EASTER approaches. Eggs are everywhere. I don’t like eggs, unless they’re made of chocolate. This lack of interest is causing a furrowed brow.
Not because Easter is on the way, but because a neighbour’s hen has started visiting my garden. It scratches, clucks, struts about like it owns the place and seems to want to be my friend. This may have something to do with the bag of bird seed I dropped on the gravel. Birds from miles around now regard me as a best buddy.
Plants are the nearest thing I’ve ever had to a pet but this chicken is wearing me down with its entertaining antics. Has the time come to progress beyond grow-your-own into hen-keeping? If I do, I won’t be alone. Last year the British Hen Welfare Trust reported that an estimated 700,000 Britons now keep hens, an 80 per cent increase over three years. Chicken coop sales are also up and you can even buy them at the supermarket. Of course, if I was buying a coop it’d have to be one of those fancy Eglu ones (£425, www.omlet.co.uk), which a hen-keeping chum describes as “a design classic, like an iMac”. Not sure what the people at Apple would say to that, but it’s also meant to be easy to clean, nice and secure and a good option if you have limited outdoor space.
Why get a couple of hens? Some do it for the organic, free-range eggs, some do it for the roast chicken dinner, while others (me) do it because a chicken has put a spell on them. This could be the slippery slope. The thing I want more than a hen is a goat, and that truly would be the ruination of the garden.
First things first. Hens, like other livestock, are a responsibility. Luckily there is lots of advice out there, helping you choose the right breed and keep them safe and healthy. The Hen Keepers Association (www.henkeepers association.co.uk) and Poultry Club (www.poultryclub.org) are good starting points.
You’ll need enough outside space for your coop and run, and it’ll need a perch and nesting box. A weekly clean-out and fresh bedding are essential, while serious wire mesh is required to keep Mr Fox out. Your chickens require a well-balanced diet, a touch of grit to aid digestion and a constant supply of clean drinking water. Already I’m worrying about who will look after them when I go on holiday. ‘Hybrid’ chickens are said to lay more eggs than pure breeds, and one good-hearted option is to buy yours from the British Hen Welfare Trust (www.bhwt.org.uk) which re-houses hens that have served their time in battery farms.
I found a gallery of breeds on the Poultry Club website and have to say there are some eye-catching birds. The booted bantam looks like it’s wearing white bellbottoms while the Scots dumpy looks exactly how it sounds. A little more research reveals the araucana will furnish you with green, blue and other exotic-coloured eggs (minimal decorating required at Easter), but I am tending towards the buff orpington, a rare breed highly rated for being docile rather than for its egg-laying prowess.
Then again, reading about occasional fighting to establish the pecking order, nasty parasites and tales of fox-related tragedies are enough to give pause for thought. For the time being, I’ll continue to get to know the local free-ranging hen. But by this time next year, don’t be surprised if I’ve got a whole brood.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west