Britons are inviting ex-battery chickens into their homes in unprecedented numbers, according to the British Hen Welfare Trust.
The charity has been inundated with reservations for chicken keeping as families search for new hobbies during the coronavirus lockdown.
It received 2,000 requests last week – nearly half its usual number for an entire month – and BHWT founder Jane Howorth said its waiting list has grown to a record 20,000 names.
“Although this is typically a busy time of year for us as the spring sunshine emerges and people become more interested in outdoor activities, without doubt COVID-19 has increased interest further still,” she said.
“A lot of people have been thinking about keeping hens for some time, others simply want to have a supply of fresh eggs at the bottom of the garden.”
Ms Howorth said there had been a particularly high interest among people new to hen keeping.
“Caring for them provides structure to the day; they love nothing more than to indulge in a little chicken chat with you, and gentle clucking is very therapeutic and calming,” she said.
“They are good for the soul, and ‘life-enriching’ is the most commonly used phrase by people who have adopted them from us…. especially in these difficult times when we all are beginning to realise that the simplest things in life can bring the greatest pleasures.”
A coronavirus-linked shortage of eggs in supermarkets could also be behind the rise in demand, Ms Howorth said, adding that she was aware of farmers keeping ‘spent’ hens for longer in an effort to keep up with the surge.
“With everyone at home, I suspect baking has risen up the list of activities,” she said.
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Live poultry breeders across the UK have reported selling out of chickens due to the trend.
But social distancing measures forced the BHWT to pause their re-homing, leaving it with a backlog of reservations to work through when restrictions ease.
Despite the overflowing requests, Ms Howorth said every person who adopts a hen will undergo animal welfare screening.