There are so many different breeds of chickens and during our eleven years of keeping them, we've had a lot, including leghorns, faverolles, light sussex, blackrocks, Plymouth rocks, French marans, a barnevelder, a Rhode Island Red and a blue Orpington. Don't get me wrong, they've been fabulous and we've never regretted chossing any of them, but when we rehomed our three ex-commercial hens, they quickly stole our hearts. This is why................
1. They've had a hard life.
Our three chickens were actually "free range, " as opposed to "ex-battery." So in that case, you'd expect them to be in good, healthy condition, right? Wrong!
They came to us looking thin and scraggy and one of them in particular had multiple bald patches, missing many of her feathers. You see for a chicken to be classed as "free range," it only has to "technically" have access to the outside. They reality is that many commercial free range hens are kept in grossly overcrowded environments and they may, in theory have access to a small outside space, the mere fact of so many chickens being in one space means that they may, in reality, never see the light of day.
Compared to many I see, our chickens got off relatively lightly. Nevertheless, their poor condition told it's own story.
The friendliness and gentle nature of our ex-commercial chickens took us by surprise. Our other chickens will gather around but scurry away if you try to have contact with them. Our oldest hen, a black leghorn, is in her tenth year. Yet does she, after all this time trust us enough to let us touch her. Absolutely Not! She will peck the hell out of us. This always makes us laugh. She'll never be taken by a fox. It wouldn't dare.
So we were amazed that, not only were our new little threesome confident enough to trust us, but also took an active interest in what we were doing and were happy to be picked up, two at a time. I remember running into the house excitedly when this first happened. I couldn't believe that I had a chicken under each arm.
It's always our rescue chickens who are under our feet in the garden, wanting to know what's going on. We love that. Below is Dorothy, doing her thing and standing out from the crowd.
3. They consistently lay gorgeous, good size eggs.
Don't go thinking that because they're past their "sell by date" in the eyes of the egg producing industry, they won't lay. They certainly do lay and they do it consistently. Just watch them spring back into condition and their eggs will appear regularly.
4. They may not have much of their life left.
Sadly, ex-commercial chickens are known not to last long after their rescue. Some pass away shocking soon after their rescue. We lost one of ours unexpectedly within a year. There was no illness or warning. She just went suddenly. We found her in the garden where just previously, she'd been foraging with the others. We are just hoping that the other two ex-commercial will keep up their strength. We don't know how long they will last. But we are just glad that they are spending the last part of their lives with us.
Below is Fanny Adams. I photographed her as she watched me through the kitchen window. We lost her earlier this year.
5. It's good for the soul.
We'd always previously chosen our chickens for their beauty. Ironically, its our rescue chickens that make us smile the most. I shudder to think of their end, had we not chosen them. We love to watch them walking around, being free to wander and forage. You may also have noticed that I love to paint them.
They are good for the soul. That's reason enough.
We now only have two rescue chickens left.
There is a really helpful facebook page for anyone interested in homing ex-commercial hens It's called the ex battery hens forum,