Hen keeping has become a passion for Sarah Hazebroek and her two small children. Samantha Bowles went to meet them
Just over two years ago, keeping hens would have been impossible for Sarah and Myles Hazebroek and their two children, Ted and Polly. “We lived in the middle of a town with only a tiny courtyard garden,” said Sarah. “We really wanted to have space to have a dog and some hens but there was no way we could achieve this with such a small area”.
Then the family were lucky enough to find a lovely home in the Kent countryside, sitting at the top of a hill with amazing views of the surrounding Weald. “The best bit was that it had an acre of land which was perfectly suited to keeping a dog, hens and other animals, as well as providing lots of room for the children to play safely,” said Sarah, who is clearly very much at home in the countryside.
“I don’t confess to be a gardener, although we have plans to put a vegetable patch in very soon. I really wanted to have lots of grass and an area put aside to keep animals. I would have loved to have had a horse as well, but the land doesn’t quite stretch to that!
“Myles had grown up with poultry, peacocks and guinea fowl, so it was a natural progression for us to keep them. I wanted fresh eggs as I am a keen cook and trained as a chef, but also to have them as pets for the children.”
A Springer Spaniel named Skipper soon joined the family, closely followed by four hybrid hens, Marmalade, Pancake, Pip and Betty. “Myles built a fantastic enclosure for the girls, safe and secure from the fox and Skipper, with all the amenities they needed, such as space to dust bathe, shade and a solid home. I also got two pretty Pekin hens, but quickly found out that they were really broody and didn’t lay many eggs at all, so they have found a new home with my sister-in-law.”
Sarah did try to use her Pekins to hatch out some chicks. “It didn’t work out at all! It was a disaster from the start, with eggs being broken, a magpie stealing some and then the last remaining egg wasn’t fertilised, so it never hatched! I think at that point I realised that they were not a suitable breed for us.”
The hens were fast becoming an all consuming obsession with both Sarah and her two small children. “I am always outside doing something with them. I love looking after them, making sure they have enough to eat and drink and keeping their cooup spotlessly clean to avoid problems with red mite. My obsession is such that Myles bought me a camera to put in the hen house so we could watch what went on in there. Chicken TV! We fixed it all up and then sat and watched and waited….we quickly realised that absolutely nothing happens in there at all – ever!”
At Easter this year the hens were joined by three new arrivals – Pygmy Goats called Rhubarb, Fig and Sprout, who came from a breeder in Harrogate. “Not content with just fresh eggs for Easter, we had to go one further!” laughed Sarah “Myles drove half way to meet the breeder and the goats were exchanged at Coventry Services – which must have made an amusing sight for weary travellers! We constructed an additional pen, which encompassed the hens area and Myles built a frame for the goats to play on. Once our hens have laid their eggs for the day, they are let out into the goats’ area to roam around and have more freedom – they love the climbing frame too. The goats stand on the top and the hens sit underneath! However, I am very careful never to let the goats get into the chicken pen as chicken food is poisonous to goats.”
Both children love the hens and goats and are very confident in their handling of them all. Recently three further hens were added, one white and two buff Orpingtons, named Flora, Omelette and Mabel, and the children clearly adore them – especially as they are so big and fluffy.
“Both children are happy to help out with the animals and are very good at catching the hens and getting them back into their own pen,” said Sarah. “They love collecting the eggs, cooking and eating them! We have a favourite habit of sitting in the paddock with the hens and goats after the school run, with a cup of tea for me and a lolly for the children – very relaxing and entertaining.”
It is clear that the family enjoy their countryside lifestyle and their pets, all of which are spoilt with good accommodation and plenty of luxury – even the goat house is painted in pretty Farrow and Ball colours! “I feel really lucky,” says Sarah.