Bald hens are staying snug this winter thanks to woolly jumpers knitted for them by Reaseheath’s warm hearted students

The 12 hens, which had come from an intensively managed indoor system, are among the latest additions to Reaseheath’s mini zoo. They are being looked after by staff and students at the 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, wearing their new outfits, they have been able to enjoy their first taste of freedom in an outdoor enclosure with climbing frames and rope lines pegged with leaves, all designed and built by students.

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

The hens are just over a year old and were adopted from the British Hen Welfare Trust, a national rehoming charity for commercial laying hens which are destined for slaughter.  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.”

The hens are regularly monitored by Reaseheath experts and the zoo’s onsite vet. The jumpers are worn by the minority of hens who have poor feathering and are removed at night when the hens are indoors. Already the majority of the hens have responded to the college’s high standards of housing and nutrition, have grown new feathers and do not require additional help to keep warm.

Francesca Taffs, Communications Officer for the British Hen Welfare Trust, said:
“We’re delighted to see how well the hens have settled in at Reaseheath.  It looks like they’re being thoroughly spoilt which is the kind of life we want for all our ex-battery hens.

“We also think they look rather fetching in their jumpers! While the jumpers are not something we would generally recommend for re-homer use, it’s clear these little ladies are being monitored and cared for closely. They’ve got a great free range life ahead of them!”