A trio of hens have become fully-fledged members of a family in East Sussex

There are three very spoilt bantams in the seaside town of Eastbourne. Phyllis, Deidre, and … Dave! They belong to Dr Fenella Maloney and her four children, Molly, Beatrice, Freddie and Florence Andrews, and they are all truly spoilt ladies – yes, all are girls – even Dave! Dave, an Ancona, doesn’t seem to mind her manly name, given to her by Molly, and happily lays eggs for the family.

The desire to own some hens had been long been a dream for Fenella and a surprise Christmas present of a coop and run from her husband, was just the push she needed to start her hen keeping journey. Faced with her dream becoming a reality, Fenella started to investigate into getting her first hens.

“I didn’t want to rush into it headlong. I thought very carefully, did some research and decided that doing a course was the best starting point for me.” So, along with her daughter Molly, she attended a course, after which she felt confident enough to fulfil her long time ambition. “Having hens was another step towards a greener way of life for us as a family. We already have an allotment and produce most of the vegetables we eat. Having our own hens producing eggs for us was very important.”

Choosing the right hens for their requirements was another carefully considered decision. “I wanted useful hens, ones that laid well and were suitable for the space and situation that we have,” said Fenella. Living in an urban setting means that foxes are on the prowl constantly, often being seen sauntering around in broad daylight and hopping in and out of the garden at will. “This meant that the hens we chose would have to be run kept, with occasional trips out under strict supervision – for their own safety! I decided that bantams would suit us best. That way we could have three rather than two full sized ones.” Three different hens were chosen from a breeder in Kent and were soon installed in their cosy coop in the garden.

The girls very quickly became members of the family. “The children were initially indifferent about them, but after only a few weeks they were all handling and feeding them,” said Fenella. “A routine of a bedtime ‘stroke’ before shutting them in the coop quickly became essential!” With regular handling, all three girls, a Marans, a Welsummer and the Ancona, have become very calm and tame and really seem to enjoy being stroked and hand fed mixed corn – one of their favourite treats. With an allotment producing plentiful fruit and veg, the girls are regularly treated to the trimmings. “They really seem to enjoy courgettes, broccoli and strawberry tops. They really do get spoilt!” laughs Fenella.

The hens are not the only pets in the family. Ronnie the Rabbit is also much loved. “She seems to like the hens too – they are all fascinated by one another. Ronnie and the girls follow each other up and down the wire and can often be found ‘nose to beak’!”

The whole family has found keeping hens very exciting, especially when the first egg was laid. “We were unsure as to who had actually laid it, but it was treated with great respect. We fried it very carefully and then, with great precision, divided it up between all six of us,” said Fenella. “It wasn’t a lot each, but it tasted fantastic! Since then we have had many more eggs, but we still treat each one as special and we certainly haven’t forgotten the first one.”

All the children get involved with the hens, but Fenella said the one most enamoured with them is Florence. “She really has taken them to her heart and adores handling, feeding and just watching them. Cleaning them out does seem to fall to me though!”

It is very clear that these hens are viewed as more than just egg layers. They are pets that lay eggs – delicious eggs! “I think it really brought it home to me how the hens are viewed by everyone, when my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this year. We were presented with a picture of our whole family, drawn by the children, and included in it were the chickens, which was proof enough that they are full and official members of our family!”

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