It’s not just toilet roll that was running short at the beginning of the lockdown… some staple foods were quite hard to get hold of too, including eggs. And that might be why there seems to have been a massive run on rehomed chickens!
Yes, you read that right. As well as dogs (as my colleague Joe reported last week), the BBC is reporting that chicken rehoming charities have seen unprecedented uptake. I can also report that for the first time ever there was a queue when my family went to pick up a new batch of point-of-lay poults (adolescent hens, basically). We run a backyard flock of 8-10 birds at a time (and don’t worry – the old girls being “replaced” are happily living out their retirement in the orchard, delighting themselves in chasing the farm cats), but back in April the farm we buy from was besieged by people trying to set up their own flocks for the first time.
The chicken and the egg
Well, for many people, it’s all about the eggs. Eggs are nutritious, are now understood to be largely healthy, and are a natural product of adult female hens. Even in the absence of a cockerel, the hens will still lay – commercially bred hens usually average one egg a day.
However, this is where the story takes a slightly darker turn. At the end of their first year laying (roughly), hens moult (change their feathers) and stop laying. They then start laying again for a second year, producing slightly fewer, but much bigger eggs. At the end of that year, they moult again, and so on. However – in most commercial units, hens after 2 years (sometimes only 1 year) are no longer economically viable. They don’t produce enough eggs to make up for the fact that they are less efficient, more prone to disease, and generally “tired”. So, sadly, farms often cull the older hens.
Fresh Start for Hens
This is where it gets more cheerful again! There are a lot of groups who rescue elderly hens – including Fresh Start for Hens – and place them with families. It’s a good description to call them a rehoming charity – like Cats Protection or Dogs Trust, but for chickens. And it’s Fresh Start that are reporting that this year they’ve had a record 52,000 requests since lockdown began.
What are old hens good for?
Well they will still lay eggs! Our old girls usually give us 3-4 years of laying, and often more.
However, chickens are more than just egg-laying machines…
Chickens make good pets!
They’re intelligent and social creatures, and are usually happy to slot into your life. In fact, our blogger Lizzie was almost converted to hens from cats and wrote this blog about it. I have many friends who would say their chooks are pets, friends, even family, rather than (or at least, as much as) working animals.
But they do need looking after
However, just like any animal, chickens have their own particular requirements – see our guide to Caring for Pet Chickens in the time of Coronavirus here. It isn’t fair to rehome a hen and then try and make her live in inappropriate or even cruel conditions. (Interesting fact – if humans were chickens, many of our towns and cities would be illegal habitations under welfare laws!). And there have been awful reports of people not being able to care for them correctly, or even leaving them outside for foxes to eat because they can’t be bothered to care for them any more.
Chickens make great pets as well as being productive to have around. If you make sure that you care for them properly, they’ll provide you with regular nutritious meals AND company and friendship. What’s not to like?!