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Why Do Ex-battery Hens Have Pale Combs and Faces?

When you adopt ex-battery (caged) hens they usually arrive in varying states depending on the type of farm they’ve been kept and how they’ve coped with the stress of the conditions.

Caged hens are kept in an extreme and artificial environment involving intensive and consistent laying which will ultimately take its toll on the hen’s body.

One of the key elements of producing a high egg yield is artificial lighting to trick the hen’s body clock into laying more often than they might if they were kept outdoors in varying seasons.

When ex-battery hens are re-homed, it is normal for them to have pale combs, wattles and faces due to a lack of natural sunlight during their time in a commercial environment along with poor health due to intensive laying and unnatural conditions.

The good news is that once a commercial hen is re-homed to their good forever homes, their lives and health can only improve for the better.

Read on to find out more about why ex-battery hens have pale combs and faces, along with how to get get some colour back into their combs and faces.

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Chicken Farming Conditions Which Result in Pale Combs

To understand the potential condition of a hen when it’s re-homed, I’m just going to go into a bit more detail on how hens are kept on a commercial farm which leads to hens looking pale and unhealthy.

In the past commercial (or caged) hens were referred to as ‘battery hens’ due to the type of small caged they were kept in.

Although laws have come into play in some countries to ensure more space per bird, the commercial egg-laying chicken still has very little space and many are unable to behave naturally.

As any domestic chicken keeper would tell you, the thing that makes chickens most happy is the space and freedom to scratch and graze for natural foods.

In most intensive non-free range farming situations, the only thing a chicken has to fill its day is eating from a feeder and laying.

These conditions lead to hens becoming frustrated and bored which ultimately leads to them pecking each other which causes injury and bald patches where their feathers have been pecked away.

When a commercial hen is re-homed it will be around 18 months old and in or due to go into to moult, so the combination of this and the pecking can mean most have bald patches and are looking pretty sorry for themselves.

As well as a lack of space commercial hens are purposely exposed to more light than they would experience in their natural lives.

This is done to trick the chicken’s inner body clock and ultimately leads to a higher egg yield per week.

It’s this combination of artificial light, lack of sunlight and added stress which all contribute to the pale appearance of the hens when they go for re-homing.

The image at the top of this page is of one of our commercial hens not long after she came to us, as you can see here face is much paler than a free-range hen and her feathers are in a sorry state.


Do Ex-battery Hens Combs Go Darker in Time?

The good news is with the help of chicken keepers who rescue and nurture ex-battery hens their appearance will improve over time.

Although they might not look as healthy as a free-range hen of the same age, you should definitely see a darkening of the comb, wattles (under their chin) and the skin on their faces.

It will take a few months of natural sunlight, exercise and nutritious food for the skin on the comb and face to see an improvement.

As an ex-battery hen keeper myself, there’s nothing more rewarding seeing than seeing these hens going from bedraggled and frightened to happy and healthy.


Ex-battery Hens With Floppy Combs

As well as pale comes another thing which you might notice if you re-home commercial hens is a floppy comb.

I’m not too sure why this happens, but I suspect it’s a lack of sunlight and nutrients and it’s a particular problem in the Leghorn breed who has a larger than average comb and is often kept commercially to lay white eggs.

We rescued a white leghorn who’s comb was so large and floppy she couldn’t see where she was going.

The flop in the comb does lift and improve over time once they’re re-homed and ours lifted to the point that the hen can now see properly again.

The image below shows her (the white hen) after a few months of being free range.

Image of ex-battery hens feeding

Improving the Health of an Ex-Battery Hen

When chickens are kept commercially, they will have been fed a layers feed, usually in a mash form so they can eat lots quickly.

The rescue charities recommend that you continue with a good quality layer feed when you re-home the hens (and while they’re still laying) because its a complete food with all the nutrients they need.

Other than their complete feed, the best way to naturally improve an ex-battery hens health is plenty of sunlight and free-range time to they can graze for natural food such as insects and seeds.

The combination of these things will bring back colour into the hen’s combs and faces as well as improving their overall health and will help them through their moult.

Healthy nutrient-rich treats such as tinned sardines and leafy greens or broccoli are another good way to give the hens a nutrient boost.

We also gave our hens a daily dose of Verm-X for moulting birds, you can find out more about Verm-x vis the link below:

Verm-X for chickens – how and when to use it


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Complete guide to keeping and caring for ex battery hens

Ex-battery hens not growing feathers – what to do

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