Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Sunday, 29 June 2008 13:09 UK

Battery hens get new life as pets

Battery hens. Pic by Getty images
It is estimated that there are about 20 million battery hens in the UK

More than 600 battery hens which could have faced a trip to the slaughterhouse have been rehomed.

The 628 birds, which have reached the end of their productive laying life, were saved by the Scottish branch of the Battery Hen Welfare Trust.

They were collected from battery farms across Scotland and given to people as family pets in exchange for a donation.

In the UK, an estimated 20 million hens are in cages. After they stop laying as many eggs, many are sold for pet food.

The birds, which are generally only about 18-months-old when they are released from the farms, can live for up to eight years.

The trust buys up as many of them as possible and, after a medical examination, families can collect between two and 12 each.

It's such a delight to see hens which have been caged up all their lives wander around freely
Jim Duff
Battery Hen Welfare Trust

Mother-of-two Romany Russell, a rehomer from Causewayhead in Stirling, has three chickens which produce on average two eggs a day.

She said: "It was something I never thought I could do until one of my friends got some chickens.

"I suppose I just wanted to give them the lives that they should have had originally.

"The hens are really easy to look after, you just need to give them a bit of garden to run around in."

The charity has built up good relations with the egg industry and has focused on asking the customer to take responsibility rather than simply blaming farmers for the unpopular system of caging hens.

The trust's Scottish co-ordinator, Jim Duff, said its main aim was to reduce demand for battery hen eggs and to increase the number of consumers opting for free-range and organic.

Processed foods

"We are staunch supporters of the British egg industry and support all farmers within the egg industry," he said.

"We fully understand the financial constraints farmers are under and are no way criticising them. We are also very happy to pay the farmers the going rate for the hens.

"We give farmers our full support in order to give them the confidence to invest in alternative high-welfare systems.

"It's such a delight to see hens which have been caged up all their lives wander around freely."

Figures suggest 66% of eggs bought in Britain still come from battery hens, with most of the eggs ending up in processed foods such as mayonnaise, cakes and pasta.

The trust aims to slash that figure to at least 30% by 2012.

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