If you are new to chickens or have simply never rehomed battery hens before then these Frequently Asked Questions about rehoming ex-batts are for you! From the practicalities of the size coop and run you need, what to buy before you get them and what to feed them to general care for them when you get them. This is a good starting place if you're thinking of getting a few ex-batts...
Ex-Battery hens do require a little bit of extra care and attention during the initial couple of months that you get them until they have adapted to their new life and routine. At first, they may not put themselves to bed (but this is often the case with new chickens anyway) and may not lay their eggs in the nest boxes but with a little extra attention during the first couple of months, they will soon learn the routine. Once they have settled in, they aren't much trouble at all and are easier to look after than many pure breeds of chickens.
You will need to make sure you have the time to give them fresh water and food every day and make sure you can lock them up at night safe from foxes. The VSB Automatic Door Closer is very good at doing this for you if you cannot be around at dusk once your hens have a routine and put themselves to bed at night. They are simple to install and run from 4 x AA batteries (which last over a year) so providing you change the batteries every year, they are very reliable.
Keeping chickens, like any animal does give you an extra tie if you want to go away. You will need to make suitable arrangements to make sure your hens are looked after properly when you are on holiday but neighbours and friends are usually willing, especially if they get to take home some eggs!
Some battery hens can be poorly feathered when they come out from the farms, a few can be very sparsely feathered and can look almost 'oven ready' but the average hen will have just a few bare patches. Hens will usually feather up within a few months and look far more like 'normal' hens. Hens will be pretty exhausted when you get them (as will the rescue co-ordinators after a pretty gruelling day getting the hens out and rehoming them).
It is a difficult time for a battery hen when she comes out of a cage, even though it is for a much better life. Hens are creatures of habbit and anything different can cause them to be stressed and a little nervous. There are many things they will not understand at first, like being able to scratch the ground beneath their feet. This is one of the most natural behaviours for a hen though and will soon return. It is one of the most amazing sights seeing hens taking their first few steps out of their house. Within a few days they will be moving around, exploring their new home and enjoying a free range life. After a few weeks, their new feathers will start to grow, and within a couple of months, they will soon look like 'normal' hens again.
Most people will keep a minimum of 3 chickens. The main reason for this is that hens are social creatures that live in flocks. Battery hens are frail and if you lose one then you will still have 2, the minimum number of birds to keep so that they have company of their own kind. With ex-battery hens, they have had a hard life and there is an increased risk of losing one before they have had a chance to recover and settle in. It's for this reason that we would really recommend you try to rescue a minimum of 4 hens although 3 is of course the bare minimum.
When you buy a chicken house, the manufacturer will usually state how many chickens they can house. Some manufacturers will always go for a higher number than is comfortable so it's always a good idea to stock your house with less hens than is recommended. The main requirement is sufficient perch space for the hens because normally they will be outside during the day. You need to allow 30cm of perch space per hen to make it comfortable for them. It is good to be able to have enough space in the chicken house to hang a feeder if you don't have a covered run since you will want to keep their food dry and away from the wild birds who will soon empty an open feeder left outdoors.
Chicken runs come in many sizes but the more space you give the hens the better. If you have a very small run, they will get bored quickly and will soon pick up bad vices like feather pecking.
Before you pick up your hens, you will need to get the following:
Battery hens are used to being fed dry layers mash. Changes are stressful for chickens and ex-battery hens have enough to deal with coming out of their cages into a completely new environment so it is important for you to be able to continue feeding them layers mash until they have settled in for a few weeks, after which, you can gradually change their feed over to pellets if you prefer. Smallholder Feeds produce a special ex-battery hen feed that contains a unique blend of ingredients to promote weight gain and feather growth, the feed is designed to meet the nutritional needs of the ex-battery hen and we have heard nothing but praise from people who have used this. It is certainly worth using for the first few months until your hens have regrown their feathers and settled in and it is available in small bags too if you want to use it to give your hens a good start.
To digest their food, chickens must always have a clean / fresh supply of water at all times. During hot weather, this is particularly important when they will drink more. Chickens do not sweat and can only lose heat from their bodies by panting and drinking water that is cooler than their body's temperature, it is for this reason their water container should be kept in the shade during very hot weather. Don't forget chickens also need grit in order to digest their food correctly so they should always have (insoluble) flint grit available to them at all times for digestion. Oystershell grit or soluble grit is also important as this contains calcium which helps them source the calcium required to produce eggs. Chickens also love most fresh green vegetables and fruit. Corn on the cob, cabbage, broccoli, apple, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes are all appreciated and you can hang some of these in their run for them to enjoy.
Battery hens are the result of many years of breeding and selection. They have been bred to lay the largest possible number of eggs in their first couple of years of their life. If you want ex-battery hens solely for eggs, then they aren't really for you. Ex-battery hens should still have a large number of eggs to lay for you but keep in mind that commercially they are 'spent' hens and like any chicken will lay less and less every year, sometimes with a thinner egg shell as they get to 3 or 4 years old. A very small number of hens that are rescued do not lay although most will usually start laying very quickly. Like all hens, expect them to lay most of their eggs during the spring and summer months and expect them to stop laying when they go into moult in the late autumn and when the daylight hours are reduced over the winter.
There are a number of charities / rescue organisations in the U.K. that rehome ex-battery hens. Most of these require you to register with them so that they can allocate some hens to you from their next rescue in that area. They usually do not charge a set fee for hens, but they will ask you for a donation to help support their work and running costs. We would encourage you not to go straight to the farmer. The charities will check birds over for you and will often trim overgrown nails or beaks before giving your birds to you. A list of the rehoming charities can be found at the bottom of our article: Ex-Battery Hens For Sale
In the UK, you do not need to register with DEFRA unless you are keeping 50 or more poultry. When you count your birds, you must remember 'poultry' doesn't just mean chickens, you must include ducks, geese, guinea fowl and so on.