A North Devon-based charity which rehomes rescued chickens from the egg production industry is expanding as it reaches a significant milestone.
The British Hen Welfare Trust was set up in 2005 and has found homes for more than 750,000 hens. It is so successful it is building a new rehoming centre and hen hospital at its headquarters at Rose Ash near South Molton.
The hens the charity takes in are only around 18 months old but have reached the end of their commercial egg-laying life. Normally that would be the end for the birds but the trust intervenes so that they can have a happy retirement.
It matches rescued chickens with families that can give them a good home.
The founder of the charity, Jane Howorth, says she never gets tired of seeing the look on people's faces as they come to collect their hens.
The Hen Welfare Trust now has pop-up rehoming centres in more than 40 locations around the UK. It is also working on a new purpose-built rehoming centre with a fully-equipped veterinary clinic as well as space for educational talks and demonstrations. It's due to open in spring 2020.
Jane Howorth says, "When I started out it was all about people helping hens but actually we're reaching a point where we're talking about hens helping people and 'hens as therapy' is becoming a real concept.
"We have got hens going into more prisons around the UK and the therapeutic impact of that is phenomenal. We've also got the NHS very interested in working with us. We know, anecdotally, they have a very positive impact on children with, perhaps, mental health issues or autism, something like that. It's an area that I am extremely excited about and it's going to open up all sorts of opportunities so I can't wait".