This month, Jeremy Hobson talks to Simon Pickles, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable chicken-keeper and exhibitor, who is also one of the mainstays of the Poland Club of Great Britain.

Who or what first got you interested in chicken-keeping?

Back in 2009, my wife saw a programme on TV about rescuing ex-battery hens and so we decided to keep a couple in our small suburban garden.

What breeds did you start with – and what breeds do you keep now?

We soon added some hybrids to our two ex-bats, one of which kept going broody; so we bought a mixed batch of pure breed eggs, put them under her and hoped for the best! When they hatched, a couple were Polands, and these are the ones we decided to focus on for the future. Other than some Araucanas and Welsummers, which we keep for their colourful eggs, Polands are all we have.

What is it about the Poland breed that you love – and would you recommend them to a newcomer to chicken-keeping?

As well as their remarkable appearance, they are such sweet-natured and gentle birds, always wanting to be picked up and stroked. Their main requirement is for a permanently-covered run, to keep their crests dry, and if this can be provided, there is no reason why Polands should not be suited to the novice.

I know you regularly exhibit your birds (and eggs) – what’s the personal attraction of doing so?

We’ve been showing our poultry for nearly three years now. We enjoy it all, from the preparation of the birds, to the camaraderie and friendliness of the other exhibitors, as well as the buzz when you return to the show hall after judging to see if your bird has won a card, or even a trophy!

Would you recommend that anyone with pure breeds joined a breed club – if so, why?

If you keep pure breed poultry I think it is important to join your respective breed club. As well as helping with the breed’s preservation you are able to tap into decades of knowledge from the other members to help you with your birds, receive newsletters and access the club’s website as well as compete for club-specific rosettes and trophies at the bigger shows. All for about £10 a year!

How did you become involved in the Poland Club – and what is your exact role in the club?

When I joined the Club I was pleased to discover that my part of the world is a relative hotbed for Polands and that several high-profile breeders live in the area, who I was able to visit and they helped me establish a breeding programme. At the next AGM there was a vacancy for treasurer, and I now also look after the club website and Facebook group.

Is the Poland easy to breed up to exhibition standards – what in general, would the judges be looking for?

The Poland’s defining feature is its crest. UK judges will be looking for a bird with a large, well-formed crest, in proportion to its body, that also meets the other points in the Breed Standard. Currently, there are fewer than a dozen UK breeders turning out really good exhibition-quality birds, so I would say it is probably one of the trickier breeds to get right. But when a good Poland is put on show, so impressive is it that it will often compete for the higher honours and make it onto Championship Row.

What about those people who persist on calling the breed ‘Polish’ rather than ‘Poland’?!

We are happy for people to call them what they feel most comfortable with. I often call them Polish myself!

Have you any specific advice regarding keeping your chickens in tip-top condition during the winter months?

Keep your birds dry and make sure the coop is not draughty. I often add a few garlic granules to their water and check them even more regularly for lice and mites.

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