Life-chang­ing hens

Ex-bats have an im­pact

Your Chickens - - Contents -

It was a piece on the BBC TV pro­gramme Coun­try­file one Sun­day evening that changed Lynn and Wil­lum Leonard’s lives in Sus­sex for­ever. They dis­cov­ered that there were thou­sands of ex-bat­tery hens out there that could be given a re­tire­ment in­stead of go­ing for slaugh­ter at the end of their work­ing lives.

Lynn wanted to do some­thing and de­cided that she would love to give some de­serv­ing ladies a happy re­tire­ment. Per­suad­ing Wil­lum was the next stage. “It took two years be­fore we were ready to get them. Wil­lum said that I could only have them if they paid for them­selves - in eggs!” said Lynn. “He re­ally wasn’t that keen and just thought that they would be a bit of a bur­den; lit­tle did he know how much they would af­fect him!”

A re­dun­dant veg­etable patch was ear­marked for their new home and run. “I had just started up my own cake mak­ing busi­ness called ‘Let Me Bake It’ and we just didn’t re­ally have time to be grow­ing veg­eta­bles as well as work­ing most weekends and con­tin­u­ing with my ex­ist­ing book-keep­ing jobs. Wil­lum was a full-time se­condary school maths teacher, so it had been ne­glected,” said Lynn.

“The veg patch needed a ‘job’, so dur­ing the school sum­mer hol­i­days in 2010, I turned it into a chicken run and built a hen house in prepa­ra­tion for the day we got the call from the Bri­tish Hen Wel­fare Trust for our new res­i­dents,” said Wil­lum. “We had a long wait, though, and ended up get­ting eight girls from the BHWT col­lec­tion cen­tre in Big­gin Hill, Kent, that had come all the way from a farm in Coven­try!”

It was just so sad to see and it was the mo­ment that we both fell in love with them

Their first girls had hardly any feath­ers, could barely walk and didn’t know how to perch. “It was just so sad to see and it was the mo­ment that we both fell in love with them,” said Lynn. “Wil­lum went from be­ing an in­ter­ested by­stander to be­ing to­tally de­voted to them. I think just watch­ing them de­velop into feath­ered hens, liv­ing a nat­u­ral life and having such vi­brant per­son­al­i­ties did it! I knew he was com­pletely de­voted when he used the October half term to up­grade the fa­cil­i­ties into top lux­ury, build a chicken ‘gym’ and to fox-proof the gar­den!”

NOT ALL HAP­PI­NESS…

It wasn’t all hap­pi­ness for the Leonards though; sadly they lost some of their girls within three months. “I think that their hard life as bat­tery hens caught up with them,” said Wil­lum. “Luck­ily we have a very knowl­edge­able lo­cal vet who helped us a lot and gave the girls the best of med­i­cal care. At least they had some time to be free and happy.”

When all the orig­i­nal girls had lived their lives, their sec­ond batch of hens came from an or­ganic, barn-kept sys­tem. “Strangely these were the sick­est of them all,” said Lynn. “I think it was be­cause they had never been out­side. It re­ally was heart­break­ing, but we nursed them and they lived out good, if short lives. Af­ter the emo­tional trauma of look­ing af­ter this batch of ladies we de­cided we needed a break.”

The Leonards had a year off un­til Wil­lum re­tired. “Dur­ing that time we con­sid­ered what sort of hens to get. We did think we might get pure-bred hens, ones that didn’t come from farm­ing sys­tem, but in the end we just knew we had to res­cue more!” said Lynn. So a new batch of eight girls came from Fresh Start for Hens. The tra­di­tion of nam­ing them all af­ter food or drink con­tin­ued and Tia Maria, Marzi­pan, Prunella (Prunes), Raisin, Honey, Navel­lina (Or­anges), Co­coa and Al­mond ar­rived.

“All of them made them­selves at home very quickly and their char­ac­ters came to the fore in­stantly! How­ever, it wasn’t all plain sailing and we lost Co­coa and Al­mond af­ter they only had a short time with us,” said Wil­lum. “It was up­set­ting to lose them. De­spite the po­ten­tial health is­sues with res­cued hens, we wouldn’t have any other type now, and this par­tic­u­lar group have re­paid our care by lay­ing a huge num­ber of eggs – over 1,600 in 10 months, so we are very proud of them! It’s just so re­ward­ing giv­ing these girls a bit of ex­tra life. Cakes from Let Me Bake It’ con­tain the best eggs – made with love by our spe­cial hens who are having a very happy and spoilt re­tire­ment.”

Lynn and Wil­lum

ABOVE AND BE­LOW: Lynn and Wil­lum and their hens. ABOVE CEN­TRE: Lynn loves to bake

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