Thousands of hens saved from the slaughterhouse will enjoy a free-range Christmas in their newfound forever homes this year thanks to the work of one North Devon charity.

One of Andy Westcott's hens, collected hens from Rose Ash in Devon earlier this year. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.One of Andy Westcott's hens, collected hens from Rose Ash in Devon earlier this year. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.

It's no secret we Brits are a nation of animal lovers.

But it is not only cats and dogs that will be snuggling up with their owners, in households up and down the country this Christmas.

Families will also be treating their feathered friends, saved from slaughter and re-homed in their back gardens, to some festive indulgence too.

South Molton-based charity The British Hen Welfare Trust is celebrating having re-homed 59,000 hens during 2017, all of which have gone on to become much-loved family pets.

One of Matt Jackson's five adopted hens. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.One of Matt Jackson's five adopted hens. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.

These hens were destined for slaughter having reached their egg laying peak at 18 months old; however, the charity stepped in to save as many as possible.

And stories from just a handful of hen re-homers demonstrate how the ex-commercial birds can make perfect pets.

Andy Westcott collected hens from Rose Ash in Devon earlier this year. He said: "It's a pleasure to see our six ladies out and about, doing what chickens do."

Matt Jackson adopted five hens from Perth in September and said: "I treasure them each and every day and.

Donna Boden's rescued hens Kim and Carla. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.Donna Boden's rescued hens Kim and Carla. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.

"Being a 'stay at home' dad, I get to keep them company, give them their feeds and treats, and they know I'm here should they need me! Wouldn't have it any other way."

Donna Boden rescued hens Kim and Carla from Wrexham earlier this year.

She said: "Their confidence levels have gone through the roof since the day I met them when they were pretending to be invisible so that nothing bad would happen.

"Best thing I've ever done was to give deserving hens a retirement home!"

Emma Gilbert, with her rescue hens, from Baylham, in Suffolk. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.Emma Gilbert, with her rescue hens, from Baylham, in Suffolk. Picture by Hen Welfare Trust.

Emma Gilbert, who re-homed from Baylham in Suffolk, said: "Copper top, my most confident hen, reading some Harry Potter to me in the Autumn sunshine!

"All four hens were rescued and collected from Baylham in October 2016 and one year on are the loveliest and craziest hens I have ever owned.

"We feel privileged to share our garden with them."