creative 1975

Erin Maxwell

In Non-Fiction on January 27, 2015 at 10:05 am

Cat Rescue & Battery Hens


A thoughtful, considerate and compassionate animal lover who grew up in Christchurch with pets such as dogs, cats, birds and fishes, hopes that one day she can do more to help animals. But with limited space, funds and time, Erin does what she can from volunteering her time to Cat Rescue Christchurch— to saving battery farmed hens—to running her small business Creature Comfort. She lives with her supportive husband Andrew and 7 year old daughter Sophie and 5 year old son Lachie, who has just begun the journey of school life, which is challenging with the special needs that Lachie has.

Life is hectic in the Maxwell’s household with Erin helping in the animal welfare community, Sophie’s horse riding lessons, Lachie’s physiotherapy and not forgetting their 8 year old Huntaway cross named Ave. They adopted Ave and she’s a huge part of their family. Erin remembers her first pet—it was a goldfish she named Jellybean—she chose the pale and poorly looking fish from the tank to take home, but sadly it didn’t live very long. She persisted and each fish she chose from then on when her dad took her to the aquatic centre, also looked unwell—perhaps a sign that at the tender age of five years old she was going to mature in to a commendable advocate for the welfare of animals.

It was after the time of the February earthquake in 2011 that Erin became a volunteer at Cat Rescue Christchurch, assisting them (alongside many other volunteers) to humanely trap un-socialised stray cats or kittens that are being fed on the streets by people. When they are capture the cats and kittens they are fasted overnight and then taken to a vet the following day for de-sexing. Erin abets with the trapping of these displaced felines all over Canterbury. After their visit to the veterinarian she takes them back home to desensitise them and teaches them social behaviours, and they get very used to children with Sophie eagerly helping to feed them, sing to them and talking to them—perhaps a future animal carer in the making? Her little brother is okay with animals, but he has a tactile sensitivity to furry things and doesn’t find them as interesting as his older sister, “and that’s fine, he doesn’t have to”, says Erin.

1980-01-01 00.03.06

It was through a friend also working at Cat Rescue Christchurch that set off Erin’s interest in the welfare of battery hens. “The more you look in to it, the more depressing it gets, so I focus on what I can do”. As her knowledge expanded she realised the large scale of culling that was involved after approximately eighteen months of egg laying. Erin was horrified and wanted to do something—anything—within her means to help. She began by contacting a farmer and offered to take a few hens with the intention of rehabilitating them and finding them a new home as pets. She started with five. The next time it was ten. It became apparent after a while and because of limited space it would be better for the hens to have a short transition period between being collected from the farm and rehomed, reducing the amount of stress on the birds. She created a Facebook page: Battery Hen Rehoming Christchurch, and requests came flooding in to take on these ‘lucky’ chickens. People were excited to have the chance to do something positive for their welfare and provide them with the opportunity they deserve, to simply do what is natural to them: eat bugs, dust bathe, run, flap their wings and lay their eggs comfortably.

There was an occasion after the small rescues had begun when the passion for the birds exploded and blew up in to further determination to help when a Dunedin farm closed. To rescue every bird was unfortunately improbable, yet she managed to work with the organisation HUHA (Helping You Help Animals) as a team and save three hundred birds. New Zealand’s biggest ‘No-kill’ shelter (HUHA) hired a truck and drove from Wellington all the way down to Dunedin. Three hundred hens were rehomed from the vast, continuing-to-grow-list Erin keeps from people contacting her, either through her Facebook page or from word of mouth. “People share the Facebook page… people deciding whether they want to get chickens and if they can rescue some they are really keen, because these hens are still laying they are only 80 weeks old . The reason the farm culls them is because in their contracts they are not allowed them older than that because their egg shell gets a little bit brittle, so even though it’s fine to be collecting the eggs they can’t withstand the packaging and transport process as well. So it’s just a QC thing for them I think”.

While battery hen farming continues to be controversial and it persistently gains media interest and coverage, Erin hopes that one day more people will have backyard chickens to decrease the demand for battery farmed eggs and in turn reduce the magnitude of the industry. “It’s the welfare side of it, because you look at the Animal Welfare Laws and very basically it is that the animal has to be able to express their natural behaviours. They need food and shelter as well. I don’t understand why battery farms and free range farms are allowed to do this sort of thing when the chicken’s obviously, cannot express their normal behaviours. They can’t even stand upright, they can’t scratch… they can’t flap. And the fact that they have to trim their beaks to stop them attacking each other shows that they’re in a situation where they’re not happy. So I don’t see how the cruelty on a massive scale can be okay when you know if I kept my dog in a way that restricted behaviours the SPCA would be on me and she’d be removed”.

Erin brought some ‘free-range’ hens home yesterday and by the end of the day they will have all gone to new homes. They are in good condition in comparison to cage hens that have pale faces, combs and wattles as well as typical baldness. Nevertheless free-range chickens still live in cramped conditions with 10 hens per square metre. There’s a pecking order with hens and when it comes to getting food it’s the weaker less dominant hens that would suffer most in a free-range environment. As soon as Erin receives the go ahead phone call from the farm she gets her list out and starts contacting everyone to arrange a unified collection for the following day. She only collects the amount of hens from the farm she can rehome. “The odd person changes their mind and gets them elsewhere. We don’t guarantee eggs. Eggs are a great bonus but if you have five chickens I can’t say you will get five eggs every day and when they first get them they won’t lay for a week or two because of the stress of moving”.

1980-01-01 00.03.10-1 1980-01-01 00.02.31 1980-01-01 00.01.26-1

I asked Erin: What does she think her children have learned from the experience of living with a mum who rescues hens? “I think Sophie is learning the value of her food. She knows out of the five Bantam hens we have, we might get one egg a day, there not consistent layers, so for her that’s so treasured and she’ll guess the weight. She’s definitely learning the value of what you’re consuming and it’s actually good to value your food more, then the expensive stuff you tend to eat less… so if you’re buying true free-range eggs they’re a bit more expensive, you’re going to be thinking a bit more about how your consuming them”.


Written by Vicky Clements

Copyright © 2014 Vicky Clements

All photographs taken by Vicky Clements. Copyright © 2014 Creative 1975





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: