Chicken rehoming charity gets 52,000 lockdown hen requests

By Steve Mellen
BBC News

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Image source, Fresh Start for Hens
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Cluck and collect: There has been huge demand for chickens during lockdown says Fresh Start for Hens

A charity that rehomes chickens said it has had more than 52,000 requests for hens since lockdown began.

Fresh Start for Hens saves birds that have reached the end of their peak laying years and would face being slaughtered.

Operations director Jaki Hann said the huge demand was sparked by a shortage of eggs in shops in March.

Despite coronavirus restrictions easing, the charity said it still had a lengthy waiting list.

Mrs Hann has more than 80 hens living in a large run in her back garden in Kent.

But she and her fellow volunteers have dealt with far greater numbers of birds since March.

"This week I'm organising a handover for 332 hens so it's going to be a busy one," she said. "I'm also trying to find homes for 800 ducks from a Somerset farm."

Fresh Start for Hens started in London in 2008 and has since grown to operate nationwide, offering an alternative to slaughter when hens get past 72 weeks, taking hens from farmers and other commercial operations and delivering them to households.

Image source, Jaki Hann
Image caption,
Fowl play: Jaki Hann has more than 80 chickens at her home in Kent

When the UK lockdown began in March eggs, like toilet roll, were suddenly in short supply.

That was when demand "went absolutely crazy", said Mrs Hann.

"We had to introduce a waiting list for the first time and so far we've had 9,480 people register, requesting a total of 52,106 hens.

"At the peak we were getting 4,000 inquiries a week."

Using fake photos

Potential customers also tried to get round Fresh Start for Hens' rule that the charity needed to see photographs of where the chickens would live before rehoming, Mrs Hann said.

The charity said potential chicken owners would need fox-proof accommodation that could be locked at night, and two square metres of open space per bird.

"People were sending us doctored images and ones from the internet," she said.

"Now we insist someone includes a piece of paper in their photograph with that day's date handwritten on it."

With lockdown easing, Mrs Hann said she had seen examples of people regretting their decision to get chickens, with a handful taking extreme measures.

"We have heard of people saying they will leave the coop door open and let a fox take care of the hens, which is just shocking," she said.

"It's a terrifying way to die and needless. We always take the hens back if people ask."

Image source, Laura Niblett
Image caption,
Poultry in motion: Jay Niblett's chickens came from a local farm

Curate's new flock

Gloucestershire curate Jay Niblett started keeping chickens in May, partly because of the lack of eggs in shops and partly to help his children learn where food came from.

"We've wanted to do it for years and we finally had the space," said the 34-year-old, who lives in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, with his wife Laura, 32.

"We got them from a local farmer and the kids absolutely love them.

"They get to look after them, collect the eggs and also clean out the coop."

Image source, Sarah Chidwick
Image caption,
Hen do: One of Sarah Chidwick's chickens often sleeps alongside family members

Pets with benefits

Sarah Chidwick has kept chickens "on and off" for 20 years and said she considered them pets first, egg providers second.

Ms Chidwick said the birds, who roam her garden in Claverham in Somerset, have unique personalities.

"A previous chicken of mine used to come into the kitchen - going through two cat flaps - and eat from the dog's bowl." she said.

"One of my current ones loves to sit on your lap if you're in the garden.

"She'll just come up to you and gently peck your leg and wait for you to pick her up."

Image source, Sarah Chidwick
Image caption,
Good eggs: Sarah Chidwick's chickens are part of family life in her Somerset home

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