Animals Stranded On ‘The Ocean Outback’ In Latest Live Export Outrage

Animals stranded on the Ocean Outback

On 29th December 2015, ‘The Ocean Outback’ live export ship set off from Fremantle, Australia for Israel with 5,500 cows and around 7,500 sheep. It had barely left the inner harbour before an engine broke down and it was forced to remain there with the animals on-board. After 12 days and deteriorating conditions, 3 cows and 30 sheep had died.

The exporter, Otway Livestock Exports, sold the livestock to the exporter Wellard. The sheep were offloaded at Fremantle and will now be either slaughtered locally or scheduled for re-export in the future. The cows are en-route to markets in south east Asia and face slaughter whilst fully conscious in inhumane conditions.

The Australian livestock export market is the largest in the world (2.44 million sheep were exported to markets in Asia and the Middle East in 2012, reduced from 4.2 million in 2008 (source: Wikipedia), however other countries also live export animals for slaughter, including Britain.

Find out more about live export at

All Images Copyright: K. Love, Stop Live Exports

Update on the Broiler Babies – December 2015

Sprite aged 6 weeks on my shoulder, when she could still fly
Spirit and Sprite Jan 2015

Spirit and Sprite Jan 2015

Dear Sprite died on 21st November. Her heart finally gave up and after spending a Saturday morning in the garden she retreated into her house, gasping but not appearing to be in serious pain. Her sister Spirit joined her and I gave Sprite another dose of her heart medication in the hope that we could get her over this. In my heart I knew we had reached the end of her road. I left her for 2 hours to look after the other animals and when I returned she was already dead and starting to stiffen. In her last distress she had clambered out of her house and collapsed in their covered run. Spirit was sitting at the back of the run worried and visibly distressed.

Sprite lived 1 year and 2 months which is a year and 2 weeks longer than it was intended she should live when she hatched. I shall remember her flying down the garden as a pullet and jumping for grapes even at a year old.

We cremated her and I have gathered her ashes and placed them under a weeping cherry tree in the garden. As I did this I noticed that the distal epiphysis of her femur was fused – the joint at the end of the leg bone which in meat birds is an almost formless lump of gristle, in Sprite had grown into the weight-bearing joint of an adult bird. Sprite was special, she grew up and lived a life even if her body grew too large for her beautiful heart.

Tonight, 10 days before Christmas, 2 of the Broiler Babies are still with us. Spirit and Mr Mushroom. Spirit takes a daily dose of metacam, for pain relief and to reduce inflammation in her legs (the consequence of weighing as much as a goose – 6.5kgs) and twice daily doses of frusemide tablets for her chronic heart failure. She chortles and sings to me and I’m grateful for this. Mr Mushroom regulates his food intake by always standing back to let the ladies eat first. He’s also a large bird, the same weight as Spirit but with his longer, stronger legs he’s more active but could still succumb to a heart attack at any time.

Every day is precious.

Sprite aged 6 weeks on my shoulder, when she could still fly

Sprite aged 6 weeks on my shoulder, when she could still fly

If you would like to find out more about rescuing hens destined for slaughter, please go to

The Broiler Babies

Spirit and Sprite

The latest update from our guest blogger Julie on ‘The Broiler Babies’ – a family of rescued hens.

“After several years of caring for rescued ex-battery hens I started to think about the fate of those birds reared for meat. Compassion in World Farming recently organised a campaign to raise awareness about the miserable existences endured by these birds in their brief lives. It was called “41 Days for Rosa”, this being the length of the life of the modern “broiler” meat bird; about 6 weeks; If I could care for even a pair of meat birds and give them a decent life with no violent death at the end then every day they lived would be a real experience of life for them with every day beyond their predicted slaughter date a bonus. I decided to contact a poultry supplier who purchases fertilised eggs from a company who keep the breeding flocks for these birds. I also decided I needed to research the particular needs of these special, physiologically modified birds.

Most websites and blogs about keeping broilers are obviously intended for commercial poultry businesses with a few addressing the small holder end of farming. The information is widely available and can be read via organisations such as Compassion in World Farming and Mercy for Animals. What particularly shocked me was the advice that poultry sheds only needed to be cleaned out and soiled litter removed after every 3 or even 4 batches of birds had been raised and sent for slaughter, that’s 18 -24 weeks of faeces with most of the birds never knowing what clean bedding feels like. Several years ago my husband worked on a project with a man whose day job was to intensively raise chickens. Among his peers he was considered a diligent farmer because he cleaned out the sheds after every batch of birds.

broiler babies

The birds are also fed a high protein diet to make them grow fast and reach slaughter rate as quickly as possible. If you can think of the comparison between an animal that consumes large amounts of high protein foods, perhaps dogs or humans, then think about the difference between their faeces and those of animals eating a diet higher in fibre, perhaps horses or rabbits. Which poo would you rather clean out? Comments on smallholder discussion groups often refer to the awful smell produced by broiler birds, but thinking about their diet and the conditions they are kept in is, to my mind, like saying, humans are filthy and smelly because when you keep them in a prison camp in dirty, overcrowded conditions they stink. Another comment is that compared to free-range egg laying birds, broilers have no personality or intelligence, all they do is eat and shit. One comment I read concluded with the statement that the writer was relieved to slaughter the birds in the end. Again, think of how any animal, humans included, behaves when all stimulating activities are denied them, when they have no opportunity to develop natural inquisitiveness and complex patterns of behaviour. In a broiler shed there is nothing to do apart from, eat, shot and sleep and sleeping wastes time as far as the farmer is concerned, so even for small scale operations it is recommended that lighting is left on to leave night time to only 6 hours or so. Chickens only eat when it’s light so with nothing else to do and selectively engineered to be abnormally hungry, the poor birds eat themselves to their grisly deaths.

I was determined to see if by changing their care and environment I could show that each broiler chicken is as much a wild jungle fowl at heart as the rescued battery hens are. With advice from other carers who had looked after broilers I prepared a diet plan which included plenty of green plant matter and a lower protein main ration with 50% wheat added to the standard chick and growers feed. Of course there would also be plenty of opportunity for exercise, exploring, learning and being birds.

broiler babies

The poultry suppliers had promised to contact me when they had their next batch of day old chicks but as I was such a small order I was forgotten about and when I called to check the birds were 3 weeks old. This left me with a quandary, day old chicks can be sexed on the eruption of their tiny flight feathers, but by 3 weeks it was impossible to be sure which birds were male or female. Keeping a cockerel would give me problems as I have neighbours within earshot so should I delay the whole project or cross my fingers and hope I didn’t end up with all the birds as males? I decided to go ahead and 5 chicks came home with me, 3 Hubbard breed free-range type broilers as I “bottled out” and feared the difficulty of raising the standard, indoor type of birds at a first attempt, and only 2 white Cobb breed indoor broilers.

All 5 chicks were settled into a broader in our house, plenty of interaction with us and each other and of course names to identify the individual. The Hubbard birds were all various shades and patterns of peachy beige and as it was October when they arrived they were given seasonal names, the palest became Mist, the one with a bright pale orange colour was Autumn and the darkest chick whose plumage reminded me of the beech boletus mushrooms growing under the trees in the woods around us was Mushroom. The 2 white Cobb chicks were also identifiable as individuals, one was quieter, while the other was lively, inquisitive and always the first to hop up onto the side of the brooder when you opened it. They became, respectively, Spirit and Sprite.

the broiler babies

Broiler Babies in brooder, age 3 weeks

All babies grow and change quickly and soon they had progressed to living in our hospital pen, still indoors but with regular outings to explore the front garden where the only adult chicken was a fading ex-batt called Mouse, spending her last days quietly away from the main flock. As her name implied, Mouse was a shy bird and preferred to keep away from the boisterous members of the flock especially when she became weaker. As she had never met the young of her own species before we kept a low fence panel between them. It always grieves me that hens are such caring, attentive mothers but no commercial hen, even in the breeding flocks gets to hatch a clutch of chicks, and no chicks ever know the care and rearing of a mother hen. Mouse recognised the chicks for what they were and made soft calls to bring them over, the inquisitive chicks obliged and briefly Mouse met chicks and the chicks were introduced to an adult hen.

the broiler babies

Broiler Babies in garden November 2014 -age circa 6 weeks

The Broiler Babies all showed the same normal behaviour I would expect of any chicks. They not only explored and scratched about for bugs and worms, but also loved to flutter up onto anything higher up to give them a vantage point, whether in the garden, in their run, or even one of their human carers. Sprite especially loved to fly up onto or over anything around her and would happily sit on an arm or shoulder to investigate her surroundings. The Babies at this point were about 5 weeks old with huge feet that made one of my chicken-keeping friends laugh when she met them, they were big for their age in general but the diet and exercise was keeping them lively. They were a week off the age when the largest birds would have been selected for slaughter and I wondered how long lovely white Sprite would be able to carry on flying out of her pen and up onto my shoulder.

For their move to permanent outdoor living we prepared a house in a run with a covered area for food and shelter during the day and a secure house to roost in. The problem faced by those of us who rescue broilers as well as ex-batts is that the ex-bats need to put on some weight, especially as the weather gets colder, but the broilers must have a low protein and fat diet. Add to this the limits on space meaning that all healthy birds end up living in the same outdoor areas and keeping the Broiler Babies healthy was going to be tough. Spirit, Sprite, Autumn, Mist and Mushroom were about 7-8 weeks old when they moved out. Their eyes were still baby blue and they cheeped like the chicks they were. Their brothers and sisters would be going for slaughter or already be dead by this age.

Once integrated into the main flock for daytime foraging the Broiler Babies continued to show their individual personalities. Spirit has always been more thoughtful and gentle while Sprite is cheeky and loves to be first out of the house and off to find her favourite places in the garden. Autumn was always a friendly bird, enjoying being cuddled and spending time with humans, Mushroom is fearless and Mist was beautiful and enjoyed, watching the world from patches of warm autumn sunshine. While you could see they were a family group they also fitted into the flock and behaved exactly as any other young chickens. So much for the myth that these birds, especially the Cobb broilers have no personality or intelligence and are nothing more than junk food on legs.

Autumn 2014 was long and mild with many sunny golden days. I was so grateful for this as everyone reminded me that these birds are not bred for longevity and I knew that most, if not all of my little family would not live to see summer. Their bodies outgrow their hearts and their developing bones fail to support the excessive weight of their bodies. I had included the 3 Hubbard birds, Autumn, Mist and Mushroom as an emotional insurance against the pain of losing our Babies, I had been warned by a wonderful lady who runs Lucky Hens Rescue that taking on the Broiler Babies would “tear your heart out”. The other view of our wonderful young birds was provided by the poultry supplier when I collected the chicks as she told me that if I wanted, 1 of the Hubbard birds could be kept long enough to be slaughtered for Christmas dinner.

I hate the dark mornings when I wake up the chickens to let them out but only in their runs as it will be dark when I get home. I loathe the bad weather, rain or worse that keeps birds, for whom every day is precious, in their covered, predator secure runs. But we were lucky last winter. The fine weather held to Christmas and once we had passed the Winter Solstice I could feel a faint hint of optimism that each day was getting 3 minutes longer and the year had turned the corner towards the light.

Christmas Eve was fine and golden and I used the bright morning to clean out everyone’s houses. The Broiler Babies house had condensation on the inside of the roof so I wiped it and left the heavy wooden roof clicked back open on its hinges while I tackled the other houses. From time to time I stopped to watch the birds, everyone was enjoying the winter sunshine, chickens, including Mist, were demonstrating just how solar powered they are by stretching out their wings and lying back in their favourite spots. The Broiler Babies had also found something incredibly interesting among the ivy along the fence. I took photos of the happy birds and tried, like them, to just live in the pleasure of a glorious moment.

the broiler babies

Broiler Babies in the Ivy

I disappeared into the pigeon house, always a hard job to clean and noisily scraped and shovelled away for half an hour until my son came out. “Mum, one of the chicks is dead!”

My heart sank and I felt sick. It was Mist, she had gone into their run to investigate the cleaned house with the propped open roof and then jumped up onto the side wall to fly off. That’s when the heavy roof fell on her, breaking her neck and killing her. No day is a good day to die, not when you’re young and full of life as Mist was. She had lived 3 and a half months only a day or so more than the maximum lifespan allotted to her and her siblings.

There are always so many what ifs, but none of them would bring back the beautiful, bright soul that was Mist. My sons reminded me that even if we hadn’t prolonged her life we had given her a better quality of life and even though the manner of her death, a broken neck, was the method she would have suffered on a smallholding, Mist, unlike birds whose deaths are planned, did not have food withdrawn the night before and had no idea what was going to happen until the terrible accident. Her eyes were closed and my beautiful young pullet lay dead in my arms. After dark, under a clear, starry sky we cremated her. Mist’s ashes lie at the end of the garden behind a curtain of ivy.

the broiler babies

Mist’s last photo is her sunbathing

Don’t try caring for anyone, especially rescued animals if you can’t bear the pain of loss and regret, along with the joys of witnessing a successful rehabilitation and a life regained and lived well, even if only for a little while.

Before Mist died, something else had become apparent, Mushroom was a boy. He stood a little more upright than the girls, his legs were longer, his comb bigger and he started to grow a cockerel’s tail. We wondered how much, or even, if, he would crow. Flopsy Fudge, a male egg-laying hybrid with the wrong colouring from the sex-linked breeding had not only survived undetected in a battery cage but he had been selected for rescue at the end of his sisters’ laying cycle. He lived to grow a bit of a cockerel’s tail and follow his paramour, little Russet, who had her leg broken on removal from her cage, around the garden during their summer together but Flopsy Fudge never crowed.

Mr Mushroom grew into a magnificent boy, a mixture of cream and flame, like the wild Beech boletus mushrooms after which he was named.

the broiler babies

Mr Mushroom

So far we have managed to keep Mr Mushroom, he comes into our house to roost at night, his sleeping quarters next to the downstairs loo and under Rory’s bedroom. We keep him in the dark until a reasonable hour and then let him out into the garden at circa 8.00a.m. but we know that even if almost all the houses within earshot are happy with him, it only takes one complaint and Mr Mushroom would have to be re-homed at a proper sanctuary.

The two Cobb meat birds, re-named by my son, The Cloudbirds are also still with us as I write. They have passed their birthday and even completed the first month following. They have lived with us for over a year now. Both Spirit and Sprite have to take twice daily doses of frusemide for their failing hearts but Sprite still charges down the garden to the back door when I come out and Spirit still sings and chortles as well as laying big, round white eggs. They are all incredibly precious with their individual, indeed unique personalities.

Spirit and Sprite

Spirit and Sprite

Would I repeat the process of rescuing and caring for “meat birds”? Of course, I only wish I didn’t have to.”

If you would like to find out more about rescuing hens destined for slaughter, please go to

Chickens As Friends, Or “Dog Chickens”

Squeak with sandwich

A wonderful update from our guest blogger Julie on ‘The Broiler Babies’ – a family of rescued ex-battery hens, all of whom have very distinctive characters!

“Some of our rescued chickens form close bonds with us to the same extent that you would expect of a pet dog or cat. They run up to greet you, even when you don’t have food, follow you round the garden, walking beside you as a pet dog would and even sit quietly with you. What makes this particularly surprising is that their previous experience of human contact has been limited and restricted to rough handling and refusal to respond to their distress.

The first hen to become a friend was called Squeak. Her character was the opposite of the aloof nature of her companion, known as Squawk. Squawk always maintained diffidence in her interactions with humans. She was happy to be a free hen, stretching her wings, living out in a garden and able to make simple choices about her life; what and when to eat, where to drink from, who to spend time with, indoors or outside. All basic freedoms denied to imprisoned birds.

Squeak was different, she was happy to sit on my lap, especially if cake was involved and always wanted to know what we were up to outside. This included chopping firewood for the wood burner, an activity that involved an axe and a chainsaw. Now axes, chainsaws and chickens are not normally a happy combination and we were worried that Squeak would get so close to the action that she would be hurt, so barriers had to be built around the wood chopping area and my sons stood with Squeak between them to enable her to watch safely and with great interest as the pile of logs was cut to size for the stove. Squeak was fascinated by the noise, the transformation of large lumps of wood into stove-sized pieces, everything about the activity was watched by the little hen with rapt attention. She was one of our flock and we would never do anything that could harm her, would we? Her trust towards us was humbling as, like Squawk, she was free to make choices for herself and her choice was to spend time in the company of humans.

Mary Hen was another special lady who had suffered tendon damage to her leg when she was grabbed from her cage. So many birds must be transported and sent to slaughter in great pain from wounds such as broken legs, ripped tendons and other injuries. They are worth so little and the sheds have to be cleared that no-one treats the “spent hens” with any care or respect.

Nothing could be done to improve Mary Hen’s bad leg and she limped severely to the end of her days but despite this she was a happy hen, neat, bright-eyed and smart in her plain brown plumage. Mary’s wings had not been damaged and she used wing assisted running as well as vertical take-off manoeuvring to great effect.

As a consequence of her limited walking capability she lived at night and in bad weather in a small run where everything was on the level and shared this home with whoever was frailest among our other birds. While some hens are bullies who throw their weight around to ensure their place high in the pecking order, Mary never tried to dominate the poorly, aged or fading hens who shared her run. Neither was she pushed around by them, and the new arrival always settled in with Mary in a companionable way. I often wondered if it was fair on her to make her live with so many birds who were not long for this world, but Mary remained bright, active and happy, always greeting me with chirps and chirrups as she fluttered down the garden to meet me whenever I opened the back door. Everything that her human did was fascinating and needed to be watched whether it was gardening, hanging the washing out or cleaning chicken houses. If I just sat and watched the world go by, then Mary sat and watched with me.

The brevity of a rescued chicken’s life even with the best care is heart-breaking and eventually Mary’s time was up when like so many hybrid commercial egg laying hens, she developed a tumour in the region of her reproductive organs. For a while pain relief worked and then even eating became difficult. She was fed treats and warm layers’ mash porridge but I knew that in the next few days I would have to face the decision to call it a day and take her on that last, one-way trip to the vet. The next morning I opened her house and found Mary still in the roosting, indoor part. She looked up at me; I stroked her feathers, talked to her and went off to make her breakfast. Ten minutes later I returned and she was dead. I can’t tell if she waited to say goodbye to me, or if she wanted to see the sunlight one last time as I opened up her house.

Currently three hens live with us as “dog chickens”, Strawberry and Chocolate are always with me if I’m in the garden, sometimes; they seem to teleport and arrive on the other sides of gates and doors without my seeing how they got there. They walk at my feet and are permanently in a state of wonder and curiosity about the world. Both are also quite content to be picked up and will even allow a cuddle. They have been out of their cages for a year now and I hope they will be with me for a lot longer too.

Our third “dog chicken” might not even regard herself as being a hen like the other birds; in fact she seems not to like other birds and prefers human company.

At the far side of the small country town where we live is a free range chicken farm stocked with egg laying hybrid hens. You can see the huge field and the barns as you drive up onto the Cotswold escarpment. The hens are small brown dots in the landscape, it’s hard to imagine them as individuals, but each one has a personality that is unique and special.

On the 1st of May this year one hen decided to leave. She flew over the fence and hedge around the farm and set off for a nearby housing estate where she was found by a kind human who picked her up and took her to the local Animal Hospital – our vets. This was the day when a bird who had become a close companion to my son, died of a heart attack. A few days later the vet asked if we could provide a home for the fugitive hen as two calls to the farm had gone unanswered and so Lady May, as she had been named by the staff at the hospital, came home with us.

The staff at the animal hospital grew quite attached to Lady May in the few days she was there. She was friendly and seemed happy living in a pen designed for recuperating patients but she needed to live a proper chicken life.

For a few days after coming to us Lady May carried on living indoors in our “hospital wing” upstairs in what had once been my home office and is now my son’s computer room. The hen needed to be wormed before she was introduced to the rest of our flock and the vets had also spotted that she had feather mites. Free range hens will pick up worms from the soil in their fields most of which can end up looking pretty barren after flocks of thousands of birds have scratched over them. One of the challenges of keeping chickens on the same ground for years is keeping down the loading of parasites and pathogens to prevent the ground becoming “fowl sick”. The garden is ”poo-picked” daily and the birds’ runs and houses are regularly cleaned out, sanitised and sprayed with products to kill red mite. None of this happens on a large commercial farm and indeed chicken sheds are only sprayed to kill red mites when a batch of hens has been removed for slaughter and before the next batch are moved in.

Red mites are a horrible blood-sucking parasite which multiplies dramatically over the summer months and is the bane of the backyard chicken keeper. One day you check under perches and in nooks and crannies – no mites. The next day you spot a few tiny grey specks – juveniles, but they haven’t fed yet, so you spray a chemical (in my case one that physically damages the waxy outer surface of the mite but contains no toxins). “Got them!”, you think, but you must have missed a few and a couple of days later you find the pulsating red/grey masses under the perches which show the mites have fed on the blood of the sleeping hens. I can feel even one mite crawling on my skin so how much worse is it for a bird to be covered by maybe hundreds of them? Chickens can die of the anaemia caused by a serious red mite infestation and will often be reluctant to roost in a house where the parasites are present in any quantity, but the financial margins on egg production are so small that it’s not worth the commercial producer cleaning and spraying the house even if it means the death of some of the birds.

During her time living in the computer room Lady May enjoyed coming out of her pen and sitting on a chair next to my son Rory, while he played games, read social media pages etc. He also gave her a last name of “Ginger” after the hen heroine of the film “Chicken Run” who masterminds the escape from the farm. Little did he realise how appropriate this name would be….

We tried to introduce Lady May Ginger into the flock starting with a quiet group of six hens. She was placed in their house at night and in the morning all seemed well and peaceful, however I like to give new arrivals plenty of space while positions in the pecking order are established, so in the afternoon everyone was let out into the garden. It was here that Lady May first met some of the more aggressive hens, probably also Mr Mushroom, our cockerel and with disastrous results, the pond. My son checked on the birds after an hour or so and found a battered and soaked Lady May cowering under shelter in the garden. She had been beaten up and the lost feathers and scratches on her back told of an unfortunate meeting with Mr Mushroom before she must have run into the pond. She would never have encountered a pond before and probably didn’t realise the weed covered surface would not hold her weight. It’s easy to be wise with hindsight and we shouldn’t have let her meet the more boisterous members of the flock so soon, but with all the birds deserving of space and freedom it’s hard to keep them in the runs in fair weather.

Poor Lady May Ginger, the shock caused her to become egg bound with an egg stuck part way own her oviduct. And so another overnight visit to the animal hospital with successful treatment for her wounds and a return to life in the hospital wing afterwards. We couldn’t keep her inside indefinitely so decided to let her out in the front garden when we were at home to keep an eye on her but away from the back and the other chickens. For a while this arrangement worked and Lady May would even come over to you when you called her and follow you back into the house walking just behind her human. One sunny day Rory was home from college and decided to let Lady May out in her front garden, she had always seemed content to explore the bushes and hedge here but we knew that if she was determined no hedge or fence would hold her in. As we had done before, Rory left her for a while. About half an hour later he checked on her and couldn’t find her. By the time I returned from work he was frantic, having searched neighbouring gardens and looked up and down the road. Guiltily he rang the animal hospital in case anyone should find her and hand her in again, but with no luck.

Later that evening we sorrowfully made “Missing” posters with our favourite photo of Lady May and the offer of a reward even for information about her fate. We posted them around the area and tried not to give up hope.

The next day there was still no news. I had asked local dog walkers to look out for our lost hen but the only news I received made my heart sink; on the same afternoon a nearby resident had lost her small terrier from her front garden as well. With the publicity given to the growth in dog fighting and knowing how pets are taken to train fighting dogs, things looked bleak. By evening sadness was settling over us, so many “what ifs”, and always the thought of how uncaring the world can be to the small and defenceless. In this state I was on my way to the hospital to collect a regular prescription for some of our birds and by force of habit I took the car. As I passed one of our posters I saw a man stop, take out his phone and appear to note down the information. I abandoned the car and dashed over to him. Yes, he had seen the hen and he could take me to her if she hadn’t wandered off. I felt elation and anticipation tinged with trepidation, could she still be alive and well?

The kind human was one of a pair of builders working on a house about 500m away from ours. I followed him down the road, a turning off ours and down the line of houses on the side of the valley. As we approached I could see her, luxuriating in the pile of builders’ sand, the biggest chicken dust bath you ever saw. I called to her, “Lady May!” and she looked up completely unperturbed. As I cuddled the runaway I was told how she had arrived the previous afternoon, settled herself down and been given water and sandwich crusts by the men. They had been concerned for her safety when she made no effort to return home at the end of the day as they concluded she was so friendly that she must be a pet hen. One of them kept bantams and decided that if the little brown hen was still there the next day he would take her home to keep her safe with his birds. Lady May would have landed on her feet again, but we would never have known that the fates had once again smiled on her.

I thanked the hen rescuers profusely and offered them the reward, which they refused. Some humans you see, are kind, and Lady May has the knack of finding the right ones.

The return of the prodigal hen was greeting with as much rejoicing as the Biblical original. Never mind that when I placed her on the front seat of the car Lady May covered it with sand from her enormous dust bath; she was cuddled and crooned over and plied with grapes on her return. Now of course, we realise she gets bored left on her own in the garden. She lives in Mary Hen’s old run in the front garden and comes out to enjoy freedom while someone is there to talk to her. If you take your lunch out and sit on the chicken house Lady May will hop up to join you and probably sample the food too. If you go back into the house, leave the door open as Lady May will be right behind you and want to spend time in the humans’ roost space and if you sit on a sofa and pat the space beside you expect a hen to hop up and even sit on your lap.

Lay May Ginger lived the first part of her life as one of up to 10,000 hens in a free range flock. She has a quirky, intelligent personality, but then every one of those hens was an individual too. Our “Missing hen” posters referred to a “pet hen” because it’s only pet hens that have value in our society. The kind builders noticed Lady May’s friendly nature and concluded she was a pet hen too, and so she became a “somebody” not a “something”. Every one of the hens in that huge flock was a “somebody” too; the difference is that humans never noticed them.”

If you would like to find out more about rescuing hens destined for slaughter, please go to

Life After Rescue – Ex-Battery Hens Find Freedom And Friendship


In this touching second instalment by our guest blogger Julie of her life with ‘The Broiler Babies’ – rescued ex-battery hens given another chance at life, we hear about a group of hens affectionately known as ‘The Floppets’

Old Friends

“Much has already been written about the conditions in which farmed chickens are kept, both for eggs and meat. It’s not for me to add to that, I share my life with birds who have escaped these situations and it’s the story of their lives from that point which I can document.

Part of the evidence, as I see it, for the individuality of each bird’s personality lies in the way they deal with life after rescue. Like humans freed from imprisonment, some move on within a few days but always remain aloof from us, others make friends and even become inseparable companions with me for the rest of their lives; while others form special bonds with their own kind, as Tiny Hen did with old Roxy. At a re-homing you don’t know if the birds you collect came from the same cages or not. Your group may all be strangers to each other and over the first few days have to organise themselves into a hierarchy, their pecking order. On the other hand, you may have birds who endured their captivity together. It’s guesswork on my part what their previous relationships were.

An early group of hens who came to us were given the title of “The Floppets”, rescued ex-battery hens always have overlarge floppy combs as a result of the heat in the sheds they are kept in. They also have pale, waxy faces and an unpleasant smell, all of which goes within the first days and weeks of liberty. The Floppets had suffered especially, it was early January 2010, there had been snow for the past few days and in the hills further north, snow since before Christmas. These birds should have been sent for slaughter straight after the Christmas holiday, the farmer had kept them, as many do, a little longer to produce eggs for the lucrative Christmas shopping market and then they became “spent” hens. Added to this he was getting out of the battery egg business so they were his last batch of hens. There was no need to buy more feed than he needed to get the birds to their slaughter date, but then the snow fell. The farm was cut off and neither rescue van nor slaughter truck could reach the farm. For a week the birds were left without food. When they eventually got through, the rescue team were not allowed into the shed to collect their lucky birds. They did however find out that the birds had been kept on the pyramid system, 3 tiers of cages with no droppings boards between so the excrement from the top layer of cages dropped onto the 2nd row and all dropped onto the unfortunates on the lowest rank.

I had planned to collect 3 birds from this rescue, the weather was so bad that they would all need to gain weight and hopefully feathers indoors for a couple of weeks and space was limited. 3 birds were duly placed in our carrier while we were told their sorry story. Then one of the volunteers picked up a hen, limp and glassy-eyed she was semi-conscious already. “Please take her, we don’t think she’ll even survive the journey home but could you give her a chance?” The fading hen joined the others and we returned home.

On arrival the other 3 started eating and drinking and settling into the warm bedding of our indoor pen, the hospital wing as it is called. The frail hen sat, unable to move. We had to help her, so my elder son and I returned with warm glucose solution to gently syringe into her mouth. As I picked her up the largest and strongest looking hen let out a piercing scream, the chicken alarm call. The strong bird’s eyes never left us as Alex and I coaxed Frail Felicity to swallow the fluids. We kept this up for 2 days, hardly daring to hope that Felicity would survive and every time we lifted her out of the pen her companion, now named Morse (from the tapping of her beak on the floor as she fed) would cry out in anguish. On the third day Felicity managed to feed herself and from then on her recovery was amazing.

Rescued Ex-Battery Hens

The Floppets on arrival. This was taken after they had been with us for two weeks and their feathers are beginning to grow back

It was some time before the Floppets were strong enough to live as outdoor garden hens, it was winter after all and one of the group, Tiggy, was completely bald when she arrived, so she needed to grow a complete set of new feathers. However they all did move into one of our secure runs as the weather improved.

Morse was a hen who never totally trusted humans, she always watched me with those stern eyes and would peck my on the back of the knee when I entered their run, just to let me know she was still wary of my intentions. Frail Felicity blossomed into a beautiful hen and followed Morse about everywhere in the garden or the run. That first year summer was warm with still balmy nights on which I would leave the pop hatches to the houses open. The runs are bio-secure and safe against foxes and rats so the girls have the freedom to choose when to roost and when to rise in the summer. Their run also contained a large branch for birds to fly up to and this is where Felicity and Morse would roost, side by side through the summer nights.

Morse and Felicity roosting

Morse and Felicity roosting

The first of the Floppets to die was Tiggy. She lived for a year out of the cage, saw the sun, felt wind ruffle her new, beautiful feathers, dust bathed, sun bathed, explored, scratched about and generally lived a proper hen life before dying peacefully at home. Frail Felicity lived nearly 2 years of freedom with Morse before she too left us. Morse lived on to reach 4 years of age. Commercial egg-laying hens are slaughtered at about 18 months old, at the end of their first laying cycle. One of the most pitiful things to see at a rehoming is the line of eggs retrieved from the poultry crates, laid by hens classed as “end of lay”, “spent” and fit only to be killed as of virtually no commercial value except as cheap pie fillings and pet food. Although any length of time spent out of the horror of the battery cage is a blessing for the birds, I always hope they will live at least as long a time as free birds out of their cages as they suffered in them.

Morse remained a feisty lady to the end. On her last day I entered their run in the morning with food and a few treats, Morse as always pecked me on the back of the leg to remind me of my position in the order of things in the garden. It was our ritual. In the afternoon I returned home and couldn’t see Morse. It was a sunny early Autumn day so we searched the garden before looking in the hen house. Morse had taken herself in to roost in a quiet dark corner of the house. Her breathing was laboured but she was not in great distress so she was given a dose of pain relief and a diuretic for chronic heart failure. We then placed her back in her bed. In the morning she was gone, peacefully in her sleep with her head tucked under her wing. The last remaining Floppet, Hilaria and her friend Toffee looked closely at Morse, were they wondering why she didn’t get up, or did they understand that she was dead?

As I write this, Hilaria Floppet is still living in that hen run and house. She is approaching her 7th birthday and for almost a year she has suffered from chronic heart failure. Hilaria is a friend. She earned her name by being the 1st of the Floppets to sing, a trilling chirp, rather like the sound of a contralto trim-phone (for those old enough to recall such things). Hilaria sang within a few days of their rescue, she was happy and knew their lives were getting better. She still sings to me every day. There is a medication for chronic heart failure, it’s called Ferusemide and is prescribed to humans with heart failure, I know someone who has used this medication. Although the daily dose for a hen is much less than for a human it was still costing over £40 per a month – fortunately the vet has now found that birds can take the 10mg tablets. I wrap them up in grapes or raisins, it’s much easier on the birds and it now costs about £11 per week for everyone, much easier on me!

Hilaria sings and tells me that she loves life, she is a flock matriarch and enjoys exploring our jungle of a garden, she loves to sunbathe, her favourite treats are grapes. One day I will no longer hear Hilaria sing to me. I don’t look forward to that time. Until then we will carry on. I wouldn’t let an old friend down.



Hilaria and I have a comfortable relationship, even if she grumbles about taking her medicine. The stories of those who become as son Rory puts it, “the dog chickens” and follow us everywhere, is for another time.”

If you would like to find out more about rescuing hens destined for slaughter, please go to

Re-Homing Ex-Battery Hens

Tiny Hen and Roxy Hen

Caring people find homes for thousands of commercial laying hens destined for slaughter each year. Here our guest blogger Julie tells her moving story about rescuing these gentle, friendly creatures, otherwise known as ‘The Broiler Babies’:

“As of today there are 20 chickens living in our house and garden. I include the house because ailing birds are brought indoors to the “hospital wing”. 66 pigeons also inhabit the pigeon house, disabled annexe and 2 indoor houses in the loft, where the show pen for poorlie chickens is also to be found. But how did I get here? This mad chicken lady has been a long time developing, about 30 years in fact.

In the mid 1980’s I lived in Weston Super Mare and rode a motorcycle up the M5 every day to work in the transport department of a chemical company based in Avonmouth, near Bristol. The day that changed my life was a cold, grey late winter morning. Sleet was blowing across the carriageway almost horizontally. It was a morning to wrap a scarf over your face, pull your visor down, hunch over the handlebars and go for it.

I was tanking down the middle lane at about 80mph (sorry officer, I was young and reckless on an Italian V twin in those days) when I drew up to a flatbed truck. It was packed with poultry crates about 6 high. As I passed it I slowed to match the driver’s speed, 70mph. I looked in horror into the little faces, pushed out through the plastic mesh of the crates, blinking in the wind rush of icy sleet as it slammed into their featherless bodies. Wings and even legs stuck out through the mesh. I tried to imagine the suffering of these poor birds and felt a rush of rage. I was now level with the driver and gave him a selection of my best “Italian style hand signals”. You won’t find them in the Highway Code, but he got my meaning, I’m sure. I also memorised the name of the company and the vehicle registration. As soon as I arrived at work I phoned the RSPCA, gave them the details and explained the breaches in animal transport regulations I had witnessed.

A couple of hours later an RSCPA inspector rang me back, thanking me for the information and explaining that the birds I had seen were end-of-lay battery hens. As they were, “worth less than a bottle of pop”, they were treated with less care than a bottle of cheap lemonade on that last horrific journey to their slaughter. Most people don’t care about them the inspector told me. I felt sick but didn’t know what I could do to help.

It took Jane Howarth, founder of the Battery Hen Welfare Trust (now British Hen Welfare Trust) a long time to be able to turn concern into action too. She watched a documentary about caged hens in 1978, was horrified, wrote to her MP and tried to make other people aware of the issue, but was only able to rescue hens in the 1990’s when she had a house with enough land. In 2005 she started her charity and shortly after I was able to take my first rescued ex-batts from a BHWT rescue. We had kept pet chickens before but it was only after we lost most of our little flock to Avian TB that I thought my son, who loves chickens, could cope with the inevitable sadness of giving a home to weak hens that a farmer had written off as fit only for killing.

Old girls and Dixie Chicks

Old girls and Dixie Chicks

The first group of 4 became known, inevitably, as The Old Girls. The smallest hen, Tiny Hen came to us with an injury with which I have become too familiar over the years, bruising and tendon damage to her leg caused by being grabbed by the legs and pulled out of her cage. Hens are then carried, dangling upside down, to the crates which will carry them to their deaths. A very tiny few, the hens who have won the lottery, are packed into crates which are loaded into vans or trailers which take them not to slaughter, but to a new life as hens in gardens and paddocks. Tiny Hen was lucky, after a few days in a pen on her own her leg healed and she joined the flock. She was a clever little hen and being only the size of a woodpigeon, knew she needed an ally to avoid being the hen-pecked bottom hen. Old Roxy, my son’s pet Rhode Island Red, was flock matriarch and hen in charge, so Tiny Hen attached herself to big, tough Roxy.

Although Roxy lived to the venerable age of 6, she had various ailments during her life, including arthritis in her legs which resulted in her spending time indoors with us, including one Christmas when we really did have Chicken for Christmas dinner, as Roxy joined us next to the dinner table and enjoyed treats from our vegetarian dinner. When the weather warmed up and she went back out to her flock, Tiny Hen raced to greet her and assumed the submissive pose of the hen to the cockerel. Roxy, fully recovered, then performed the flamenco style dance of the cockerel with one wing dropped and some fancy footwork around Tiny Hen. I’m not sure what the exact nature of their relationship was but they were inseparable until, after about 2 years of freedom, Tiny Hen died.”

Tiny Hen and Roxy Hen

Tiny Hen and Roxy Hen

If you would like to find out more about rescuing hens destined for slaughter, please go to

World Farmed Animals Day 2nd Oct – Fast Against Slaughter

2 Oct World Farmed Animals Day

Nearly halfway through my 24 hours of fasting on World Farmed Animals Day and I remember the reason that I am doing this – to draw attention to, and in remembrance of, the many billions of animals which are slaughtered around the world each year for their meat. Most farmed animals are starved for hours, even days, as they are being transported to slaughter. I am able to have water today but they often won’t even have that comfort.

Of course, there are also many people around the world who are starving. Who could have access to food if the world would stop squandering its resources on the mass farming and slaughter of animals. The amount of land that it takes to feed one meat-eater could sustain 20 vegans.

It is estimated that a staggering 925 million humans around the world are suffering from the effects of hunger (mostly in the poor and underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa), and out of that original number, 870 million are affected with malnutrition. Those original 925 million actually outnumber the combined populace living in the United States, Canada, and the European Union. Think about that for a moment. That means that there are enough hungry people on this planet to fill up almost two entire continents. Furthermore, it must be made clear that this is not just benign hunger; the type felt by a person in the rich, developed world when they’ve missed their lunch break. Every year, starvation claims the lives of over 2.5 million children under the age of five.

However, it has been proven that there is enough food on earth to feed every last man, woman, and child. Yet, if this is the case, why do people around the world continue to starve? The answer to that question lies in large part with the production of animal-based foods, such as meat, dairy, and eggs. Even though there are enough plant-based foods grown to feed the entire human population, the majority of crops (including those grown in countries where people are starving) are fed to livestock for affluent nations, and since the amount of animal-based food produced by the farming industry is much less than the amount of plant food put into it, there is a “diminished return on the investment,” the food supply dwindles, and humans end up going hungry.

Imagine, if you would, all the food (mostly grains) that a cow would eat in the course of 18 to 24 months (which is the average age of most cows when they are slaughtered for their meat). Now imagine if you were somehow able the pile all of that food up in front of you. This massive mountain of food is what has sustained this cow for all of these months; giving him energy, allowing cells to regenerate, bones and muscles to grow, his heart to beat and his lungs to breathe. Now imagine that a slaughterhouse worker came and killed that cow, carving his body up into cuts of meat and placing these cuts of meat into a separate pile. Which of these two piles do you think would feed more people: the pile of meat that used to be his body, or the pile of food that went into creating and nourishing it? This is the stark equation that makes the animal farming industry so illogical and unsustainable. (


Disconnect in Carnivores



I usually avoid the meat aisle of the supermarket for obvious reasons and so have perhaps become unaccustomed to seeing slabs of dead animal on display. However whilst walking past an end-aisle display of cow parts earlier today, I was struck by the conversation of two women as I passed by: ‘you can get two of them for less than £8’ were the exact words – not offensive or unusual. What got my attention was the level of disconnect that carnivores have to meat and what it actually is.

This has been achieved over a long time by food manufacturing companies who have used clever marketing tactics to make people think – it’s OK, the animals want you to eat them, they’re fine with it, really. When in fact, quite obviously, animals want to live every bit as much as we do.

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