The Earth-Worms hens
The hens we use at Earth-Worms are 'ex-caged' hens that we rehomed through the BHWT (the British Hen Welfare Trust) they are approximately 12-18 months old when they arrive at Oak House Farm, the age at when they are considered by commercial poultry farmers to be past their most productive egg laying age, at this point they are usually then sold on to factories to be made into pies or used for animal feed.
The hens are pretty 'feather bare' when they arrive (some new owners
lovingly knit them little stripy jumpers in cold weather!) and their
combs are large, floppy and pale, they have been used to a life indoors.
It is a wonderful moment to open up a box containing these hens outside
and watch them tentatively peeping out at the world, when they
eventually pluck up courage to venture out they stand in a huddle
gazing around them wondering what the big blue thing and the round
yellow thing above them is.
Within a few weeks new feather growth is visible, like tiny
paintbrushes, their combs also begin to stand up and are changing to
bright red, amazingly their natural instincts also begin to emerge.
It's a joy to see them racing around chasing insects, throwing up
clouds of soil with threir wings as they learn to dust bath and
scratching in the earth with their feet looking for tasty morsels.
So, when the hens are not in situ at a school or nursery they are free
ranging around Oak House Farm, following anyone with an orange bucket
in the hope there is something for them and trying to sneak into the
Ex-caged hens are bred to not go 'broody' i.e sit on a nest of eggs
until they hatch, so Alison and Fran both have small electronic
incubators in their kitchens into which they pop three eggs at a time.
The incubator keeps the eggs warm, moist and turns them regularly just
as a mother hen would, after 19/20 days you can hear chicks cheeping
inside the eggs to let their mother know they are on their way and
'pipping' which is tapping with its egg tooth in order to make a hole
and break out. We marvel each time at how, after just 21 days, perfect
fluffy chicks emerge, we are pleased to bring in chicks of varying ages
during our visits to begin to illustrate to children the life cycle of
the chicken and the topics of change and growth.
We also have several very handsome cockerels living at Oak House Farm,
keeping the girls in order (and waking up the neighbours) and are
pleased to bring one into the setting enabling the children to see up
close the differences between hens and cockerels.The drawing activity
we offer really encourages the children to see the range of colours in
the cockerel's feathers and study closely how different the feather
shape is between hens and cockerels.