Battery hen rescue centre faces closure
Northern Ireland's only battery hen rescue centre is facing closure because of a lack of money.
Its founder, who added 'Mama Hen' to her name by deed poll, said it would break her heart if her charity ran out of money.
"It would kill me if we had to shut," added Barbara Mladek, the organiser of the Nut House Hen Rescue and Re-Homing centre, which in the past four years has helped re-home 6,000 hens that would otherwise have been slaughtered after they outlived their usefulness as egg producers for commercial outlets.
Barbara, who won a prestigious International Fund for Animal Welfare award in 2013 for her work, relies on donations for the centre, which is based at her home on the Nut Hill Road near Moira.
The centre needs £2,000 a month to operate, but after being forced to dip into her savings to keep things going, Barbara has little of her own money left.
"The sums aren't adding up, and if we don't get money in, we can't afford to keep operating our centre," said Barbara who along with her staff has launched a worldwide appeal for money and support to pull the charity back from the brink.
While the campaign raised more than £1,300 in its first six days, more is needed.
"Really, that's only the tip of the iceberg," said Barbara, who added that she may have to sell her home to save the centre.
"I don't care about me," she said. "I will always get by somehow, but it would just devastate me if the rescue centre had to go. It's my life."
The crisis is taking its toll on the former bank worker, who estimates she has only had four hours' sleep in the past five or six days.
"Once I make sure the hens here are alright, I'm straight onto the computer, and I spend all my time getting in touch with people on social media around the world in an attempt to secure financial assistance," Barbara said.
The most pressing need in the short-term is to buy feed to sustain the hundred-plus hens cared for at the Nut House along with ducks, geese and more.
The board of directors who help Barbara run the rescue centre are holding a crisis meeting this week to discuss the future. One option under consideration is to appoint a fundraising committee from among their volunteers to examine ways of getting more from benefactors and commercial sponsors.
Former Goodies star Bill Oddie, a keen ornithologist and a supporter of the Nut House, has donated a signed photograph for auction.
Currently, hens in Northern Ireland are usually slaughtered at the age of 18 months - a time when producers believe they have passed the peak of their laying. In their prime, they can produce more than 300 eggs a year.
Barbara and her volunteers, who have built up a close working relationship with farmers and egg packers, rescue as many hens as possible.
Indeed, Nut House says people are usually happy to hand over the birds.
In the centre's first rescue in December 2011, Barbara and her team saved 361 hens and quickly found them new homes around Northern Ireland.
She said that hens made "wonderful" pets because they were affectionate, inquisitive and very friendly.
"I really can't bear the thought of not being able to save them from the awful lives they have to lead before we can get them." Barbara added.
To contact the Nut House Hen Rescue and Re-Homing centre, log on to www.nuthousehenrescue.co.uk
Barbara Mladek's love of animals started in Little Lea, the former east Belfast home of novelist CS Lewis where she spent the first 15 years of her life. Barbara regularly brought home stray animals but she didn't set up her rescue centre until many years later, in 2011. She has found owners for 6,000 hens but her house near Moira is also home to 12 dogs, nine cats, six rabbits, six potbelly pigs, three piglets and 25 pet rats.