Your wonderful poem ‘Battery Hen’ is perhaps one of your most poignant.
What inspired it?
We always had hens at home when I was a child. In addition to layers
mash and wheat, they ate up the table scraps (now deeply illegal…) and
rewarded our family of eight with much-needed eggs. It was a good
I was shocked when I found out about battery farms. I found the idea
detestable because I had always seen our hens enjoying dust-baths and
scratching about in their run. The idea of these affable, enquiring birds
crammed into mean little cages horrified me, so I wrote The Battery Hen.
I think it made people smile but also carried the message across.
Favourite breed – posh bird or ex-bat?
I currently have eleven hens. Four are left from my last group of rehomed
battery girls, then from a local company I bought six young Warren- type
hens bound for battery farms. I also have a dear old duck of a bantam and
fifteen free range guinea fowl.
I like cooking and must have eggs from a humane source. I would
buy any of the fancy old breeds for egg production. For eggs, I always
rehome ex-battery girls or buy the Warren type for their fantastic output
and docility. For something beautiful and characterful to admire, I would
choose the old breeds and regard any eggs they laid as a bonus.
Keeping hens – mid-life crisis or childhood passion?!
Our family and all families in our row of houses kept hens. Nobody bought
eggs. I had a little group of bantams of my own from the age of nine.
Naming hens – sensible or silly?
My first bantam cockerel was
splendid and was called Bartholomew. I
don’t name my laying girls but my old bantam who has reared countless
clutches of eggs for me is called…. Mummy.
The weekend coop clean – yours truly or him indoors?
All our family love to see hens scratching around the place, and big baskets
of fresh eggs in the kitchen. As I travel quite a lot and also have cattle,
sheep and dogs, I have to have help at home. I fob the job of cleaning the
henhouse off on someone else if I can, but I am perfectly capable of taking
up the hoe.
Your garden – hen-free or hen-pecked?
I feel very sceptical when people say “The fox keeps taking my chickens.”
All that means to me is that the poor birds weren’t properly protected.
Here the fox comes by day, so my hens are enclosed in a massive run
made of moveable panels which is regularly shifted on to fresh ground.
Inside is a big, warm house on steel runners. It was quite expensive but it will
last a lifetime. This set-up travels up and down a particular field with
woodland in it. They love it, the land benefits and the birds are safe.
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