Meekle’s Blog – An Insight into Downsizing

Sad Day
May 2, 2010, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s a sad day today. My old girl, Ellie, an ex-battery hen has finally passed away today. She was somewhere in the dizzy heights of 8 1/2 years old.

She started her life – presumably – at Isa Brown’s hatchery. I can tell she was Isa Brown material as she had the top part of her beak singed off, mutilated if you will, so she couldn’t peck at her cage mates. this is a practice Isa hatcheries are known for. She then was shipped to Harper Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire, where she was rotated into the laying flock there, 4 in a cage laying for all their might.

Now, in Harper’s defence, they teach all methods of egg production, from backyard through intensive, right up to free range. Harper Adams developed the battery system in 1922 to help veterans of the First World Ward to settle back into a career and also to provide valuable nourishment to the starved British Nation. Recently, they have been experimenting with ways to achieve just as good a laying rate as battery, but free range. Their free range system is second to none. I have seen it and its excellent. However, they retain a battery unit as the students that graduate will need to know how to run both systems as they wont know what their employer has until they get there.

Anyways, back to Ellie. After 9 months of being in that cramped life style, she would have started to moult. as she is putting more energy into moulting, she wouldn’t be laying as well. This is the time the old birds get rotated out and the new ones come in. Ellie was due to be rotated out. Now, this doesn’t mean that she is allowed out to free range until she gets better, oh no, she is now classed as commercial waste. A lorry turns up to collect a couple of thousand birds and then they are shipped off to become dog food or similar.

Knowing this fate, some of the students had release a few birds, Ellie being one of them. She just wandered around the unit, scrounging food off the students. If anything, she wasnt frightened of humans as she had seen them plenty of times as the students studied them. I was called out to Harper one day to look at a job. as i opened the door, Ellie wanders up looking for food. Before i could react she was in the car and on the back seat, munching down on something in the foot well, probably a half-eaten sandwich or similar.

When i returned to the car she was still there, and seeing what was going on to her pen mates, she knew it was safer for her to stay where she was. So off I drove, knowing full well what would happen to her if i returned her to the poultry unit. I settled her in at home in a large cage in the garden as she needed to get her strength back and grow a few feathers back before she could go in with the rest of the birds.

She spent the first night (and several after) staring up at the stars at night, feeling the soil between her toes and actually doing chicken things like scratching up worms. She was still extremely friendly and one of the only birds i could trust to wander around my garden unwatched as she never went far. She saw new birds arrive, and old birds depart, she moved runs several times and was used as a “friend” when we needed to isolate some birds. Over the time we had her you could guarantee that she would be the first in the queue for the worms, she was always first scratching up feed. She would come out in the snow, even if it was deeper than she was tall, it didn’t bother her. she had a real zest for life.

When she finally passed today, she had been up and down the run scratching up worms etc, she had retired back to the nest box, now unfamiliar as she hasn’t laid an egg for ages. she settled down in the nest box and passed away. This old girl, named Ellie as we were eating Paella the night we had her, had lived for some eight and a half years by our estimate. We have had her since 2003, and she would have been 9 months old when due for rotation. Many a winter we have said that it will be her last, but no, she kept surprising us.

We have some chicks hatched out a while back from a rescued cockerel and an ex-battery hen, I would like to think that her genes live on in one of those chicks. it’s very unlikely, but a thought that is pleasing.

she was one of the first hens we ever had and she will always have a special place in out hearts. Good night Ellie – sleep well.

Ellie staring at the camera

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for telling Ellie’s story 🙂

Comment by LB

WOW …. what a life story.
Having ex-batts myself I know how attached you can get to them as their is always one that is a bit special compared with the rest and it look like Ellie was that one for you.
Sleep well Ellie your going to be missed.

Comment by tonyd

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