A Holiday and a Battery Hen Rescue and Rehome

Officially, I’m on ‘holiday’ at the moment, although as yet we have no plans to actually go anywhere and spend a couple of days relaxing. We’ve bandied about some notion of wandering off to the coast and maybe staying for the day, or overnight, but I have no idea whether this thought will come into fruition. So for now, I’m using my ‘holiday’ to get a lot of jobs done in and around The Smallest Smallholding.

First on the list is giving the place a thorough clean and turnout. My housekeeping abilities are somewhat relaxed, although I have improved in recent years and at least my efforts are now regular, and I think I’m finally starting to become a bit more domesticated. Next on the list is finishing the digging out of the Mediterranean eating area. We’re now pretty much halfway, and already Rich and I have sat down together and started sketching out ideas of how it’s going to pan out. I’d love to be able to make use of it this year, but whether finances allow for that, we’ll have to see. I’m a little behind on my savings for the next tax payment, and in between that and trying to pay off my debts (mostly built up during university) and actually Having A Life, there’s next to nothing left over.

Which brings me to number three on the list – getting my websites sorted so that they can start earning. By trade, I’m a copywriter and SEO-in-the-making, so I have the creative skills and half of the technical skill to do this. Whilst I can’t build websites from scratch, and Rich really can’t spare enough time outside of his own gargantuan workload, there are other options open to me that I need to sit down and take time to explore – Joomla and the like. So I’ll need to spend my evenings taking a look at actually getting my projects rolling for the future.

Fourth on the list, is writing my little bookie. I need to start carrying around a notepad because quite often ideas just come to me, things that make me think ‘yes! that would fit in SO WELL!’… and then low and behold, a few hours later, that wondrous flicker of an idea has diminished, and I’m left with virtually nothing but a very vague recollection that’s no use to me at all.

Oh, and then there’s the potting on. I need to do it imminently, as the seedlings that I’ve actually been taking care of this year are starting to look a little yellow and pathetic. So another job to add to the list.

So yes, very busy this week.

Cynthia, from BHWT Norfolk in 2006, a few months after rescue and a year after her rescue

Cynthia, from BHWT Norfolk in 2006, a few months after rescue and a year after her rescue

Last weekend I was pretty busy too. It was my first ever battery hen rescue and rehome, and I am chomping at the bit to go back and help with the next rescue. I worked with Little Hen Rescue, a not for profit organisation set up by Jo, run from her farm in Norfolk. She works tirelessly in her own free time with a handful of volunteers, including the lovely Mel (who took me under her wing and let me ride along in her converted post office van to the farm) and Jules, and rehomes the hens from specially converted fields, stables and a ‘hospital’ room on the farm. Jo never turns away a hen, no matter how ill or weak it is. Little Hen Rescue believes that every hen should be given a chance, and if they need treatment, they get it at Jo’s farm and are given whatever time with a better quality of life, however long that time may be. She’s seem some amazing recoveries, and all treatment comes out of Jo’s pocket, and any money she raises for Little Hen.

Mel the Cambridgeshire coordinator, takes on the ‘wonky’ hens who sometimes have to learn to walk with one good leg, a collapsed breastbones due to their time in the cages, and other ‘wonky hen’ conditions. All live happily together – I’ve seen them ambling about in the their specially converted run with everything where they need it to be, and I can tell you, they are so very contented – and all are given another go at life.

At the farm, I was one of the volunteers given the hens as they came out of the cages, and handed them to the girls putting them in their transport crates, ready for their new lives. They seemed to be very calm, especially when together in the crates with enough room to move about, but somehow soothed by the presence of other hens around them. I can’t tell you how long it took, because I just kept going, kept getting them out as efficiently and calmly as possible. I didn’t feel any emotion really – I’ve seen the videos of the inside of battery farms and knew what to expect, and I tend to crack on with things and then do all the emotional bit later. So that’s what I did. Out of the cage, into the transport carriers ready for their new life. Over and over and over.

There’s about 7000 hens in this farm, and the farmer and his wife are moving over to free range. It’s a fairly long process, and Jo and some other organisations are on hand to get each and every last one of the battery girls out. We got out around 700 this time, and will be going back again for the next phase. Although I did feel sad that the majority of the hens were still in the cages, at least I walked away knowing that I’d be back to help them get out again. I tried not to look in the faces of the hens that I passed – occasionally you’d be watched and as  you passed them, they’d retreat to the back of the cage, not so used to human presence. I was also lucky in that all girls removed from the cages were alive. Each girl is checked over, and if she’s thin, or wonky, or got a fat bottom (peritonitis), she’ll get one-to-one treatment.

I won’t lie, the inside of a battery hen house is bleak. I think that’s the right word. There is artificial lighting, but it creates a strange half light with no colour – just grey walls, grey cages, concrete floors, wire and steel, wooden stairs to the second floor of the four-tier cages. I didn’t go upstairs – we’re working our way through the cages and, I’ve been told, the ‘baldest’ hens will be upstairs, where the heat rises and causes them to drop their feathers more readily than the downstairs girls. The dust is incredible, although apparently this farm is of a good standard compared to some others.

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the experience, but I did get something very valuable from it. I got to drop off some hens to a few points in Cambridgeshire, to see them make their new life. And the efforts that some people go to is incredible. I saw 12 girls rehomed into a corner of a paddock, with a tiny stream running alongside it, two hawthorn shrubs and a tree for shade and shelter, and a huge henhouse made by the husband of the lady rehoming the hens, surrounded by 7ft wire fencing and topped and bottomed with electric wire for extra safety. They were going to be introduced to a cockerel, a very small breed and saved from the table, so a rescue of his own sort. The lady looked at us and asked, slightly worried, “is it OK for them?”. The thing was, I got to see what they came from and what their new life was, and I could safely say that they were going to be in chickeny heaven there. That, for me, was very very special.

And having met the farmer, it helps bring things into perspective. When it comes to battery farming, I don’t think there’s a ‘villain’. We’re all responsible, in a way. To move away from battery farmer, as this farmer is doing, is a very expensive move, and one that has to be supported by merchants (supermarkets) and consumers (us). We all have to make the stand, make the difference that drives more sustainable and kinder free range systems forwards. Of course, there will be farmers around the country that don’t really care, and will carry on regardless (in which case, we need to push forward-thinking legislation) but you might be surprised how many of them do care, and want to make the move away from intensive systems. That’s got to be supported and reinforced by the whole buying chain. All of us. We need to demand it. We need to support it.

Maureen, rescued 2006, RIP 2009, living free at The Smallest Smallholding

Maureen, rescued 2006, RIP 2009, living free at The Smallest Smallholding

I know a lot of you reading this will no doubt already buy free range or even better, organic free range eggs (although, did you know, supermarkets mark up battery eggs by a few pence, and organic free range eggs are marked up by around 63p!). But we’ve got to make everybody around us aware – no just the eggs they buy, but the cakes they buy, the pasta, the sweeties, the pastries, ANYTHING that contains eggs. Most battery eggs are ‘unseen’, and we’ve got to make people aware. So go on, tell people. Write to the supermarkets. Get them to bring their margins down on organic and free range eggs, so that the myth that they’re THAT much more expensive isn’t so true. Encourage people to buy British free range, to support our farmers to make the switch and move away from foreign imports. Buy local free range, if it’s available.

Keep fighting the fight to get these girls out of cages. Let’s take control of our farming systems. Let’s show everyone what we really want! Are you with me? 🙂

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Potting On and Growing Up

Another missed post from Thursday…

… There have been about ten instances over the past fortnight or so where I’ve really wanted to sit down and write on this blog post. But something has always managed to divert my attention (most likely something a bit bunny shaped), and I’ve missed my ‘window’.

So I’ve made a decision on this somewhat cloudy Thursday morning to sit down and just bash it all out. Because there’s quite a lot to tell – hurrah! So let’s break it down into manageable chunks – I’m trying to avoid one of my signature mammoth posts, but let’s face it, this is probably going to turn into another one. OK, here goes…


I was once a county athlete, and a combination of an accident in a PE lesson at school, and the lazy teenager disease soon put a stop to my athletic inclinations. But I’ve decided enough is enough – I will not finish my twenties as a slightly-too large strapping lass (can’t help the height or the broadness, but I can shape up) who eats a tonne of biscuits at work and then does nothing about it. I want to be fit and healthy and actually feel it.

So I’ve made a commitment to start running. My goal is to be able to run 5k non-stop, and I want to enter a 5k run for charity. I started my running plan this week – walking and jogging intervals for 20 minutes. Not too bad. I hope that within a couple of months I’ll have my fitness back, and I’ll be reaping the mental and physical rewards for it.

New Bunny

If you follow my Twitter account (see sidebar on the right for links), you’ll have seen that a week ago today, we had an RSPCA home check. This was a routine check to see whether we were set up to take on a new bunny that was being fostered by an RSPCA volunteer. We passed with ‘flying colours’ apparently, and our new bunbun named ‘Ozzy’ arrived on Saturday. I’d only seen pictures of him, and was surprised to find that he was much smaller than I’d anticipated. In fact, he’s pretty much the same size as Moppy, who is a dwarf lionhead. He was found wandering the streets of south Bedfordshire, with overgrown teeth, poor condition and very very thin. He was in foster care for a good 6 months, 3 of which he wasn’t up for adoption because he was in such a state.

But because his front teeth kept causing problems, the vets decided to take them out. It’s left him looking a bit slack jawed at the front, but as long as we cut up his veg, he manages absolutely fine with just his set of back teeth. He has problems grooming himself properly, so that’s something we need to keep on top of. He’s a scrap of a rabbit at the moment, so we’re helping to build him up with hay and a few excel pellets, and hopefully his coat will be back in order with some regular grooming, once he’s finished his moult.

Moppy, used to the giant, lazy sloth-like Snoopy, hasn’t seemed too impressed with or bothered by little Oz so far. He’s the happiest rabbit I’ve ever come across, though. He’d never really had a run on grass before and a double-tier hutch, so since we’ve had him, he’s been doing circuits of his run at high speed, and binkies aplenty. Especially when he sees Moppy. Good grief, he’s in heaven when he’s got her in sight. But, who wouldn’t be? She’s a catch. I’m hoping once we’ve gone through the bonding process (which looks as though it might take longer than we anticipated, given Ozzy’s tendency to become somewhat over-enthused by Moppy’s presence), Moppy will realise the potential of our incisor-less wonder.

Argh, stress. I hope it all works out.

So that’s that in the bunny department. We’ve got some visits to the vet on the cards, with cats and bunbuns alike. A couple of the cats need some dental treatment, so I can see a few months of spaced out expensive vet treatments ahead of me. Oh the joy of keeping animals. Rich often grumbles that we should have had one dog and left it at that. But he loves all our animals really. It’s just times like this when it all gets a bit stressful.

But, there we are.

Smallest Smallholding Vegetables and Things!

Yes, after all, that’s probably why you come here to read my ramblings.

And on the vegetable/fruit front, thinks are much less stressful!

In the conservatory, I currently have a few trays of various squashes, chillis, peppers, primo cabbage, and echinops flowers that seem to be going well. So far they’ve managed to elude the greenfly attacks that sucked the life out of them last year. And, one small factor that might just be helping is my ability to remember to actually water them regularly. Yup. Think that’s definitely helping. I have a lot of potting on to do this weekend, something that I’ve been putting off for a week or so, just because I really don’t like doing it. It’s boring and tedious, but it has to be done. I think someone should invent plant plots that grow with the plant, from seedling to full-blown fruiting wonders. That would be handy.

In my unheated, half roof-less greenhouse, I have some cosmos flowers growing strongly. They started off a bit leggy in the conservatory, but I’ve found that if you pot them on into large pots and leave them to grow steadily outside under glass, they straighten themselves up and grow up to become really sturdy plants. Although, goodness knows where I’m going to put them because I went a bit mad with my ‘free’ Honesty, foxglove and opium poppy seeds last autumn – my borders on one side at least are jam packed. Which is good, really. It means less weeding, for one thing.

In the greenhouse the runner beans are finally making an appearance, and outside, despite being frosted a couple of weeks ago, my potatoes are making a comeback. They’ll probably be ready for digging up much later than I anticipated, but I’m not bothered. I can wait. It will be worth it.

In the past week or so everything seems to have come on in leaps and bounds, and I’m thinking I could probably start planting them out over the weekend. I just love coming outside and seeing my veg plots bustling with plants at various stages of growth. It definitely feels like an achievement, and something I can keep building on. I don’t think I’ll ever become tired of growing things. It’s one of the things that actually makes me feel a bit capable.

I don’t really care about neatness, or producing prize-winning flowers and vegetables (although I may have a go at entering a few novice categories in my local veg show this year, just for fun!). What I really care about is being able to produce my own, enjoy the taste of growing my own, and pulling in some extra wildlife whilst I’m at it. At this time of year I start to buzz a bit – something gets under my skin and I’m just so glad that I set myself onto my self-sufficientish journey a few years ago. There’s a kind of peace and satisfaction that I don’t really find anywhere else.