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Friday 13th proved to be a very lucky day for some commercial hens who would otherwise have been destined for slaughter. The lovely people of Cornwall (and Devon too!) decided that saving a life (or three) this Christmas was the best way to celebrate the sentiments of the season and had offered homes to these little hens.

A wet and windy Cornish Friday night saw 267 little girls whisked from the farm to the warmth and comfort of the stables at Rosewarne.

The next day, bright and early, the first rehomers arrived and by lunchtime all the girls had been waved off to their new homes, the stables were cleaned and we were collapsing with a well-earned cuppa and piece of cake!

Chicken catcher supreme Carole chooses her three...sorry...four new girls!

Chicken catcher supreme Carole chooses her three…sorry…four new girls!

We have a wonderful team – Gary, Paula and Tim without whom none of this would happen, John who helps us in the farm and Carole, Dave, Marie, Angie and Pete who were wonderful chicken catchers all morning. The staff at Rosewarne help enormously with the day – it is almost exactly two years since we first rehomed from there (I know that because a certain special little lady will be celebrating her two year Henniversary this week) and we have rehomed over 1,000 hens. That is over 1,000 lives saved – and whilst 1,000 is a very small drop in a very large ocean – it is a start and I feel we are doing something, albeit a tiny something, to help some of these beautiful creatures.

I deliberated long and hard about whether to add this following bit but decided that I owed it to the hens:

But the rehoming was not all good news.

For the first time ever, we lost hens during the rehoming. One girl, died in the crates before she even got to the stables and three more died overnight. We think a fox scratching about outside the stable made the girls panic and these three died in the ensuing ruckus – when we arrived the girls were all in a very agitated state.

We are devastated by the losses. To lose girls before they even experience the freedom we worked so hard to achieve for them, is totally heartbreaking. I cannot describe the sense of failure I personally feel by their deaths. I was organising the rehoming, I was responsible for getting the girls safely from farm to stable to rehomers and I failed to do that. Somewhere along the way I did something wrong and these four innocent souls paid the price. Those girls will never be free girls and they will never know human kindness and it is weighing very heavily on my heart and on my conscience.

They were cremated just as our own girls are, and their ashes will be buried alongside their new sisters. They were given names – Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion – and poignantly the flower tucked under each of their wings was a rose called Compassion. Giving them dignity in death was the one thing we could do for them. In the words of the lovely Liz, they were finally given the recognition of their individuality that they deserved.

These girls need remembering so that they have not died in vain. If you can, please light candles for them tonight as their precious souls fly skyward, free forever.

RIP four little angels…from the very bottom of my heart, I am so sorry xxxx

Dedicated with love to special hens  Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion. May your spirits fly free always xxxx

Dedicated with love to special hens Freedom, Liberty, Care and Compassion. May your spirits fly free always xxxx

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It has taken me over a week to try and write a tribute to darling Bella. Our hearts are broken and watching Hettie struggle each day, grieving for the only friend she has ever had, is only compounding our sadness. Bella was a very, very special girl and no words I write can truly capture the gentle spirit that was Bella, but I hope I can try to do our special girl justice with this tribute…

1st February 2011 saw the arrival of four little hens; my B girls. I had planned to collect three Amberlink girls, so naturally came home with two Amberlinks (Brigit and Bertha) and two ginger girls (Bunty Goodchicken and Bella). Of course at that point Bunty Goodchicken was just Bunty and Bella was Psychochicken. Only my second batch of girls, I was unprepared for the feisty little scrap that was to become Bella. She attacked me and Gary, she attacked the other hens, she attacked her reflection and she attacked her coop. I didn’t know what to do with her. Now of course I know I was dealing with a very frightened little hen, who had had to fight for every thing in her caged life. No-one had thought to tell her it was now all going to be OK – at that point I hadn’t learnt how to speak ‘chicken.’ So, on advice of fellow chicken keepers, I separated her whilst the other three girls went to bed. Pyschochicken was put to bed in the cat carrier. Once everyone was asleep I went to take her out of the carrier. I will never forget the look in her eyes. It was one of total resignation and defeat. She was back in a cage. That moment with Bella taught me more than any book could ever have done. The true suffering of caged hens, the depth of emotion they feel and the effects our human idiocy can have on them. From then on, I truly understood her.

Bella on rehoming day

Bella on rehoming day

My friend, Sarah, decided that to make her feel special and loved, she needed a special name and she called her Bella, meaning beautiful. So Bella she became. And over the next (almost) three years as a free range girl and top hen in our flock, beautiful she proved to be. In every way.

Diminutive in stature, Bella was always my smallest hen, but was the girl with the biggest character. Hers were the first wings I ever clipped! Three months after she came to live with us, Bella suddenly became intent on using the logpile as a launchpad for her escape efforts. Despite my attempts at containing her, one morning I looked out of the dining room window to see the little scamp running gleefully up and down the Cornish hedge. Never having clipped wings before I raced round to a work colleague, with Bella tucked tightly under my arm, to show me what to do. Bella came home suitably clipped and proceeded to lay an Egg of Protest in the greenhouse. Her escape attempts were brought on by her pre-eggy frenzy, something I have now realised many hens do just before their first egg after a lull.

Bella's first taste of fresh air

Bella’s first taste of fresh air

You see Bella was a teacher. She knew I had much to learn and consequently took it upon herself to educate me in the ways of All Things Hen. We were good friends Bella and I. Each evening as I sat chatting with the girls, she came and climbed onto my lap and told me about her day. Every time I cleaned out the coop, she came up to make sure I had done it properly, tactfully rearranging my humble human efforts. She even tolerated me cuddling her and occasionally allowed me to hold her long enough for a photograph – her beautiful face has featured in many magazines and websites promoting the plight of her ex-commercial sisters.

But I was not Bella’s only pupil. She had greater plans – she wanted to educate as many humans as possible.

She came to college with me and transformed the views of all the students she met. Previously they had thought of hens as ‘just a chicken’ and were not interested in my futile exbatt witterings. But Bella knew how to change their minds. She breezed into their classroom, preened, bwarked and looked resplendent and then stood obligingly on a piece of A4 paper to show them the space she would have had in her battery cage. She had given a face to factory farming. Suddenly these previously uncaring students understood. Bella had made them see. Then they were feeding her and stroking her as she ate corn of their hands. Bella had performed her role magnificently. To this day they still ask after her.

Sunbathing beauty

Sunbathing beauty

Spreading the word became Bella’s mission. She was one of the lucky ones and she was going to do all she could for her less fortunate sisters. She came with me and Clara to Pets at Home and met the public whilst promoting a hen rehoming for Fresh Start. She was picked up and cuddled and went around the store meeting customers, enchanting them with her beauty. People who had never even touched a hen in their lives were delighted with her, wanting to hold her and asking all sorts of questions about hens and battery farming. Children, especially, were enamoured by her. Because of her efforts, many loving homes were found for more ex-commercial hens.

Bella had many, many wonderful characteristics; she was clever and funny, dignified and brave, but most of all she was a kind and fair top hen. She ruled her flock with a firm but gentle wing. No hen was allowed to be left out or picked on. She kept neighbourhood thugs Eliza and Grace Kelly in check. When Flavia arrived, dumped at the vets after being attacked, it was Bella who welcomed her into the flock. When Flavia was afraid to go to bed as Eliza lurked menacingly by the coop door, it was Bella who would escort her safely into the coop every night. When terrified little Hettie arrived, Bella understood her fears and immediately extended the wing of friendship to her. Bella had recently lost her beloved Bunty Goodchicken and Clara in close succession and this new friendship helped both hens heal their emotional scars. Every evening Hettie went to bed early to get her favourite nestbox and every evening Gracie Thug came in and turfed her out. So every evening Bella offered Hettie the prime Top Hen nestbox and slept by her side. A true leader, she knew she had to care for the weakest in the flock.

Bella celebrating her two year Henniversary

Bella celebrating her two year Henniversary

Apart from two soft egg incidents (cured by a warm bath and a very lovely cuddle) Bella had never had an ill day in her free range life. She breezed through her first moult and was the picture of good health. However, about a month ago, at the start of October, Bella started to slow down. She was having a small moult and struggling to regrow her new feathers. I found her looking a little unwell at times, occasionally her comb was slightly tinged with blue. Fearing her intensive laying life was finally catching up with her and suspecting a tumour, and with Uncle Jason’s advice, we treated her as best we could and each time she rallied. But both Bella and I knew her days were now numbered.

Bella took her Top Hen responsibilities very seriously and I know she struggled with the thought of leaving her girls, so she fought her illness with all the stoicism of a true Maggie Smithesque grande dame…….Bella was always a proud and dignified girl and I knew without her having to tell me that she would not want to be seen to be weak in front of her girls. She needed not to suffer and she needed to have her dignity to the end. Sometimes words are not needed between friends, they understand implicitly what is needed, and one bleak morning, she told me that she had had enough. It was time. Her best friend Hettie had been by her side the whole time she had been ill and on Bella’s last day Hettie stayed with her all day, never venturing from her guardian angel’s side. Darling Bella knew it was time but I don’t think poor Hettie understood.

After a very weak Bella had seen her girls safely to bed for the final time, we visited Uncle Jason. Bella and I sat together in a quiet room, she was cradled in my arms and, as she passed on, I told her that I loved her, that she was a good chicken and I promised her that I would look after her girls, especially Hettie, and that she could now rest in peace. Once I had told her this, she passed very quickly and peacefully. Her final gift to me was one of her moulting feathers that fluttered away from her beautiful, precious body. A treasure.

Bella needed dignity in death and I hope I was able to give her that; the last wish of my most special girl.

She was cremated on Saturday, a golden marigold for my golden girl tucked under her wing for her final journey. Her spirit is now flying forever free at the Rainbow Bridge with her beloved Bunty Goodchicken and Clara by her side, as my darling Bella takes gentle charge of her heavenly flock.

My darling Bella with her beautiful heart-shaped pupil

My darling Bella with her beautiful heart-shaped pupil

Us mere mortals left behind will uphold our final promise to her. Hettie will be cared for, loved and protected and Bella’s flock will slowly adjust to the loss of their beloved leader. For a while they will have a human Top Hen who will muddle through until a new gentle chicken leader emerges. She will however have very big claws to fill – in fact she probably never will. There will only ever be one Bella Top Chicken.

After almost three years as a free girl, our hens and our hearts are mourning the loss of Bella. Nothing will ever be the same again.

RIP my darling, beautiful, brave, big-hearted, generous Bella. Fly high my precious Top Hen xxx

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Flora Day occurs on or around May 8th in Helston, Cornwall and celebrates the coming of spring with dancing, partying and an abundance of lily of the valley. However, here in Rosewarne, our Flora Day was celebrated today, 27th October, with the greatest storm since 1987 brewing in the skies, the dark winter evenings closing ominously in and rain, the like of which I have never seen before, blowing up the Red River Valley in menacing sheets of blackening doom.

But, in spite of all this autumnal ferocity, our Flora Day was alight with sun, happiness and joy (and an egg!).

Miss Flora Hen is an ex-batt who, until recently, has lived a very happy post-cage life in Marazion with her three sisters and two loving owners. However, her sisters have sadly all died and Flora was left alone. Her owners needed a new home for her so she could have hen company again and become part of another flock. There was a spare coop in our garden and it didn’t take long for Gary to get my (not so) subtle hints and suggest she come to live with us. So today Miss Flora arrived!!

Miss Flora-Jayne, a ray of sunshine!

Miss Flora-Jayne, a ray of sunshine!

After speaking to her, understandably upset, owners, we discovered Flora was part of the same rehoming as Evie, Eliza, Effie and her beloved Miss Basket. This means I may well have taken her out of her cage and it gives me a special affinity with this very pretty little hen.

She is now living in the Big Girls’ Garden, in her own coop and run, for a couple of weeks before introductions begin and I am amazed that Eliza ‘Give ‘em All Hell’ Chicken has merely come up to the wire fence and pecked at the grass that Flora is pecking at before wandering off. I know chickens recognise up to 80 other girls and I wonder if my most combative of girls actually already knows who this new hen is. Hens never fail to amaze me with their intelligence, empathy and compassion and I feel that my two remaining E-girls will recognise a fellow ‘survivor’ from their farm and offer her the wing of friendship.

Don't I know you? Flora-Jayne meets Eliza...

Don’t I know you?
Flora-Jayne meets Eliza…

But what of her name?? Flora?? Her name needs to begin with a J as fits my little system but a girl of two years free cannot have her name changed!! So we decided Flora-Jayne she would be! And it definitely suits her.

So far she had flown onto her coop roof, announced very loudly (and repeatedly) to the world that she is here, had her wing clipped amongst great protestations, shared a fence-limboing tuft of grass with Eliza (they do know each other I am sure of it!!) and laid an egg!!

Not bad for a first day!

If you are inspired by Flora-Jayne’s story, and you live in Cornwall and feel you can offer a loving home to some ex-commercial hens, I have a rehoming on 14th December in Camborne. Please visit the website to reserve your hens at www.freshstartforhens.co.uk or if you are tempted but unsure PLEASE email me for advice and information on cornwallgreenbean@tiscali.co.uk.

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Sunday saw much celebration in the garden of the Rosewarne ex-batts. Greta Garbo and Grace Kelly, two gorgeous girls from our first ever rescue as Cornwall Fresh Start for Hens, celebrated one year as free girls!!

From that rescue I took home the three poorlie girls. Gracie with a prolapse, Greta with a very swollen and red abdomen and the very ill little Gina.

Gracie had the first of many baths – she loves them and especially the post-bath blow dry – to help clean up her prolapse and after a few days of treatment, the prolapse disappeared never to be seen again. Gracie has turned out to be the naughtiest, most vocal little hen I have ever met!! Who was first to fly up onto the bench with all the treats on? Gracie. Who discovered she could knock them over so her sisters could have them? Gracie. Who managed to fly over the fence into Effie’s garden and attack my precious baby? Gracie. Who is still to extend the wing of friendship to Hettie and kicks her out of the nest box every night? Gracie. But who sings beautiful songs to her mum every morning? Gracie. Who chirrups throughout her baths and blow dries? Gracie. And whose distressed alarm call alerted us to the dying Gina? Little Gracie. Grace Kelly is a character and true to her namesake, a really gorgeous and glamorous diva.

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken

Miss Grace Kelly Chicken

Greta’s swollen bottom was originally thought to be Egg Peritonitis but after Uncle Jason the vet had examined her, it was deemed to be a mass of scar tissue from a previous infection. Much better news! Her big beautiful bottom has spent a year being red and featherless and only now, after a year of freedom, have the first feathery tufts begun to appear around the edges. Greta has never laid an egg, and nor would I want her to, but she does love to sit in the nestbox after someone else has laid one and then rush out to declare her brilliance at laying an egg!! She is the sweetest, happiest chicken and an excellent beak cleaner, and it is this sunny, gentle character that has earned her the much coveted Goodchicken surname. It is a title only ever bestowed on the most special of hens and Greta knows she is a very special girl.

Miss Greta Goodchicken

Miss Greta Goodchicken

Little Gina was in the ICU for a few days before joining her two sisters for a week or so of fresh air and sunshine. But her little body was too weak to cope. Gracie woke us one morning with her cries of distress and I am eternally grateful to her for that as it enabled us to bring Gina inside and cuddle her as she passed away. However, her spirit was felt today and we spent a few moments at her grave telling her we loved her.

Gracie then ventured inside for a bath and knicker blow dry whilst Greta had extra cuddles as she awaited the main event.

left to right Flavia, Greta, Gracie, Liza and Bella

left to right Flavia, Greta, Gracie, Liza and Bella

Once Miss Kelly emerged in a fluffy and feathery shower of happiness, mealworm and corn cakes topped with live yoghurt and sweetcorn (grown on our allotment) were served, accompanied by much very bad singing on my part. Then followed a photoshoot before the girls collapsed, exhausted and full, under the bushes for a post-party preen and snooze.

Gracie, Bella Top-Hen and Greta tuck into a cake

Gracie, Bella Top-Hen and Greta tuck into a cake

(In Effie’s Garden, Effie had two cakes and allowed her babies to share one between the three of them. It was their first party and they behaved im-peckibly!)

Today was a double celebration – Gracie and Greta enjoying one year as free range girls and also the anniversary of our first rehoming.

If you are inspired to have some ex-batt hens, I can assure you it will be the best thing you have ever done. If you need some help and advice please visit my new website www.henhugger.co.uk or email me on henhugger@talktalk.net.

And if you are in Cornwall, there will be a rehoming of ex-commercial hens on 14th December. What better way to embrace the festive season than to save a life?

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“Saving one chicken won’t save the world, but it will save the world for that chicken.”

Saturday 9th February, the second rehoming of Cornwall Fresh Start for Hens, saw 228 beautiful little girls waved off to their new homes.

On the Friday night, the hens had been collected from the farm and brought back to their luxury overnight accommodation. Swiftly unpacked and tucked up in their comfy, haylined stable, everything was going so well. Until…

As we turned the lights off, congratulating ourselves on a job well done, someone commented that when we first came in, weren’t there four donkeys in the neighbouring stable? With a sinking feeling, we all noted that there were now only two donkeys in the stable and an all-telling gap in the fence. Cue an hour long hunt (in the dark over 200 acres) for the two errant donkeys. They were found munching the grass in a nearby field but had the scent of freedom in their nostrils and did not want to go back to bed. Eventually, and with the help of buckets of feed, they were lured back to their stable. It was a scene reminiscent of the Great Escape, as the unsuccessful escapees were returned to their fellow inmates.

The dramas were over. Or so we thought…

Stable full of hens!

Stable full of hens!

Next morning, we expected to find 228 little hens in their stable, contained by the netting we had erected on top of the walls to stop any escapologists. What we found were about 4 hens in the stable and the other 224 on the walls, in the rafters, in with the donkeys, in with the goats and over the main wall in the cattle shed. So another ‘interesting’ hour was spent retrieving the little monkeys and getting them back into their stable and all ready to greet their wonderful new owners.

So if any rehomers wondered why the team looked a little frazzled that morning, there were 230 (228 hens and 2 donkeys) reasons why!!

Being good...mostly. Look at the two in the water trough, not to mention Hayrack Hen!

Being good…mostly. Look at the two in the water trough, not to mention Hayrack Hen!

But on a serious note, 228 hens is a very small drop in the ocean of the thousands of commercial hens that are sent to slaughter each year. Saving 228 hens will not change the world. But for those 228 hens, their world has been changed. Their lives have been saved and they have the chance of a new life.

The little hen in the hayrack is typical of the girls we rehome. Discovering a rack full of hay for the first time in her life, she nestled down and laid her egg in glorious, luxurious comfort. She then decided to announce this fact very proudly (and loudly) to the world! Was there ever a happier hen?

Was there ever a happier hen?

Was there ever a happier hen?

So thank you from me and the 228 hens to all the wonderful people who found room in their homes and their hearts for some of these little girls. You are all, quite literally, lifesavers. Thank you to all the amazing people that helped me; on the day and before and after the event. None of it could have happened without you and I am forever grateful. You are all stars.

Jo xx

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I was concerned that our resident diva and global superstar, Miss Effie Chicken, would have her perfectly formed beak put out of joint by the arrival of our new G girls but as luck would have it, Effie has discovered she is not only featuring in Your Chickens AGAIN this month but also has a whole chapter of a new book just about her.

In a magnificent double spread photo which forms part of an article on ex-batts, Effie is seen luxuriously sunbathing, her little neck at its own special jaunty angle. Miss Basket is standing over her and (don’t tell Effie) but she too looks magnificent. So often Melanie to Effie’s Scarlet O’Hara, it is good to see Miss Basket take centre stage.

Effie and Miss Basket in the now infamous Your Chickens photo!!

And yes Effie has a whole chapter of a new book, Tales from the Coop, dedicated to her story. Also featuring in other chapters are Miss Bunty Goodchicken and the rather splendid Miss Audrey Chicken. Edited by the inspirational Sophie Mccoy, Tales from the Coop has a collection of stories, poems, photos and more by many wonderful and reassuringly barmy ex-batt owners. All proceeds of the book go to hen rehoming charities so, if you need a stocking filler, or indeed just something to make you smile, please buy this little book.

Tales from the Coop; a fabulous read!!

So what tales are there this week from my little coops?

The G Girls

My G girls are blossoming! Little Gina is making up for lost time and consequently eating like a horse. Whilst still very bald she has discovered the delights of sunbathing and has taken up residence in a particularly sunny spot in the garden. She has settled in very well with Grace Kelly and Greta Garbo – all girls pootling round the garden together by day and sleeping in a hen pyramid each night. Gina has discovered a penchant for delicious quills though – not her own I might add – so Grace and Greta are currently sporting this season’s must have look – purple sprayed backs!

Gina – sunbathing beauty!

Grace’s prolapse has disappeared and she is performing her ‘natural functions’ without anything making an unwanted reappearance. She is quite a scared little girl though – she is terrified of me still. So to spray her quills purple I had to wait until everyone was asleep, open the coop slowly, take aim and spray. Needless to say much of the coop interior is now purple but luckily so are the girls’ backs!

Timeless beauty Grace Kelly

Greta Garbo’s swollen abdomen is reducing significantly. I am taking her to the vets soon but as she is still very flighty I do not want to stress her unnecessarily. She is the most confident of the three girls though – always first out of the coop, always first to do everything!

Gorgeous Greta Garbo

I am delighted with the progress all three are making.

Final Confession

Now I have ten lovely hens in my flock, you would think eggs would be in abundance and omelettes would be our staple diet. Ahh..well

Of my ten girls, Gina, Greta and Grace are too poorly to lay, Effie has had an implant and doesn’t ‘do’ eggs anymore, Bunty Goodchicken has egg peritonitis and no longer lays, Eliza and Bella are moulting, Miss Basket lays each day but eats her egg, Clara lays intermittently and Flavia lays every day.

So 1 egg a day then!!

I may joke about it but I would rather none of my girls laid and just had a rest. They have earned it and I want them to live out their retirement in luxury and not be burdened by egg laying.

So I sneak down to the animal care unit at work and buy some of their hens’ eggs. Shhh…don’t tell anyone!

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It is not long now until Fresh Start for Hens’ first ever rehoming of ex-commercial hens in Cornwall takes place. I am thrilled that I have been asked to be the Cornwall co-ordinator and as the Big Day approaches I alternate between excitement and worry. I am good at worrying and getting this rehoming right is very important. Those little hens are depending on me.

There is much to organise to ensure the day runs smoothly – from sorting out food and bedding to disinfecting the crates; from organising collection slots for rehomers to baking the all-important cake to keep the team of fabulous volunteers going as they give up their weekend to help me rehome these precious girls.

All commercial hens, be they ‘enriched’ caged, barn or free range are sent to slaughter once they are no longer commercially viable, usually after about 18 months. So whatever system the girls we rehome come from, we are saving lives. Whilst it is all-to-easy to focus on the hens we cannot save, we must remember that every hen rehomed is a life saved. As the quote goes, by saving one animal you will not change the world, but you will change the world for that one animal.

So Saturday 6th October will see a team of volunteers (including the inspirational Taz who co-ordinates Fresh Start for Hens and the amazing Paula who is travelling halfway across the country just to be here) collect our hens from the farm and then, later in the day wave them off to their lovely new homes. It is a real team effort – it is touching how helpful and kind so many people have been. Not least the wonderful rehomers who have found room in their homes and their hearts for some ex-commercial girls.

There is still time to reserve your hens online for the Cornwall rehoming. There is also a Fresh Start for Hens national rehoming on 20th October. Please visit http://www.freshstartforhens.co.uk to reserve your hens.

Brigit enjoying her free range life!!

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