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Excited children all over the world are beginning their festive countdowns. 22 sleeps until Christmas!

However, for rescuers of battery hens in Cornwall we have another, much more wretched countdown. We have 20 days to rescue and find homes for as many hens as we can before the unlucky girls who don’t have homes go to slaughter. How can we possibly celebrate the festive season when so many girls who have spent their lives entombed in cages, will be sent to their deaths a couple of days before Christmas?

The thought of these poor, desperate, unloved angels being slaughtered, has spurred us on to find as many homes as we can as every home we find is a life saved. The lucky ones will wake up a few days before Christmas and be whisked away to new loving homes where they can scratch in the grass, bathe in the dirt and see the sky. The others will spend a few more nights in the cages before waking up one morning to be transported to the slaughterhouse, hung upside down in shackles and killed.

How many live and how many die is up to us. It is a terrifying responsibility and one I am not sure I equipped mentally to handle.

But every spare moment has been spent trying to find homes for all these little hens as we have, literally, thousands of girls coming out of their cages.

Darling Agatha xx

Raising awareness by writing about it – blogging and asking people to promote the plight of these darling girls online – takes no time and has been remarkably effective. Many homes have been found via social media and many real and online friends have been so very supportive and kind, as have charities like CIWF and Chicken Out, green campaigners Brigit and Dick Strawbridge, Cornish chefs Nathan Outlaw and Paul Ainsworth and local publications MyCornwall and Bude People. To name but a few!

In the real world I have enlisted the help of the animal care staff at work and, bless them, they are rounding up homes at a marvellous rate. I have accosted students and got them to put posters up for me as well as trailing round vets and shops myself with posters. I have dressed up as a chicken on a Saturday morning in Newquay. I have dragged unsuspecting members of staff into my back garden to see how amazing my girls are in the hope of encouraging them to re-home some hens. No-one is safe!!

But my efforts are nothing compared to Michelle Boulton who has been amazing. If I thought I was committed then she is doubly so, she has boundless energy and love for these girls and rest assured every girl that she can possibly get out she will get out. She is an inspiration to us all.

Darling Aurora x

And it is not just Cornwall, the same desperate scramble to find homes is happening all over the country. Lovely Sophie Mccoy in Wigan, for example, has managed to find 1,200 homes already but still has thousands more to find.

After all our efforts, we have homes for about 800 Cornish girls. Which leaves over 3,000 to go to slaughter. It is a desperate and soul destroying situation. I can’t help but ask myself why is this happening? Why didn’t these girls come out in stages over the autumn to save this last minute, horrific and mostly futile search for homes for them? It is a mammoth task we have taken on and one we will not complete successfully I am afraid. I am heartbroken at the thought of all those beautiful, gentle, forgiving girls going to slaughter.

It haunts me and I can feel I am on the edge. I owe the hens you see. My first ex-batts, Audrey, Agatha and Aurora, saved me when I was crying out for help and it is my turn now to do my utmost to return the favour and save as many of their caged sisters as humanly possible.

So please, if you can, offer a home to some ex-batts. Wherever you are in the country some girls will be needing homes. If you don’t have the room for any ex-batts then please, repost this blog, retweet it, tell everyone you know, do everything you can.

There are some little girls in cages right now who are depending on you to save their lives.

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I promised a happy post and here it is!! Updates on earlier stories and tales of all the beautiful girls that have kept me awake with worry at night!

Little Limpy – Rescue Cuddling Girl

I finally managed to track down the lovely Lyn at work today to find out about Limpy’s progress. She and her three other new sisters – Skinny and the two baldies-in-fleeces – are all doing really well. No problems, settling in well and generally enjoying their new free range life. Phew!l I am hoping to go and visit her soon.

Hello Dolly!

Little Dolly was taken to the vets to have her Superlorin implant to stop her laying eggs as she was having so much trouble with them. She wasn’t overly impressed at being bundled up in the cat basket first thing in the morning when she was worm hunting and whisked off to the vets. However, in the consultancy room she stood quiet as a lamb when an ENORMOUS needle was waved in her direction. I, on the other hand, paled at the size of it. Putting that into my precious baby? But there was hardly a bwark from my brave girl as it was injected – which just goes to show, how brave ex-batts are!

I had all sorts prepared at home for her – special Brave Girl’s comfy bed inside complete with hot water bottle, Nutridrops and scrambled egg a la mealworm – to name but a few. After a Nutridrops Battle ( I wanted her to have some, she didn’t) and a little light scrambled egg she shot off outside to play with her sisters.

And she hasn’t looked back since. I have been watching her like a hawk for signs of moult or anything untoward but she is back to her happy, healthy, if still slightly featherless self. No reaction whatsoever. Except no eggs of course!

Dolly - Implant Queen of Cornwall

Poor Little Brigit

Ever since her Rescue Day, Brigit my Imbolc girl, has had the odd snick. Having been on the fabulous Chicken Vet course I know she snicks and doesn’t sneeze as chickens don’t have diaphragms! I also found out that respiratory infections can cause egg laying problems and in Brigit’s case, no eggs whatsoever. Which, I am assured is fine as long as she is well in herself. And she was until Monday, the day before Dolly’s implant. Early in the morning I found her in the corner of the run, her comb purple-blue, her breath scarily rattling.

Off to the vets we whisked and I must admit, I feared her breathing was a death rattle and was prepared to stop the car and take her out of the cat box and cuddle her. There was one thing I was sure of and that was if she was going to die, she was going to die in my arms, and most definitely not in a cage of any sort.

But we made it to the vets who diagnosed an upper respiratory infection – luckily her lungs were clear. So after a metacam injection we headed home with some trusty old Baytril and some decongestant. Brigit spent the next two days in the laundry basket tucked up under a towel, being hand fed pieces of scrambled egg and dosed up on her medication. She also had steam inhalations with a drop of eucalyptus in every couple of hours. She slept in the spare room at night so I could hear her if she was distressed. Gary despaired with me – but at least she wasn’t in bed with us which was my first choice!

I knew she was ill as I could sit with her on my lap and cuddle her to sleep. As soon as she fought me off, I knew she was getting better. And now she is back in Henderlay, rather surprisingly being a particularly good girl. When she thought I wasn’t watching she was even cleaning Clara’s beak – something I thought I would never see.

Beautiful Brigit who has fully recovered!

Bertha’s Fall From Grace

Oh it was all going so well…

As I was luring Dolly into her cat box, having spent the night nursing my poorly Brigit, Bertha decided she wanted to lay her egg in CocoChanel’s nestbox. Why I don’t know. Bertha has five nestboxes in Henderlay to choose from and two others around the garden.

Unfortunately for Coco, she was in the nestbox at the time. Bertha, momentarily forgetting she was a lady, decided that instead of asking Coco to move or waiting her turn, the thing to do was pin Coco’s head to the floor of the coop and attack her eye and her comb.

I was only alerted (still wrestling Dolly) by poor Coco’s screams. I found her with blood pouring out of her eye and from her comb. Dear god, is it any wonder I drink?

After bathing her wounds in salt water, I found the edge of her eyelid had been nicked and it stopped bleeding relatively quickly. After her initial shock and some time recovering in the coop, Coco calmed down quickly and, once I had checked there was nothing that might tempt a curious peck from any interested parties, she ran off outside.

Bertha on the other hand spent a good deal of time contemplating her actions in the Naughty Coop.

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The name Dolly is synonymous with country music, big hair and large implants. So it is hardly surprising that it is my little Dolly
Chicken who is the first of my girls to be going in for an implant.

However little Dolly Chicken isn’t after larger breasts to entice the local cockerels, she needs a hormonal implant to stop her laying eggs.

Since her arrival, little Doll has had trouble laying her eggs, becoming quite unwell, hunched and straining if an egg is imminent. Often the
resulting egg is swiftly followed by a soft egg. Which is all most peculiar. On occasion we have enticed the egg out by giving her a relaxing warm bath (and subsequent blow dry – ahh the lingering aroma of warm ex-batt) and I have also given her a calcium supplement in the form of Zolcal D.

Beautiful Girl Dolly Daydream

However, it became obvious that despite tlc and regular visits to the impromptu chicken beauty parlour/pharmacy in the utility room,
that the problem was worsening. A check up at the vets revealed nothing ominous lurking anywhere and the vet gave her a course of trusty old Baytril, in case of infection.

This is where is pays to do your homework and go into the vets forearmed with a Plan of Action. Concerned about the increasing trouble
Dolly was having with her egg-laying and worried about subsequent prolapses or worse, I asked for her to have a Superlorin implant, a hormonal implant originally for dogs that interestingly also works with chickens. It’s a bit like a contraceptive jab in humans and will stop her laying eggs for some time – a few weeks at least. The vet had not heard of it but, to give her her due, researched it for me , spoke to the manufacturers and the resident chicken expert vet at their sister practice who said that they could do it for her. It is an injection so no surgery is needed.

Naturally this doesn’t come cheap – about £60 (I told Gary it was £20 shhh…) but quite frankly, these little girls have suffered enough, and
I will do whatever I can to give them the best free range retirement possible. Not everyone understands this though, I almost came to blows with a work colleague the other day whilst talking about Dolly’s dilemma. He argued a chicken who doesn’t lay is worthless and needs to be culled. They are, he said, ‘only chickens,’ and that I was ‘a really odd person’ to be treating her like this. Well yes I probably am really odd (didn’t we decide we preferred the word ‘eccentric’ anyway?), but would I kill my cat if it stopped catching mice? No, of course not.

Which brings me right back to the argument that my chickens are my pets, I love them more than you can imagine and will do anything for
them.

So please spare a loving thought for little Dolly Chicken on Tuesday morning  when she is having her implant. I am really nervous about it actually and hope I am doing the right thing. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Elegant Sunbathing Beauty Dolly!

Finding a Good Chicken Vet

Finding a good chicken vet has been quite an issue for me. Chickens often tend to fall between the Livestock Category and the Pets
Category. So chickens as pets is something rather different for many vets. If you have a good chicken vet hang onto them, they are worth their weight in gold. But if like me you struggled to find one, don’t panic the BHWT have a list of recommended poultry vets here and Chicken Vet offer courses for individuals and vets alike. If your vet is not a chickens as pets expert, tactfully suggest this course.

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Constraints on both our time and budget mean that we don’t always consider the full implications of what we put into our shopping basket. Cleverly misleading labelling also means we are often kept in the dark about the true story behind our food.

Eggs, for example, form a part of many staple diets and are used in millions of manufactured food products worldwide – from mayonnaise to cakes to pasta to horseradish sauce. However, when buying shelled eggs or products containing eggs, there are two words you must look out for.

FREE RANGE

If Free Range is not on the label, the little hen laying the eggs will be a battery hen and if ever there was a creature worthy of human compassion then it is the little battery hen. The battery hen lives for over a year in a cramped cage with four other hens. She cannot move freely or lay her egg in comfort and is unable to express natural chicken behaviours such as scratching, foraging or dustbathing. She is subjected to artificial daylight to ensure she lays an egg a day and is often pecked and bullied by her cage mates. Once she is no longer financially viable she is sent off to slaughter. Hardly a fitting end for this hard working lady. Some lucky girls are rescued by charities and found loving homes to live out their retirement in freedom and comfort, but more homes are always needed.

And if you are wondering what effect this life can have on the hens, this is a photo of my friend Julie Bryder’s ex-batt hen, Dotty. Admittedly little Dotty is an extreme case but she is not the only hen who looked like this on being freed from the cage and she will not be the last.

Little Dotty when she was rescued

There is absolutely no excuse to treat a fellow creature like this, none whatsoever.
(If like me, after you have wiped the tears from your eyes, you wonder what happened to this little angel, scroll down to see a picture of Dotty a few months and much tlc later).

A small ray of hope for the battery hen is the 2012 Cage Ban which comes into force in January next year and will ban barren cages, replacing them with enriched cages. These allow a little more room for the chickens and give them access to nesting materials and those for dustbathing. Whatever your thoughts on animals in cages it is a positive step forward and one that we should support as just that – a step in the right direction towards our ultimate goal of a free range future for all chickens.

However, after 14 years in the planning, some EU countries have dragged their heels and are inexcusably still not ready for the ban. They have subsequently managed to get a ‘reprieve’ from Commissioner Dalli who, controversially, has proposed a plan that would allow these eggs to be used temporarily in products like pasta, cakes and ready meals, in their country of production, but not to be sold as whole shell eggs. This cop-out provides the farmers who still have illegal barren cages with no incentive to upgrade to enriched cages and cannot be allowed. To email Commissioner Dalli about his appalling U-turn click here. The email is written for you or to use as a guide and it only takes a few seconds.

So What Else Can We Do?

It is all too easy to condemn, find fault and criticise but what I really want this blog to achieve is to inspire people to do something positive towards a free range future for hens. These ideas take little time and effort but could make all the difference. People power is, after all, an extremely effective weapon of change.

Only Ever Buy Free Range Eggs
Don’t be fooled by pictures of happy chickens in fields with ‘Farm Fresh Eggs’ emblazoned upon the label. If it doesn’t say Free Range, it won’t be.

Check Your Labels
Those crafty, misleading labels are a shopper’s Achilles Heel. If you are buying any processed food at all, check the label. The obvious culprits are mayonnaises, quiches, cakes, biscuits, pasta, sandwich fillings, frozen ready meals, ice creams…well OK, anything really. Again, if it doesn’t say Free Range Egg, it won’t be. For help when shopping download the CIWF Shopping Guide here.

Ask and then Complain if Necessary
If you aren’t sure, ask to see the store manager who will undoubtedly direct you to Customer Services, who you can ring, email or write to. Then tell your friends to do the same. One voice can be ignored, a whole army of voices cannot be drowned out. The important thing to remember is that these shops or companies rely on your custom, not the other way around. Flex those consumer muscles!

And when you are eating out, ask them too. If it isn’t Free Range, tell them why you won’t be eating it.

Campaign, Campaign, Campaign
Be it letter writing, fundraising, marching or just telling your friends about the battery hen, you are an important cog in the campaigning wheel for a free range future for all hens.

Offer a Home to Some Ex-Battery Hens
If you can, please think about opening up your home and your heart to some ex-battery hens by taking a look at the BHWT website. These girls are so deserving of your love and are easy to care for. Watching them revert to ‘real’ chickens is truly a marvellous and rewarding experience. All they need is a secure coop and run, a little room to free range, good food and lots of love. Rest assured whatever love you give them will be returned tenfold.

And just in case you needed something to inspire you to rescue some ex-batts, here is little Dotty showing what a few months love and tlc from the wonderful Julie can do:

Little Dotty as a free range girl!

Dotty enjoyed over a year of free ranging and has raised both awareness and funds for her caged sisters. Her little life was not lived in vain. RIP Dotty darling xx

Fabulous websites full of information:
http://www.bhwt.org.uk/
http://www.ciwf.org.uk/
www.chickenout.tv/

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It’s been a long week.

Determined after my visit to the battery farm that my girls would never be caged in any way again (except in their runs first and last thing each day of course!!), I have spent the week supervising, chastising, chasing, cuddling and fussing about my girls free ranging together. It’s been a constant worry.

I have been popping home in my lunch breaks, tea breaks, loo breaks and any other break I could manufacture to keep an eye on them and make sure no-one hurts anybody else. I am really glad my boss doesn’t read this.

After her initial bad behaviour, Brigit spent much of each day in the Naughty Coop. I stopped short of making her write a letter of apology to Clara, but only just. She came out to cause mayhem each afternoon as I hated her being cooped up. I felt so mean but wanted her to be put on the back claw for a little while and give Clara a chance to establish herself.

Brigit Chicken - trying so hard to be good

Which the little minx did with great aplomb. Whereas Brigit was trying to assert her dominance over Clara, Clara (bottom of the C girls) was trying to assert hers over the two babies – Daisy and Dolly. The D girls are the tiniest ex-batts I have ever seen, and with their current lack of feathers, look about a third the size of the buxom Clara. Some downy feathers are appearing, as are quills with paintbrush feathers sprouting out of them, although both girls still remain knickerless. Clara, despite her limp can be very agile and managed to peck a few feathers from the Ds. When I told her off, she looked innocently at me from beneath her mopcap floppy comb. But it’s hard to look innocent with a feather stuck in your beak!

Still, Daisy and Dolly are much quicker than Clara and managed to scoot out of harm’s way most of the time. Dolly has happily accepted her lot as bottom hen and pootles around quite contentedly. Daisy is more adventurous though and sometimes forgets her station, which lands her in all sorts of scrapes: getting cornered in a nest box; falling into a, thankfully, empty bucket; trying to decapitate herself with the backdoor; tripping us up with her foot fetish to name but a few.

But, I must admit by Thursday I was near the end of my tether. It didn’t help I was very tired from a 400 mile round trip to Bath the previous day (surreal moment of my life – sitting in a minibus with 15 farmers (2 more mature and 13 young) as they all sang along to JLS). Someone had pecked one of Dolly’s newly emerging quills and made it bleed, poor baby and I got so cross with their constant bickering behaviour that I stropped off inside.

Which, looking back is what I should have done all along. Once I was sure no-one was going to kill or seriously harm anyone else, I should have left them to get on with it. Human intervention can often prolong the pecking order establishment. I knew this but naturally my girls are special and I thought I could reason with them.

Clara and the C Girls - peace and harmony!

By standing back – in this case in the dining room with binoculars watching their every move – they should all just settle down together. Which is what they have all finally done remarkably quickly now there isn’t a mad woman rushing round telling them to stop pecking each other! I just needed to calm down and stop fussing. Take yesterday, for example, I panicked when I couldn’t see Dolly anywhere and imagined her corned by eight bloodthirsty, mob-mentality chickens. In fact I found her happily having a dustbath in the greenhouse with Bella, Bunty Goodchicken, Constance and CocoChanel!

So, one week and quite a bit of (medicinal) gin later, a fragile peace is finally reigning in the garden.

Awards

It has been a bit of a battle of wills and integrating three flocks is a real achievement so I thought some celebrationary awards were in order…drum roll…

Award for Best Behaved Chicken all Week goes to Bunty Goodchicken

Award for Most Improved Behaviour goes to Brigit Chicken

Award for Bravery goes to Dolly Chicken (the bleeding quill incident)

Award for Sharing her Nestbox Without Fuss goes to Constance Chicken

Award for Acting as Mediator Between Hens and Humans goes to Bella Chicken

Award for Not Killing Herself (despite numerous attempts) goes to Daisy Chicken

Award for Still Always Being my Best Cuddling Girl goes to Clara Chicken

Award for Taking Brigit’s Mind off Pecking Clara goes to Bertha Chicken

Award for Taking Clara’s Mind off Pecking the D Girls goes to CocoChanel Chicken

Award for Keeping Me Sane goes to the Naughty Coop

Well, when I say sane…

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It was a very special moment yesterday when the Hen-der-lay sign was finally put in pride of place on the new custom-made penthouse coop.

The glorious sparkly Hen-der-lay sign in position atop the new coop!

We are especially proud of our girls’ new penthouse apartment. Made by a local craftsman after we decided buying the wood and Gary building a coop would be more expensive and, let’s face it, most probably end in divorce. Although, to give him his due, he did add the few ‘optional’ extras I insisted upon – a new lid on the nest boxes as I decided the original was too flimsy and not fox proof enough, a more hen friendly ladder and a grill over the ventilation holes just in case…

Fabulous, deluxe, penthouse coop. They love the long ladder!

We deliberated long and hard over the name. It is a play on the name Manderley (I just need a hen called Repekker) but we did consider many other names: Pecking ham Palace (too royal), Cluckingham Palace (ditto), Fowlty Towers (shamelessly copied from another chook friend) and many other plays on the words hen, chicken, egg and roost.

In my head, the glorious new deluxe coop was to be pink and white with a veranda, deck chairs, hanging baskets and gingham curtains at the window. Think Calamity Jane’s cabin after the make-over. However I am assured boring green woodstain is far more practical and curtains would attract mould and red mite. By way of compensation, the sign is yellow, with pink, silver and gold sparkly stars on and has a copy of the picture that reminds me of my first three, now departed, A girls. By having them on the coop, all my girls can sleep there snugly together.

Or not, as the case may be…

Hen-der-lay is built to house up to twelve chickens so the mathematicians out there may wonder why I only have my four B girls luxuriating in it, whilst the C and D girls have to rough it in the two low-level, common old normal coops. Well, simply because they refuse to play nicely together.

I appreciate there is to be some handbags at dawn fisticuffs when chickens establish their pecking order, it is quite normal. However, when the Amberlink C girls (Clara, Constance and CocoChanel) came to me, they were unable to walk, having spent two years in the wretched battery cage. Coco and Constance recovered quite quickly but darling Clara (her that likes being cuddled and sung to) took much longer to walk and was still being lifted in and out of the coop long after her sisters were skipping up and down the ramp. Thanks to the magic of arnica gel, her limp has improved over time but is still obvious. When the B girls met the C girls, my two B Amberlinks (Bertha and Brigit) took ‘agin’ Clara and terrorised her, jumping on her back and hurting her healing leg. Each time they have been introduced this has happened and Clara is now terrified of them.

Limpy girl Clara, how could you stand by and watch her being picked on?

My girls have spent enough time being frightened and abused, I won’t have them harmed in any way again. Consequently, they are kept apart.

So Plan B (or possibly Plan Z, I have lost track) is to merge the new D girls with the C girls first, establish a little flock of five and then merge them with Bella (top chicken who gets on with them all) and Bunty Goodchicken (never thrown a peck in anger) into the luxury of Hen-der-lay. This will leave bullies Brigit and Bertha in the small coop, to think about their actions for a week or so. Once they behave like ladies again, they can return to the, hopefully, harmonious flock.

We shall see. But in the meantime I shall carry on admiring my fab new coop and sign!

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