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The British Hen Welfare Trust rehomes caged hens at the end of their commercial lives, so they are saved from slaughter and become much-loved pets. In July, the Trust introduced a ‘Cluck and Collect’ system, created for safe, socially-distanced rehoming during the pandemic. Founder, Jane Howorth explains to Susie Kearley how the process works …
March 2020: Lockdown 1
In March 2020, the UK went into its first national lockdown. Panic buying was rife, so fresh food, eggs, and toilet roll became hard to find. The British Hen Welfare Trust received a surge in calls from people wanting to take hens, but they decided not to rehome during lockdown, creating a waiting list instead.
“We didn’t rehome during lockdown because it felt like
it wouldn’t be right,” explains Jane. “The government was saying
non-essential travel was prohibited, and people were frightened. It was a scary
time, but at the same time, demand for the hens and their eggs went off the
“We had to acclimatize to home working fast, as our six phone lines started ringing off the hook immediately. People who’d never kept hens before were wanting to rehome chickens because they wanted eggs during lockdown and some wanted chickens to keep the children entertained while we were all kept at home. Neither of those were good reasons for getting hens, and I had to find a way to diplomatically tell people that they need more commitment than that — hens are a long-term responsibility!
“It was the end of July when lockdown eased and we
started to rehome hens again, in locations where we felt it was possible to do
so safely. By that time, we had a waiting list of 27,000 hens, having booked
800 hens in one morning in March when lockdown began. We had to work out a way
to operate the rehoming process safely, so our new ‘Cluck and Collect’ system was
“We had fantastic support from the charitable arm of Pets at Home (a pet shop chain store) — they funded some boxes for people to take their hens home in if they don’t have their own pet carriers.
“We had to spread the rehoming period, so people didn’t
all arrive at the same time. We asked people to stay in their cars and come
prepared with carriers for their new hens. We operated really carefully and kept
contact to a bare minimum, with no contact at all where possible.
“We have over 1000 volunteers and asked people to work
with members of their own family, so they didn’t come into contact with people
outside of their own household. Some volunteers who are in a high risk category
couldn’t help, but where the system worked, it went very well.
“By July, people were fed up with boundaries and restrictions. They were excited to pick up their new family members — the hens! Quite a lot of people said they’d been thinking of doing this for a long time, and the girls in the office worked their socks off trying to accommodate everyone who wanted hens!”
How Cluck and Collect works
“So what’s the process?” I enquire. “If I
phone up wanting some hens, what happens next?”
“I’d talk to you about your set up,” says Jane, “and what the birds are like to keep. I’d ask about your situation at home, such as whether you have lively dogs that might pose a risk, or upset the birds, and I’d answer any questions you have. I’d direct you to a raft of information we have about keeping chickens, and biosecurity, etc, and put you on a waiting list.
“When a slaughter date comes up, we give you a time, date, and place near your home to arrive, and you come within your time slot. We have 15-minute time slots for collections. People are very good-natured and don’t mind waiting if there’s a bit of a delay. At our headquarters in Devon, we can manage 30-40 cars queuing, but in reality, we only have about 10-12 at any one time. It’s good to have that extra capacity though, in case an unexpected delay creates a temporary tailback.
“We take the hens from the farms in poultry crates, where 12 of them snuggle together and settle down for the journey. We then unload them, give them a health check, and remove any birds unsuitable for rehoming — sometimes there may be a bird that has minor bruising or looks poorly. About 30-60 minutes later people will arrive, to collect their hens. Dog crates are popular for carrying the birds home, but people have a range of containers, including boxes with holes so the hens can see out, and other pet carriers. The containers supplied by Pets at Home help us to home hens to those who are a bit disorganized or who bring something unsuitable, and it helps to speed up the process too.
“All the administration is done remotely before the
pick up. The donations are taken online in advance, so when the hens are
collected it’s a quick process and they’re ticked off our list as they leave.
The new keepers go off very happy and our Cluck & Collect system always
works very well. People just want a way to get their hens!”
November 2020: Lockdown 2
went into a second national lockdown in November. Were there any new COVID-19
challenges to adapt to?
“When the second lockdown started, we managed to rehome 900 hens local to us the day before lockdown!” says Jane. “Apart from that, we faced the same challenges as Lockdown 1. We decided against rehoming during the second lockdown period, but couldn’t wait to start again on 2nd December, when the country reopened under a tiered system of restrictions. We prefer to work on a regional basis, so started rehoming in the south west, where the numbers were quite low.”
How does the number of hens rehomed compare to a normal year? “With the surge in demand, we would have rehomed more hens in 2020 than usual if we’d kept up the pace,” Jane explains, “but because we went into a second national lockdown, we lost ground again. We eventually managed to rehome over 58,000 hens by the end of 2020 — then the UK went into a third lockdown in January 2021!
“The nation has responded really warmly to our attempts to rehome hens. People have taken our hen rehoming initiative to their hearts, helping to spread the word and support what we do. More people are adopting chickens, and more want to, and the word of mouth publicity and articles in the press always help spread the word and boost demand. We have lots of heart-warming stories! We are ambitious too, always looking for opportunities. What a dream it would be to start-up in the U.S. in the future …”
Originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.