Jeremy Hobson catches up with Claire Peach, a chicken-keeper who runs a company called ‘Hens for Hire’ which rents out chickens to schools and community groups

How long have you been keeping chickens and what first got you interested?

I have been keeping hens for 10 years: we decided to get hens when our son was just a toddler to show him where his food comes from.

What breeds do you keep – and would you recommend them to a novice?

I have a collection of hens, Frizzles, Pekin and Orpington bantams, Silkies and lots of hybrids. I use hybrid hens as hire hens to schools and groups around the country. I think they are a great hen for beginners, they are easy to keep and you don’t have to wait to long for your first eggs.

How long has ‘Hens for Hire’ been in existence and what were your intentions when first starting up?

Hens for Hire has just starting its fourth year of trading. I have been running hen keeping form beginners course for the last six years and a local pupil referral unit asked me to supply them with hens and teach the students how to look after them. When I arrived at the school I was told that the teenage boys would only have the attention span of five minutes and to do my best! One and a half hours later the boys were still sitting with me in the hen pen talking chickens! I saw the impact that the hens had at this school and wanted to share hens with all schools and make it as easy as possible for students and teachers. Hens for Hire was hatched!

Has the reality matched up to your original intentions – and have you noticed a reoccurring theme throughout those who contact you?

Yes I think so, though as it was an original business idea, there was and is a lot of creative planning and working closely with customers to put together the hire packages. I supply all that is required to look after the hens, so all the school or organisation needs to supply is their time and enthusiasm! As I mainly deal with schools, the main theme that they mention is wanting to connect children to animals and where their food comes from

Generally, do you think enough is being done to educate future generations?

As with anything we can always do more, from the schools I have dealt with there is still a disconnection between the consumers of the future and where their food comes from. If you ask a group of children where eggs come from, 9/10 they will give you the name of a supermarket. I feel that for animal welfare of the future, along with consumer awareness, it should start at home and school.

Obviously the need for bio-security is very important when moving chickens to different locations and environments – what steps do you take to ensure no problems ensue… and could they/should they be used in a more typical back-garden situation?

I take bio-security very seriously both at Hens HQ and in the school settings. All the hens wear an engraved leg ring with a number which means I know exactly which hen belongs to which school and after each school holiday the school get the same pair of hens back. At HQ I have separate pens for the hire hens, they each have a check-up when they arrive home and before they leave at the end of their holiday. Any hens showing signs of illness head straight to the hen hospital for treatment. I have a closed flock of hens which I do feel makes a difference to hen health and wellbeing. At the end of each school holiday when the hens are settled back at school, all the hen houses are pressure washed and disinfected and ground sanitizer sprinkled in the pen areas and then fresh woodchip added.

Lastly, what one single point do you think most important to tell the newcomer to chicken-keeping – and, do you have an essential piece of chicken-keeping equipment?

In answer to the first part of your question it would be, “Do you have the time to look after your hens?” and to the second part, after much thought, the ‘I Chicken’ App I have on my phone! It’s a great reference tool for illness and other hen information.

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