Tag Archives: hens

Volunteering to Help Birds is a Rewarding Experience

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A rescued hen is held with gentle hands.

A rescued hen is held in gentle hands.

Animal Place is a sanctuary located in Grass Valley California which gives shelter and care to rescued farmed animals. Rescue Ranch, their sister property in Vacaville California, recently received 1500 hens from an egg production facility and saved them from the usual fate of slaughter. About 15 volunteers showed up on a sunny Saturday morning to help with hen health checks. When the hens arrive at Rescue Ranch they are able for the first time to touch the earth, experience the warm sunshine and move about freely as normal chickens. Each has spent the entire portion of their short lives in dirty, crowded and terrifying conditions… until now.

Volunteers begin to quietly round up the hens.

Volunteers begin to quietly round up the hens.

On this day we were assisting with a phase two health check. During phase one, when the hens first arrive, they are individually checked for injuries and illness. Volunteers trim their toenails which often grow unusually long due to confinement. Some of the birds have broken bones, lacerations and injuries related to brutal handling and transport. Most birds have visible feather loss and are crawling with mites from their inability to move around naturally and dust bathe. All the hens have amputated beaks, a painful procedure which impairs their ability to eat and drink. There are no male chickens present because all of them were separated from the females at the hatchery and killed as day-old chicks. The hens are emotionally fragile from their trauma and physically weak from the constant egg laying which saps their bodies of much needed calcium and nutrients.

The hens receive a dose of medication.

Hens receive a dose of medication from the wonderful Rescue Ranch staff and volunteers.

We assisted with phase two by gently collecting the hens and passing them off to Rescue Ranch staff for medication. Then the birds were released into the barnyard where they could enjoy socializing with their sisters out under the shady trees. Afterwards all of us volunteers celebrated by cleaning the barns!

The hens enjoy hanging out at the feeders.

The hens enjoy hanging out at the feeders.

Once the hens are strong enough they are put up for adoption by Rescue Ranch and also through some of the local humane societies. If you can provide a safe forever home to some of these girls (which they truly deserve after all they have been through!) please contact Animal Place through henrescuers.org. I also recommend volunteering which is a deeply rewarding experience. To hold a bird who has never been treated gently and feel her body relax trustfully in your arms is a sweet gift indeed.

-Singing Luna 8/25/2015

Seed for thought: Consider how our consumer choices impact the lives of animals!


This YouTube video is from a hen rescue in Canada. The rescuers were so devoted it appears that they prepared their living room (!) to keep the hens in during their recovery. Please Note: although the video shows chickens being carried by their feet this is not a recommended way to carry birds.

Three Myths About Roosters

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Roosters can live quite harmoniously with each other. There are four roosters in this photograph.

There are a total of four roosters shown in this photo… and yes, they are all friends! (can you spot them?).

Myth #1: If you put two roosters together they will fight to the death.

Historically cockfighting has helped to fuel this myth by creating a grossly artificial situation where birds are cruelly trained to become aggressive. Roosters are drugged to dull the pain of injury and forced to wear razors attached to their legs ensuring a bloody and violent death. Many animals including humans will naturally fight with each other if they do not have their basic needs met: food, water, shelter (or territory), and safety. If we live in an environment where we feel safe and comfortable then we are much more inclined to engage in friendly socialization. Just like humans, chickens need to have the proper amount of space to be emotionally healthy. Roosters may initially fight to prove hierarchy but will generally defer to the stronger bird before any serious injury results. Roosters who are raised together as chicks will determine hierarchy early so it is advantageous not to split them up. Often in situations where there are multiple males, roosters will pair off as buddies, being perfectly content to live the “hen-less” life. Contrary to popular belief it is quite possible to introduce adult roosters into an established flock by using certain socialization techniques (to be covered in a future post). It is our responsibility as caregivers to make sure that everyone in the flock is well cared for and also to monitor any aggressive behavior as soon as it materializes.

Myth #2:  The presence of a rooster is necessary for a hen to lay an egg.

A hen will lay her egg whether or not a rooster is around however, roosters help to maintain a natural and beneficial dynamic within a chicken community. A rooster is essential for the fertilization of an egg. Fertilization occurs within the body of the female. A rooster will display a mating dance for the hen and she will indicate receptivity by squatting down next to him. He will then mount and deposit his sperm into the opening beneath her tail.  If the hen chooses to nest and “set” on the fertilized egg a chick will form and hatch 21 days later. Though roosters are not necessary for the formation of eggs, they are an important asset for providing safety and protection of a flock. For instance when hens are out foraging a rooster will keep watch and give a distinct call to indicate danger. The type of sound will even indicate whether the predator is approaching on land or is airborne. Roosters are very courageous and have been known to fight off attackers many times larger than themselves. If a rooster finds food he will first call his family over to partake in the feast. It is well known that chicks will begin a dialog with their mothers while still inside the egg but recent studies have shown that they can also recognize vocalizations of the roosters and other members of their flock before hatching, which contributes to the bonding of the flock overall.

Myth #3: Roosters crow only at sunrise.

All animals have sophisticated methods of communication which humans have only barely begun to understand. A rooster’s crow is his way of communicating his presence territorially and also to announce his well-being. Throughout the day a rooster may crow in triumph after he has mated with a hen or after he has discovered food for his flock. If he hears noise in the middle of the night he may crow to warn that a predator might be near. A rooster’s song usually consists of four distinct notes or sections. Each individual rooster’s crow is unique and identifiable so it alerts the entire flock to who is located where (crowing is the GPS of the chicken world!). Keeping multiple roosters does not necessarily mean there will be a great increase in crowing. Roosters who are kept within a flock and not separated from each other tend to sing less often because they can visually locate the other males. Often the lower ranked males will not sing as often as the lead male. Roosters will also crow at sunrise, their eyesight being so sensitive to light that they can detect the faintest glow of dawn long before we humans can. If you wish to delay their singing in the morning you can do so by keeping them indoors in a dark quiet area until the desired rising time.

“A good rooster crows everywhere”- Sicilian Proverb

Roosters have very distinct personalities and are an asset to your flock.

Roosters have very distinct personalities and also can be quite affectionate.

-Singing Luna 6/28/2014

Seed for thought: What other myths about chickens should be debunked?

Chicken Coop Makeover

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This handmade shed was repurposed into a coop by adding a small chicken-size door.

Before makeover: This handmade shed was repurposed into a coop by adding a small chicken-size door.

Time to spruce up the old coop! This ex-shed came with a large walk-in door which made it easy for cleaning and a window covered with chicken wire which works great for ventilation. The smaller door was added later to make it chicken friendly. Both doors can be shut and secured against any predators when necessary. The exterior paint was two years old and starting to crack from the weather so it needed some updating. I started the project by hosing and scrubbing down the exterior of the coop with water and letting it air-dry during a warm afternoon. I decided to give it a cheerful tropical-style makeover…

A fresh coat of paint, colorful accents and a few decorative elements can do wonders for an ordinary chicken house!

After makeover: A fresh coat of paint, colorful accents and a few decorative elements can transform an ordinary chicken house!

I started painting with a warm ivory base color using a brush (a roller probably would have been faster but I enjoy the process of brush painting). You can often find small cans of quality paint for free at the local paint recycling center and sometimes paint stores will sell their customer-reject colors at reduced prices. I began layering swashes of color over the ivory by giving broad strokes of lemon yellow, magenta, and cornflower blue. The lime green was acrylic craft paint (also found at the recycling center). I used a dry brush technique to pick up the weathered texture of the wood….

Decorative elements add a whimsical feel to the coop.

Decorative elements add a whimsical accent to the coop.

This cut-metal gecko was purchased at a discount variety store (it was cheap even though it was handmade and fair trade!). You can find interesting art pieces to decorate your coop at thrift stores and yard sales. I’ve found some interesting items left on the sidewalk with “free” signs attached. Even ordinary things such as tools, colorful kitchen decor, recycled shingles or children’s toys can be painted and attached to your coop exterior to give it added personality.

Chicken safety note: Always make sure any decor you use is securely attached so it can’t fall on anyone (chickens). I generally place elements high enough on the coop where they can’t be pecked or become a hazard. Use lead-free, water base paint and have your chickens entertain themselves in another part of the yard while working with any open cans of paint and wet surfaces (I distracted mine by giving them a little tropical party with leftover fruit and greens!).

-Singing Luna 3/1/2014

Seed for Thought: What are some simple improvements you can make on your coop?

Annabella, a Hen with a Joy for Life

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Annabella arrived at Roostersong Sanctuary in December 2008 with her four sisters.

Annabella arrived at Roostersong Sanctuary in December 2008 with her four sisters.

Annabella was one of five factory farm hens adopted from the Humane Society in December of 2008. When I first brought the girls home to Roostersong Sanctuary they were a bedraggled bunch with patches of bare skin, scabbed combs and missing tails. I could not imagine what they must have been through before their rescue. Although they received good veterinary care before I adopted them they continued to have health issues related to their stressful early lives and one by one I lost four to reproductive organ failure (a common ailment with factory raised hens). The fifth hen, Annabella seemed determined to survive and she thrived with a vibrancy that was truly inspiring. Annabella loved to run and fly and I enjoyed witnessing her exuberance (she had a strange skipping motion when she ran due to her years of living crammed into a battery cage). It took a few years before she was comfortable being touched and I was so honored when she finally allowed me to hold her and stroke her feathers! She lived long enough to become friends with my recent factory rescue hens and in the evening they would be roosting together side by side in the coop. I have known and lost many birds over the years but this one did not make me sad. She had five extra years under our care and she lived them to the fullest. During her time with us I watched her blossom and gain trust. She taught me a lot about the resilience of the spirit and of finding the courage to rise above the limitations that are initially given us.

Annabella, fully feathered, enjoying the spring grass in 2009.

Annabella, fully feathered, enjoying the spring grass in 2009.

-Singing Luna 1/12/2013

Seed for thought: What is your earliest memory of feeling compassion toward someone?

Chicken Spa!

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Chicken Spa (©Jazelle/Skyfeather Studio)

Every so often it is a good idea to schedule a Chicken Spa day. The hens will thank you and so will those macho rooster boys. Following are the three components that I generally use:

1. Nail Care – Chickens have three toes in the front of their feet and one in the back (except the Silkie breed has five toes!). Chickens generally don’t need to have their nails clipped if they are given enough room to roam and scratch about the yard. This activity will serve as a natural nail file for your birds. As a chicken ages and gets less active she may need help with a trim now and then.

These dog nail clippers can be purchased at a pet supply store.

These dog nail clippers can be purchased at a pet supply store and work well for trimming chickens toenails.

It is best to have a helper who can hold your bird so you can position the clippers accurately around the end of the nail. There is a vein and nerves in the quick of the nail so you want to make sure to avoid cutting into the quick. With light-colored nails you can usually see the darkened area of the vein. Birds with darker feet and nails are not as easy but sometimes holding the nail up to a light will show the end of the vein. I would suggest trimming conservatively the first time until you feel comfortable with the process.

This hen was rescued from a factory farm and lived most of her life in a wire cage. This can cause the nails to grow to an unhealthy length that can impede walking.

This hen was rescued from a factory farm and lived most of her life in a wire cage which caused her nails to grow to an unhealthy length. This can lead to problems with walking.

You will know the nails are too long if they begin to curl at the ends. I would start by trimming off just the tip of the nail. This may be all that your bird needs to free up her natural movement so that she can take over regular maintenance herself by scratching and filing her nails on the ground. If you do accidentally nip the quick, apply pressure to the end of the nail for a minute or so to stop any bleeding (immediately administer a chicken treat to the beak area!). Nail trimming is also a good way to get your bird used to being handled and also enables you to check for any other possible health issues at the same time such as leg mites and bumble foot.

Chickens love to dust bathe as a social activity. Flipping the dirt through their feathers also has health benefits.

Chickens love to dust bathe as a social activity. Flipping the dirt through their feathers also has health benefits for them.

2. Dust Bath – Chickens love to get down into a pile of loose dirt and sift it into their feathers. They appear to be so blissful when “bathing” it makes me want to come back as a chicken just to experience this happy place of being. I provide a bin in the chicken yard filled with organic soil purchased from the local recycling center. Mixing in a little sand helps keeps the dirt loose. I find that my flock enjoys bathing together as a social activity and they often preen each other while engaged in their “puppy pile”. It also gives them the opportunity to peck gravel bits up for their crops. Chickens have oil glands in their skin which help keep their feathers healthy and shiny. The dirt particles are said to help soak up the old oil which then can be dislodged during preening. Adding some fresh rosemary, lavender and/or catnip to the dirt may also help discourage feather mites and ticks. And lucky for you, the fact that your resident chickens prefer dirt to water bathing also means they will not be expecting you to hang out the monogrammed towels afterward!

At the "Hapi-Chik Lodge" it's always Spa Day! (Photo:©Skyfeather Studio)

At the “Hapi-Chik Lodge” it’s always Spa Day! (Photo:©Skyfeather Studio)

3. Massage – That’s right, are you surprised? Many creatures thrive with gentle touch and chickens are no exception. I find that massage is very calming for my birds and also inspires their trust in me for being handled. Start with holding a hen (or rooster) on your lap and making small circular movements around the crop and chest area. If they are comfortable with this move into the lower chest area and up into the indentation where the legs connect with the body. This seems to be a particularly receptive area for chickens and I can feel them melt into my hand at this point. Continue up underneath the wing and if your bird is calm enough she’ll allow you to knead the thin area of skin and muscle where her wings attach. None of my chickens respond well to having their necks massaged but they will sometimes enjoy the area around their comb (because they can’t reach it themselves?). There also seems to be a sweet spot on their face just below the eyes, where rubbing gently in a small circle with a fingertip will get them to close a blissful lid. Massage helps aid circulation and is an opportunity to spend quality time getting to know your bird. Experiment to see if you can tell what they like and don’t like. I have one little roo who follows me around until I pick him up to give him his regular wing-shoulder rub!

Here are some other sites which go into more depth on nail trimming:

http://ultimatefowl.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/199/

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/trimming-your-chickens-nails-beaks-spurs-tutorial

-Singing Luna 12/21/2013

Seed for Thought: What makes your chickens happy?

These Hens are Free at Last!

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Hens at the Marin Humane Society enjoy shelter, sunshine and gossip around the water cooler.

Hens at the Marin Humane Society enjoy shelter, sunshine and gossip around the water cooler.

New residents of Roostersong Sanctuary are four hens adopted from the Marin Humane Society. These four girls originally came from a group of 3,000 birds that were rescued from a battery cage egg farm. Volunteers from Animal Place saved them from slaughter in spring of 2013 and they were brought to Rescue Ranch in Vacaville to recover. Along with Rescue Ranch several Humane Societies in California helped with the responsibility of finding homes for the hens. Some were even airlifted to sanctuaries on the east coast thanks to a kind-hearted and generous donor who paid for their airfare!

The hens Denise, Cynthia, Carole, and Addie (honoring four little girls who were killed on September 15th in a church bombing fifty years ago) came home to Roostersong Sanctuary in September. All four were lively and healthy thanks to the excellent care they received at Rescue Ranch and Marin Humane Society. It will take longer to heal the emotional scars caused by over-crowding and confinement. Any sudden movements will send them into a collective panic so I have learned to move in slow motion when I’m around them. One of them leaves me a beautiful white egg every day even though I have told them all that they are retired now and never have to lay another egg! The boys at Roostersong are quite smitten with the new residents (more about that later). It feels like a drop in the bucket to be able to give forever homes to only four out of 3,000 but at least for these lucky girls they will know how good life can really be.

Arriving at Roostersong Sanctuary, their new forever home, Denise, Cynthia,Carole and Addie venture out to explore and have a snack!

Having arrived at their new forever home at Roostersong Sanctuary, Denise, Cynthia, Carole and Addie venture out to explore.

The hens free range and make friends with the other residents of the sanctuary.

The hens free range and make friends with the other residents of the sanctuary.

For more information about adopting rescued hens go to:

http://animalplace.org

http://animalplace.org/helping-hens-rescue

See the documentary about the Four Little Girls the hens were named after:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118540/

-Singing Luna 11/28/2013

Seed for Thought: Have you ever taken an action which saved an animal’s life?