“ Brand: Savic / Type: Food Dispenser „
We've got four ex battery hens which were rescued and now have a happy, cageless life in our back garden. Not only do our girls give us lots of joy watching them and their antics, but we get some lovely eggs from them when they feel we deserve it - they can be sulky if they're not made to feel special. A bit like the poultry equivalent of Carlos Tevez, and a sulky bird keeps her legs crossed, so to speak!
One of the many things we've done to enrich their new home with us and keep them entertained is to buy a Savic Chicken Feeder Ball. Savic is a Belgian company that makes all sorts of pet products from comfort nappies for dogs (seriously!) to hamster wheels. I didn't go to Belgium to buy this, as life's too short and my chickens were hungry. Instead, I worshipped at the altar of online shopping known as Amazon, where it is currently available for £2.50 plus £3.00 shipping costs.
What you get is a yellow plastic ball, about the size of a small orange and with two not quite completely detachable halves that are joined by an internal elasticed thread, a bit thicker than the thread on a normal ladies bobble (not that I wear bobbles, I've got two daughters and regularly perform finger gymnastics trying to get the flaming things into an acceptable pony tail!). These halves pull apart easily to allow grains, mixed corn and / or dried mealworms to be put inside. The elastic is plenty strong enough to keep the two halves firmly closed once the extra weight of some corn has been added. At the two "pole" ends of the ball are some small holes which allow the grain to fall out piecemeal when the ball is agitated by a hungry hen. Now it's ready to roll, just add chickens and a flat surface for them to peck the ball about on, stopping every now and again to eat the treats they've released.
Our hens soon worked out that pushing the ball with their beaks or kicking it with their feet makes the treats inside fall out, and a full ball lasts the four of them about half an hour as they can be distracted quite easily - greedily eyeing up a bed of seedlings to scratch into oblivion or strutting off to poo on some of my daughters' outside toys happens quite often before they remember the treat filled ball and go back to it for some chicken football fun.
On a positive point, the ball releases the grain / corn at a decent rate - not too much all at once but not too slowly which would tease my girls (the hens, not my daughters!) too much as they would get little return for their effort with the ball. On a negative note, the ball easily gets covered in mud and chicken poo which can impede how easily it rolls about, so I would suggest to you that it is best used on a clean surface and gets washed in soapy water fairly often. So far, none of my chickens have managed to open the ball and spill the contents everywhere - this might sound daft to those who don't have chickens and wouldn't be able to imagine how an animal with no teeth or hands could do this, but to those who know chickens and their magical abilities to escape from secure gardens or lay an egg in a seemingly unreachable place then you'll agree that this is quite an impressive feature of the ball.
The ball enriches the chickens' lives by adding a new twist to their existing natural foraging instincts. Chickens have an inbuilt urge to scratch the ground and root up insects to eat - something they're not able to do when kept in a cage. This scratching habit has ruined many a plant of mine in pots and raised beds, but with this ball it allows for extra food to be added to a garden which has already been pillaged by the poultry mafia for all its horde of slugs, worms and seeds as they can now scratch the ball around instead with their feet and beaks. This is especially helpful during winter (don't believe your calendar, we're still getting wintry weather as I write in the frozen wilds of Lancashire) when there isn't much about in the way of insects and seeds either blown in on the wind or from spent bedding plants which I've left in situ from the previous summer / autumn.
Anything that's good for "my girls" gets my vote, and they certainly seem to be having a good time when I fill the ball up and let them have it for a kick about as they scrabble over each other to get to the spilled bounty. The energetic chaos this encourages reminds me of the football scene in Bednobs and Broomsticks!
For those who are thinking about getting their own ex battery hens (techinically, battery hens no longer exist in the UK - but this is only due to a name change and the addition of bales of straw in the factories upon which the cages sit - the hens are still caged and have a joyless, unatural and miserable life) and are wanting to get a Savic Feeding Ball for their new birds - don't expect such scenes of avian joy as I have described above straight away as your newly freed birds will be in a bad way and probably won't even walk for the first few days, let alone chase a feeding ball around your garden. For many ex batts, your garden will be the first time in their lives that they've stood on grass and felt the wind ruffle their feathers - they need time and some gentle coaxing to connect with their instinct to "be" a chicken and not just an egg laying machine. However, once they have settled in and regained their energy (most ex batts will have very few feathers left on them when released - they pluck them out in the cages through sheer boredom and to regrow them takes a lot out of the birds) then I can highly recommend one of these feeding balls as your chickens will soon grasp what to do and will become noticeably more animated and excited when they spot it in your hand as you put it out every day for them to play with.
Remember what I said at the start - they need to feel like they're getting special attention from you if you want regular eggs from well loved, happy and healthy birds. I think the term "high maintenance" would be quite apt to describe my girls! To see my ex batts having fun and enjoying knocking the ball around so they can pounce on a spilled corn kernel or dried mealworm is, for me, payment enough for being the person who had a lump in my throat and misty eyes when I first picked them up from a lovely lady in Wigan when I saw that they had no feathers, were half the size they are now and didn't move or make a sound for the first fortnight at their new home with us. They're now free, playing football and loving it!
For those who already do keep hens, I think the ball speaks for itself and as all us keepers know, a happy girl gives better and more eggs. I add grit to their regular feed instead of running the risk of oyster shell blocking one of the holes on the ball. Also, it saves me the job of trying to make sure that my handfuls of corn from the bucket are evenly scattered - with the ball they do the scattering themselves.
We've had our ball for about 8 months now and it's not showing any signs of breaking. So, overall, I think the the price is well justified and I'd recommend it to anyone with a small flock - larger flocks would need more balls for a fairer game of "chicken football". 5 stars, I'd give more if I could. Thanks for reading.
(If anyone's interested in getting their own ex batts, message me and I'll give you some steers and pointers if you want. If you don't want to message, that's fine, there's plenty of returns on Google if you do a search!)