It was a Saturday morning in mid-October when Elsa and her sisters---Miranda, Lara, and Louise, were rescued from slaughter. For the past one and half years, Elsa laid eggs for a commercial egg laying farm. Willem and Liane Morsink have been doing rescues like this since they first formed their microsanctuary, Ex Legkipjes NL in 2011. The sanctuary is located north of the Netherlands, in a small farmhouse with a piece of land where they house rescued animals, with a focus on ex-battery hens.
When Willem and Liane Morsink first laid eyes on Elsa, they saw a very skinny, dehydrated, and starving little hen. She was also shivering for she had almost no feathers covering her frail little body to help keep her warm. The little hen was also very skittish and scared of people. They loaded 13 hens into a crate and moved them inside their car. The other hens were to be adopted out by other rescues.
Elsa and her sisters in the crate, on their way to safety
Even though it was a weekend, on the drive back, Willem and Liane stopped by their veterinary clinic, Dierenkliniek Makatsi. They had already spoken to their veterinarian, Dr. Shirley Hendriks about their rescue ahead of time, so she was ready and prepared for them to arrive---and on the weekend nonetheless!
From previous rescues, Willem and Liane quickly realized how most of the ex-battery hens that they rescued were always in poor health. This is because the modern day egg laying hen has been selectively bred to lay an excessive amount of eggs (over 300 eggs a year). Their bodies were only meant to lay no more than 20 eggs in a given year, similar to their ancestor the Red Jungle Fowl.
In anticipation of these reproductive issues, Willem and Liane are diligent about ensuring each hen receives an initial veterinary exam with Dr. Hendriks in order to assess their overall health status.
Upon arrival at the vet clinic, Willem and Liane opened the crate to determine which hen would be examined first. They immediately noticed that a puddle of blood had accumulated on the floor of the crate. It soon became apparent that one of the hens was bleeding from her vent---her vent had prolapsed. When this occurs in hens, it may often be described by chicken keepers as, “it looked like her insides were coming out.” This hen was Elsa---who was immediately rushed inside and onto Dr. Hendriks examination table.
Elsa being examined by Dr. Hendriks
Dr. Hendriks thoroughly cleaned and irrigated all of Elsa’s exposed tissues with sterile saline. After which, Dr. Hendriks proceeded to suture up Elsa’s vent to help prevent recurrence of the prolapse. To prevent further egg production (since that is a risk factor for hens developing vent prolapse, among several other potentially life-threatening reproductive conditions), she was given a 4.7mg deslorelin (Suprelorin®) implant.
Elsa getting cleaned up
Willem and Liane normally use the 9.4mg implants in their hens (the effects last longer and therefore help to reduce risk of reproductive issues occurring between implants), however since Elsa was already under a great deal of stress due to the prolapse, they decided the smaller dose implant would be less stress on her body.
Suprelorin 4.7mg implants
Elsa stayed at the vet clinic for the next two days so that Dr. Hendriks could keep a close eye on her. If she were to lay an egg before the effects of the hormone implant kicked in, it could easily cause her to prolapse again.
Two days later, once the effects of the hormone implant kicked in (Elsa stopped laying eggs), she was given the green light to leave the vet clinic. Like that she was off to see her new home with Willem and Liane.
Initial Quarantine and Supportive Care
Upon arrival back home, Elsa joined her sisters inside the kitchen. Each hen was set up in their own large rabbit cage, filled with hemp bedding, hay, fresh water dish and feed. At night, Elsa and Louise (one of the other recently rescued hens who wasn’t feeling well) were given a heat lamp. Since Louise was sick and Elsa barely had any feathers, they needed the supplemental warmth.
Elsa resting inside
Of all of the rescued hens, Elsa had the least feather coverage on her body—so she thoroughly enjoyed feeling the added warmth. Elsa loved it so much she would walk up to it as soon as it was turned on in the evening, spread her wings, and lay out—like she was sunbathing!
After two weeks of living inside 24/7, Elsa and her sisters were introduced to the outdoors. However, since it was a bit cold with it being October and the girls weren’t too use to much activity (for the past one and-half years they were stuck inside a tiny cage together), they were introduced gradually---as sessions. As the girls were still a bit spotty with their feather coverage---especially Elsa, the girls were kept inside a greenhouse that stayed relatively warm in the afternoon when the sun was out, which was perfect for them. Over the course of the next week, Elsa and her sisters were let outside for daily afternoon foraging sessions in the greenhouse.
During this time, the ladies were also introduced to Casper, a bachelor rooster who was assigned to watch over them. However, like with every new relationship, for it to last, it was important that Casper and the hens take things slow. Casper was kept outside in the run surrounding the greenhouse---so that they could all slowly get to know one another via sight and sound, but without any direct interaction.
Elsa foraging on greens (left photo) and Casper spying in on the girls (right photo)
On the first day, the hens were given an hour-long foraging session. Since this was the first time they had ever been given the opportunity to exercise, an hour was plenty long for Elsa and her sisters were exhausted afterwards! Each day, a few minutes were added to their foraging sessions.
With the cooler winter weather approaching, Elsa was given a little fleece sweater to wear for added warmth while she was outside in her afternoon foraging sessions. She ended up wearing the sweater at night too—which replaced the heat lamp.
Elsa in her adorable fleece sweater!
By the start of week four, the hens were relocated outside on a full time basis, with Casper in the same run with them. The transition went smoothly and there was no surprises or issues---in fact, it was the best integration Willem and Liane ever had between chickens. Like most roosters, Casper loves his job! I enjoys taking care of his ladies. He tells them where to go for the best tid bits, signs a song every morning, watches over them consistently, and is an excellent mediator during any conflicts between the ladies.
The whole flock foraging outside together (left photo) and Elsa exploring with her sisters (right photo)
A little over a year ago, Casper, and his brother Storm were found abandoned in the woods and starving due to lack of food. Their crops were found full of sand, their intestines filled with cocci and worms, and their faces covered in ticks. It was amazing that they were even alive considering all the predators that lived there. Willem and Liane took them in, and built them their own separate run, where the two lived together as peaceful bachelor couple. This past summer Storm sadly passed away, despite Dr. Hendriks’ best efforts to save him.
At night, Elsa and the other birds sleep inside their well-protected coop, which also has a nice layer of hay on the floor to help them stay warm. Although the coop had perches, it took the girls a few days to realize how to use them! Elsa was actually the first to figure out how to use them, for they had never had the opportunity to perch before!
Elsa perching (left photo) and Elsa showing off her adventurous nature (right photo)
Elsa is a very friendly little bird who has come to trust Willem and Liane since her arrival at the sanctuary. She enjoys spending time with her humans and even early on when she needed to swear a sweater, she would sit patiently in their lap while they dressed and undressed her with the sweater to keep her warm. Some of the other hens were not quite as easy to handle and tend to be more on the cautious side even still. As Liane describes her, “Elsa is very curious about her new world, she is very sweet and princess-like, but still adventurous.”
Liane with Elsa
Why They Rescue Ex-battery Hens
Liane: “We really enjoyed having them and caring for them, but we noticed the hens didn’t get very old: after one year the first two already passed away. This was all very sad and upsetting. First we thought this was due to breeding and a rough start of their lives and that there was simply nothing that could be done about it. But then we got to know more and more fellow chicken rescuers in, many of them in other countries where people had been rescuing ex-battery hens for a much longer time. We learned a lot about their health care and especially about the impact that reproductive health problems pose in these girls. Around that time we also met our current vet and we started using Suprelorin implants for egg related issues.”
“We also learned to recognize a lot of the health issues before they became serious and untreatable.”
“In 2014 not a lot of people in the Netherlands were using implants in hens and we learned a lot from our international friends. Nowadays our hens live healthier and longer lives. Many of them – because they are mainly rescues from the egg industry – now have implants. Almost all of the ex-layers developed egg issues at some point: either infected oviducts, soft shelled eggs, repeated lashes etc.”
About Ex Legkipjes
Ex Legkipjes NL is a vegan microsanctuary in the Netherlands who focuses on rescuing chickens, predominately ex battery hens. They also have two ex-stray cats and two rescued horses on their farm. They first started up their sanctuary in 2011, which was the year they first started rescuing ex-battery hens.
About Dierenkliniek Makatsi
Dierenkliniek Makatsi is a veterinary clinic located in Nieuw-Amsterdam, Netherlands. Dr. Shirley Hendriks, DVM MRCVS first opened the practice in 2002. The clinic treats a wide range of small animals, anything from dogs, cats and yes, of course chickens!