This month, Jeremy Hobson talks to the renowned wildlife and military artist Mandy Shepherd about her recently acquired love of chickens!

Unlike many who feature in Poultry People, I know you are very new to chicken-keeping; what made you first think you’d like chickens in the back garden?

My lovely husband thought they would be a great birthday present. We have always wanted chickens… and we now have three Black Rock hybrids

How well does chicken-keeping in the back garden work for you – and how do you fit the daily routine into your busy lifestyle as an artist?

Challenging – since everyone tells me I spoil them beyond reason. I don’t like cages of any kind and, since they are not able to run free in the garden, I am very aware of their nutritional needs and after six months I feel ‘we’ have a great routine… but I do have to run down the road twice a day to fetch greens! My greatest problem is that they chat a lot and it is very difficult to concentrate when my studio is a bit too close to the run! That’s when it’s time consuming but they do make me smile.

Equally famous as both a wildlife and military artist, your work has, however, included more than the occasional chicken; what is it about them that encourages you to include them in your paintings?

I’m embarking on an exciting new project creating a wallpaper and chickens feature! I have done many paintings of bantams and chickens because they have such character and I love painting our feathered friends.

As I understand it, you mainly use watercolour and/or fine pen work as your medium – does this help or hinder when you are commissioned/decide to include details of poultry in your pictures?

I actually use water-based medium and mostly oils that mix with water. Detail is my forte so the effects that you can create with oil make painting the greatest pleasure. Equally I love drawing and pencil work and I enjoy that just as much.

Space (in the garden) and time (in the studio) permitting, are you tempted into keeping more birds/hatching your own chicks under a broody?

Our three chickens have room to enjoy a spacious run and although we have been advised we could have up to 10, I think it would be unfair. I love watching them happy and busy excavating their way through the day. We have been getting three eggs a day right throughout the winter and although we love the eggs there are still enough to share with neighbours and family. In an ideal world and time allowing it would be fun to hatch our own.

Are there any tips and wrinkles you’ve discovered useful since keeping chickens (and maybe any you wish you’d known before!)?

Picking greens off the roadside is the mainstay of the diet. It’s free food and piles of grass and weeds to keep them occupied is a perfect scenario. I do get very odd looks when I walk down the road with a bucket twice a day. They love mash and hate pellets and corn. Not what the books tell you!

Since keeping chickens, what have you discovered to be their greatest culinary delight?

The moment I grab a garden fork and start digging they go crazy. They absolutely adore worms.

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