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A beginner’s insight to a hen rehoming day

Leaving the comfort of her duvet to help hens, new staff member and first-time volunteer Kathryn Howard shares her rehoming day experience.

BHWT newbie PR Officer, Kathryn Howard, went on a mission this month, stepping out from behind the desk to see for herself what our volunteers get up to on a rehoming day. Having never been anywhere near a commercial farm before, it was a big learning curve for her. By her own account, Kathryn takes us on her journey, telling us how she got on:

“Despite being the great-granddaughter of a free-range chicken farmer, I’ve never actually stepped foot inside a commercial farm.”

That is, until a couple of weeks ago when I volunteered for the first time at one of the BHWT’s rehoming days which included collecting the hens from the farm.

A few weeks before that, I’d started working for the BHWT as their new PR Officer. My job means that I usually spend my days trying to raise awareness of the charity by securing media coverage of the wonderful work it does to improve pet hen welfare. However, I decided to step out from behind the safety of my laptop and not just see that work in action but roll up my sleeves and get stuck in.

Having adopted ex-caged hens a few years ago, I’m no stranger to the way our girls look when they first start their new lives. So, I was fully prepared to see chickens with not so many feathers and pale floppy combs.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the size of the shed the hens were in or the noise of so many of them together, no doubt slightly excited by the presence of our group of volunteers. 

As we gathered outside the shed to be given our instructions for the day, I couldn’t help peeking around the corner of the door. That’s when the scale of the shed, which went on almost as far as I could see, and the deafening noise hit me. I wondered what I was letting myself in for when I could still have been nice and cosy under my duvet!

Fortunately, there was no time to think much more about that as we had to get going. In a slick operation spearheaded by the indomitable Adele Hall, everyone was assigned a role and responsibility and, wearing our stylish blue boilers suits, we split into two teams and headed into the shed.

Another first-time volunteer and I were shown how to hold the hens by gripping their feet between our fingers so that we could carry two in each hand out to the folks putting them into the crates.

I just about managed to get to grips with it, although the strange rubbery feeling of a hen’s foot between my fingers is something I didn’t expect. There were a couple of near misses when I hadn’t quite got a firm hold and I could feel one of the hens slowly start to slide down my leg. Luckily, my fellow volunteers were very patient and helped me every time I wobbled.

I also felt strangely proud when I managed to catch one of the hens that had escaped from the cages and was enjoying herself running around the shed. They can be wily little creatures when they don’t want to be caught, darting under the cages to escape from us, but I managed to sneak up behind, grab hold and take her outside to start her new life.

From the moment we started, it was non-stop, going up and down the aisles, handing the hens over to those loading the crates and going back for more. For two hours.

We didn’t stop until 1,000 hens were out of the shed, experiencing sunlight and rain (we were up north after all), for the first time. It was hot and dusty and noisy, and by the end of the day my arms were aching – who knew hens were so heavy!

It was also one of the best things I’ve ever done. There isn’t anything more rewarding than feeling like you’ve done something on a practical level to save hens from slaughter and give them the chance at a lovely retirement.

I’ve already asked when I can go back and do it all again.

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