Caring for your hens
Once out of the cages, ex-battery hens adapt very quickly to a normal environment. Within a few hours they will be pecking at things, scratching at the ground, rolling in the dirt for a dust bath, stretching their wings open to the sun and just doing normal chicken activities.
They are often a bit nervous of movement, because they have never been exposed to it before. They can take a few days to get use to things such as tree branches swaying in the breeze or leaves blowing around as well as everyday noises like traffic or dogs barking.
Before taking your hens home it’s a good idea to set up your coop with a flat surface with straw for them to sit in. A floor made of concrete pavers or a concrete slab is best as it is easy to keep clean and will stop predators such as dogs or foxes digging in. Even in suburban areas there are foxes.
At first the hens will not know how to perch but they will work it out in time. Remember they have lived their whole life on a slanted wire floor. You can start by having something just 10cm up off the ground with some soft straw for them to sleep on. If you purchase nest boxes for your hens it may take a few days for them to get the idea of going into them, but they will soon learn.
When you first let your hens out of the coop give them a small area to walk around in and explore. If you let them free range in a large area they may get disorientated and feel quite frightened. It’s better to start with small steps because EVERYTHING is new to them.
Because they have come from a controlled environment we recommend putting blankets over the coop or bringing them inside at night if it is cool for the first few nights, depending on how bald they are. They have never experienced ANY change in temperature and it may take a few weeks to acclimatise. It’s better to be safe than sorry and end up with ill hens. If it is hot you need to keep them as cool as possible. You can put wet sheets or towels over the coop wire or move the hens to a cool spot and make sure they have lots of fresh cool water to drink. Please DO NOT spray them with cold water.
Most hens settle in quite quickly but it is best not to handle them or spend too much time “fussing” with them for the first few days, but you do need to keep checking them to make sure they are alright, just a quick look in to the coop to make sure they are all OK. Try to keep other animals away from the coop if possible.
To start with feed your hens commercial chicken food, mash or crumble. Please DO NOT feed them treats. They have never had anything but commercial mash or crumble food so resist the temptation to “spoil them” with treats or you may end up with very sick hens. Introduce new foods slowly and one at a time over a number of weeks.
Make sure each hen knows where the food and water is. They have never had to find food and water before. Jiggling your finger in the water often gives them the idea. It may take them a while to grasp the concept of having to get up and walk to eat and drink. Check to make sure each hen is drinking and eating.
You will need to put their food into a deep dish to begin with. Some of the hens may never be able to eat except from a deep dish, it depends on how cut their beak is from the debeaking process. Keep an eye on them and make sure they are able to eat and that their beak is not hitting the bottom of the dish and causing harm to an already damaged beak. DO NOT trim the beak, often the bottom beak is longer than the top due to debeaking, the bottom beak should wear down in time.
Pick up any droppings from the straw every day and always make sure they have a fresh supply of food and water.