For those of you who enjoy the TV series Dragon’s Den, Deborah Meaden will be instantly recognisable as one of the rather fierce ‘inquisitors’. But she has a soft side too, with a love of animals… including chickens. Deborah supports the work of the British Hen Welfare Trust, and talked to them about her birds. She kindly agreed for the interview to be published in Your Chickens

Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden and her husband Paul have quite a menagerie at their home in Somerset. There’s Friday the cat, three dogs, five horses, two sheep, four pigs, 11 chickens, eight ducks, six guinea fowl and three very angry geese…

1. You have a reputation for being a tough cookie on Dragon’s Den – but we know you are a softie when it comes to animal welfare! What inspired your love of animals, and in particular, hens?

I genuinely have no idea where my love of animals came from! My parents are kind people but not great animal lovers. I wasn’t allowed pets when I was young, and used to keep snails from the garden – it was the next best thing!

My love of hens began when we could give them a good home, not just in a physical sense, but when we were able to care for them. My own love of freedom makes them particularly important as I consider they are one of worst treated animals on earth.

2. With your business and TV filming commitments, how do you have the time to keep hens?

Both my husband, Paul, and I look after the hens. I’m busier than ever with commitments, but I don’t have to work rigid hours. If Paul or I cannot be there to look after the hens, we can also call on other people to help. Paul lets them out in the morning and does most of the cleaning and sorts the red mite! We share the shutting up at night, depending on when they finally go to bed – hens like to stay up as you know!

3. Favourite breed – posh bird or ex-bat?

I don’t have ex-bats, but we said perhaps next time we’d adopt some. We have recently acquired six guinea fowl from friends, and have Buff Orpingtons, white Sussex, and silver Dorkings. We don’t generally name them, but some seem to earn their names; we have a one-eyed runner duck who lives with the hens – he’s called Cyclops, of course! And Beaky, has the inevitable crooked beak. I can tell you that hens are much more intelligent than people realise. They work things out and learn their position within a flock; we underestimate them.

4. Your garden – hen-free or hen-pecked?

We have an area completely for the hens. It’s got an electric fence for their protection, and no, they’re not allowed in the flower beds!

5. Having been spoilt by fresh eggs at home, are you a free range fanatic? Do you insist on free range when eating out?

Absolutely, yes. It’s about sending out a message to restaurants that animal welfare matters to me. There is some confusion about what it means to have the different types of eggs, but it matters to ask.

6. British farmers – good eggs or bad eggs?

There are good and bad in all walks of life, but if you keep livestock you can still be kind. I always support British farmers. We have some of the best in the world, with some of the best welfare in the world, but there will always be the occasional bad egg.

7: Guilty pleasure – Creme egg or fried egg?

Ooh, definitely a crème egg! As for my favourite eggy dish, Eggs Benedict is a real treat.

8: The British Hen Welfare Trust— almost half a million hens re-homed, and an educational message that helps thousands more live a free range lifestyle. Any Dragons’ Den style tips for the charity?

The charity obviously does important work. I always say that if people don’t know about something, they cannot care. It’s all about clarity; people have to really get it, very clearly and in a non-confusing way. It’s about making people understand why they should care in their busy lives.

9: The British Hen Welfare Trust promotes the British egg industry and in particular, small flock, free range production. What changes do you think retailers could make for the better?

It’s back to clarity again. People should understand the differences and be given the choices, and that is up to the retailer. If I was selling anything else I would have to tell the truth, but weirdly within the food industry, of all places, people get away with an awful lot.

Retailers should also make it easier for farmers with smaller local flocks to sell into them. It gets too complicated for farmers – retailers need to recognise that not everyone is a huge manufacturer.

10. What simple advice would you give consumers looking to make more sustainable food choices?

Educate yourself – find out what matters to you. Pause for thought – ask yourself ‘what do I care about?’ and which schemes fit that opinion. Everyone cares or worries about something – use the internet to find out more.

11. What would be your top tips for someone considering keeping their own hens?

Keeping hens is easier than you think. It doesn’t take a lot of time; it’s more about giving a regular time commitment in letting them out and shutting them in. You have to keep on top of it. That deals with the technical aspects, but you miss the point if you don’t have time to spend with your hens; they are a lot of fun to watch with their antics.

12. And finally…. If you were looking to set up a free range egg farm in partnership with a fellow Dragon, who would you choose and why?!

It would probably be with fellow Dragon Theo. Theo has a good heart, would understand the business side, but also would know we were doing something good.

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