Monday, 26 September 2011

Give some chirpy chooks a good home

My partner and I have decided to get four new chooks after our previous brood died last year. We did have just three hens – Geraldine, Lillian and Gillian - all named after good friends we’d made in a Ugandan village.

They were ex-battery farm birds, and even I hadn’t been quite prepared for their terrible appearance when we collected them. Pecked, de-feathered and defeated, they seemed a sorry sight.

The utter cruelty of battery farms should have been consigned to history long ago, and next year’s ban on battery farms across Europe can’t come soon enough. But it’s extremely frustrating to know that the so-called ‘enriched’ cages meant to replace the old ones are a pretty small change. A cage is a cage is a cage.

So what can we do? Well, we’re one of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people who’ve decided to keep their own chickens. They make such great companions, I’m just surprised more people don’t do it.

Ok, there’s a bit of hen-house clearing out, some scratching of the lawn, and the occasional wiping of a hen’s bum.

But there’s the joy of watching an ex-battery hen which has never seen earth before instinctively start to shimmy and bathe contentedly in the dust. You also get to see a bird, initially so bald that it looks like it’s come from a supermarket shelf, return to full-feathered splendour.

And of course there’s the never-ending supply of eggs, great for neighbourly diplomacy, and which you also know have come from happy and healthy animals. It means you can always ‘go to work on an egg’ – not to mention the child-like joy of discovering a freshly-laid warm egg, especially comforting on a cold autumnal morning.

As before, our ten-year-old cat Margot will no doubt be more than a bit curious about the flappy new friends sharing the garden, but she’ll take it in her stride. After a few days of wary circling, detente is quickly established and all the animals go about their business without any fuss.

With our last brood, there was even a hint of friendship – one day we came home to find hen and cat lying down in the grass beside each other and enjoying the sunshine together.

The joy of hens. We’d recommend it to anyone.

So go on, give some chirpy chooks a good home.

Henry Macaulay, RSPCA head of press

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