This month, Jeremy Hobson talks to Laura Basset, co-owner of a Somerset pub, who also happens to be an enthusiastic owner of sheep, pigs, ducks and chickens
Why and when did you first become interested in livestock – and in particular, chickens?
Having found out as a child that I was allergic to both fur and feathers, I have always been interested in animals, probably because I was told I couldn’t have any! As I had always wanted to live in the country, chickens were a non-negotiable part of that dream: to my mind, who wouldn’t want feathered characters that assisted with bug removal in the garden and laid lovely eggs for breakfast!
Having obviously overcome your childhood allergies, what chicken breeds do you keep now?
At home I currently have a mixed bunch: two Cream Legbars, George and Myrtle, a white Frizzle bantam, Doris (the coy one who appears to go semi broody in order to escape George’s advances!) and Desdemona and Dilys, both of whom are black and blue splash Pekins. They are soon to be joined by another Legbar (Mo), a lavender Frizzle bantam (Delilah) and Betty a black Columbian Brahma. When I visit the breeder Tracey (www.blackdownpoultry.co.uk) who is now a close friend, it’s like walking into a sweet shop; I don’t know where to look and it’s hard not to come home with another one!
On land near the pub and restaurant, along with the other livestock, we have French black copper Marans. They are great chickens; hardy, reliable, durable… and they produce the most amazing dark conker-brown eggs… which is often a talking point in the pub.
Presumably, as co-owner of a very busy and successful pub and restaurant, the idea of rearing livestock is that its produce can be used in the kitchen. With that in mind, how many Marans do you keep – and how often do you restock with fresh birds so as to be able to provide a year-round supply of fresh eggs?
We currently have 20, and we will add to this number in the autumn with more point of lay birds to take us through the winter. We do keep a few Warrens too as we use a lot of eggs!
Food provenance is certainly a hot topic and our customers seem genuinely interested in our ingredients’ origin and freshness.
You mention autumn: do you alter your chicken-keeping routine in order to take in the seasonal changes?
No we don’t modify our routine at all, we just let nature take its course.
Apart from their eggs, what is it you enjoy most about chicken-keeping?
Where do I start? Each chicken has a distinct character albeit under their breed umbrella. For example the Legbars can be flighty and aloof, whereas the bantams are always chattering and sociable. I love their excitement when they find a worm, their proud announcement that they are about to lay, and even louder announcement that they have!
Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known when you first began chicken-keeping!?
I think my husband might say he wished he’d known I wanted to keep chickens before he married me! I could never have envisaged how much they would inveigle themselves into our lives. Be prepared for the crushing low should you lose one, but also for the fun and reward they bring, not just in a tangible form via their eggs, but the sheer enjoyment of watching their antics and seeing them thrive.
Image(s) provided by: