Monday, March 06, 2017
A Second Chance At Life
We've been without laying hens for a little while now. My Silkie flocks have been providing eggs, but not in the reliable way that a laying breed does. Even though my line of Silkies are quite good layers for their breed, Silkies spend a lot of time going clucky, and other times I think they just stop laying to ponder life before they go back to it.
It's hard to find good breeders of heritage birds in this area. There are a lot of serious health problems that many breeders don't seem to worry about, there are breeders continuing to sell birds as purebred show quality when they have been told that their chickens are clearly crossbred. And then there's the bad laying ability. When you step outside of keeping some chickens to lay eggs, and move into the breeding and showing world a lot of things change. If you thought odd attitudes only belonged to other animal clubs you've got it wrong. Among the problems that can ensue from this single minded breeding is the laying ability of the birds.
Which is why this time around we went the easy way. A bird that is guaranteed to lay - the commercial laying cross, called an ISA Brown.
These four girls came home a few days ago and have been given a second chance at life. They're from a battery farm.
You've probably heard about battery farm rescues before. In most cases those birds are two years old - past their laying prime for this breed and have already spent a long time living in those cages. It's a lovely thing to give them a nice life after the one they have had.
These four girls are a little different though. They are pullets - young chickens that have only just started laying a few weeks ago.
I knew we were going to a battery farm, but I didn't realise these girls were actually battery hens. I thought alongside eggs the farm must also be one of the breeders for the replacement birds. I had to stop myself from getting teary, therefore, when we walked into the farm office adjacent to the chicken shed, and I saw through the door all those chickens in cages. I'm guessing that, as far as battery farms go, this one was pretty small and of as good a standard as it can be. It wasn't smelly, and the birds that I could see all had their feathers in tact. But the cages were still small, crowded and looked uncomfortable (wire bottoms with nowhere for the hens to rest their feet). And knowing chickens, they must be stressed living surrounded by that many birds. Right outside the shed were paddocks of lush grass, and I couldn't help but think how much happier those hens would be out there.
One of the workers went through the doors to collect our girls. How lucky they are that they were the ones chosen from the cages that day. They were facing a sentence of sitting in that wire cage for the next 18-24 months of their life, and instead they only spent a few weeks there before being set free.
Now they are living life in a chicken pen that is massive in size (it really is!), and full of grass, weeds and other things for them to forage in. They can stretch their legs, flaps their wings. Know what it is to feel the wind, sun and rain. They can perch, dust bathe, hunt for bugs. They can live.
Their beaks are clipped, but as beaks keep growing (similar to a finger nail, just at a slower rate) I'm hoping they will grow back.
On their first day they were very bewildered at the sensation of grass underfoot, wind overhead and had a bit of a fright when a butterfly flew past. Lucky for the butterfly, these chickens don't quite know how to hunt yet. They stand much closer together than normal chickens do, most likely due to the crowded conditions they have known since birth.
For the first time in their life they have a choice of where they lay their eggs, and so they have indulged and made two nests. One in the grass, and one in their night shed.
Due to their orange colour they have been named after varieties of the fruit - Valencia, Tangerine, Cara Cara and Clementine. Even though they are hybrids there are still differences in their appearance, however slight, so I will be able to remember who is who.
Slowly, with each day, they are learning how to live. By the afternoon of their first day they were scratching a little, and one had a dust bath, probably the first in her life. They are spreading out a little, learning to go into their shed each evening and come out again in the morning.
I smile every time I see them, knowing how much happier they are here. I'm so glad they have come to live here.
If you have the space (you don't need much!) to keep chickens yourself, then please do. It's very easy, and you only need 3-4 hens to keep you in as many eggs as you want. I've written before and shared resources for keeping chickens here and here. Also this book is invaluable for backyard chicken keeping.
If you are unable to keep chickens, please source pasture raised eggs. They will be a little more expensive - but they are the product from a living animal, not an egg machine. Pasture raised eggs are a step above "free range" - a term that is loosely applied and can even mean birds simply "free range" in their crowded shed rather than being caged. If possible visit the producer and see the farm your food is coming from so that you know that the hens those eggs are coming from are living, as opposed to merely existing.
Locals: Pasture raised eggs from Mungalli come from happy hens. After seeing them myself on a visit to the cafe I was happy to purchase the eggs. Aside from all that green grass, those hens enjoy the most wonderful view!
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