|Ex-battery hens modeling their knitwear.|
Knitting for Battery Hens
If you're not familiar with what a "battery hen" is, I should warn you that there's a reason battery hens need sweaters: They have scanty feathers. A battery hen has been kept in what's called a "battery cage" (in the US, these are called factory cages, in the UK, battery cages) in commercial laying operations. Battery cages have a footprint about the size of a piece of 8 1/2x11 paper. There's no room for the hen to do anything besides lay eggs and eat or drink. (Thankfully, in January of this year, the European Union Council basically banned battery cages.)
That link led me to some YouTube videos showing ex-battery hens enjoying their new free-range life, wandering a bit pensively at first, scratching a little, and seeming a bit bewildered. But then videos showed the hens several months later, fully feathered and happily running around doing what hens do. Which made me happy. I know how much our hens love to be out, foraging around, looking for bugs and seeds and weeds. They are industrious, sociable, curious souls.
Knowing about some commercial practices led us to buy free range eggs, and eventually to have hens ourselves. But those were decisions I made before I got to know what chickens are like... before I had hens with names like Violet and Mabel roaming around in my backyard.
After smiling my way through a few "liberated battery hen" videos, I found this story about a chicken farm with about 12,000 hens happily ranging around Mulloon Creek Natural Farms in Canberra, Australia. Ranging with them are dogs that guard them from foxes, and they are rotated regularly to different foraging ground, along with their moveable coops. Their eggs are much better for you than the average commercial egg, with higher Omega-3s and Omega-6s.
I enjoyed watching the video (I clicked on the link to Mulloon Creek Natural Farms. There's a dog there you need to meet if you click on the Flash version...) I can't begin to imagine managing that many chickens. But seeing them roaming and scratching and socializing, behaving just as my hens behave, made me wish there were far more operations just like this one. The farm owner says that they have a far greater demand for eggs than they can keep up with.
With a last glance at the healthy, full-feathered hens ambling through the Australian countryside, I returned to the "knitting for hens" site to print out the knitting pattern for sweaters for ex-battery hens. I've got plenty of yarn that will work nicely to keep some slightly naked hens warm during their explorations and adventures as newly-released hens. It's the least I can do for all the eggs they've produced.