18 Aug 2017

Free As a Bird

From Country Life, 9:25 pm on 18 August 2017
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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Mamaku chook-lover Kelly Phelps has rescued 15,000 battery hens in the past three-and-a-bit years.

Each week, she picks up between 100 and 200 birds from egg farms, brings them back to her small farmlet and rehabilitates them.

She trims their nails and beaks, treats them to prevent mites and worms, gives them electrolyte drops and teaches them how to be chickens.

She says the 14-to-16 month old hens are often scraggly and weak when they arrive and have lost a lot of feathers.
"When they first come out they kind of sit in one place and they don't move at all so that's where we come in... They have to be taught how to move from one area to the next, how to feed and water themslves and how to put themselves to bed."

Five egg producers allow Kelly's rescue charity Free as a Bird to take some of their birds.

Kelly gives one a donation but otherwise pays an average five dollars each for the chooks.

"So we buy their freedom."

She says she has a good relationship with some of the battery farm owners.

"They're the ones that are helping me get them (the birds) out... instead of sending them off to a processing plant."

However there is a misconception the birds are good for nothing, she says.

"These guys (the hens) have got many years left in them," she says, birds pecking and clucking around her feet.

"I've actually got battery hens out here that I saved three years ago they are still laying every day for me and they are still alive and kicking and doing everything that a normal chook does."

After a week or two with Kelly the birds are ready for new homes.

They become backyard hens in urban areas, residents on lifestyle blocks and many go to dairy farms where farmers like chooks to scratch up the paddocks behind the cows.

"As you can see, these girls love being around people. They make excellent pets. They follow you around like little dogs and you can teach them tricks and all sorts, but the reward at the end of the day is that they give you eggs... and they give you love."

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