Our intrepid reporter talks chickens with TV presenter Philippa Forrester
1. What inspired you to start keeping chickens?
It’s really the fact that they make me smile. When I moved to live beside the river in the countryside and had lots of garden space, it seemed an obvious thing for me to do. I love growing my own vegetables and sustainable living, and from that point of view the chickens use up our scraps and give me great fertilser and beautiful eggs. It was a natural next step.
2. How many hens do you keep, and what breeds are they?
I now have sixteen chickens, one crazy silkie bantam who looks like a white feather duster on legs.. and the most charming rescue hens which came to me via the British Hen Welfare Trust.
3. Why did you choose this breed?
It is impossible not to love them they are tame and funny, they lay every day and when I think of how I have transformed their lives it gives me such joy.
4. Do you give your hens names?
Some get names and some don’t. I have one called Iris, she is special, she always finds her way out of the chicken pen and follows me about for a chat; if we are chatting on the patio, she is under the table joining in. Very often if we are filming we have to put her away because you can hear her off camera joining in.
5. What sort of chicken housing and run do you have?
I have the most exquisite gypsy caravan from ‘Flyte so Fancy’, it is the last word in luxury chicken accommodation and wonderful for my ex battery girls. Because we are beside a river in the countryside, there are mink otters and foxes all with an interest in dinner on legs, so they are also surrounded by an electric fence, however there is 100metres of it so they have a lot of room to run.
6. What gives you the greatest satisfaction in keeping chickens?
The rescue hens, when they first came they had never felt sunlight on their backs or had the room to scratch or spread their wings and every time I watch them now scratching in the grass, pecking up bugs and having a sunbathe, every morning when I let them out, it gives me a deep satisfaction that I have transformed their lives.
7. What is the most difficult thing about keeping chickens?
When the fox outwits me, it has happened and is heartbreaking.
8. Do you have a funny story about your hens?
Too many! They all have their own personalities, one liked to come into the house and settle down for Eastenders, another liked to wander off down the lane and make herself at home in our neighbour’s garage, leaving him an egg for his breakfast. I could go on and on, if you want to smile every day – keep chickens. (Don’t want to shamelessly book plug but my first year of chicken keeping was part documented in ‘The River’ published by Random House – many funny stories in there.)
9. What advice would you give to beginners?
Invest in a really good quality house that is easy to clean out, you need something that you can get into, with a tray in the bottom that you can just pull out, and sweep and hose clean. Make sure that it is solidly built, ideally by someone who keeps chickens themselves.
10. What is your top tip?
If you love chickens, think about what type of chicken you are buying next time you have a take away or a processed meal.