Frequently Asked Questions

So, you are excited about having your girls come to stay with you?  First of all do have a good look at some of the frequently asked questions below. Or, use the search facility to find an answer to your question.

How many can I adopt?

The minimum number of hens you can reserve is three, although we will allow two if you already have hens.  The maximum is normally twenty (which must all stay together with you).

When can I get my hens?

We are dependent on farms when arranging hen collections. However, our volunteer teams around the country usually organise hen collections every four to six weeks, they are popular so please don’t leave it until you have everything in place before you phone or you may have to wait. Please call us ASAP on 01884 860084 if you want to reserve hens.

What will the hens cost?

The typical donation we receive is £5 per hen, and whilst the feel good factor in saving lives is free, we do have to cover our costs. A donation of £2.50 or more per hen begins to allow us to do this.

Adopting hens from the BHWT means your donation saves not only the lives of the hens you collect, but helps to fund other aspects of our work such as:

  • our learning programme (teaching the next generation about our gorgeous hens);
  • increasing knowledge within the veterinary profession (so that our hens are better supported when they are poorly),
  • and our campaign work to educate people about how they can positively influence farming practices through their shopping basket.

By donating now, you help us to save more hens in the future.

You are not buying a hen you are adopting a pet and as a bonus your pet will lay eggs for you (Six eggs are worth £1)

What could you spend your money on instead?

A large glass of wine – £5

Pint of cider – £3

20 cigarettes – £12

Cinema ticket – £8

Adopt a cat – £75

Adopt a dog – £150

Adopt a rabbit – £40

Adopt a Guinea Pig – £15

What accommodation will they need?

You can either convert a regular shed or outbuilding, build your own coop, or buy a purpose-built hen house.  Design, prices, quality and sizes vary hugely so you will need to do some research. It is far better to pay more for a sturdy, well built house that will last for years, than buy a small, cheap, thin-walled coop which will soon fall apart and have to be replaced.  You also need to decide on your preferred system; either keeping the girls in a smaller house with attached run, frequently moving it onto a fresh area of lawn or ground; or building a larger permanently sited aviary type enclosure.

Most new coops and runs will have manufacturers’ recommendations on stocking rates, we advise you buy a hen house to accommodate more hens than you want. For example, if you want 4 hens, buy a hen house to accommodate 6, then you can be sure there will be sufficient room. If you are unsure on numbers we will advise you.

How much space do they need?

Whilst there are no set legal guidelines in place on the space required for backyard chickens, our recommendation is at least 10 square feet per hen in their run area and 1 square foot per hen in their coop (excluding their nest box area).

What about foxes?

Foxes are attracted by hens; they will visit night or day and will kill your birds if they are not secure. They jump/climb like cats, so a standard 6′ or 7′ perimeter garden fence alone is not guaranteed to keep them out.

Where can I get the equipment I need?

Our online shop has all you will need to start keeping chickens including a good range of books, feed, supplements, equipment, as well as chickeny gifts.  

Our one stop chicken shop helps to fund the re-homing of thousands of hens each year, so please spend generously! 

What breed are the hens?

The hens are all commercial hybrids: Lohman Browns, Goldlines, Hylines or Isa’s, (all Rhode Island Red crosses). They are approximately 17 months old when we collect them from farms, and are off to slaughter because they are deemed no longer commercially viable as they may be laying fewer eggs. As well as hens from enriched cages (40-90 hens per cage) we also collect barn hens & some free range hens.

These hybrid hens are bred for docility and you will find they are gentle, inquisitive and friendly, eating out of your hand and following you around the garden and into the house if you let them!

Will they be poorly?

We never knowingly pass on a poorly hen and any that concern us are retained until well enough, most join small flocks of special hens kept by our teams. However sometimes, limping hens can be re-homed if you have the experience/patience and facilities to rehabilitate them. Should you have an indoor area such as a secure part of a barn, stable or outbuilding, do mention this when you call or when you arrive on collection day.

All commercial farmers vaccinate, worm and salmonella test their birds as their eggs form part of the human food chain.  However, these vaccinations do not always offer lifelong protection.

How long will they live?

Most hens will go on to enjoy a long and happy free range retirement. However, these hens have worked hard for around 18 months and whilst we never knowingly re-home a poorly hen, as with any animal, some will have a shorter lifespan than others.

It is undoubtedly upsetting when a hen passes quickly, but she will at least have experienced kindness and happiness outside of the commercial system which is more than she could have ever hoped for.

When adopting any pet it is good practice to register with a vet and not wait until you have a problem, and here you will find our list of hen friendly vets.

What happens if I have problems with my hens or can no longer keep them?

It is not uncommon for hens to limp a few days after adoption.  This is often a result of handling at the farm and/or weak legs.  Do not remove the hen from the flock unless bullied, but ensure she can access food and water. Limping and bruising usually subsides within two weeks, please call our Advice Line on 01884 860084 if you are concerned. We are always on the end of the phone, no matter how long you have had your hens. If you no longer feel able to look after your hens, call us. We will endeavour to take back the birds and find a new home for them where possible.

Will my hens lay eggs?

The charity cannot guarantee the future laying capability of any individual hen, but most will carry on laying, and whilst eggs will increase in size over time they will decrease in numbers. Be aware your hens are not used to finding and using a nest box and initially will lay their eggs wherever they happen to be. Egg shell quality decreases as hens get older and soft shelled eggs may be seen as they age. This can be improved by using egg shell improver.

Do I need to keep my new hens separate?

Hens will usually need to be kept separate for 2-3 weeks from your existing hens, please ask our advice on this.  Some can be a little fragile and have poor self confidence when they first come out of the farm. Others are spirited and think they rule the roost from day one!  For these reasons keep the new hens apart, but within sight of your established flock.  This will make final integration easier though there will always be some squabbling as a new pecking order is established.

You may find the initial settling in period distressing as the hierarchy of the group is re-established.  This can involve pecking, chasing, squawking, bullying, guarding of food and water sources.

If you have problems, there are a few things you could try:

  • Smearing Vaseline on the combs of the bullied hens helps, (the bullies will not be able to get a grip).
  • Hang up distractions: shiny CDs, half cabbages or corn on the cobs, just above head height.

Give them space so that the lowest ranking hen can stay out of trouble, and put several sources of food and water in the pen to ensure they all can eat and drink.  It won’t take them long to realise there is more to life than squabbling.

If you have on-going bullying problems visit our information on merging and establishing a new flock  or call us for advice on 01884 860084.

Please note too that hens need keeping apart from cockerels for at least a month. The girls can easily be damaged as they may have weak legs and bald backs when first out of the farm.

Will they get on with my other pets?

These hens know little fear and will get along happily with cats, dogs, sheep and even llamas which act as great fox deterrents.  If your existing pets are friendly, controllable and the introduction is supervised there shouldn’t be any problems.

Will they know to take shelter?

When first homed hens will not know how to shelter and may stand outside when it’s raining and windy, so initially you must physically put them in the coop if the weather is bad.

If you are re-homing during the summer months and you have hens with bald backs/heads, you may need to put sunblock on their skin on particularly sunny days. You can buy sunblock suitable for pets.

If re-homing in the winter, look at our Cold Weather Tips.

What happens on hen collection day?

We are not a sanctuary and do not normally keep hens in stock.  We take them out of the farm early in the morning, put them in crates and take them to the re-homing point for a health check.  Adopters arrive later the same day.  This way all of the stress for the hens is confined to one day and they will go from cage to new retirement home in a matter of hours. There can be up to fifty adopters arriving to pick up their hens on hen collection day, so please be patient if there is a short queue of cars or a wait when you arrive.

How do I carry them home?

We want your hens to travel home in comfort and safety, it’s been a long day for them!   A hen is about the size of a football so please bring either straw/newspaper lined cat carriers or dog crates or similar sized sturdy cardboard boxes with horizontal ventilation slits around 1 x 6 inches cut into the sides – stab holes are not sufficient. Crates and dog cages also need a base or cardboard in the bottom to prevent the hens getting their nails caught as the crate is moved. For their welfare, we do not allow hens to be driven home in enclosed saloon car boots.

The following are NOT suitable: sacks, banana boxes or any box without a solid floor.

Please take the trouble to organise this as you may not be allowed to adopt hens if you do not have adequate accommodation

What do I do with the girls when I get them home?

When you get your girls back home we advise you put them in their coop initially so they get accustomed to where “home” is, but allow them outside access straight away provided you have a fenced area.  Initially you may need to herd them in as darkness falls (or if it rains) and tempt them out again in the morning.

What should I feed them?

The BHWT highly recommend Smallholder Range Natural Free Range Layers Crumble and Natural Free Range Layers Pellets, both of which are available in our online shop. This feed is unique in that it’s GM free.

Both Smallholder Range Layers  Crumble and Pellets can be fed to all poultry and provides all the nutrients your hens need.  Caged hens will have been fed a dry mash all their lives, so the Crumble is the perfect feed as they start their free range future.

Allen &Page, the manufacturers of the Smallholder Range are continuing to support our work by making regular donations to the charity for each bag of Natural Free Range Layers Crumble and Pellets sold so help us to raise funds for the charity.

It is fine to feed a small amount of mixed corn in the afternoon, this will guarantee they go to sleep with a full crop. Do not overfeed your hens with treats or scatter food on the ground as this will attract mice and rats. Click here for more information on feeding and hen treats.

What is a crop?

Hens have no teeth and food is held in a pouch on their neck/chest called a crop, where it is ground up before passing to their stomach. As some ex-bats have few feathers, the crop may be visible, especially late in the day when it is full of food and swollen. This may look like a “lump” or “growth” and has alarmed first time chicken keepers, please be assured it is normal and will have shrunk by the morning.

Why do I need to register with DEFRA (now known as The Animal and Plant Heath Agency (APHA)?

We recommend that you register your hens with APHA. This is a legal requirement for anyone with 50 or more permanent hens, and all poultry owners are encouraged to register on a voluntary basis.

Be in the know: APHA will notify you by text should there be a notifiable disease outbreak in your area, this will give you time to take effective measures to protect your hens.  Registration is free and can be carried out by:

  • Phone – 0800 634 1112
    Advisors will complete the form over the phone and then a completed copy will be sent to you.They’re open 8am to 8pm weekdays and 9am to 1pm weekends.
  • Website – isit Defra’s website to download a form which can then be emailed to them.

If you have been unable to find the information you need please don’t hesitate to contact us here at Hen Central on 01884 860084 or email us at