Guardian An­gel

Res­curer Haidy Mans­field

Country Smallholding - - Inside this month -

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

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