Rescurer Haidy Mansfield
When Haidy Mansfield had a new ceramic sink installed in the refurbished kitchen of her Sturminster Newton home, she didn’t christen it by washing up her best bone china or her champagne flutes, she put a chicken in it.
Belle — the ex-battery hen —was trying to relieve herself of a particularly troublesome soft shell egg and needed her undercarriage massaging with warm water.
“It worked,” smiles Haidy. “After a while she passed the most enormous egg — it was a huge relief for all of us.”
The operation caused Haidy’s partner, Caroline, to raise half an eyebrow, but the truth is Caroline is quite used to sharing her utilities with feathered family members.
“Caroline’s outside office often becomes a bunk house for my sick hens in the winter because it has a good heater and is nice and toasty,” reveals Haidy, who started her working life as an anti-fraud officer and went on to work in various areas of business before setting up as a gardener in 2016.
Sitting cross-legged in her neat little garden, dressed in shorts and a navy polo shirt and surrounded by hens, it is hard to imagine her anywhere but among vegetable patches, flower beds and chicken runs.
“My parents always told me that I ought to be a gardener. Turns out they were right,” she says.
It was Caroline who first suggested rescuing hens.
“I have always liked knowing where my food comes from and I had fond childhood memories of watching The Good Life on television,” reveals Haidy. “We were growing our own vegetables, so getting chickens seemed like an obvious next step.”
The couple contacted the British Hen Welfare Trust and put their names down for three ex-bats. In April 2016 Margot,
Barbara and Gerry — named after the main characters in the popular ’70s sitcom — arrived.
“I spent hours and hours watching them explore their new surroundings; pecking, scratching, flapping and having dust baths,” says Haidy. “The extraordinary thing was that they knew how to do all those things, but they had never had the opportunity.”
In the months that followed, Haidy’s flock grew.
“And I kept falling in love,” she admits. “Their characters were all so different; they were fun, cheeky and incredibly trusting considering where they had come from.”
The bird enclosure expanded and the once flourishing vegetable beds turned into chicken sun-loungers.
“That didn’t make me very popular, but it was totally necessary,” she grins. “I also had to enlarge their living quarters after the first makeshift tarpaulin house collapsed on me while I was in my dressing gown and wellies. I decided I ought to make a proper job of building a sheltered coop, so last winter I made a 3m x 15m house with corrugated plastic roofing.”
The enclosure currently has nine inhabitants. Five are ex-bats — Belle, Elvis, Hilda, Eva and Noel — and there are another three rescues — a black Australorp called Audrey and two Exchequer Leghorns called Thelma and Louise. Pip the bantam completes the menagerie.
Haidy not only derives enormous pleasure from rescuing her own ex-bats, but she has made it her mission to help others do the same.
Two very special rescue hens have helped with this. The first was Belle.
“When I rescued her she was malnourished, abused and misshapen. I didn’t expect her to last more than a few days,” admits Haidy, who began to chart the hen’s progress, day by day, on her own Facebook page. “There were ups and downs, but she went from strength to strength and, before long, people were contacting me, saying, ‘We need our daily fix of Belle’. Eventually I set up a Facebook page just for her.”
In April this year, Haidy found Fleur squashed at the bottom of a crate. She was barely alive. She posted pictures of her plight and recovery and within the blink of an eye received thousands of messages of support.
“Fleur didn’t know how to walk at first. She was a bald skeleton with legs that were so weak they were no good to her whatsoever. I made a sling for her until she began to gather the strength to move,” says Haidy. “She demonstrated such a fighting spirit. I was heartbroken when she died four weeks later.”
After Fleur’s death, Haidy changed her page’s name to ‘Belle and Fleur say NO to caged hens for Eggs UK’. It now has over 21,000 followers.
“Belle and Fleur’s stories continue to inspire people. I have people messaging me and telling me that they are going through tough times, yet reading about my rescue hens has restored their faith in humanity. When Fleur died I had nearly 5,000 messages of condolence,” reveals Haidy.
The Facebook platform has also allowed other hen rescuers to glean tips and advice.
“With each new hen and new ailment that arose, I researched and learned more about what I could do to help them,” she says. “When I rescued Audrey she was suffering from an impacted crop that her previous owner couldn’t be bothered to treat. I had booked her in for surgery, but wanted to explore other avenues, so I posted a message on a forum and a lady from Spain replied, telling me to try a mixture of ginger powder, cinnamon, lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda and water. I was to massage it into the crop several times a day. It took a while, but on the morning of the surgery it disappeared.”
When first-time rescue hen owner Anna Young was at her wits’ end with her broody, balding ex-bat Gin she turned to Haidy.
“I hadn’t realised that broody hens can be very stubborn when it’s hot,” she explains. “One morning I found Gin in her coop, completely unresponsive. I remembered reading about how Haidy treated Fleur with honey, salt and sugar in water, so I took Gin inside and made her breakfast. I kept her in my kitchen for the day and by the time I came home from work it looked like she’d had a party. If it wasn’t for people like Haidy these poor hens would have no hope at all.”
The only person who is not such a big fan of Haidy’s work is Miles the terrier. He just about tolerates the feathered harem, so long as there are boundaries in place.
Last year, Haidy became a volunteer for the British Hen Welfare Trust, which rescues and rehomes thousands of ex-caged birds every year.
Several days before we spoke, she had been involved in the rescue of more than 400 birds from a farm, checking them over and loading them into crates for people who had signed up to rehome them.
“I became a volunteer because I wanted to do more. Hens are not products; they are living beings who feel pain and anguish, joy and contentment. All the while I can offer freedom and happiness to a handful of the millions trapped in cages, I will keep on doing what I’m doing,” she says.
Haidy does have her own dream for the future — one that involves more space and more chickens.
“One day I would love a smallholding that’s big enough for a rescue centre. I want to be able to educate people — children in particular — about where eggs come from and open their eyes to the intensive egg farming industry,” she says.
Judging by her exploits so far, there is no reason to believe that this dream won’t come to fruition.
Belle and Fleur’s stories continue to inspire people. I have people messaging me and telling me that they are going through tough times, yet reading about my rescue hens has restored their faith in humanity. When Fleur died I had nearly 5,000 messages of condolence
Haidy feels so at home in her garden with her chickens
The sling that Haidy made for a very sick Fleur so that she could gain strength before walking again
Haidy found Fleur squashed at the bottom of a crate, barely alive
Last year Haidy became a volunteer for the British Hen Welfare Trust
Haidy has used her own experience with ex-battery hens to create a successful Facebook platform with tips and advice
Miles the terrier just about tolerates Haidy’s hens