Rescuing ex-battery hens is nothing
new, and I’m slightly alarmed to
realize that it’s forty years since I first
did exactly that.
I was nine, living with a Lancastrian
aunt and uncle, thanks to parental
illness. I’d grown up in London, but in
1973
arrived at Preston station feeling
rather lost, in a way that, presumably,
Wartime evacuees had felt three and
bit decades before.
Aunt Pat and Uncle Mick lived in a
bungalow surrounded by farmland
and fringed with fells in the Trough of
Bowland, a sometimes wild, often
beautiful and very rural part of the
world.
This was a big culture shock, and I was
bouncing off the walls when I arrived,
which must have very trying for
everyone, including my fifteen-year-
old cousin Judith, who suddenly had
to share her house and parents with a
faux little brother. That we all rubbed
along as well as we did is a testament
to them.
By my tenth birthday, I’d made friends
with a nearby farming family, and at
weekends found myself herding pigs
and cows, helping to dip sheep, and
eventually collecting eggs in the
farm’s battery sheds which contained
hundreds of white hybrid chickens.
I was paid 50 pence a day and what
would now be seen as child
exploitation was then just a weekend
job that topped up my pocket
money
.
For obvious reasons,
Chicken & Egg might seem
like an unlikely place to
write about working in a
battery farm, and although
even then I didn’t like the
birds’ confinement I loved
being round the animals,
and in retrospect the
farmer was immensely kind
to me.
Quite a few of my primary
school contemporaries
kept chickens, and the
idea rather appealed to
me. I suspect my aunt and
uncle were less
enamoured, especially my
uncle, whose desire to
keep peacocks had been
thwarted by a wife who
wasn’t having the noise and the
mess’ they’d cause.
Oddly, I was to be allowed some
chickens, provided they were
imprisoned at the far end of the
garden behind a shed. There would
be trouble if they broke out and did
for my aunt’s vegetable patch, and
that the vocal pyrotechnics of a
cockerel would not be welcome
either.
I found some redundant corrugated
iron and a pile of breezeblocks and
fashioned a crude henhouse with an
earth floor. A row of wooden orange
boxes functioned as nests.
In his busy writing schedule, journalist and writer Martin Gurdon
has very kindly found time to share his first experiences of keeping
chickens and meeting ex-bats with us: