James Marshall, from Taunton in Somerset, was initially unsure about keeping chickens. But now he is an enthusiastic keeper
When my wife first suggested getting some chickens for our garden I was dubious about the proposition.
Having worked on a farm with free-range birds, I thought I had a good idea of what chickens were all about. In my experience, they made a lot of noise, created a huge amount of mess and possessed a frightening tendency to be consumed, with great ease, by any number of predators.
However, my wife’s opinion prevailed and after lots of preparatory research, sweet-talking of landlords and reassurance of neighbours, we soon found ourselves in the possession of three boisterous hens, ready to run riot in our garden.
It soon became clear that allowing our chickens access to the whole garden was the most logical decision; in the wet winter months, three chickens pecking, scratching and stomping around a fenced off area created too much damage to the lawn of our rented cottage. By letting our girls roam around the whole of our garden, damage was dispersed and the girls proved to be much more content; whiling away their time burrowing through weeds and hunting for slugs in the hedges.
However, this set-up did dictate some adaptations to our garden, with obvious financial and aesthetic consequences.
As an enthusiastic vegetable grower, I have had to surround my veg patch with a three-foot-high plastic fence to protect my precious produce from the clumsy stamping of scavenging chickens. I have also inserted plastic edging around flowerbeds to prevent mud being flung onto our lawn, blocked holes in hedges and filled in gaps in gates.
This work has been well worth the effort, though, and our chickens are now happy masters of their garden environment.
If the wind is howling outside, I find three feathered friends happily nestled inside the greenhouse; when the rain pours, they take shelter by our back door and on a sunny day I will often find them bunched together, rolling around in a favoured corner of the garden, enjoying a thoroughly good dust bath.
They are very sociable animals too and when the weather is good enough for my wife and I to eat outside, the chooks think it’s quite acceptable to hop up onto our garden bench, survey what’s on offer and join us for dinner!
By having just a few birds, we have struck a happy medium as garden chicken keepers; receiving fantastic tasting eggs, excellent manure for the garden and plenty of character-laden company, all without causing too much damage to our rented property.
My earlier misgivings about keeping chickens have been well and truly quelled and I would not hesitate in encouraging others to follow our example.