Hens may not seem like the obvious pet to feature during #NationalPetMonth but these funny, feathery creatures really can make great companions. Here The British Hen Welfare Trust explain why.
If your garden is full of prized petunias, you’ve got a cat who likes to thinks they’re top of the pecking order, or you prefer having a cuppa and a biscuit in your back garden without being accosted, then keeping chickens probably isn’t for you.
However, if you fancy bringing a bit of life, love and laughter into your home, you can’t go far wrong by adopting a flock of ex-commercial hens!
They still aren’t people’s first thought when asked to name a typical household pet, but hen keeping is most certainly on the rise, with over 750,000 domestic hen keepers across the UK. And it’s easy to see why.
The British Hen Welfare Trust saves over 60,000 commercial hens from slaughter each year, rehoming them to people all over the country where they become much-loved pets. A survey of its supporters revealed nearly half of those who adopt via the charity each year are doing so for the second, third and sometimes even fourth time, suggesting there’s something which keeps people coming back time and time again to adopt these funny, feathery creatures.
A bit about the hens themselves
These hens rehomed by the British Hen Welfare Trust have been in a commercial system laying eggs for 18 months, at which point they reach the end of their commercial lives and are sent to slaughter.
However, they’ve got so much more life to give! Though their egg laying slows down a bit, if you adopt a flock of five or six, you’ll certainly have enough for a free range eggy breakfast each day.
Another thing to know about these hens, is how addictive they are! Trust us, once you’ve started you won’t be able to stop. We put this down to their endearing, quirky personalities. No two hens are the same and, once they’ve established their pecking order, you’ll soon come to know who’s the bossy one, the quiet one, the greedy one and so on. They’ll even try to put your cats and dogs in the pecking order, but a short sharp peck is usually enough to put them in their place!
What do I need to keep chickens?
First off, a hen house! Chickens need a cosy coop to cuddle up in at night, so you just need to pick a suitable sized house for the number of chickens you wish to keep. You also need to keep them in a fox-proof run if you’re not at home during the day.
Next up, bath time! This might sound odd if you’ve not kept chickens before, but their way of getting clean is to get dirty. You’ll need to provide some kind of dust bath area for them, consisting mainly of dry soil or sand. Hens close their eyes and roll in the dip they have created, throwing loose soil over themselves, before jumping up and shaking it all off, much like a dog who’s had a dip in a river. Of course, if you’ve already got an area of plants in your garden beware – they’ll almost certainly be jumping in it when they fancy a spa day!
Finally, food! Hens are notoriously food-obsessed so you’ll need to ensure you’ve got a well-balanced chicken food for them to peck at during the day. You can give them the odd treat, but do bear in mind it’s illegal to feed chickens scraps from your kitchen (yep, really!) unless you live in a vegan household. Oh and, as alluded to earlier, it’s likely they’ll be hopping around at your feet trying to grab a bite of your toast or biscuit if you decide to eat al fresco.
Other than that, chickens really do look after themselves – yes it takes a certain amount of commitment, but the rewards far outweigh any inconvenience. Ask anyone who has eaten a slice of feather-light Victoria sponge, or enjoyed a simple omelette made with fresh-from-the-garden eggs; even poached egg on toast becomes sublime when made with eggs from your own flock!
So, what’s next?
If you’d like to rehome a feathery flock of your own, simply register your details at www.bhwt.org.uk and then call Hen Central on 01884 860084. The BHWT has re-homing points all over the UK, from Redruth in Cornwall up as far as Aberdeen in Scotland. There are millions of hens waiting patiently in their cages for you to pick up the phone and give them a second chance!