Rescue doc by Chickens as pets not food, Chicken rescue and rehabilitation South Africa, for Gippsland Chook Rescue, creating global unity against cruelty

Rescuing and Rehabbing Ex Battery hens      

This might help      

Rachel day 1


Rachel recovering


Rachel recovered


Before you rescue your hen, please take a moment to understand what your beautiful lady has been through, & therefore to better understand her specific needs in your new home.  At birth she will not have had time with her mother, & therefore will not have learned many things she may have needed to learn. At day 1 or 2, she would have had her beak burned with a searing hot blade without anaesthetic. Her beak may have remained in relatively good condition, or her beak may be markedly deformed. She would then have been kept in a cage the size of an A4 paper box, sometimes with other chickens, indoors. The floor of the cage is wire. She would have slept on wire, layed through the wire, & stood on wire her whole 300 odd days. She would have eaten layers mash off a conveyor belt. At the point at which her egg laying decreased she would have been pulled by her legs out of the cage, & transported in a ‘rough’ way to you.  In the last few days she has probably been fed minimally, & often not given adequate amounts of water.  She may have been pecked &  bullied by other chickens. She may have pecked &  bullied other chickens through stress.   

This would have been her miserable life, up until you come along.   

WARNING: You are about to do something life changing for her and for you. Savour every moment of her recovery. She is definitely feeling your love. It is an honour to be a part of her healing.   

 Be aware at the point of rescue, &  post rescue until healed, that your hen will be   

  • Tired
  • Immune compromised and thus vulnerable to infections
  • Stressed and frightened
  • Thirsty and hungry
  • Possibly ill
  • Unfit
  • Sore feet
  • Have nails that may be too long for comfortable walking
  • Terrified of open spaces, strange noise, pets, childreb and anything new or different  – even an aluminium or stainless steel water dish with a moving reflection can be terrifiying
  • Scared of humans!
  • Unable to handle direct sunlight for a few days

Your hen is a battered & abused woman who needs to re cooperate, heal & gain confidence in her new world at her OWN PACE!   

Preparation for Rescue and Rehab – what you will need   

  • 2 cardboard boxes – no smaller than 40 cm high, wide, deep, &  no bigger than 65cm.  Avoid any boxes that have been used to store chemicals or household soaps, detergents etc
  • A few clean towels (I also like using towelling nappies)
  • Newspaper
  • A small bowl/ Tupperware &  a bottle of water
  • A quiet place indoors where your hen can rest undisturbed by household noise
  • Layers mash
  • 2 bowls – one for water, & one for layers mash  shallow, non- tip, deep enough to immerse the full length of her beak but not deep enough that he has to strain or stretch her neck to access the water of food
  • If you can get hold a natural product such as ‘rescue remedy’ – take ½ a tab for her with you. This will minimise the shock and anxiety of the transportation. You can give her half a tab per day for a few days.

Find a room/ place in your home where your hen/s can be relatively undisturbed for the first few days. I often use the shower in my guest bathroom. Place one of your two cardboard boxes on its side with a clean towel inside the box. Place newspaper under &  around the box. Have a cereal bowl size bowl filled with clean water, & a similar sized bowl with layers mash.   

 May be an idea to offer electrolyte solution for the first few days alternating with water  – most of the these chickens will have a high degree of stress and dehydration & wil be prone to electrolyte imbalances – phenix stresspac, darrows etc are all excellent, & inexpensive & provide the chicken with an immediate &  easy source of energy, electrolytes & fluid….& stimulate the kidneys      

Make your own rehydrate:      

950ml water,  ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar,  1 teaspoon bi carbonate of soda      

The Rescue      

For the rescue you will need to take      

  • Your other cardboard box with a folded towel in the bottom
  • If you are travelling back home more than ½ hour – take some water for her, &  try to get her to drink a little before going home. Gently dip her beak in & out of the water, to show her what it is.  Gently put the towel over her back, making sure the wings are in place on the body, & hold her against you. She will be sore and bruised, so handle her gently.
  1. Place her in the box in the car without the additional towel wrapped around her
  2. Close the box for the journey home, and keep out of sun. This will be less stressful for your hen, and safer for driving.

Bringing your hen home Day 1      

Take your hen directly to the safe, quiet space you have allotted for her. If in a bathroom, please close the toilet lid, as she may try to jump up on the loo, & end up drowning or hurting herself.      

Take her out of the box, & show her food. You can sit water and with her quietly for a bit, however best at this point to leave her to sleep, eat, drink & calm down. Check in every hour or so, and make sure you have seen her eat.  You can also feel if she is eating, by feeling her crop. The crop is a storage tank for food, situated on the right hand side of her chest. If the crop is full, or has some food in it, it should feel like a little golf ball. If winter, please make sure that the room is warm – however an exposed heater would be dangerous for her.      

Make sure that she has a regular change of newspaper and towels, so that she can keep clean and start getting healthy.      

Chickens poo a lot.      

Day 2 & Day 3 etc      

Let your hen spend most of the day in the ‘rest room’. This is not dull or boring for her. She has had so little so far. You can take her outside (if she is well), for 2 periods of half an hour. Put her on the grass in the shade, and stay with her while she explores, pecks or lies down. Do not introduce to her to other chickens for a few days, it is too much for her. Unless she has come with other chickens, then they will provide security for eachother.  Provide a box for her to walk into if she needs security.      

Repeat day 2, with a little more time outside, if you feel your hen can handle it.  Minimise dogs barking near her, children running around. Keep it quiet and calm.      

Continue introducing more and more garden time, depending on how hen responding. Make sure she always has access to fresh water and food.      

If you have made the decision to house your hen out of the house at night. You will need a water proof hen house for her. A wooden dog kennel raised off the ground makes a great hen house. Create a small ramp or ladder for her to climb in. Make sure your hen has plenty of clean straw/ hay or cut veld grass to lie in at night & when she is laying, & that she is well protected in winter, especially if she is missing many of her feathers. Make sure she is locked in at night, so that she is safe from predators.      

Introduce your hen to the hen house. At roosting time, as starts to get dark, take her & put her in the hen house. Do this each night, until she learns this is her home. Chickens love routine, & will do the same thing each night & morning if that is how things are done consistently.  If her house becomes her sanctuary, this is where she will sleep and lay.      

If you have other chickens, she will learn the behaviour from them.      

Some of these hens will not be able to climb a big ladder.      

Introducing your hen to other chickens      

Chickens have a strong pecking order, & establish it through fighting. However, if a chicken is particularly weak, the rest may kill her. Do not introduce your hen too early to the flock, especially if they are strong & healthy. Give her time to get confident & stronger, & introduce her slowly to the others one at a time.  They will go at each other. You have to be close by to separate them, should either one start coming off worst. Intervene and gently push them apart. If your new hen is terrified & being hammered, plse remove her until she gets stronger, & everyone calms down. Small introductions over a few days are best. Suddenly they all settle, & there is calm!      

I think roosters are hectic, &  your hen has been through a lot. I prefer to keep my hen’s rooster free. All they need is a hectic man in their lives, after all they have already been through!      

If you do have roosters & hens we encourage you to pick up eggs and not let them breed. There are far too many chickens in need in the world.      

Feeding your hens      

Start with layers mash, as this is what they will be used to.      

Start introducing laying pellets. Corn is not a substantial enough diet for a hen.      

Watch your hen to see if she is able to pick up small stones etc from the garden. She will have to learn this, as she has never had the opportunity before, &  her deformed beak may make this difficult for her.  Watch her, &  see how proficient she is before introducing only laying pellets. You can go through a process of mixing the two.      

Never feed your hens old slimy veggies, this will make them sick. All veggies fed should be in the condition that you would eat them.   Laying mash or grain should never be wet or mouldy either      

My chicks like finely sliced spinach, magi mixed cabbage, cherry tomatoes, apple, raisins, & grated carrot.  Sliced spinach, green beans, grated pumpkin, butternut, sweet potato,  dry lucern crumbled. All these are over &  above their balanced pellets. Berries &  tropical fruits are not great for chickens. However, only introduce this sort of thing into their diet once they are settled. This is an addition to their diet, not a necessity. They will also eat grass, leaves etc from the garden.      

I sometimes add some powdered brewer’s yeast to their food, which assists in keeping them healthy.      

Sprinkle avian probitiocs on food  – helps to improve immunity & prevent gastro intestinal problems.      

Vital makes a dolomite tablet (calcium and magnesium). Buy these, put through coffee grinder, &  sprinkle 1 x teaspoon per hen on food once a week for some additional calcium.      

 Sick Hens      

Your hen is ill if she stands or sits fluffed up, head drawn slightly into her body. If she is sneezing, or there is mucus coming from her nose. If there is a curdling sound when she breathes. If she is not eating  or drinking for ½ a day to a day. If her stools are repeatedly runny. She will need medical attention.      

Open mouthed breathing (other than if she is hot), discoloured membranes ( angry pink, purple, blue or yellow tinges are all warning signs)  Labored breathing, gasping, abdomina breathing, clicking, rasping sounds on intake our outlet of breath.      

Egg Laying and Feathers      

Your hen may not lay for the first few days, or weeks.  The stress of changing homes can interrupt egg laying.  Your hen may also lay eggs without shells when she is very stressed. This is ok, if all else is in order…that is, if she is not displaying any other sick symptoms. She should lay about 5 eggs a week. As she gets older, the eggs may have ridges in the shells. This is ok, the eggs are still good. Hot weather, and cold weather can also interrupt laying.      

Make sure there is plenty of easily accessible fresh water around. Hens without water do not lay.      

Your hen may have lost many of her feathers through mishandling, malting, wire cages, other chickens. These feathers will re grow. The smaller feathers take 3 weeks to 4 months to grow. Big wing and tail feathers take up to a year to 18 months to regenerate.      

The End      

If you can no longer look after your hen for whatever reason, please responsibly re home your hen, or take her to a reputable sanctuary.      

If your hen has had adequate medical attention, & is not healing. Plse end her suffering in a compassionate way at your local vet. Don’t let her suffer anymore than she already has in her short life.      


Enjoy her. The more you put in, the more you will get out. Hens are social, gregarious, love dust bathing, intelligent, love eating, enjoy lying in the sun, like eating grass, digging in soil (digging at the roots of your plants), and sunning their wings on a warm day, & absolutely lovable….      

Henriette and Melody take a dust bath


 A dust bath assists in quelling excess oil on feathers and gets rid of mites and fleas.      

Yay, good luck & keep in touch. We love hearing your stories, & seeing photos.      

Join our face book page &  or blog for updates. Please post your updates &  pics on our face book page. As chicken lovers we love sharing stories of our fabulous fowl. See all relevant details below.      

Warm Regards      

Chickens as pets not food, Chicken Rescue and Rehabiltation, South Africa!/pages/Chickens-as-pets-not-food-Chicken-Rescue-and-Rehabilitation/101165646600196?ref=ts      


4 thoughts on “Rescue doc by Chickens as pets not food, Chicken rescue and rehabilitation South Africa, for Gippsland Chook Rescue, creating global unity against cruelty”

  1. I was wondering whether it would be possible to use your photograph that is on your blog called Henriette and Melody take a dust bath. We are producing a leaflet showing people how to care for their chickens and want to show a dust bath and this image would be wonderful.

    I look forward to hearing your comments,

    Kind regards


  2. hi Ben
    Glad you like my pic. I am not only crazy about chickens, but love photographing them.
    Before saying yes, can you give me a bit more informaton. Who is it for? what country are you in? where is it going to be ditsributed? do you need some additonal information. I run a chicken rescue and rehabilitation centre, and we have our own doc and ideas on care of chickens.
    Kind Regards

  3. Great article, thanks! Do you know have experience on how cats fare with chickens? My mom has chickens and cats, and they get along very well (ok, ignoring each other). I was just wondering what you think of that.

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