Chickens have come home to roost at Co Antrim animal sanctuary
It's become very fashionable to adopt a rescued battery hen as a pet - but one Northern Ireland animal sanctuary is hoping people will be able to open their hearts to broiler chickens as well.
Crosskennan Lane has taken in more than 20 broiler chickens that had been destined for the meat trade and would have been slaughtered after just 50 days of life.
When the rescue birds arrived at the centre, they were overweight and filthy as a result of the grim lives they had led in the intensive broiler chicken system. Some were even disabled.
"They go into the houses at a day old and live there for 49 days. After 50 days, their lives are over," director Lyn Friel said.
But now, thanks to their new free-range lifestyle, they have undergone a dramatic transformation, she said.
"You can see them turning into beautiful white birds - they're contented and happy," she said.
"The first lot came in about four months ago. They were very heavy birds. You'd have thought they were weighted to the ground.
"The first lot had 13 and we lost two right away. The ones that were left were ones that weren't fit to go to meat. They were ones that would just have been put down. Out of the 11 there are eight that are very healthy now."
That group was followed by another batch of 11, of which nine have become healthy birds which spend their time pottering about in the garden with their new friend Twinkle the cat.
Broiler chickens often suffer heart conditions as they are bred and raised for meat production and are typically fed a corn-rich diet. Some of the chickens that arrived at Crosskennan were grossly overweight and had difficulty walking.
"Whenever they are in the houses, there could be 14,000 birds in a house," Lyn said. "A lot of them get dislocated legs, broken legs, and backs damaged, which is why we have some disabled birds."
However, she says that many of the birds aren't disabled and are perfectly healthy, potentially making good pets for someone.
"It's become a big thing for people to take on battery hens, but I don't know of anyone that takes on broilers," Lyn said. "We are hoping people might show an interest in this and will maybe take them on as pets. We want to make them as popular as battery hens.
"One of the things I had read was that they had no personality. That's not correct at all. These ones are inquisitive and they learn quickly. Within a week, they had learned to jump off the side of the horse box [where they sleep] and follow you out to the garden."
The charity is raising money to build a purpose-built hen house.
"We are looking to raise money for a hen house, but we are also looking for homes for some of them," Lyn said.
Anyone who wants to donate or to adopt a broiler chicken can contact Crosskennan Lane sanctuary at firstname.lastname@example.org