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Dublin: 18 °C Thursday 31 July, 2014

“They don’t know what daylight is”: Rescuing hens to give them a new life

You’ll want to buy free-range eggs after finding out about the lives these hens lived.

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Some of Karen Rogers’ rescued hens. Pic: Karen Rogers

WHEN KAREN ROGERS first meets the hens she rescues, they all look similar: balding and weak. Some can’t even stand up.

She finds these laying hens online, for sale for one or two euro. “They’re near enough bald when you get them,” she described.

They are shut in sheds, 24 hours a day. They lay their eggs and are mechanically fed and water fed. A lot of them don’t know what daylight is.

Animal rescues

Rogers, who “loves any sort” of animal, used to work in animal welfare in the United Kingdom with the RSPCA and Dogs Trust, and was involved in some prosecutions. She has three “fantastic” rescue dogs of her own.

Battery cages for laying hens became illegal in the EU from 1 January 2012, making way for a new cage called an ‘enriched’ cage. It is illegal for any EU supermarket or shop to sell EU-produced eggs from battery hens.

According to Compassion in World Farming:

Although enriched cages offer some improvements, they still provide laying hens with very limited space and restrict their movement and ability to carry out their natural behaviours.

It says that in 2010 there were slightly more than 2.2 million egg laying hens in the Republic of Ireland, with just over half in battery cages at the time.

Ireland does have free-range farms which don’t keep hens in cages, and the resulting eggs should be sold in packaging clearly labelled ‘free range eggs’.

‘I was totally blind to what goes on’

Rogers found out about the conditions some hens are kept in after helping a friend with a rescue. “Until I knew about it, I was totally blind to what goes on,” she said. She soon took it upon herself to contact people selling hens, so she could give them a new life.

If they’re cheap, if they’re a euro which is what they normally do, you can tell, you contact them and say how many have you got. They’ll come back and say we’ve got 3,000 or 6000 [hens].

Due to space reasons, she is not able to take on all the hens. So what she does is, effectively, rescue to order. She puts an advertisement in a local paper saying that rescued chickens are for sale, and buys the amount that have a home to go to.

Asked if she tells the original owners what she plans to do with the hens, she said not always.

“I turned around and said to a woman what I do is I take them home, I rehabilitate them. I get them so they are used to the daylight, that they can walk properly, are fed properly, their feathers are covered. I rehome them to other places. I’d sooner that than them go to slaughter.”

The amount she can rescue depends on her finances. “If my finances allow for 700, then I’ll rescue 700.”

I did one in Laois and when I got the chickens home they couldn’t walk. They had been down in crates and they just couldn’t stand. If you came to my farm now you’d see them they are walking around.

Rogers said that she has seen hens sold as free-range who come to her in bad condition. “I’ve got 200 acres of land and they’re out roaming free. That’s what I call free range,” she said of her own hens.

She believes the farms she rescues hens from are supplying shops and supermarkets.

At one location, the owner brought the hens out to her “hanging by the legs”. “You knew they’d been in cages by when you got them home. We took them out of the cages we used and they couldn’t stand up.”

Education

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Pic: Karen Rogers

Rogers hands out leaflets about the issue, to educate people. “I gave a leaflet to one lady another day. She said, ‘You know what – if you hadn’t given me the leaflet I would have bought the other eggs’.”

After buying the hens, she takes them back home with her, or else allows the new owners to bring them home. She can rehabilitate the hens herself, and sells them for a euro more than she paid in order to make back the money for their feed.

I make nothing – I just do it for the enjoyment of knowing they are all free.

Rehabilitation enables the hens to “be able to walk again, feed properly, have a life of walking about”. She feeds them a special tonic to build them back up, and they feast on fruit and veg peelings.

Rogers questions people who buy the hens from her, to ensure they are not buying them for slaughter.

I will carry on rescuing hens for as long as I can. I’m not in fantastic health because I still do it.

She believes if there were more people who knew about the conditions some hens are kept in, “a lot more people would get involved”.

“It does pull at the heartstrings to think they are treated the way they are. I think there could be a lot more done about it,” said Rogers.

Read: Dublin council bans animal-act circuses on public land>

Read: It’s a good day for Irish animals>

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