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  Inside Out - South West: Monday September 6, 2004

REAL LIFE CHICKEN RUN

Chicken in a cage
Battery hens are given their freedom

Whilst the Chicken Run chooks dug, catapulted and eventually flew to their freedom, battery chickens across the South West are being liberated by one woman determined to see them end their days in freedom.

When Jane Howorth and her husband relocated to Devon they planned to make the most of the outdoors by keeping a handful of chickens.

But what began as a hobby, rapidly turned into a mission - a rescue mission.

"I went to a battery farm intending to get a dozen," explains Jane. "I was so appalled by the conditions, I came home with three times the amount."

Overnight Jane became a campaigner for chicken welfare and her house became home for hundreds of battery hens.

Inside Out joins Jane, her husband and a team of volunteers as they prepare for their biggest challenge yet - the re-homing of 1,600 battery hens.

A life of confinement

Jane Howorth
Jane Howorth has become a campaigner for chicken welfare

Twenty-four million chickens are currently battery farmed in Britain ensuring the low prices of eggs and chicken products.

In small cages not large enough to turn around, thousands of chickens endure the monotony of life spent eating and laying.

Once past their laying prime - the abattoir awaits.

Whilst it is easy to lay the blame with the farmers, Jane insists that they 'are only supplying a demand for cheap eggs'.

"At one end it's the politicians who regulate the system," explains Jane. "At the other end of the scale, it's actually the consumer who purchases the products."

Jane always works with the full co-operation of the farmer and in her latest rescue it is the farmer's retirement that paves the chickens' way to freedom.

Chooks away!

Jane lifting a chicken out of its cage
These 17-month-old chickens have spent over a year in their cages

Whilst the chickens' escape may not be as dramatic as their feathered counterparts in the animated film Chicken Run (no catapults to be found here), the result is every bit as satisfying.

"I have a tremendous sense of relief that I'm taking them out," enthuses Jane.

"All it does is remind me why I do what I do."

For the 1,600 hens, this is their first taste of the outdoors - not surprisingly, open space is a little daunting for them.

Most have forgotten how to walk and need a helping hand from Jane.

Mobility is further limited by their long nails.

Living on wire mesh flooring, there is no solid surface to naturally grind the chickens' nails down. For some hens, their nails are so long, their feet are distorted, so one of Jane's first jobs is nail clipping.

Sick hens are taken to Jane's make-shift hospital wing for some much needed care and attention.

Home sweet home

Chicken Farming Facts

There are currently over 20 million battery hens in Britain.

A hen enters a cage at 20 weeks and will remain in the cage for an average of 52 weeks before slaughter.

Each hen has less space than an A4 piece of paper in which to move around, leaving:

- no room to flap and stretch

- no means to dust bathe

- no perch on which to roost

- no nest to lay an egg in (they never actually see what they produce)

70% of eggs produced in the UK still come from battery hens.

Only 6% are produced by barn reared hens.

24% are produced by free range hens.

On average a battery hen lays only 15 more eggs a year than a hen that has been kept in barn or free range conditions.

Source: thehenshouse.co.uk

Once restored to full health and acclimatised to their free range surroundings, all 1,600 chickens find new and permanent homes.

The chickens will live out their days ranging free with several more laying years ahead of them.

Jane's tireless efforts on behalf of chicken welfare do not end there. Jane is currently setting up a nationwide network of re-homing centres.

To get involved in the network, or to simply find out more about Jane's work visit www.thehenshouse.co.uk

Money talks

Despite a rising demand for organic produce and an RSPCA survey confirming that 86% of consumers are opposed to the battery system, 70% of British eggs are still produced at battery farms.

The discrepancy in numbers arises from the use of battery laid eggs in processed foods including mayonnaise, quiche and cakes.

In short, if the packaging does not label the eggs as free range, the product contains battery eggs.

In order to fashion a change in the industry the responsibility falls to the consumer to let their money do the talking, as Jane explains.

"It's only if the consumer makes the choice and decides not to support this industry that it will make a difference."

See also ...

On the rest of the web
The Henshouse
RSPCA: Chicken farming
The Poultry Club
The Battery Hen

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Brian Popay
I have been in touch with Jane and through the links on her website have read the RSPCA survey on battery egg production. I urge everyone to visit it and then write to your supermarket HQ if they do not have a free range egg policy. It is only our buying power that will change things.

L. Chandler
I also keep chickens(about 70 with cocks and ducks) and I am delighted that you have taken the time to rescue these poor battery hens.Hopefully more people will let their purses do the talking and start buying free range eggs. Good luck to you and all your hens.

Charlotte Jones
I want to thank jane,i look after chickens,i have 16 my self,i adore them and i don't understand how people can treat them that way,thanks you!!!

Mr C J Berry
I have hope for the human race when I learn of people like Jane Howarth. I wish her worthy project well and would donate a little cash to her cause occasionally if I knew where to send it CJB

Jacky Tindale
Some years ago I too decided to keep my own hens and went to purchase some 60 week old battery hens, after seeing how they were kept I was so appauled I vowed never to eat eggs from battery kept hens ever again. My hens lived happily in freedom and the oldest was 8 when she died. I urge everyone to go see for themselves then maybe they can understand why Jane Howorth, myself and others like us feel as strongly as we do.



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