TV presenter Kate Humble talks about her passion for fresh healthy eggs from happy free range birds
1. Favourite breed – posh bird or ex-bat?
When I first decided to get some chickens, it was a bit of an experiment, so I tried a wide range of birds, to see which did best on our Welsh hillside, which ones laid which colour and sized eggs and so on. So we have Light Sussex, Araucana, Welsummer, Leghorn and a few others I can’t always identify. Together with my ex-bats my little flock of 20 are now all very happy together.
2. Hen names – sensible or silly?
I have only really ever named our cockerels. The first was called Roger, a very handsome chap. And our current cockerel was named by my 5-year-old godson, who called him Peck-Peck, so of course he’s now known as Gregory.
3. Keeping hens – your passion or a means to an end?
When we moved out of London five years ago, I knew I wanted to start keeping animals. Once we’d found our RSPCA rescue dog, Badger, hens seemed to be the next obvious step to take. We just love being able to eat fresh, healthy eggs from happy free ranging birds that we know are well cared for. It’s become a passion.
4. Hen housing – good wood or plastic fantastic?
We inherited our first hen house from the people we bought our house from. It was a slightly ramshackle affair on rusty wheels, but it served the purpose. However, when we tried to move it to a new spot, it fell apart, and turned out to be full of red mite, so it ended up on the bonfire. Our next stage was to buy a selection of small wooden hen houses, but we made sure to keep them clear of the dreaded mite. That worked well enough, but now we find it easier to keep the birds in a much larger hut, still wooden, but it’s basically a garden shed bought cheaply off the internet. My husband Ludo set about adapting it for the hens with his tool kit and made some removable perches (handy for mucking out) and a very nifty sliding door. Now the whole cleaning process is much easier and the hens are very happy.
5. The weekend coop clean – yours truly or him indoors?
Almost always me – strangely I actually quite enjoy doing the mucking out! Although when I’m away filming, of course, it’s my husband who has to do it – I’m not sure he enjoys it quite so much.
6. Your precious garden – hen-free or hen-pecked?
We had an experiment with totally free range hens, which I loved. It was fabulous to see the birds strutting their stuff all over the garden, and mixing with our pigs and sheep in the paddocks. However, when they found the flower beds, I’m afraid they caused absolute mayhem – new plants pulled out of the ground and piles of earth scratched out of the beds onto the lawn. I’m afraid that’s when they had to have their freedom curtailed, but it’s not bad – they still get to wander around their own special paddock – about quarter of an acre with lots of trees and a duck pond.
7. Favourite eggy brekkie – full English or dainty egg soldiers?
I’ve never been one for full English – ‘a full heart attack’ breakfast that all the camera crews I work with seem to love so much. I adore cooking, but, when it comes to eggs, my husband Ludo is in charge – his scrambled eggs on toast with Marmite are my all-time favourite.
8: The British Hen Welfare Trust— mother hen or cock of the roost?
The first ‘rescue’ birds we had actually came from a farmer near our home in Monmouthshire. A real softy, he used to keep the slightly ¬wonky birds that were being hen-pecked by his big commercial flock. But eventually he needed to get rid of them, so we took then, on, and apart from a couple that Mr Fox got, they’re all doing fine. But then I heard about the work that the BHWT were doing and got in touch with them. I was inspired by the energy and commitment of the people I spoke to and decided instantly that I’d like to support their work. So I collected my first batch of ex-bats at the very glamorous Cardiff Services car park, and now we’ve started doing BHWT re-homing days from our farm just outside Mon¬mouth. The first day was a great success, and we’re looking forward to working even more closely with them in the future.
9. Weekend bake – gooey gateaux or cheesy quiche?
I’m definitely a savoury kind of girl – I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, luckily. I’m also not a huge baker of cakes or pies, but once in a while I do like a nice asparagus quiche.
10. British farmers – good eggs or bad eggs?
Like lots of our friends, and like more and more people around the country I think, we always try to support British farmers and British food. Monmouthshire is gaining a huge reputation as a foody county (with the Abergavenny Food Festival, not to mention a growing number of excellent restaurants, including a couple with Michelin stars), and our whole ethos is to buy local and seasonal food wherever possible. So I’m definitely a big supporter of the best type of British farmers. (OK, I still buy lemons from Spain…).
11. Guilty pleasure – Easter egg or fried egg?
Definitely Easter egg, but not one with gooey insides – yuck! Just a plain simple chocolate egg with a high cocoa content.
12. Finally, if you could choose any celebrity to pop round one afternoon to do a hen house spring clean with you, who would it be and why?!
It’s a shame that the real Gregory Peck isn’t around any more to come and visit his namesake, our handsome rooster. A few years ago, I might have said Nicholas Cage or Gabriel Byrne, but now I’m not so sure. Can I just try to train my husband to do the mucking out a bit more often…?