They make great pets and can be a lot of fun – meet the ex-battery hens who are being rehomed.

The British Hen Welfare Trust is a charity set up to educate the public about laying hen welfare.

Now in its 12th year, the charity has found homes for more than 550,000 commercial laying hens destined for slaughter since being established in 2005.

Jane Howorth, the trust’s founder, was moved by a Panorama documentary in 1977 which illustrated the stark conditions inside battery cages, and the remit from the outset was to be pragmatic in educating consumers while supporting the British egg industry.

By 2008, the charity had already helped nearly 62,000 hens and, after appearing with Jamie Oliver on Jamie’s Fowl Dinners – the Channel 4 programme about the chicken industry – there was a huge surge in interest. The national network of volunteers grew rapidly and the number of hens being adopted continued to grow rapidly in tandem.

Despite this, rehoming events have not been held in Carlisle – until now.

The first takes place on Saturday.

Francesca Taffs, communications and marketing officer with BHWT, said: “Carlisle is a brand new site for us and we are really excited.

“Our volunteers will be up at the crack of dawn on Saturday and will collect a number of hens and take them to the pre-booked point for collection.

“We are rehoming about 100 hens and we are almost fully booked.

“If people would like to rehome them then they can still get in touch and we can put them on a waiting list as the events are likely to be held quite regularly – every four to six weeks.”

Francesca believes the surge in interest in people rehoming hens is down to the fact they make great pets.

She said: “Some of them are really tame and would get on fine with a cat or a dog.

“You get shy retiring ones and then ones that burst out of the gate to get their treats.

“They’re really great with children and fantastic with other pets.”

As well as finding homes for hens, BHWT educates on how the public can make a difference to hen welfare through their shopping basket and encourage people to check food labels.

Increased consumer awareness has led to big names switching policy to free range eggs such as Hellmann’s, which started using free range eggs in their mayonnaise from 2011.

Policy changes such as these have improved the quality of life for tens of thousands of hens and continue to do so.

The charity takes some pride in the part it has played in improving veterinary treatment of backyard hens.

With so many hens being kept as much-loved family pets, demand for veterinary care has grown and the charity has helped to facilitate the training of vets across the country leading to better care for the hens.

For more information call 01884 860084 or email


How many can I adopt?
The minimum number of hens you can reserve is three, although the charity will allow two if you already have hens. The maximum is normally 20 (which must all stay together with you).

W hen can I get my hens?
The charity is dependent on farms when arranging hen collections. However, volunteer teams around the country usually organise hen collections every four to six weeks.

W hat will the hens cost?
BHWT does not charge a set fee per hen, but most people donate £4 or £5 per hen. Your donation covers what the charity has to pay the farmers, vets fees, fuel, phone bills, trailers, equipment and feed, with surplus funds going towards the charity’s campaigning work for a free range future.

W hat accommodation will they need?
You can either convert a regular shed or outbuilding, build your own coop, or buy a purpose-built hen house. Design, prices, quality and sizes vary hugely. You also need to decide on your preferred system; either keeping the girls in a smaller house with attached run, frequently moving it onto a fresh area of lawn or ground; or building a larger permanently sited aviary type enclosure.
Most new coops and runs will have manufacturers’ recommendations on stocking rates. The charity advises you buy a hen house to accommodate more hens than you want.

W hat about foxes?
Foxes are attracted by hens; they will visit night or day and will kill your birds if they are not secure. They jump/climb like cats, so a standard perimeter garden fence alone is not guaranteed to keep them out.

W hat breed are the hens?
The hens are all commercial hybrids: Lohman Browns, Goldlines, Hylines or Isa’s – all Rhode Island Red crosses. They are approximately 17 months old when BHWT collects them from farms and are off to slaughter because they are deemed no longer commercially viable as they may be laying fewer eggs. As well as hens from enriched cages (40-90 hens per cage) the charity also collects barn hens and some free range hens.

W ill my hens lay eggs?
The charity cannot guarantee the future laying capability of any individual hen, but most will carry on laying, and while eggs will increase in size over time they will decrease in numbers.

D o I need to keep my new hens separate?
Hens will usually need to be kept separate for two to three weeks from your existing hens, please ask for advice on this. Some can be a little fragile and have poor self-confidence when they first come out of the farm. Others are spirited and think they rule the roost from day one.

W ill they get on with my other pets?
These hens know little fear and will get along happily with cats, dogs, sheep and even llamas which act as great fox deterrents.

W ill they know to take shelter?
When first homed hens will not know how to shelter and may stand outside when it’s raining and windy, so initially you must physically put them in the coop if the weather is bad.
If you are re-homing during the summer months and you have hens with bald backs/heads, you may need to put sunblock on their skin on particularly sunny days. You can buy sunblock suitable for pets.

W hat happens on hen collection day?
The hens are taken out of the farm early in the morning, put in crates and take them to the re-homing point for a health check. Adopters arrive later the same day.
This way all of the stress for the hens is confined to one day and they will go from cage to new retirement home in a matter of hours.
There can be up to 50 adopters arriving to pick up their hens on hen collection day, so please be patient if there is a short queue of cars or a wait when you arrive.

H ow do I carry them home?
A hen is about the size of a football so take along either straw/newspaper lined cat carriers or dog crates or similar-sized sturdy cardboard boxes with horizontal ventilation slits – stab holes are not sufficient.

W hat do I do with them when I get them home?
When you get your girls back home the charity advises you put them in their coop initially so they get accustomed to where “home” is, but allow them outside access straight away provided you have a fenced area. Initially you may need to herd them in as darkness falls (or if it rains) and tempt them out again in the morning.

W hat should I feed them?
The BHWT highly recommends Smallholder Range Natural Free Range Layers Crumble and Natural Free Range Layers Pellets, both of which are available in its online shop.