Fi McGravie and her fellow volunteers have rescued thousands of hens from cage, barn and free-range commercial chicken farms.
They told Scottish Field about how they save our feathered friends.
What kind of condition are the hens in when they are rescued?
It varies from farm to farm and rescue to rescue. We’ve had free-range hens that have come out in worse condition than battery hens. But they generally come out in good condition. We don’t agree with what they do, but we respect the farmers that want to work with us. We’re always looking for more farms to work with us.
How did you become involved in rescuing hens?
Not long after I got my first rescue hens, I met Jackie Balfour. I live in Currie near Edinburgh and, as it turned out, she lives just down the road in Balerno. We got talking and decided we would set up a rescue charity. That was in September 2012. I have about ten chickens in my garden and I’m nursing an 11th one in my house, which had a fractured hip after the most recent rescue. Jackie has upwards of 100 birds at her house.
How long can the chickens live after they’re re-homed?
When the hens reach 18 months old, they go through a natural moult and lose their feathers. All of their energy goes into re-growing their feathers, so there’s a drop in egg production. That drop means that it’s not viable for the farmer to keep them and so he sends them to slaughter. However, we’ve heard of them living to be seven or eight years old. I’ve got ten chickens in my garden and the oldest three are five years old and are still laying nearly every day.
Who gives the hens homes after you’ve rescued them?
It’s regular people – you’d be surprised. We re-home them as pets rather than laying hens. Nowadays people are more aware of where their food is coming from and hen keeping is becoming more popular. They’re very low maintenance pets. You don’t need a lot of space. We’ve re-homed more than 3,000 hens now.
Where do the hens come from and where do they get re-homed?
The hens come from commercial farms from all over Scotland. Where they go to depends on how far people are prepared to travel to pick them up. We’re always looking for new re-homing points. Last weekend, we were down in Dunbar and some people travelled up from Northumberland to collect the hens. We have a distribution point in Fife where people from up north collect their birds.
What happens on a re-homing day?
We take bookings in advance and then take the number of hens that have been booked along to a re-homing point, which has a stable, space for parking and running water. We take the hens to the re-homing point in a van along with all our equipment. We release the hens and let them settle down and then people come and collect them.
How do you fund your work?
We’re entirely self-funded and it costs quite a lot of money for diesel and for feeding the hens. Once we’ve paid for our outgoings, we’re quite unusual because we tend to pay the money forward, we help other people out.
Which other charities benefit from your donations?
Currently we are funding a project in Uganda. It’s an under-privileged area where people had chickens but, because they weren’t getting enough nutrients, they weren’t laying good quality eggs. So we fundraised and sent the money out with a representative, who went to the market and bought loads of laying hens and feed. They’re building sheds for the chicken. So all the kids at the school are now getting fresh eggs every day.
More information about Wing And A Prayer Rescue is available at https://www.wingandaprayerhenrescue.scot/
This feature was originally published in 2014.