Rescue chickens that come from large egg farms often come to their second homes in a questionable condition. We’ve had several of these hens on our farm, and although they’re now productive, friendly members of our flock, they came to us in rough shape, and they took some extra elbow grease to return to good condition. If you have the space, then offering rescue chickens a second home is a noble cause that will also keep you in eggs. Here’s how to rehabilitate these birds.
As you probably know, industrial poultry farming is a tough life for hens. Their eggs are valued over the quality of their lives, and often, they don’t have access to fresh air, sunlight, or dust boxes where they can engage in normal behaviors, such as dust bathing.
Hens frequently develop bad behaviors, such as feather picking and beating each other up. Because industrial egg farmers pack as many layers as possible into their barns, hens experience more issues with stress. Although they do get fed, they might not get as many nutrients as they need due to the cramped quarters. Frequently, their overall appearance looks unhealthy.
If you’ve ever seen rescue chickens from an industrial egg farm, you might notice a few things. They might be missing feathers in some areas of their bodies, such as tail feathers. They also might be missing feathers around their head, where they have been pecked or attacked by other hens.
You might also notice that your rescue chickens are not as friendly as hens in a pampered, well-tended flock from a chicken hatchery. Rescue chickens have not had the benefit of much human interaction; when we brought one of our rescue hens home, she make a noise that sounded like a growl whenever we came around. Although I did not know her background other than she was a rescue chicken, my guess is she did not have much positive experience with people. Time certainly remedied her attitude, however, and she turned into a wonderful, friendly chicken who laid speckled brown eggs.
Rehabilitating rescue chickens is relatively easy, but remember that you might not get eggs immediately. Frequently, chickens from factory farms have been maxed out, and their bodies are tired. They may or may not have gotten enough to eat, but they still laid eggs nearly every day. Certainly their production was declining. One factory farmer we talked to unilaterally removed hens when they reached 15 months to make sure his egg supply stayed at the optimum level; his hens were just a way to get the best dozen eggs price.
If you do adopt rescue chickens that you want to rehabilitate, you should first quarantine them from the rest of your flock. I quarantine mine for 30 days in a separate coop. Since factory farms are hotbeds of upper respiratory infections and other potential diseases, I do not want my regular flock to be exposed. I give my rescue chickens separate feeders and waterers, and feed them after my other chickens so I don’t drag pathogens into my main coops.
A 30-day quarantine lets me observe my rescue chickens for symptoms of illness before adding them into my regular flock, and it gives them time to decompress from the stress of factory life. It also gives them time to get acquainted with me and to nourish their bodies with the food I provide without having to deal with sorting out a pecking order or to fight other chickens for a meal.
When you bring home your rescue chickens, offer them the highest quality feed you can find. Particularly if they are missing feathers, their bodies will need more protein than the average chicken. We offer rescue chickens a game bird feed, which has 22% protein in it, to set them on the path to healing their bodies.
If your rescue chickens have had their beaks trimmed, they will need an extra deep dish for their feed, since the trimming makes it hard for them to hunt and peck. To that end, rescue chickens are more dependent on you for their feed than chickens with their beaks intact, since the blunt end of a trimmed beak makes it harder for hens to pick up whatever goodies they find.
You’ll also need to provide your rescue chickens with a dust bath. While chickens should have a dust bath available anyway, rescue chickens with trimmed beaks have a harder time removing lice and mites from their bodies because they can’t grasp the bugs as easily. Offering them a dust box with diatomaceous earth, which is proven to reduce external parasites, will help.
Offering your rescue chickens vitamins in their water is another way to help them repair their bodies. Because of the stress of their previous living conditions, rescue chickens are frequently malnourished, as evidenced by their missing feathers. There are a lot of options for vitamins out there, and providing some in their water will help make them healthy again.
It might take a few months before you begin to notice their feathers returning, but one day, you’ll look at them, and they will look just like your other chickens. If you would like to learn more about feeding chickens, you can visit my website, FrugalChicken.
Have you successfully rehabilitated rescue chickens and added them to your flock? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below.