This is why we want to advise supporters that not all hens being offered for
adoption by some other organisations, are the beloved ex-bats you think. In short,
some free range hens are being passed off as caged. OK, so if their lives are still
being saved why does this concern us you might ask? From your comments we
know how helping caged hens is vitally important to you, and we think it’s unfair to
misinform the people kind enough to adopt ex-commercial hens.
The BHWT will always advise which system the birds you are adopting have come
from. On the rare occasion we have free range hens, we ensure they are only
offered to those able to provide adequate space.
It’s often difficult to tell the difference between a free range hen and a colony
caged hen at the end of her laying life. We used to regard feather coverage as a
reasonable indicator of the life she once led, but that has been proven to be
another misconception. Feather coverage is more often down to the quality of
husbandry, and health of the flock rather than the system they are raised in. We
have seen very poorly feathered free range flocks and well feathered colony birds.
One way to distinguish is to look at the combs; free range hens usually have
scarlet red combs. Look at a colony hen and she will usually, although not always,
have a paler comb. Look at the legs and feet, if they are very clean, and haven’t
tramped through a bit of mud during their working life, there’s every chance they
could be from colony cages. If you’re unsure of the system your hens have lived in,
you must ask.