Ageing hens destined for the slaughter house have been rescued in their thousands from a farm near Bristol.
The flock of 2,673 chickens had been cooped up in cages for egg farming, but had come to “retirement” age and were no longer productive enough.
Volunteers from across the country gained the farmer’s permission to collect the birds last weekend, and they are now ready to find new homes.
Among those on the socially-distanced mission was Amanda O’Brien, who spoke to Grimsby Live about the large-scale rescue.
She said: “Seeing their little feet touch the grass for the first time, scratch around and have their first dust bath, brought tears to my eyes.”
No further details were given about which farm the chickens came from, or where in the Bristol area it was.
A Facebook post shared by The Burds, which was also involved, said volunteers “spirited away the livestock under cover of darkness”.
Fresh Start for Hens, a not-for-profit group helping to re-home hens, was given permission by the farmer to remove the flock.
The post explained: “The hens reached their mandatory “retirement” age.
“By retirement I actually mean they’re usually sent off to the dog food factory because they no longer lay enough eggs to satisfy commercial demand.
“These girls have existed in large cages, with approximately 60 hens in each one. Their basic welfare is satisfied.
“But they have none of the “extras” associated with free range standards – no access to outdoor space, fresh air, grass, they’ve never felt the sun or rain, none of the simple pleasures humans take for granted.”
The post praised the farmer, who was not identified, for allowing them to take the hens away for re-homing.
It added: “Without him, these girls would have no future.
“Now we get to save every single one. No hen left behind.”
According to the RSPCA, when chickens reach 72 weeks old, their egg production drops slightly and they are no longer deemed commercially viable.
They are usually sent to a slaughter house to be killed and sold for dog food, baby food or cheap, processed pies.
Fresh Start for Hens has collection points across England and Wales, where people with suitable outdoor space can register to take in hens in need of a new home.