Offering a taste of freedom to cooped-up hens

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You work hard allyour life then, if you’re prudent, you can retire with enough money to do some travelling or hit the golf course on a regular basis.

The dream when we reach our golden years is to put our feet up in relative comfort and live off the fruits of our labour from 50 years in the workplace.

Before all that though, spare a thought for hens. While they will undoubtedly work as hard as us humans throughout their lives, providing healthy eggs for our meals, when they retire it’s a different story.

Life after laying for hens is pretty grim. Sadly, they face being slaughtered instead of putting their feet up or going out to pasture.

But one local woman is determined to stop some from the butcher’s blade after falling in love with the animals.

Paula Ruane (30), from Larbert, is a volunteer for the Homes4Hens charity which buys former battery hens to sell on to people willing to give them a home to keep as pets and to provide free range eggs for the family meals.

The married mother-of-two, originally from Bannockburn, now has 12 hens which she keeps in a hut, complete with nest, in her back garden after taking in her first last year.

Her home was a hive of activity last week when she received a delivery of 47 for circulation around the district and central belt, with a steady stream of customers from farmers to families flowing in to take them away and giving a suggested donation of a fiver for each one.

“I just love them,” said Paula. “They are definitely part of the family, I couldn’t think of not having them now. They are surprisingly affectionate and love a cuddle. I like just sitting watching them from the window run around the garden. It’s like having your very own soap opera.

“They make great pets and you’ll get about an egg every day from one hen. One of mine had such a hard time before she came here she just wants cuddled all the time, she’s a real mummy’s girl.

“One was completely bald and another has lost the sight in one of its eyes, but I love them even more. I call them after famous movie and music stars, like Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Dolly Parton and Lady Gaga.

“They are really intelligent animals too. When I let them out, if I haven’t opened the curtains by a certain time they come up and rattle the window so they can see me. There’s so much more to them than I expected.”

If you do decide to rescue some hens you may receive a few feisty females.

If you’ve ever wondered where the term ‘the pecking order’ comes from you’ll soon find out.

“Some of the girls from Homes4Hens have a bit of a

rammy when they arrive to show who’s boss, but it’s not a major problem and settles quickly as they get used to their new surroundings,’’ said Paula.

The charity raises money to buy the hens which have been cooped up in cramped facilities, so when they arrive at new homes they can be in quite poor condition. However, lots of TLC soon sorts that out.

A lot of them have bald patches and feathers missing which other hens can worsen by pecking them, but there is a spray available to help.

Toenails are often too long because they haven’t been cared for in the cages they were confined to and their legs can be weak.

Having a back garden to wander around in is a liberty they will have never experienced and most of their problems are cured with their freedom, and the sight of daylight, as they build up their strength.

Kathryn Vogelenzang (27), who started Homes4Hens from her own home in Dumfries two years ago and has re-homed thousands since, said: “We will never knowingly allow a hen to go to a new home with health problems.

“One of the most common problems with ex-caged or barn hens is bruising, often to the leg, sometimes to the wings.

“This usually occurs when they are removed from their cages and can be so painful that they can’t stand. If you look you will see dark bruising under the skin and Arnica cream works wonders.

“As long as she gets food and water a bruised hen will recover within two weeks with no lasting effects. It’s not a good idea to separate her from the other hens because she could end up getting bullied.

“I have 130 in Dumfries at the moment. It depends how many the farmers are giving away at any one time. I treat them before they go out, but it’s quite a stressful time for them being transported about in big baskets.”

Kathryn added: “We exist to give commercial laying hens a future after farming and to inspire people to provide a free-range retirement for ex-laying hens, otherwise destined for slaughter.

“We launched our hen rescue after collecting six to keep as pets from a local farm. Within 30 minutes of watching them explore their new lifestyle we realised that we wanted to do more so we returned the following day and brought home 20 more.”

You don’t have to be an expert to keep hens and Homes4Hens will allow anyone with enthusiasm and basic knowledge to take some in.

They aren’t too expensive to keep either according to Paula who adds that once you start you’ll be hooked.

She said: “Everyone who takes in a hen feels the same once they have them. They love it.

“They are great for children to learn about animals too and you don’t have to worry about running out of free range eggs.”

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