September 21, 2016 – With the inaugural British Hen Welfare Day – #Britishhenwelfareday – last Friday, the British Hen Welfare Trust’s (BHWT) Gaynor Davies offered some autumnal advice on keeping chickens happy and healthy as the weather cools in the Northern Hemisphere.

Gaynor, who is the BHWT’s head of operations and a registered veterinary nurse, told Pet News Today that come September, hens start to need a little extra care and attention.

“Autumn through into winter – it seems like a ridiculous time of year to do it – but they go into a moult. All of the sudden, the egg production tends to plummet and they can lay soft, shell-less eggs or eggs which are not of a very good quality. But this is a natural process; they are replacing old or damaged feathers ready for the winter to get them through the worst of the weather,” said Gaynor.

Gaynor and her charges.
Gaynor and her charges.

Gaynor’s top tips for hen health as the weather cools…

  1. Review where your run is sited. Is it in a boggy area likely to get even more water-logged or even flooded as the weather gets wetter? If so, move it to ground with better drainage. Will lots of leaves blow into it? If so, ensure it is covered with netting;
  2. Make sure the run and coop are placed where there is protection from the wind and there is a sheltered area outside the hen house for the birds to have cover from the weather when in the run;
  3. Ensure you pick up droppings regularly;
  4. If they are going through a moult their diet needs to be good quality with high protein and calcium levels (calcium is used for egg shell as well as feather production, so a diet with a good calcium content will help prevent soft-shelled eggs and help the hens replace feathers faster);
  5. Worming is important as most of the time household hens are in the back garden and/or have access to a green field situation – along with wild birds. The UK’s only licensed worming product for hens is Flubenvet (you don’t need to buy this from a vet, pet shops with specially trained staff can sell it) If you really don’t want to worm your birds – and worming products do them no harm says Gaynor – monthly testing of faeces is offered through Chicken Vet;
  6. Ensure you keep the hen house and roosting box nice and clean;
  7.  If there’s frost on the ground the hen’s water might freeze and even a thin layer of ice can stop them drinking; giving them warm water (not too warm!) each day can help;
  8. If you really want to spoil your hens, use Dengie’s Fresh Bed in the nesting box. Finely chopped straw with pine oil, Gaynor said it smells lovely and helps inhibit red mites.  The pine also also gives it natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Purchase it direct from the BHWT here and you’ll be helping the charity at the same time!
  9.  Finally, make sure the hen house is weather proof and the run is fox proof.

The main aim of the first British Hen Welfare Day was to raise money to build a new £20,000 re-homing and education centre at the BHWT’s base in Devon.  The BHWT encouraged all its supporters and those who may not have heard much about the charity but want to make a difference to hen welfare, to get involved. By holding a Free Range Friday  you can help spread the word about the work the BHWT does, and raise money to help more hens at the same time.

“As a charity we are really pushing for the profile of hens to be raised and for them to be considered as pets,” Gaynor said.

Charity founder Jane Howorth said: “This year has already seen the British Hen Welfare Trust achieve some truly wonderful things, from re-homing our 500,000th hen to carrying on making strides in improving the lives of commercial hens.

“This year we are also looking to build our first flagship re-homing and education centre at ‘Hen Central’ in North Devon. But to do that we need the help of our wonderful supporters, and we believe that together you can all help us towards our goal.”

The BHWT was established in 2005 by Jane Howorth, and was Britain’s first registered charity for re-homing laying hens. Jane Howorth was awarded an MBE in the 2016 New Year’s honours list for her work in establishing the BHWT and its ex-commercial hen welfare and education work. In the UK there are approximately 16 million hens kept in colony cages. The charity has so far found retirement homes for over 500,000 caged hens, all of which were destined for slaughter. The charity has collection points across the UK and is helped by over 450 volunteers. It also educates consumers about caged eggs hidden in processed foods like pasta, quiches, cakes and mayonnaise so they can make an informed choices when shopping.

If you would like to ask Gaynor a hen health question please email or call Hen Central on 01884 860084. To support the BHWT’s Advice Line the charity asks for a nominal donation to help fund this service, so that they can continue to help your hens.

Polly Stewart
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