SPRINTING upstairs to the shower room, I could not wait to wash away all the little creatures that seemed to have invaded my hair and sneaked under my jumper after mucking out the hen house. A thick layer of compacted straw and hen poo was not the “welcome to your new home” message I had wanted to extend to half a dozen hens we have rescued from a probable fate as chicken pies.

Our friend Dave runs a large commercial poultry unit. The hens, however, are not kept until they die of old age as our chuckies do. After these professional egg producers have finished their first lay and gone into moult, usually at about 15 months old, they are replaced by new point of lay hens.

Their best option is to find a new home with a soft touch farmer’s wife. This is the second year we have taken in refugee hens. Then the hens arrived virtually bald and rather stressed, and instead of a flock of like-minded, identical looking hens for company, found themselves in with an assorted, thuggish, bullying and aggressive group of birds.

It took me at least a week to persuade those hens to leave the hut. As fast as I tried to push them out into the field, they scuttled back up the ramp to seek the dark confines of the nest boxes in the shed. This, of course, incensed our regular hens who, when they felt the urge to lay an egg, found their usual places cram full of refugee birds.

But those timid, featherless birds of yesteryear are now established members of the ruling class. So when I introduced six stubbly hens into the midst of this elite group, I was concerned they would get a rough reception and that I would once again have to force them out of the hut and nesting boxes into the big wide world.

Not a bit of it. True for a day they crouched in the hut adjusting to their surroundings and learning to drink water from a bucket. But, one by one, with no encouragement from me in the shape of an ignominious fling outside into their field, these hens confidently made their way down the ramp to grass, freedom and the company of some rather inquisitive sheep. Who they mostly ignored save for an occasional peck at a too inquisitive nose on their featherless backs.

But best of all, three extra eggs lay on the straw this morning. Now all they have to do is find that nest boxes are for laying in and not for use as cosy beds, and these new ladies will be well and truly integrated.