Pushing their cluck: hens rescued again!

PUBLISHED: 12:40 06 November 2008 | UPDATED: 09:58 10 June 2010

ANIMAL rescuers from the RSPCA launched a major operation when five chickens faced death by drowning in floods only 10 days after being saved from slaughter at a battery farm. The quintet of brown hens, which had spent a year or more in cramped wire cages

ANIMAL rescuers from the RSPCA launched a major operation when five chickens faced death by drowning in floods only 10 days after being saved from slaughter at a battery farm.The quintet of brown hens, which had spent a year or more in cramped wire cages, were just beginning to appreciate the joys of soft grass and fresh air at their idyllic new home in a West Country valley. Suddenly, they were back in danger, trapped in their coop 75 yards from dry land as the raging waters of the River Otter swirled around them.Luckily for Jasmine, Rosie, Elena, Pumpkin and Treacle, their recently refurbished luxury henhouse was built on three foot stilts. But the flood - the worst in the area for at least 40 years - was three foot deep in places, and there were fears that it would rise. One chicken had been seen looking out of a window, but no-one knew whether any water had already swamped the floor and drowned the others. With no time to waste, five RSPCA officers from Exeter, Taunton and Bristol dashed to the incident at Otterton Mill, a working watermill with shops, art gallery and restaurant in the village of Otterton, near Budleigh Salterton. As an RSPCA boat remained on standby, the rescuers - wearing waders, waterproofs, lifejackets and helmets - entered the water, holding on to each other for safety in the torrent, which had been swollen by a freak hailstorm at Ottery St Mary, seven miles upriver, on Thursday, October 30.On reaching the henhouse through the wreckage of the birds' outdoor enclosure, Inspector Steve Donahue found Jasmine and all her sisters alive and well - and still dry. One by one, they were loaded into boxes and carried to safety."It was a tremendous relief," said Otterton Mill owner Simon Spiller, who watched the rescue with his wife Caroline after cutting short a holiday in Cornwall. "Even though the mill itself has suffered extensive flood damage, we are so pleased the chickens survived."Since their ordeal, the birds - obtained through a nationwide rescue scheme organised by the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, based at Chulmleigh, Devon - have been recovering in temporary accommodation.The chickens were introduced to Otterton Mill, which attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year, as the first phase of a new outdoor display area showcasing conservation, art and organic production. Mr and Mrs Spiller began the project recently, working in partnership with East Budleigh landscape gardeners and developers Simon and Helen Whelan, sculptor Serena de la Hey, famed for creating the 'Willow Man' next to the M5 in Somerset, and officials from the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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