SEPTEMBER 1, 2008: There has been a huge rise in the number of urban families who keep chickens, according to suppliers.

Sales have rocketed since Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaigning TV series highlighted chicken welfare last year. According to a report in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, an estimated 1,000 chickensheds are sold nationwide each week – around 30 per cent up on last year – as townand city dwellers with a taste for free-range eggs spend up to £900 onhand-made ‘designer’ coops for their newly acquired birds.Forsham Cottage Arks, oneleading company which advertises in Country Smallholding, sells 20 chicken houses a dayand has taken on extra staff. Now the firm in Ashford, Kent, plans torun a series of £85 one-day chicken-keeping courses for bankers,solicitors and teachers.Tracey Pellett, sales manager at Forsham Cottage Arks, a leading manufacturer of chicken houses for 30 years, told CS there has been a marked increase in turnover since the beginning of this year.”There has definitely been an increase in interest. People are almost falling over themselves to keep chickens, especially the laying hens, and the industry generally is having problems keeping up. “I think nowadays people want to know where their food is coming from. Until Hugh and Jamie took up the gauntlet and asked if people knew where their eggs were coming from, I don’t think many people did.”Not many people have room for a house cow or a milking goat, but a few chickens at the bottom of the garden is a nice easy way to make you feel like you are doing your bit.”The surge in interest has also been evident at the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, a charity which buys battery hens and finds new homes for them. To date the charity, based in Devon, has found new homes for almost 100,000 former battery birds.Another specialist supplier, Steve Fisher, at Steve Fisher Woodworking, said the really noticeable increase has been in the number of ‘townies’ who now want to keep chickens. He said they often expect to buy a chicken house immediately off the shelf, but they do have to wait if they want a high quality hand-built traditional chicken house. He said there is a also new trend with garden centres selling chicken houses, and he now supplies two garden centres with his products. Steve, who has lifelong experience of chickens, said increasing numbers of these newcomers also call in with questions. “I don’t mind that – we put it on our advertising that we will offer advice.”Simon McEwan, editor of Country Smallholding, said: “We have noticed a big increase in interest. We are currently running competitions for chicken starter kits, and there has been a tremendous response. In our next issue we have a special seven-page guide Chickens for Beginners – we expect it to be a big-seller.”* Domesticchickens have become so popular in Axminster, the Devon town where HughFearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage local produce store is based,that some residents have complained of being disturbed by the number of cocks crowing.

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