Rescued hens are staying snug this winter thanks to woolly jumpers knitted for them by warm hearted Reaseheath students.

The 12 hens, which had come from an intensively managed indoor system, are among the latest additions to Reaseheath’s mini zoo and are being looked after by staff and students at the Nantwich college’s animal centre.

Because the hens had never been outside before, their feathers were not well grown enough to withstand the January chill. But now, wearing their new outfits, they are able to enjoy their first taste of freedom in a special enclosure which has also been designed and built by students.

The enclosure includes a shed with nest boxes built by members of the Free Voice Zoological Innovation Society, a student society in which members take on practical and general projects which will help animals in the collection. Undergraduates who are studying degrees in animal behaviour and welfare have also designed and built a paddock ‘gym’ for the hens which includes climbing frames and rope lines pegged with their favourite leaves.

As well as learning first hand about the handling a care of poultry, the students will study the hens’ behaviour and record how quickly they adapt from their previous intensive system to becoming free range. Already they are laying eggs, which go to feed other animals in Reaseheath’s collection.

The hens are just over a year old and have been adopted from the British Hen Welfare Trust, a national charity which rehomes commercial laying hens. Reaseheath already has other poultry species including mini bantams and rare breed brahmas.

Head Keeper Lauren Lane said: “I’m delighted how the students and their extended families rallied round to knit jumpers for these hens, and also with the high quality of the enrichment opportunities provided by our undergraduates. The hens responded very quickly by showing natural behaviour such as perching and scratching the ground, and will hopefully go on to enjoy long and happy lives with us.”

Emily Allcock, who is studying for a Foundation Degree in Zoo Management, said: “This has been a really great project to be involved in. My Mum thought I was joking when I asked her for help in knitting the hen’s jumpers, but then she really got involved too!”