Poorly Hen Carer
About the role
A day in the life of Kim, one of our volunteer Poorly Hen Carers
Every BHWT volunteer team has one or more poorly hen carer. In many of our farm collections, there will be one or two hens that need an extra bit of TLC and some that need nursing or palliative care. The team collecting the hens from the commercial farm transport these poorly hens in separate crates to ensure they don’t get injured on the journey back to the rehoming site, nor overlooked in the unloading process.
Some poorly carers prefer to take hens with minimal problems; they may be a little bruised or limping and just need time. I prefer to take the more seriously challenged ones that need more help. Poorly hens cannot be put in with other hens and need a dedicated coop or utility room where they can recover in peace.
Those that cannot stand, I take into my house so I can keep a better eye on them, but they can be kept in a separate coop if you don’t want them in your home. Some will need help eating but I always give them a chance to do this themselves before intervening. I soak pellets in a critical care mix to see if they can eat and if they don’t then I’ll syringe feed critical care formula every two hours until they start to perk up. A lot of poorly hens are dehydrated so after a few critical care feeds they start to feel better and will eat the soaked pellets.
Occasionally a hen will need a warm bath if she is very soiled. Most hens relax and quite enjoy the process, but some hate it and flap, so everyone gets wet.
Each hen is different and some just want to be cuddled. Those with Egg Yolk Peritonitis need a soft bed so they can nestle down in comfort. I have a large plastic laundry basket for this that I put plenty of layers in and make a hole for their tummy. The basket is also useful for very poorly hens as it gives them support and they can see out. I then carry it everywhere with me and so if I go outside they can see the sun.
My poorly hens always sleep in the house for the first night and some stay for longer until they are strong enough to go into a separate hen house and run, however, they can be kept outside as long as they are warm enough and are checked often. For comfort, my poorly hens sleep in a carry box that I line with numerous vet fleeces and tea towels.
Once they’re on the mend I will put them out during the day and then bring them in at night. My separate hen house is next to the healthy hens one so they can get used to seeing one another. I don’t usually allow them to mingle for the first two weeks, and even then, I stand over them keeping watch. I do short intro sessions, sometimes holding them in while showing them to the other hens so they can get used to each other.
I have ramps on the small low separate house so that those with bad legs and peritonitis can get in and out.
Poorly carers need to be patient and flexible as each hen likes things done a different way. Ideally, you need a few separate hen houses or an outbuilding where you can set up individual pens.
Hens that have fully recovered can be rehomed in small groups; it is so rewarding seeing them go off to their new homes knowing that I’ve made a difference in a poorly hen’s life.