When a ray of sunlight struck the soil a metre away, Loulou made a dash for the golden patch, flopping down and stretching a sore leg and a wing. It was only the third day the hen had felt the warmth of the sun on her naked skin.
"Moulting is a natural thing, but to increase egg production, the farmers force them to moult by depriving them food [with nutritional value] and water, and keeping the artificial lights on all the time," said Catherine Smith, founder of Hen Rescue NSW. "They get stuck at this stage, with all the energy going into laying eggs."
Loulou was one of a dozen hens plucked from a sea of 20,000 when Ms Smith and a friend sneaked into a caged-egg farm under the cover of night on Friday.
The "ladies" have been slowly healing in a spacious chicken run in the backyard of Ms Smith's Engadine home.
"She is suffering from a hernia, because of the constant strain to push out eggs. They all have respiratory infections. Their combs are pale and floppy from the parasites and lice, and from being packed in with each other," she said.
"Some have broken wings because of the tiny cages, all are debeaked, and some have curled claws because of the wire mesh floors."
Ms Smith, a community housing worker, began her rescue group in 2010 after she tried to save chickens from slaughter at a farm converting to free-range practices. Since then, she has rescued nearly a thousand battery hens and rehomed them, with 300 families across Sydney willing to nurse them back to health.
She said watching the chickens bask in the sunlight, scratch at the soil, dust bathe, and establish a pecking order – instinctive behaviours they never had a chance to practise before – was an "amazing" sight.
"They're confused at first. But soon one awkwardly stretches a wing, and the others notice, and begin stretching as well," she said. "They're so used to just laying eggs that in the first few days they just drop the eggs on the ground. But they later nest, and lay in private."
Four chickens were adopted on Monday. Ms Smith said that even rescued hens from so-called "free-range" farms were in terrible condition.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission began court action this year against Pirovic Family Farms, one of the state's largest egg producers, and Snowdale Holdings in Western Australia, which trades as Swan Valley and Eggs by Ellah, for misleading consumers in their use of the term "free-range".
Investigators said "free-range" eggs were laid by hens that could not move freely because of various factors, including stocking density.
Lauryn Harman, a nurse from Engadine, adopted her first former battery chickens 18 months ago, and they are now the best of playmates for her daughters, Maia, 4, and Layla, 2.
"It took them months and months for them to sprout feathers, but now they're normal hens, following the girls around the backyard," she said.
"They will eat anything," she said, as Maia tempted them with a piece of mandarin. Up one jumped, flapping her wings and grabbing it.
"They don't lay a lot of eggs, but we just want to give them a happier life," she said.
The egg committee of the NSW Farmer's Association was approached for comment on battery hens but did not respond to questions by deadline.