If you are considering rescuing hen/s from us, or another organisation, or already have chickens, please read this document.
Before you consider rescuing your ex caged hen/s, please take a moment to understand what your beautiful lady/ladies have been through, and therefore to better understand their specific needs in your new home.
At birth she will not have had time with her mother, and therefore will not have learned many
Some of the 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 her eggs 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 (marginally) she would have been pulled by her legs or wings out of the cage, and transported in a ‘rough’ way to you. In the last few days she has probably been fed minimally, and often not given adequate amounts of water. She will be bruised. She may have been pecked and bullied by other chickens. She may have pecked and bullied other chickens through stress.
She would have never felt the sun on her back, the earth beneath her feet, had a dust bath or adequately stretched her wings.
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.
Caring for your hens – Food and general happiness
Your chickens will need to have their dietary requirements and happiness well taken care of. However, they will specifically need support if they have come from an abusive environment (battery house, cull depot, informal trader) – which your hens have.
Be aware at the point of rescue, and post rescue until healed, that your hen will be
- Immune compromised and thus vulnerable to infections
- Stressed and frightened
- Unfit. Her legs and feet will be stiff and sore from being used adequately for the first time.
- Sore, terrified of open spaces, strange noise, pets, children and anything new or different – even an aluminium or stainless steel water dish with a moving reflection can be terrifying
- Scared of humans!
Your hen is a battered and abused woman who needs to re cooperate, heal and gain confidence in her new world at her OWN PACE!
What do I feed my hens?
Start with layers mash, as this is what they will be used to. Start introducing laying pellets and corn mixed. Corn is not a substantial enough diet for a hen, although the general myth is that it is. Your hen is omnivorous by nature, she cannot live on corn alone.
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, and her deformed beak may make this difficult for her. Watch her, and see how proficient she is before introducing only laying pellets.
You can go through a process of mixing the two. Sometimes we add warm water to laying pellets as an interim stage.
My chicks like finely sliced spinach, magi mixed cabbage, cherry tomatoes, apple, and grated carrot. Sliced spinach, green beans, grated pumpkin, butternut, sweet potato, dry Lucerne crumbled. They also like shelled sunflower seeds added to their diet.
All these are over and above their balanced pellets. They will also eat grass, leaves etc. from the garden. Supplementing with other food is not necessary, but does provide interest for your hens.
DO NOT FEED THEM
- Grapes, tomato’s, dried fruit of any sort, avocado, salad dressing on salad, oleander, leaves.
- 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 not be wet or mouldy.
- Plenty of fresh clean water at all times. The bowls need to be deep enough for them to immerse their beaks in.
- Access morning, lunch & late afternoon to a good quality laying pellet.
- Pecking food off a hard concrete/ tiled floor eventually damages your chicken’s beak. Always have food in a food bowl, or sprinkled on a softer surface (soil or grass). Hard surfaces are particularly challenging for chickens that have had their beaks seared as chicks.
What do chickens do with their time?
Chickens are social birds and enjoy the company of other chickens. Some chickens will also enjoy time spent with you. Having the company of one or more other chickens is also a safety feature.
During the day chickens will forage – look for food, walk around, explore their environment, dust bath (for hygiene purposes and pleasure), sunbath, sleep, lay eggs (there is a nesting procedure around this), preen, dig for food and find pleasure in each other’s company.
What space do I need?
Given the opportunity chickens will walk, forage and wander up to 3kms a day. This should give you an idea of what they would do if left to their own devices. Not all of us have a clear 3 kms to offer our hens, but we do need to give them a space that is no less than 5m by 8m for 2 hens. This is our minimal requirement.
If you are going to coup your hens, please look for opportunities to let them out for exploration, and look at creating an environmentally rich space for them. We are not looking to move them from one tiny jail cell to a slightly larger jail cell.
We will not agree to the adoption of a lone hen if you do not already have chickens. We always encourage adoption of 2 hens or more as we find they settle more effectively.
Sleeping and weather protection
- Ex caged hens have not had the opportunity to roost, and so do not have the muscle strength or muscle memory to roost on a perch or in a tree at night. This means that a dog kennel with thick hay to lie on is your best bet for a safe, secure and appropriate ‘bedroom’ for your hen.
- At a later stage a log placed in the kennel may provide a nice roosting spot. Your kennel must be well ventilated for summer and protected in winter. It must be waterproof. We have made ours predator proof by having a door made for the kennel. The door is a wooden frame with a small mesh filler. This allows for good ventilation.
- Your hen house needs to be cleaned twice a week, otherwise you will end up with a sick flock. We clean once a month with a disinfectant to lower our pathogen level in the environment. Your food and water bowls need to be cleaned properly every day. Cleanliness is the key to maintaining good health in chicks.
- An area that your hens can escape the rain and keep dry. They will rarely use their kennel for this purpose.
- Your hen may be missing quite a few feathers. Shade from sun, and a warm place out of the wind need to be provided. This is in line with the Animals Protection Act, but is vital for your hen who will burn easily without feathers, and will battle to maintain her body temperature.
Look at ways to enrich your hen’s environment to keep her stimulated. Here are some ideas.
- Create a small (or large compost heap). Add leaves, cut grass and daily vegetable offcuts from when you cook. Keep compost heap moist and turn the top layer weekly. This provides a wonderful scratch patch for your chickens. A compost heap will not smell if you avoid adding old cooked food, salad dressing, and any meat products (anyway these are not products you want your chickens eating).
- Chickens need access to a sandy patch to dust bathe in. This is vital for control of mites and cleaning the excess oil off their feathers. This allows your chickens to keep themselves clean and healthy – AND they LOVE IT!
- Chickens love grass, and should have access to a grassy patch to graze.
- Chickens are intelligent and social, and need space to entertain themselves and an environment that offers different experiences – please let your chickens out of their pen daily, even for half hour, although what you are offering them is better than what they have had, they still need more stimulation than being cooped up.
As your hen has been depleted of calcium and nutrients and been through a stressful year, her body may be leached of minerals and vitamins. Our non negotiable suggestion is the following (this will keep your hens as healthy and happy as possible, and limit your vet bills),
- Vitamin B complex – capsule form. You can get these from Dischem or your local pharmacy. Recommended dosage – sprinkle one capsule daily over food per 4 to 5 hens. We have found vitamin B complex beneficial in reducing egg laying issues, which these girls are prone to, and pushing feather growth. This is, in our opinion, your most important supplement.
- Dolomite – usually only available in tablet form. We put ours through a coffee grinder or magi mix to create a powder. We sprinkle a ¼ of a teaspoon over food for 4 to 5 hens. Dolomite should be used daily for one week of every month.
- Moducare – an excellent immune booster available in capsule form. 1 capsule sprinkled over food for 4 to 5 hens. Modcuare should be used daily for one week of every month.
Shopping list for new hens – what do you need?
- A kennel large enough to house your hens comfortably with space around them.
- Hay, lucern, dried grass. This is for the floor of your hen house for your ex caged hens to sleep on. We provide hay aprox 15 cm thick in summer and 20 cm to 25 cm in winter.
- 2 large water bowls (aprox 20 to 30cm in diameter – 10cm to 15cm deep) per 4 – 8 hens in strategic spots. If your hens have a larger area to roam, you may consider placing some more water bowls around.
- 3 smaller food bowls (aprox 15cm in diameter) per 4 to 8 hens.
- Good quality laying pellets – this will form the bulk of your hens diet.
- 2 kg layers mash as a starter food.
- Vitamin B complex in capsule form – available at Dischem or local pharmacy.
- Dolomite tablets – available at Dischem or local pharmacy.
- Moducare capsules – available at Dischem or local pharmacy.
- Space and holding pens, other pets would have been discussed in our initial telephone conversation.
- Shelter from wind and sun
- Shelter from rain
- A good avian vet, their phone number and the financial means to get your hens the medical attention they may need. See list of vets at end of doc that we have used. If at any point you find a good vet who can do birds, please let us know.
- A chair or picnic blanket for you to relax on while you enjoy the company of your new family members J
How do I know if my hens are ill?
Please call us immediately if you notice a change in any of your hen’s behaviour, or even better, get them to your local avian vet. Having the financial means to get your hen/s veterinary attention is part of our adoption criteria. If they are ill you will see one or more of the following behaviours (obvious wounds or breaks aside).
- Lying or standing away from others
- Eyes shut or half shut
- Feathers puffed out
- Back slightly hunched
- Tail pulled towards the ground
- Not eating, not drinking
- Stopped laying
- Mucus coming out of the vent – her bottom
Why would adopting hens not be for me?
Hens make fabulous and loving pets if given the opportunity, however they do need space, as unlike a dog, it is not recommended you attempt a daily walk outside your property. Hens poo approximately every half hour and so can soil a small area pretty quickly. If you have limited space and you are trying to raise a small toddler or crawling baby in this area, you are going to find this challenging.
Chickens like digging up small plants and seedlings. If you pride yourself on an immaculate garden and like an abundance of small delicate flowers, then hens are not for you.
We often get calls from potential adopters, who feel that having a hen or two roaming in their veggie garden will eliminate unwanted insects. This is true. Hens will pick off unwanted insects, but they need supervised and limited time in your vegetable patch. Unlimited time will see them eat all your leafy greens and possibly dig up some of your companion plants.
In hotter climates, you will have to put some measures in place to manage flies.
Ensure that your area is zoned for keeping hens.
What do we offer you post adoption & what do we need from you post adoption?
It should go without saying that no chicken placed by ourselves may ever be used as a source of food.
At chicken Rescue and Rehabilitation South Africa we will offer you telephonic or e mail support whenever you need it. Our FB page is also a great way to connect with other chicken carers.
Share your concerns and your joy, and get to know chickens and their needs better. And ….
Importantly, keep us updated with stories and pics of your hen’s recoveries.
At any point should you no longer be able to adequately take care of your hens, you will please contact us so that we can assist with rehoming.
We wish you and your flock a wonderful time together. Thank you for taking this route of compassion.
The team at Chickens as pets not food – Chicken Rescue and Rehabilitation South Africa