Earlier today I took Tiny Hen to the vet. She was 4 years and 2 months old having been rescued from the trip to slaughter that faces all end of lay hens on 2nd Aug. 2008. Battery hens only live 1 year 7 months before they're considered uneconomic and slaughtered without ever seeing the sun, dust bathing, scratching about in the soil and even being able to stretch out their wings. Tiny and the other 3 hens we rescued that day were lucky.
She had struggled when hands had gripped her in her cage; how did she know she was going to be one of the lucky oh-so-few to be saved, not slaughtered that day. So when we found her she had a badly bruised leg which took a couple of weeks to heal. But Tiny was a survivor and was soon exploring the garden and discovering how good life is when you're a Free Bird.
About a year into her new life Tiny developed a respiratory infection and was so ill that I'd even 'phoned the vet to arrange euthanasia. Tiny and another ailing hen were in a small isolation run. Being short of painkillers, but living in the West Country we did have a flagon of local scrumpy (farm brewed rough cider). Chickens like cider vinegar, it's good for their digestion, Tiny and Attila were ill, so what harm could the scrumpy do? The birds gulped it down with relish and the little hen who had been at Death's door, brightened up, so much so, that I happily cancelled that appointment with the vet.
Always a small hen, Tiny was never going to be high in the pecking order of her flock, but she knew how to make friends and influence chickens.
Top hen is Roxy, a venerable old Rhode Island Red. Tiny was always at Roxy's side and Roxy always looked after her. During winter 2009 Roxy had to spend 3 weeks indoors recovering from fowl arthritis. "Would she still be top chicken when she returned to the flock? Would they even remember her?" We needn't have worried. Roxy strode out into the garden calling to the flock. Tiny dashed up to her and assumed the submission posture of the hen to the cockerel while Roxy did the dropped wing, "Flamenco dance" of the cockerel around her. Whatever the precise nature of their relationship, they were inseparable until yesterday.
Tiny had been ill for a few days and antibiotics weren't making any difference, infact yesterday, Tiny Hen stood at the pop-hatch to her house and couldn't bring herself to walk down the ramp. I brought her indoors and placed her in one of our Hospital Wing large boxes on a warm bed of straw. She drank some poultry tonic but didn't want to eat. Her breathing was laboured, and by this morning she was worse, so I made that hard last decision and arranged to see the vet. Telling myself that we might try some different antibiotics, but knowing really that time was up for Tiny.
I held Tiny after the vet had examined her and the final injection had been given. Slowly and quietly she drifted off as I smoothed her feathers. I told the vet her story and that of some of the other rescued hens who live with us. Tiny Hen was the last of our first group of rescued ex-batts, since then their have been many others, all characters and all deserving of a better life than fate and people deealt them.
Please don't feel sad for Tiny Hen. She had 2 years 7 months of good life as a rescued garden hen. Rather shed a tear and promise to do something to help all the hundreds of thousands of birds who are caged, abused and slaughtered so that we can have cheap meat and eggs.
Tiny Hen now rests next to her favourite sunbathing and dust-bathing site. This afternoon we let the "Office Girls" out to explore the garden. 4 little hens rescued in January 2011.
Follow the link and sign the petition to persuade all members of the EU to adhere to the cage ban in 2012.
This link takes you to the website of the British Hen Welfare Trust. See what you can do to help hens just like Tiny Hen.