For all those chicken and hen lovers out there, we've got an eggciting Q&A with the founder of the British Hen Welfare Trust, Jane Howorth. We sat down with Jane to talk about all things chickens and the amazing work the charity does.
Tell us a little bit about the British Hen Welfare Trust and how did it come about?
I’ve loved all animals ever since I was a small child and in my teens, a Panorama documentary illustrating the conditions in which hens were kept with no access to the outside world sparked something in me. It wasn’t until I moved to the country a few years later that things really took off. I found a local chicken farm and persuaded the farmer to let me have some hens instead of them going to slaughter; I went initially for a dozen but ended up filling my mini Metro with 36!
Photo credit: Sean Malyon
How many hens have you helped rehome?
Not far off one million. At this point in time, we have found homes for 768,538 girls.
Since launching the charity what has been your proudest moment?
There have been so many over the years; when I first started I was inundated with support from people wanting to help; we now have almost 1000 amazing volunteers helping us carry out our work around the UK. We had huge media interest as rehoming hens were so unusual and in 2008 I appeared with Jamie Oliver on a documentary which resulted in thousands of calls in one week from people wanting to rehome hens!
The heart-warming calls and emails we have received from thousands of people whose lives have been changed by adopting hens and how hens are being regarded as loving pets in the family is the part that makes me feel the most warm and cosy inside. The impact of our campaigning work and how consumers have changed their shopping habits which in turn influences the welfare of hens; the growth in the free range egg sector over the last 15 years with more people now buying free range eggs over eggs from caged hens. They’ve all been good milestones for the welfare of laying hens.
More recently seeing our new hen welfare and education centre emerge from the ground in what was once an empty 2 acre field next to Hen Central (our office!). Raising funds to build our own dedicated centre has taken a couple of years but we are now close to the final stages. The centre will enable us to run hen keeping courses, to help poorly hens recover before finding their new homes, provide a dedicated vet room and offer educational talks to a range of groups.
Photo credit: Andrew FitzMaurice
How many hens do you have yourself and do they have names?
At the moment I have 12 hens and one cockerel called Gizmo at home. I always take those who are not quite fit enough to be rehomed so I can give them a bit more TLC as needed. I’ve currently got 3 little limpers who are all having the time of their lives in this glorious sunshine, I think some will remain a bit limpy but they really don’t seem to mind and are so chatty when I go to see them. I haven’t named them yet, I like to see their personalities shine through first.
Have any famous faces rehomed any of your chickens?
Many famous faces – too many to remember: Jamie Oliver, Pam Ayres, Jimmy Doherty, Chris Evans, Russell Brand, Caroline Quentin, Sarah Beeny and Kate Humble to name a few.
What makes a good hen home and do you have any top tips for anyone wanting to rehome hens?
My personal preference has always been a traditional wooden hen house of which there are plenty around. The main things are that you can easily clean your coop and that it’s safe and secure at night. Go for a house that’s robust so it will last.
Photo credit: Debbie Gill
We’re so please to be working alongside you to support your Hen Welfare, Education and Visitor Centre opening – what difference will the centre make for you?
It will mean so much to have our own centre. Currently, we rely on the generosity of our wonderful volunteers to rehome hens from their own properties on the day hens come out of farms, so there is nowhere to keep any for longer than a few hours. Our centre will not just enable us to have a permanent centre in the South West but will also mean we can have a state of the art vet room to run training courses for vets and help save lives.
What’s been your highlight since starting the BHWT back in 2005?
One of the many highlights have been a trip to the palace in January 2016 when Prince Charles acknowledged my commitment with an MBE. (I tucked a feather inside my bra as a gesture to all the hens out there who I was doing this for!)
Other than rehoming, how can people help hens around the country?
Everyone can help by choosing to buy free-range eggs as well as products that contain free-range eggs such as cakes, pasta, biscuits – anything that contains egg. If it doesn’t say it’s free-range on the ingredients list – it probably isn’t!
Here at Sophie Allport, we love chickens and have two chicken designs – do you have a favourite?
It would have to be the Chicken & Egg design, it’s an absolute classic and we are so delighted to have teamed up with you on our very own limited-edition version.
What’s your favourite Sophie Allport product?
I love your dog bowls. I have 4 dogs and a couple of them have a Sophie Allport dog bowl. (Any chance of seeing a hen feed bowl!)
Please visit the www.bhwt.org.uk for more information about rehoming hens. Have you rehomed chickens from the BHWT? If so let us know how your girls are getting on in the comments below.