British Hen Welfare Trust founder Jane Howorth and volunteer Jackie Pateman-Jones were carrying 230 battery hens down the M5 last month to be rehomed as pets in the Devon area, when a rear tyre blew on their van.
The pair pulled into a slip road when two Highways England traffic officers, Nick Wiltshire and Steve Mason, spotted them and offered to help.
As the tyre was still smoking, they quickly helped unload 16 crates full of hens – plus more in cat baskets – moments before the tyre caught fire and spread throughout the van.
IN OTHER NEWS: Teen kills deer on driving test - but still passes
The Highways England crew called the emergency services and then closed the slip road.
Nick said: “We are there to ensure the safety of road users on our network and on that day we were just doing our job really.
“It was quite lucky that we happened to be there at the time as the situation escalated quickly – and the van was completely burned out.
“As for the hens, they had already been saved from slaughter so I guess you could say they were saved twice in a day. Some of them had been laying in the crates, and I think that must have been the first free-range eggs those chickens had laid.”
To save them from slaughter, a total of 2,000 hens had been offered to the British Hen Welfare Trust from a farm in the Bristol area, and the charity’s regional teams had collected them that day.
RELATED CONTENT: Clamp down on taxi drivers refusing to carry guide dogs
Jane Howorth said: “We can’t thank the two Highways England traffic officers enough – they can be very proud of their work.
“All the hens have now been adopted and have settled into their new homes, so it was a happy ending all round – apart from the van. But hopefully we will end up with something bigger and better to transport our feathered friends.”
Supported by celebrity patrons such as Jamie Oliver and Amanda Holden, the Trust has rehomed more than 500,000 battery hens since forming in 2005, and now has more than 30 pop-up sites across the UK.
The hens are not the only animals to be part of recent roadside drama. Earlier this year three lambs were caught up in a bizarre high-speed car chase after the animals were stolen.