A little brown hen was looking at Lina Lind Christensen, who was standing in the doorway. It was a sunny day in the Danish countryside, but inside the industrial building, where the hen stood it was dark. Still Lina could see the long rows of cages behind. The air had a strong stench and it was thick with dust.
The hen must have fallen out of a cage and she was walking on the floor looking for food and water. Both were a bit confused to see each other. “I don’t know how long I stood there, maybe just like ten seconds, but it felt like such a long time. So many thoughts going through my head”, Lina tells. “I really connected with that hen immediately.”
It was summer 2011 and it was the first hen rescue that Lina made. She and her husband had just bought a house with a garden in Odense in Denmark. Around the same time she read on Facebook about a British organization that did hen rescues.
“I really liked the idea of rescuing some hens and giving them a new life in our backyard. I asked my husband if he would like to adopt some hens and he thought it was a great idea.”
Lina started to look for an organization that would give hens for adoption but it turned out there wasn’t any in Denmark. “But at that point I had come so hooked on the idea that I wanted to adopt some hens”, Lina says smiling. She started to call egg farmers and asked if she could come and get a few hens when the farmer kills the flock. The hens in the egg industry are killed at the age of 1,5 years and are replaced by new birds.
“I didn’t realize it was an odd request, but there were a few of the farmers who seemed to think I was making some kind of phone prank. They apparently didn’t understand why anyone would want the hens not for their eggs but for their own sake.”
Eventually one farmer who was about to get his entire flock of 45 000 hens killed the next week agreed to let Lina pick up some hens. Lina and her husband arrived next to huge industrial buildings but the farmer was not there. Lina called him and he said, that he would be back in ten minutes.
“We got out of the car and I walked around a little bit and went over to one of the buildings. I just instinctively tried to open the door.”
The door was open and behind it was the brown hen.
Dust Bathing and Other Wonders of Life
Lina and her husband drove back home with six hens. They placed the birds in a coop they had prepared for them in their backyard.
“In some way I had probably expected that they would just start walking around in the garden. But they were just standing there completely shocked. They stood there for hours. I began feeling that maybe taking them home was a mistake.” Lina had a passing thought that maybe the life in the cage had just destroyed them so much that they really couldn’t be saved.
“The next morning I realized that I was so wrong”, Lina says smiling.
“Obviously it was a shock for them, they had never been outside. All of a sudden they were in this completely new world, scratching the soil and dust bathing that are natural behaviors to hens. You could see it was kind of in their instincts to try to do these things. At the same time they were quite clumsy. It almost seemed they got confused when their bodies tried to do things, like ‘what is happening to me right now?’”
Lina was living in the other part of Denmark than her family so she made a Facebook page to share the transformation of the hens with the relatives. Also people who she didn’t knew started to follow the page.
“I realized I could use the page not only to spam my family with chicken photos but to do something good and inform people about the egg and the chicken meat industry.” It was also a way to show to people that hens are individuals too.
Lina started to get messages daily from people who wanted to adopt hens themselves. She and her husband decided to do a big rescue and rehome the hens. She started taking in requests.
“I had thought we could maybe find new homes for like 30 hens but in just a few hours we had reservations for 200 hens. We had to stop taking in more reservations because I didn’t know how many hens we could actually rescue. Of course these farmers have thousands of hens but we have to also consider how many hens we can take to the vet and how many we can keep at our own place before they are ready to go to their new families.”
Christmas Greetings from New Homes
There was silence on the other end of the phone. Lina had just told her bank advisor that she would need a loan of 2 000 euros to rescue hens.
“Maybe she thought I was joking for a moment and then she realized, that I am is serious”, Lina says laughing.
The first big rescue was much more expensive than they had imagined. “At that point we realized that if we want to continue to do this work we have to find a way to get in some money.” These days the costs of the organization doing the rescues, Frie Vinger, are covered mainly by adoption fees. Lina did rescue work 2,5 years independently and managed to build it bigger and bigger. Danish animal rights organization Anima heard about it and wanted to help with fundraising and vet bills. Lina and her husband still do the rescue work.
When the date is confirmed, Lina plans the rescue and how many hens they can save. Usually it is 100-200 hens at a time.
“I get so many applications that I don’t just accept anyone. We really do everything we can to make sure people who adopt these hens do it for, what I think, the right reason. I understand not everyone will spend as much money on the veterinary care as I do, but I want the people who adopt to love the hens and give them good lives.”
The connection to the people who adopt often lasts for years. Lina receives messages from hens’ new families – and even Christmas cards.
“Just the other day I got this video from a person who adopted hens from a rescue we had back in 2012. They adopted five hens and three hens are still alive. It is just so wonderful to see.”
Tilde is Cuddly, Klump Likes to Run
The rescued hens usually live to be 4 to 5 years old. They don’t live as old as hens could, mostly because they are breed to produce more eggs than their bodies can handle.
“Sometimes they have these diseases that the farmer hasn’t seen. They might be completely swollen in their stomachs because of all the egg material. Many of the hens eventually suffer from different diseases related to their egg production. ”
Common problems include broken wings because the hens are handled violently when taken out of the cages.
“That is why I really prefer if the farmers let me come in and take them out of the cages. But it is not all of them who want me there.”
Lina goes yearly to many different farmers to get the hens. With the grown publicity it has gotten more and more difficult to make the rescues.
“There have been quite a few who won’t let me take hens anymore. We never tell from which exact farmer the hens are from. I don’t want to give people the impression that if they see hens with a lot of damages that it is because there is one bad farmer. I want people to know that this is a general problem.”
The rescue work has taught also for Lina a lot about hens. “I didn’t think they were as stupid as many people think but I had no idea how complex they can be and how much personality can be packed into those little bodies.”
She was surprised how fast one can tell the personality differences between hens.
“I have a hen, Tilde, that is very cuddly. She just loves when I scratch her stomach. Then she kind of fluffs all her feathers up”, Lina tells. “Another hen called Klump always runs towards people coming to the garden. She jumps up and down, just like dogs do.”
It surprises many people visiting the hens living at Lina’s home. For most people the only relationship they have had with chickens is eating them or their eggs.
“Something very important and significant is to make people understand that the gap that they place between cats and dogs and other animals is really not that big”, Lina points out.
1,500 Rescued Individuals
The brown hen was there looking at Lina in the doorway. All the sudden, she ran back into the building.
“My immediate impulse was to go after her and take her home with me. So I went into the building and looked for her but it was so dark. There was all these very loud noises from all the other hens in there. I looked for her and I just couldn’t find her.” The little brown hen wasn’t one of the six rescued.
Lina and her husband drove home in complete silence because of what they had seen in the farm. “As in many countries in Denmark we have a tendency to tell ourselves that here the conditions of the animals are a little bit better. I think that I also had an idea that it was slightly better. But then I realized it was really not.”
“I also felt bad not been able to save that little brown hen. And all the others, but it just becomes more personal when you see those individual animals.” That is also the cornerstone of Lina’s work with Frie Vinger now: to make the people see the animals as individuals. “I saw what a strong impact it had on me and I have seen since what a strong impact it has on other people.”
Not many of us can say that we have saved the lives of 1,500 beings. ”I have rescued a large number of animals but compared to the number of animals that are suffering in the world right now it is a drop in the bucket. I do think rescues have value in themselves but also as a tool to advocate for the animals who are still in the industry. I think it can be really powerful.”
Lina has helped the hens to get a second chance in life but she gives them credit for the ability to open people’s eyes.
“Sometimes I feel that I am not really doing anything. I am just introducing people to the hens and the hens do all the work.”