Race to find homes for 9,000 hens ... to save them from slaughter

Some of the Macmillan family's hens SUS-160802-154829001
Some of the Macmillan family's hens SUS-160802-154829001

Homes are desperately being sought for 9,000 hens in Mid Sussex - or they will go for slaughter.

Mac’s Organic Egg Farm in Ditchling is working with animal rights’ organisations to save the chickens and re-house them.

Farm owner Susie Macmillan - who was featured with her family on the TV programme Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast last month - said: “This is a mammoth undertaking and takes months of organising.

“We’ve only managed it twice in seven years, so this time we’re appealing to the public to help us.

“Around half a million people are believed to keep chickens in their back gardens and re-homing a healthy, vaccinated, ex-commercial bird is a cost-effective way of starting or adding to a small flock.”

In the last seven years, Susie and her husband Danny have re-homed more than 55,000 chickens, helped by various organisations and rescue centres including Brighton Animal Action, Fresh Start for Hens, The Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, Compassion In World Farming and the RSPCA.

Susie, 43, said: “We work with vegans, vegetarians and animal rights organisations, and we couldn’t undertake re-homing on such a mammoth scale without them.

“Many are people who should dislike us because we’re farmers but in fact we spend an interesting and harmonious week working together.

“I learn just as much from them as they do from me.”

Sue Baumgardt, from Brighton Animal Action, said: “We want to help Susie re-home all the hens - it’s our mission to stop even a single one going to slaughter.

“What she does is admirable - she could have the slaughter lorry take away all the hens in just one morning, yet we spend a week working together to find them a happy home.”

The Macs, as they’re known, ask 50p a bird, the same price they’d get if the chicken went for slaughter, although it costs re-homing organisations between £1.50 and £2.50 per bird because of crating and transport costs.

“These are laying hens which should give you a little ‘present’ most days,” said Susie.

“They’re not for eating – the meat is too tough.”

The Macmillans appeared on the TV programme Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast in January, highlighting the waste of pullets’ eggs.

Legally, hens cannot be kept for longer than 78 weeks because the quality of the eggs fall and the shells become thinner.

On most farms, processor lorries take the birds for slaughter but the Macs are committed to re-homing as many as possible.

Anyone who thinks they can re-home a hen will need a fox-proof run and a secure hen house.

If you live in Sussex, contact Sue Baumgardt at Brighton Animal Action on shoreham.protester@ntlworld.com; outside Sussex contact Fresh Start for Hens on www.fsfh.org.uk.

The Mac’s eggs are both organic and Freedom Food accredited and are sold in Sainsbury’s, under their own label at Tesco in the south east, and in local shops.

Producing eggs is a family tradition for Susie, whose 102-year-old grandma Alex Eldridge kept hens and supplied local shops in the 1920s.

Susie’s parents, Peter and Liz Barton, ran one of the first free range egg farms more than 28 years ago, converting to organic in 1997.

Susie and Danny, alongside Susie’s brothers Richard and Andrew, all live on and run their own organic egg farms in Sussex.

Susie, Danny and The Mac’s Farm are involved in the Watoto project, a charity initiative in Uganda that supports orphaned children and vulnerable women.

They have helped set up a large barn egg farm there, providing both food and income, and make regular visits to Uganda to help the residents with its upkeep.