Justine Renhard is a 42 year-old vegetarian-going-on-vegan who lives in England and rescues animals. Among them, Justine has had the opportunity of rescuing egg-laying hens from conventional battery cages as well as hens from the new so-called “enriched colony cages” which were enacted in the U.K. in 2012 and are part of the proposed Egg Bill in the US. The newer cage system still uses battery cages, just larger ones that cage more birds.
Last year, Justine rescued her first battery cage hens: Matilda, Marigold and Poppy. In her words, “they arrived without much feathers, very timid and very pale. The first thing they did when I let them into my garden was dustbathe. I have to say they took to freedom very well. When I came to put them to bed that first night, they seemed to panic, so I had to sit by the coop for a while until they settled down. Unfortunately, Poppy died earlier this year. I noticed she was off color in the morning and had died by 3pm that afternoon (I had her booked to see a vet at 5pm). Being new to this, I don’t know what she died from, but Matilda and Marigold are still going very strong!”
“In March this year I adopted two more chickens, Beatrice and Hilda, who were rescued from an enriched colony cage. These girls were in an even worse state than my battery cage chickens. Beatrice in particular was weak from day one. Due to the weather, I had them both in the kitchen feeding them up and keeping them warm.
Beatrice only managed 3 1/2 weeks free from the cages before she died. But at least I know I showed her love and that some humans do care. She is buried under my roses in the garden. Hilda is going strong and her personality is shining through. She did live in the house a while longer and laid eggs on the stairs! She goes in the garden in the daytime but sleeps in the kitchen at night. She is very spoiled!
I adopted my first three girls from the British Hen Welfare Trust and my last two from Lucky Hens Rescue. They collect the girls from the farms the same day you rescue them. When they arrived, they were in the chicken carriers looking completely bewildered. Some had laid eggs in transit even. It was a pitiful sight. I do admit I cried. The sad thing is, these girls are the lucky ones while the ones left behind were slaughtered (once their egg laying declined).
All my hens had a lot of feathers missing. Their skin was red and inflamed in places where it looked liked they had been plucked by the other chickens in the cages. Their combs and wattles were almost white in color (instead of the healthy red). They were so skinny, emaciated, especially Beatrice who was nearly featherless. Their claws were so long they struggled to walk. They were just a very sad sight. They could only eat mash, and I had to show them how to use a water bowl to drink.
I haven’t recently been to a farm to rescue the chickens, but years ago I went to an agricultural college that had battery hens. I will never forget the noise, smell or overcrowded conditions the chickens were subjected to. We were taught that this was the “normal” way to keep chickens!
My personal opinion and that of people I know who have rescued enriched colony caged hens is that there is no difference in health between the battery and colony caged hens. I also believe from evidence I have seen that there is not much difference between barn versus free range hens either. Because of the laws, free range hens can be kept indoors in barns with not much room to move around (like broiler chickens), and this is marketed as ‘free range.’ ”
Click here for an inside peek at a farm with the new enriched colony cages.