If you like stately homes as well as hens, here is just the place for you: Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Grant Brereton paid a visit

Chatsworth House, set in the beautiful Derbyshire hills, is regarded as one of Britain’s finest stately homes and is a leading tourist attraction. Its owner and occupant, Her Grace, The Duchess of Devonshire, is a keen poultry enthusiast and has kept poultry all her life. Her mother kept Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns on a commercial scale, and the small profits helped pay for the home schooling of the Duchess and her sisters.

The children certainly inherited their mother’s affection for the birds and one sister, Nancy, kept several breeds of bantam as a child. Another, Diana, fancied Anconas and Black Minorcas. The eggs were an important source of pocket money for them all. The Duchess liked Light Sussex and, later, was responsible for importing the Appenzeller Spitzhaubens to this country from Switzerland.

The Duchess also reared Rhode Island Reds, and these were succeeded by Dorkings and Derbyshire Redcaps. Now she is contented with free-range Welsummers and White Leghorns, which cause a great deal of interest when they hurry to share the picnics of summer visitors in the park at Chatsworth.

In the garden, there are also a number of Buff Cochins, a breed with no miniature (or bantam) counterpart. They roam around near the potting shed, where visitors are fascinated by their feather ‘trousers’ and their slow, stately gait. They must be the most photographed birds in the country!

In recent times, further pure breeds have been added to the collection of poultry at Chatsworth, including New Hampshire Reds, Salmon Faverolles, Light Sussex, Blue Laced Wyandottes and Pekins, to name but a few. This is on top of a flock of free-range laying hybrids.

The farm park at Chatsworth includes a variety of other livestock and is open from Sunday March 13 through until December 23. The park begins hatching chicks in their incubators for the opening date and every nine days thereafter. This, as you may imagine, is one of the highlights for the visiting public, particularly youngsters.

Stock is sometimes available to buy, but it is best to enquire before visiting to avoid disappointment. The farmyard at Chatsworth includes a huge woodland adventure playground and water play area. As well as a wide variety of farm animals to see, there is daily milking and other activities. There is also a newly refurbished caf� and shop. Entrance prices are: �5 for adults, �4 for senior citizens, �5.25 for children, with under-3s free. Online rates are reduced. This fee does not include entry to the main house.

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