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Adopt a Hen - The Guide to Becoming a Successful Hen Owner

Let's discuss the topic of adopting a hen. We feel that this subject is something that need to be talked about.

Rescuing a Hen is life saving for them. Literally. Organisations approach farmers that are close to selling the hens to the slaughterhouse and offer them the same amount or more for these hens. Usually farms allow one of 2 crates of hens and the rest will end up in the slaughterhouse.

However unfortunate this is, we get to give some of them a new home. Nurse them back to health (if needed) and show these little babies real love and compassion.

We have had a look into a few different sources, which we have linked below. But mainly got our information from the British Hen Welfare Trust. Although the BHWT are not a vegan organisation, they offer an incredible list of information for new owners or people who are considering rescuing hens.

Min/Max You Can Adopt:

The minimum number of hens you can adopt is 3, this is due to their social needs. However, if you already have hens, you are allowed to adopt a minimum of 2.

The maximum of hens you can adopt at one time is 20.

The Cost:

The expected minimum cost for one hen is £2.50, while donating £5 covers the cost of your hen, puts money towards the organisation rescuing more hens and helps fund other aspects of their work such as an education programme and increasing knowledge in vets to ensure hens are looked after correctly in healthcare.

Although, we would prefer to promote rescuing chickens as paying farmers is still bringing them an income. But above all, the hens you get whether bought or rescued will inevitably have a better and more filled life than heading to the slaughter.


You can convert a regular shed or outbuilding, build your own coop, or buy a purpose-built hen house. Design, prices, quality and sizes vary hugely so do some research. It is far better to pay more for a sturdy, well-built house which will last for years, than buy a small, cheap, thin-walled coop which will soon fall apart and need replacing. You also need to decide on your preferred system: keeping the hens in a smaller house with attached run, frequently moving it onto a fresh area of lawn or ground or building a larger permanently-sited aviary type enclosure.

Most new coops and runs will have manufacturers’ recommendations on stocking rates; we advise you buy a hen house to accommodate more hens than you want. For example, if you want four hens, buy a hen house to accommodate six, then you can be sure there will be sufficient room. If you are unsure on numbers you can speak to our rehoming team and we will advise you.

How much space will my hens need?

Depending on the size of each chicken, they will need a MINIMUM of the following, but please give them as much space as you can. Hens are social creatures and need enough space to ensure good social interaction. By restricting space, you are inviting unhealthy behaviour and stress in your flock. This is something to think about if you are planning for the future and are expecting to expand your flock.

  1. Floor space inside the house – minimum of 30 square cms per bird

  2. Perch space – minimum of 25cms per bird

  3. Outside run – ex-caged birds need minimum of 1 sq m per bird, ex-free range hens need a minimum of 2 sq m per bird, plus the ability to free range each day.

How long do Hens live for?

Usually a hen lives up to the age of 8. Most hens will go on to enjoy a long and happy life. However, they have been forced to work hard for almost 18 months, some will have a shorter lifespan than others.

Because we cannot guarantee lifespan, occasionally a hen may die soon after adoption, which we know will be upsetting. Whilst we try our best to avoid this happening, we hope you will appreciate that your hen has at least experienced kindness outside of the commercial system which is more than she could have ever hoped for.

Do hens need to be separated from other flocks when I bring them home?

Hens will usually need to be kept separate from your existing hens for a short period; please ask our advice on this. Some hens may be a little underweight and lack confidence when they first come out of the farm, while others are spirited and think they rule the roost from day one! It is also sensible to quarantine your new birds initially for up to two weeks. This will make final integration easier though there will always be some squabbling as a new pecking order is established.

Give them time as it's such a big change for them, but once they're ready, they will enjoy their life of freedom.

Will my other pets get along with my new hens?

These hens know little fear and will get along happily with cats, dogs, sheep and even llamas which act as great fox deterrents. If your existing pets are friendly, controllable and the introduction is supervised there shouldn’t be any problems. However, always supervise introductions and do not allow pets to mix until you are sure they will get along well.

What do Hens eat?

Hens can have special prepared food/pellets. You can buy this from many different online stores or in-person stores like pets at home etc... These are reasonably cheap depending on the amount of hens you are feeding.

'The BHWT recommend Smallholder Range Natural Free Range Layers Crumble and Natural Free Range Layers Pellets, both of which are available from our online shop. This feed is unique in that it’s GM and soya free.

Both Smallholder Range Layers Crumble and Pellets can be fed to all poultry and provide all the nutrients your hens need. Caged hens will have been fed a dry mash all their lives, so the crumble is the perfect feed as they start their free range future.

Allen & Page, manufacturers of the Smallholder Range, are continuing to support our work by making regular donations to the charity for each bag of Natural Free Range Layers Crumble and Pellets sold so help us to raise funds for the charity.

It is fine to feed a small amount of mixed corn in the afternoon; this will guarantee they go to sleep with a full crop. Do not overfeed your hens with treats or scatter food on the ground as this will attract mice and rats.'

If you would like to give fresh food to your hens, you can give them:

- Vegetable Peels

- Bananas

- Apples

- Berries

- Carrots

- Bok Choy

- Silver Beet

- Spinach

- Cabbage

- Broccoli

This should make feeding them a lot more recyclable and keep the cost down.

As a treat, you can even feed them some cooked food such as rice, pasta, beans, or bread in small amounts. You can do this once or twice a month, if you wish.

Our garment decorator Kate has some hens of her own, here is what she said:

Why being a hen keeping vegan is not as crazy as it sounds:

'The average consumer is often blissfully unaware of the plight of laying hens, they may feel

confident buying free-range eggs, taken in by supermarket photos of happy hens spread out over lush grass and bathed in glorious sunshine, oblivious to what this multi-million-pound industry actually looks like. And then there are the 16 million UK caged hens, laying eggs for so many convenience foods, conveniently unnoticed.

Laying hens, free-range and otherwise, are kept in flocks consisting of thousands of birds, most have the end of their beaks removed to prevent them pecking each other to pieces in these unnatural conditions. They are bred to produce larger eggs and to have higher levels of production, putting ever increasing demands on their small bodies. Hens are slaughtered at just 17 months old, after production has peaked, millions of laying hens are slaughtered every year in the UK, long before their natural life expectancy has been reached.

Some people might wonder why a vegan would consider keeping hens, they are a farmed product rather than a pet, traditionally kept for eggs or meat, what would a vegan want them for? However, a quick search on social media will turn up a whole host of vegans doing just that, having discovered that taking in a small flock of rescued ex-commercial birds, adopted the week they are due to be culled, is incredibly rewarding for both human and hen.

There is nothing quite like bringing home a bedraggled frail little creature, timid and afraid, with unnaturally clean feet, a pale face and missing feathers, and watching her, in very little time at all, blossom into a confident, cheeky little character with her own individual personality, likes and dislikes. Chickens are not the ‘bird-brained’ stupid animals that some people like to think. They are actually very clever and will soon come running to greet you, just as a cat or dog might. Many are happy to perch on their owner’s knee or nestle in for a comfy nap. They are not difficult to keep either, given a few essentials and a good initial set-up they will happily live in a regular back garden.

It is obviously vital to have a good fox-proof house and run, and they will appreciate as much space as you can afford them, but don’t have to take over your whole garden. In my experience you do have to be the sort of person who embraces life’s beautiful imperfections to truly enjoy chicken keeping. There will be poop and mud. It’s also good to find a vet with poultry expertise. It’s

important to be realistic where living creatures are involved, if you are less keen on the practical side then there are many brilliant hen charities who would appreciate a donation instead. But if you do decide chicken keeping is for you then it can be very fulfilling and enjoyable.

Hens don’t take up a huge amount of time, however, they do require regular small amounts of time.

They need to be let out early in the morning and shut in at dusk, a battery powered light sensitive door can be brilliant to help with this, but hen-keeping is not for anyone who is away a lot of the time. Rodent proof feeders and a good chicken handbook are also important.

What to do with the eggs is a question which gets asked a lot. Some of this will depend upon what your individual beliefs are. There are now hormonal implants available from some vets which prevent the hen producing eggs at all. Others may feel that giving eggs away to non-vegan friends who would otherwise be purchasing eggs is a good idea. While you can also feed eggs back to the hens, which to some sounds odd, but it means they can reabsorb the nutrients for themselves.

Adopting hens is fairly straight-forward, there are several charities that rescue hens at locations throughout the UK. A quick internet search will get you started. Most charities ask for a small donation to cover costs and a photo of your set-up to ensure the hens are going to a good home.

Once you’ve reserved your hens then it’s just a case of taking a straw-lined cardboard box along on the allocated day and collecting your new friends. It’s a truly awesome feeling to know you’ve played a key part in giving them back their lives.

Some people might argue that saving a few hens is just a drop in the ocean, there are so many that currently won’t be saved. However, Veganism to me is about small individual actions adding up to make a huge difference. While currently saving these hens might not make a huge difference in the world, it will make a world of difference to the individual girls we save, and in spreading the vegan word, who knows what difference it will make in the future!

So, in answer to the question “why would a vegan keep hens?” I think the answer has to be “why wouldn’t they?”'


Kate (Our Decorator) assisted us with many answers to our questions.

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