A NEW rescue centre is sparing hundreds of unwanted factory hens from the chopping board and freeing the birds from a life of captivity.
Poultry farmers often sell their hens to abattoirs as pet food when their egg-laying potential tails off at around 18 months old.
But now fowl-rescuers Wing and A Prayer are swooping in to save the animals from the pot and rehoming them across the Capital.
The centre – the first of its kind in Scotland – has so far saved 200 hens, with a further 500 set to be rescued in the coming weeks.
Jackie Balfour, 53, set up the voluntary group to plug a gap in the country’s animal welfare network. “The reason I’m doing this is when I first stared keeping hens four years ago I was unable to get any rescue hens in Scotland,” she said.
“Most of them come from massive sheds that will hold around 6000 hens – once production drops by 25 per cent in a shed they will go to slaughter. I don’t think it’s fair that many never see the outside world and scratch around in grass, it’s just so wrong when there are so many that have never been given a life.”
At 74 weeks old, factory hens are often sent for slaughter having never experienced the outside world. But kept as pets they can live until they are three or four. Ms Balfour said that while caged battery farms had been banned in the UK since January 1, following a EU-wide ruling, hens continue to be cooped up in cramped conditions.
“Many are given an A4 to A5 space for their entire life,” she said. “But when they are rehomed they come out into the garden and you put them on to grass it’s like they are amazed by everything.
“They look up at the sky because they have never seen it before or take off running with their wings flapping – it’s their first taste of freedom.”
Having started with just four hens in 2009, Ms Balfour now keeps 38 in her back garden. Wing and a Prayer, based in the Calders, is run by four volunteers and funded through donations which cover the cost of housing and feed.
Volunteer Jean Dow said: “Hens are the most amazing animals to keep – contrary to public opinion they have fabulous characters.
“Mine all come running to me the moment I get home because they recognise I have the treats. They love cuddles and will sit for hours being petted. We have a great exchange, I give them food and look after them and they give me eggs. I really can’t stress how amazing it is to be able to save some of these ladies.”
The welfare group homes to expand in the coming years to have hen collection points at sites across Scotland.
RULING THE ROOST
SINCE January 1 2012, all laying hens must be kept in “enriched” cages with extra space to nest, scratch and roost.
This changed the face of poultry industry
following protests about cramped and squalid conditions at huge hen farms.
New EU legislations prevents animals being kept in cages with less that 45cm of headroom and 750 sq cm floor space per hen. New cages must also be equipped with a nest and litter to allow pecking and scratching.
Despite these requirements Ms Balfour claims many factory hens still live in very confined spaces with no natural sunlight or space to roam.
Last January, it was estimated that up to 500,000 hens were being kept in battery cages on farms in the UK despite the EU-wide ban.
The European Union announced the ban on battery hens in 1999.
All British lion mark eggs – those produced on farms that meet an industry code of practice – come from farms where cages met new legislation.