As the saying goes, no good story starts with a salad but, in this instance, it certainly did start with a chicken (there’ll be absolutely no mention of chicken salads here either...).
Let’s journey back to December 1979 when this whole chicken rehoming thing began, sort of. For while the British Hen Welfare Trust in its current form was still some way off, the inspiration and passion behind it was sparked when a then-teenage Jane Howorth watched a Panorama documentary about the living conditions of domestic livestock.
Little did the makers of Down on the Factory Farm know, but they were partly responsible for the rehoming of hundreds of thousands of hens otherwise destined for slaughter. Of course, much more must take place before we get to that, and so it was April 1995 when Jane moved to Devon and rehomed her first hens from slaughter.
She quite literally turned up at a farm in her Mini Metro and stuffed as many battery chickens as she could inside including a little hen later named Vicky, who would be instrumental in Jane’s drive to change the commercial egg laying industry.
Fast forward to October 2003 and the Westcountry Retirement Home & Re-home Centre for Battery Hens (catchy name, Jane) was born. It wasn’t long before Jane came to her senses and renamed the charity the Battery Hen Welfare Trust in April 2005 – it was the UK’s first official charity dedicated to rehoming hens.
In its first three years the charity rehomed just shy of 100,000 battery hens otherwise destined for slaughter – something that simply had never been done before. However, things were to skyrocket even more when Jane appeared on Channel 4’s Jamie’s Fowl Dinners alongside Jamie Oliver in January 2008, sparking a huge surge in people wanting to rehome hens.
In 2009 the charity rehomed more than 61,000 hens and the following year was renamed the British Hen Welfare Trust in light of the fact battery cages were due to be outlawed in the next two years.
On 31st December 2011 the last battery hen was taken out of her cage and on 1st January 2012 the system was replaced with enriched cages, offering more space and enrichment for commercial laying hens.
Rehoming numbers dipped over the following years thanks to the misconception that caged hens were a thing of the past (even now that isn’t the case) but the passion for hen keeping was always there, and in October 2015 the BHWT was named the British Veterinary Nursing Association’s Charity of the Year. This opened huge doors for the charity and laid the foundation for its Improving Pet Hen Health scheme which would go on to improve the lives of thousands of pet hens.
Another huge milestone loomed and in January 2016 the charity rehomed its half a millionth hen, named Dee, shortly before Jane Howorth was awarded an MBE in May 2016 in recognition of her service to laying hens.
2018 saw not only the charity’s best rehoming numbers ever with more than 70,000 hens saved from slaughter, but another huge coup as it was named JustGiving’s Charity of the Year – a monumental achievement for a small charity.
Not simply content with the glitz and glam of awards, Jane had always set her sights on a purpose-built HQ for the charity and in 2019 the finished touches were made to Hen Central, a brand-new building in Rose Ash, Devon, from which the charity could hold rehomings, education talks and even perform ground-breaking veterinary work in its dedicated hen hospital.
The following years were dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ever-present threat of Avian Influenza which severely impacted the charity’s ability to keep its rehoming numbers as high as previous years; however, work never stopped, and we are currently counting down the days until we rehome our ONE MILLIONTH hen. A true world first and a testament to Jane’s hard work, passion and dedication to laying hens the world over.