Richard Stockbridge from Kent has been on a steep learning curve since starting out with chickens
Deciding to keep chickens can take a while, but in Richard Stockbridge’s case it took 18 months! “I wanted to get it right and choose the appropriate set-up for our needs,” he said.
The journey started when Richard and his partner Chris moved into an idyllic setting on the Kent borders, with plenty of room for hens. “It just seemed like the right time. I’d read a number of articles about where our supermarket eggs come from and it got me thinking that I would like to be able to have fresh eggs, from happy hens, with a good life.”
After attending a course and thoroughly reading up on the subject, a coop, run, seven hybrid hens and a Wyandotte (“because she was so pretty!”) were bought.
The garden is large and many factors had to be taken into account, not least the problem of a number of foxes in the vicinity. “Initially I chose to move the house and run frequently on our lawn but, after having the hens for just one day, I noticed that they could strip the run bare of grass in just a few hours!”
A rapid re-think was needed and so the hens were moved into the lightly wooded area on the edge of the main garden. Richard started to bond with his hens, spending time with them in the run and feeding them by hand to get them used to him.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. His prized Wyandotte Hetty died after succumbing to sour crop. And there have been fights, too. Richard’s hens are clearly loved and spoilt and, when he noticed that they were starting to attack one another, he was very upset. “I went straight online and trawled the internet for clues as to why it had started to happen,” he said. “They had been so happy, and suddenly it all changed.”
Richard tried everything he could think of, but the problem persisted. Eventually he decided that he the answer was to give them more space. He decided to use electric fencing to minimise the risk of fox attacks.
With 200 sq m to explore, Betty, Vera, Shirley, Lady Anne, Phoebe, Cecile and Ginger were soon having a high old time, pecking and scratching – the ground, this time – not each other!
A hen ‘gym’ of perches, logs and posts were also added. They were soon joined by a cockerel called Digby. “He was going for the pot and I just couldn’t let that happen,” said Richard. “I had been told that a cockerel can help protect the girls, so I decided to give him a home. They were not amused to start with, but they soon got used to one another.”
For Richard, the past year and a half has been a steep learning curve, but one that he has been happy to negotiate. “I can’t imagine life without them,” he said. “I am sure I have many years of learning to come!”