King’s Lynn couple appeal for homes for rescue hens this Christmas

British Hen Welfare Trust volunteers in West Norfolk help find homes for 3,000 chickens

Just when you thought every possible festive pressie idea had been covered - think again and join the legions of people enjoying the sight of their own chickens in the garden.

The King's Lynn branch of a national charity has 4,000 ex-farmed hens to find new homes for just after Christmas and is hoping that the spirit of goodwill stretches to our feathered friends.

The British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) finds new homes for thousands of hens which have come to the end of their commercial life - but are still often under two years old.

Farmers re-stock with younger birds to maximise egg production and the older hens were usually sent for slaughter - until people started making room for them in their gardens.

The idea of hens at home has really taken off and the Lynn co-ordinators will be hitting the 3,000th adoption when the next batch are ready for re-homing on December 28.

Andy and Ali Beecroft took in their first rescue hens in 2009 and so began a passion which now sees 11 hens in the garden of their Gayton Thorpe home and many hours spent organising the re-homing of hens across the area.

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'Once we had the girls, Andy said that perhaps we could give some time to help the charity - and we did,' said Mrs Beecroft.

They travel with other area co-ordinators to retrieve the hens and then bring back the ones they have found homes for in the Lynn area for people to collect and take home.

'We had never had chickens before we got the ex-battery girls and I was so worried about them at first but they are absolutely lovely,' said Mrs Beecroft.

'They become tame really quickly and it's lovely to have them if you have children around because they can learn so much about them - and enjoy the eggs,' she added.

The couple visit shows in the area, including the Royal Norfolk, to spread the word about the charity and show people how quickly the hens become tame and adapt to life free-ranging.

'They have no fear and are very easy to keep,' said Mrs Beecroft,

The chickens come from commercial producers around the country and the charity arranges with individual farms to re-home them when they are at the end of their most productive cycle of laying, although they can continue to lay for years afterwards - but not always as frequently.

'We don't get involved with the farms or make judgements about them. They have a living to make and we want to make sure that people are aware of the chickens and they are re-homed once the farms have finished with them,' said Mrs Beecroft.

The hens were originally rescued from battery farms, but these are now being replaced with barn-kept hens - still intensively farmed, but not restricted to metal cages.

As they are all kept at a constant temperature and in close proximity to each other, some of the hens are a bit thin in the feather department when they are re-homed, but these soon grow back. Commercially kept chickens are all vaccinated as tiny chicks so are less prone to many diseases but they probably haven't seen daylight - or grass - or a predator.

'They soon adapt to an outside life. We never re-home a poorly chicken and the charity offers lots of advice on how to keep them and what they need,' said Mrs Beecroft.

The BHWT saves around 60,000 hens each year across the country and finds them new homes through a network of regional co-ordinators.

'Farmers respond to consumer demand and for decades consumers have put cost above welfare, which has led to 16 million hens laying cheap eggs for us in their tiny cages.

'Our whole ethos is based on positive campaigning and as a result of our pioneering work increasing numbers of consumers now want high welfare as well as high quality. Our positive impact has seen free range production grow into one of the most successful sectors of British agriculture and it is anticipated that by 2012 nearly half of all British laying hens will have access to outdoors,' it says.

'If we want to see more free range hens, we need to support our great British farmers who are prepared to invest, and reassure them we will not opt for cheap foreign imports where regulations and constraints are often lighter, but welfare is out of our control.'

If you could home some hens this Christmas then call the reservation team on 01769 580310 or Mr and Mrs Beecroft on 01553 636297.

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