Ex-bats have an impact
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