A French charity is highlighting the plight of the laying hen in the country.
Linked to the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT), the newly-formed welfare charity Champs Libres aux Poules (CLaP) hopes to influence French farmers working in the commercial egg laying sector and to find pet homes for commercial laying hens that would otherwise have gone to slaughter in France.
Jane Howorth, MBE, started the British Hen Welfare Trust in 2005 after seeing a Panorama documentary on factory farming.
Now she has helped set up Champs Libres aux Poules in Gers, France, to roll out a similar hen welfare programme in the country that is currently the EU’s largest egg producer.
France still allows old-style battery farms to operate in flocks of less than 350 birds.
However, with French public opinion on animal welfare turning, many large multi-national supermarket chains, including Aldi and Lidl, have stated they will stop selling eggs from caged birds and France’s three largest catering companies, Sodexo, Compass and Elior, have pledged to stop using them by 2025.
Heidi Carneau, the president of Champs Libres aux Poules, first learned of Ms Howorth’s work in 2015 when she moved to the British countryside and adopted hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust.
She went on to adopt many more hens from the BHWT, becoming an ardent supporter and fundraiser for the charity.
Ms Carneau says: “I have been crazy about animals since birth. Once I adopted hens I quickly became attached to them and that was enough motivation to start my own charity after moving to France in 2019.”
She continues: “After we moved to France, I located a caged farm just two miles away; when I was given the opportunity to take some hens, I reached out to Jane for advice.
“Jane and I then explored the idea of working together and the charity was born.”
Serious talks and plans began in early 2020 as to how to approach rehoming hens in a country that loves its gourmet food and has a different view on farm animal welfare.
By early autumn the fledgling French affiliate charity was hatched.
Champs Libres aux Poules has begun working with local farmers in the Gers region and has already begun rehoming hens for the public to adopt as pets with over 5,000 enjoying a second chance in life.
Ms Carneau says: “I think the French public is ready to accept hens as pets and the welfare movement is slowly closing the gap with other European countries.”
Currently CLaP’s adoption programme covers 10 per cent of France and in the coming months the charity would like to expand to other regions and create regional hubs assisted by volunteers and volunteer coordinators, replicating the BHWT model.