive but nifty assistance here, and also for people who work all day, is an automatic door opener and closer, which opens the henhouse door at a fixed time and closes when it gets dark. These cost around £100. Providing your hens have learnt to put themselves to bed - which sometimes takes a while with ex-commercial hens - this means you will only need to get someone to come in once a day to feed and water them.)
How do I go about adopting hens?
If you rehome hens from us, the process is as follows:
- First you must read our Operational page. This is essential, as it spells out the conditions that you are agreeing to when you rehome hens from us. Your agreement with us, over matters such as not using the birds commercially and not selling them on for profit, is legally binding, and we reserve the right to take legal action if we find that it is breached. The Operational page also gives information about how we will use information supplied to us and other key matters.
- If you are happy to rehome under the agreement outlined, you complete our application form. This does not commit you to take hens from us, but allows us to know that you are interested and helps us to plan the rehoming day. It is essential that you read the "operational" page before you complete the form.
- When we have a rehoming date we will contact you to confirm that you still want hens, and to ask you to send us a donation of at least £2.50 per hen towards our costs. If by any chance some problem prevents us from rehoming the hens to you, we will return the donation to you - this does not apply however if you simply fail to collect hens which you have asked for. (If you are concerned about making a donation in advance of the rescue, please read the FAQs about this on the "Operational page")
- Once we receive your donation you will be marked as confirmed on our list and the co-ordinator of the centre you have chosen to collect your hens will be in touch to confirm the exact address and collection times with you (usually within 1 week before the rehoming)
You will need to liaise with your local co-ordinator about the collection of your hens, and agree the precise arrangements. (You will need to collect your hens from one of our co-ordination centres around the country).
- When we are clear how many hens we can rehome, and how many should be going to each co-ordinator, we collect that number of hens from the farm and deliver them to the co-ordinator, where you must collect them as agreed.
Please understand that all of the work of Fresh Start for Hens is done by volunteers who have day jobs and many other commitments. We have no premises, no sponsorship and no funding apart from the donations of our supporters and what we put in ourselves. We can only continue to rehome these hens if our rehomers work with us to overcome the many obstacles and problems that may arise in the course of this work. If you would like to help us with this work, please contact us using the link on the homepage.
Where else could I get hens?
There are other organisations that operate in the UK that may be able to offer hens if we cannot
And in Ireland