It is probably a strange desire for a working class gal from Glasgow, but I have, for several years, had an inkling to keep a few chickens. What has that got to do with dinosaurs, you might ask? Well, believe it or not, chickens are actually evolutionary descendants of T-Rex!
Being born and brought up in a city didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the animal kingdom. As a child my summer holidays were spent with my cousins in the beautiful Scottish Borders’ countryside. Whilst there I volunteered at a rather ramshackle place that did pony rides and this helped to stoke my equestrian passion which would lead me in adulthood to own a succession of horses and spend over two decades competing at a modest level. Chickens though? I think that particular desire formed as I became increasingly aware of the often cruel farming practices that prevailed in the production of eggs. Whilst I am not vegetarian, I believe passionately in compassionate farming methods that consider the welfare of the animal from birth through to dispatch. Friends will remember when I became aware of the cramped conditions of pigs raised for meat. I turned to eating ‘happy pigs’ – my term for outdoor-reared. The end game is the same but at least outdoor-reared pigs have a better quality of life.
And so to chickens. There can be few people that have not been moved by images of battery cages stuffed full of half featherless hens raised as egg producing machines, or sheds with no natural daylight at all, crammed with chickens destined for the table, pumped full of as much food as they will eat and topped up with antibiotics to keep them healthy in such unnatural conditions. I have for many years bought only free range eggs and free range chicken. But could I do more?
Could I have some semblance of control over the provenance of even some of the food I eat? I already grow some fruit and veg, and this gives me immense pleasure, so eggs seemed a natural progression. The fact that eggs are produced by lovely creatures that can be pets too gives two things for the price of one. I would have said kills two birds with one stone, but that doesn’t seem appropriate !
A spanner in the works has been that for much of my working life, I have had roles that involve long hours and/or a fair amount of commuting and travel. This made it impossible to commit to chicken keeping. Oh, and the time spent looking after and competing horses also made it a big challenge. I resigned myself to keeping chickens in my retirement. With every year that passes though, retirement seems to get further away rather than closer with governmental changes to the pensionable age. However I have given up horses and, as luck would have it, I have moved to a new job and the door to keeping chickens has now opened. With the stars finally aligned, I began to research chicken keeping.
Him indoors soon got wind of my plans as every time he looked round I was on a poultry-keepers Web site. Agreement was reached and research begun. I have to say it has been highly enjoyable looking into all-things chicken. I soon established the coop and run I wanted and started looking for local breeders. As luck would have it a great little firm called Hippy Chicks http://www.hippychickspoultry.co.uk is right on my doorstep. Two visits later and my first three hens were sourced. A Barnevelder and two Speckled Sussex. Three is a good number for a novice keeper. Enough for the girls to have friends to interact with but not too many to manage from a space and practicality perspective.
And so it was in August 2016 the lovely folks from Hippy Chicks delivered Hamble – the Barnevelder and Florence and Matilda – the Speckled Sussex’s. The dinosaurs had arrived.