Today (24th March 2020) is our newly rescued cage hens first full day of freedom, well at least around their new run. The irony is that having spent their whole lives in a cage the footprint of which is no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper, they are finally experiencing relative freedom on the same day that the humans in Britain who acquiesced in their incarceration are facing their first day of imprisonment in their own homes because of Coronavirus. I say acquiesced because we are all responsible for the way we have allowed corporate money grabbing practices to pave the way for factory farms to squeeze out that extra penny of profit at the expense of the well-being of our farmyard animals. When we finally emerge from this Coronavirus disaster we need to reappraise our values and start placing things other than money and consumer goods at the top of our priority list.
Yesterday morning, we opened the pop hole door for the first time expecting them to jump out and wasted a 30 minute video recording a picture of the door with the occasional glimpse of a bald head darting in and out. It was lunchtime before the first brave hen jumped into the unknown only to be greeted by a cacophony of clucking from our old girls. She paraded around the coop like a conquering hero returning to accept plaudits from her fellows.
Eventually they all came out and I had to run through some quick tutorials in “how to be a chicken” with them. Instruction started with some freshly dug worms which they eyed for some time with looks of disapproval and suspicion. One particularly large worm wriggled impatiently and that caused a deeply buried instinct to kick in and suddenly we witnessed a big fight between this chicken and the worm. It looked for a while like the worm was going to win but another chicken joined in and between the two of them victory was assured. After that they all got the idea and lesson two could begin.
Lesson two was to teach them that their bowl of mash (a vegetable and dried food hot soup) was actually for eating and not just for playing with. This is where lesson one came in handy. By introducing some wriggly worms into the mash the chickens discovered that the mash actually tasted good and they wolfed the lot.
Lesson three was at dusk. Now most chickens know to go to roost when twilight falls but these gals have been in a room with the lights on 24/7 all their lives to encourage them to lay as much as possible (profit/greed/profit). So twilight came and the chickens hadn’t a scooby what to do. Chasing them around, scaring them stiff and chucking them in was not the way forward. Instead I sat at the foot of the steep little ladder into their elevated coop and waited. One or two tried to climb the ladder but hadn’t the strength, confidence or coordination. It took half an hour but one by one chicken instincts kicked in and they succumbed to the ignominy of having to approach me in defeat and beg for a helping hand to get them into the coop. (But of course there is always one…..)