Last Saturday we drove half-an-hour to Letwell, just on the other side of Rotherham, to collect 6 new additions to the family.
The British Hen Welfare Trust rescues around 50,000 hens a year and around 300 of them were coming to South Yorkshire. These are caged hens coming to the end of their commercial viability who would otherwise be heading for slaughter.
We’d already decided we wanted some chickens, and if we could rescue any, all the better. So we researched it and we bought a small hen house (houses up to 12 chickens).
We live on a free-range farm that has had chickens previously, so we knew that so long as we keep them safe from foxes, they’d hopefully enjoy a long and happy life with us.
The house was sited in a sheltered part of the front garden, with the stable to one side, a hill behind, a big tree overhead and a shed on the other side (soon to include a greenhouse). We’re gated in and there is fencing all around, mostly to contain the dog.
There are only 2 chickens left on the main farm at the moment, thanks to the fox. But there are 5 guinea fowl, 4 peacocks, 3 geese, 2 horses, a few hundred sheep and some cows.
Living in the countryside immediately around us are pheasants, badgers, woodpeckers, mallards, owls, kingfishers.
We have a fast-running section of the River Don where the poet goes fly-fishing. And ramblers regularly use the public footpaths that cut through the land. It really is idyllic.
And so we thought the chickens would settle in nicely and enjoy their new surroundings.
We found an animal feed specialist just down the road where we can not only get our chicken supplies from, but the garden bird food is considerably cheaper too. So we have chicken food, chicken grit, straw, sawdust, a feeder, a water hopper. The extra we’re spending on the chicken supplies, we’re more than saving on the garden bird food.
On the first day, Saturday, we just got the girls home and settled them into the hen house, where we left them overnight. Monkey Dust had a gig on the evening, so we just had to make sure the house was secure in case a fox wandered by while we were out.
They were still all present and correct (and safe!) when we got home. 🙂
On Sunday morning, still in his dressing gown, the poet went out to see them. They’d laid 5 eggs, which we were very happy about. We didn’t really get them for the eggs, we got them to rescue them. But the occasional egg is a nice thank-you gift from them.
When I got up, we went out and we let them out for the first time. They were nervous and cautious and not at all sure what to do. So we encouraged them outside in the sunshine. And that was when I found the sixth egg.
The peacocks, the guinea fowl and “Madge”, one of the farm chickens, came up to have a look at what was going on, and to scrounge the bit of food we scattered on the ground. At first they tried to bully the new arrivals, and we decided not to put food outside again until the new chickens have properly settled in.
By day 2, by the way, the biggest of our chickens was giving as much as she got with the other birds and making sure they all knew which was her territory. They still try to bully them, but if I come out or if our “big” chicken sees them, they start to back off again.
We didn’t leave them out for very long on Sunday as it was new to them and we also want them to get used to going into the house at night.
When we go camping in the summer at weekends, we will have a fox-proof enclosure up – that’s next Easter’s bank holiday weekend project. But for as long as we’re home and can shut them in at night, that’s not really a priority.
As the week progressed, laying went down to just 2 eggs a day, with a possible third being eaten by them for the shell. Today, for the first time since last Sunday, we had 3 eggs. And tomorrow they get their first clean-out.
They’re all settling in very well, exploring their new surroundings, establishing a pecking order. And by yesterday (Friday), they were running to me every time they saw me, pecking at my wellies, and mostly going into their house at night by themselves.
Just now when I went out to see them, at noon, one of them pecked at the empty water dish and then glared at me. Then she waited while I went to clean and re-fill the water hopper, having a massive drink when I put it back. Naughty Diane!
One bird in particular is straight out of the coop as soon as we open it, with another 2 following soon after. Two more tend to take their time and one of them definitely prefers to stay indoors. We’re calling that one Aggie the Agoraphobic.
We also have one that is very, very bald, and while I call her Baldy when I’m talking about her, to her face, or when she can hear, she’s Gail. We also have a Lara Croft – she’s the adventurous one.
We hope their feathers will grow again and that their plumage improves, and we will continue to be grateful for every egg they leave for us. I hope you enjoyed the pictures – perhaps as we take more, we’ll all see an improvement. They’re already looking chubbier.
If you are able to rescue any chickens, the BHWT have collections all over the country.
Our chickens came from a farm in Chesterfield, and the re-homing centre we collected them from rescued around 250 chickens that day, and over 2,500 chickens in the time they’ve been volunteering.
You have to register first and then, if there isn’t a waiting list, you could be collecting your first chickens within days. We bought our hen house from Egg Shell Online, but you can do an online search or the BHWT will point you in the right direction. They’re not the only re-homing charity in the country, either. So do your research and find the right fit for you.
We made a donation of £5 per bird, but this is completely down to the discretion of the re-homer(s). Other charities ask for a donation of just £1 per bird, but again, I think it really is up to you.