A staggering 80 million Easter eggs are scoffed in the UK every year, but when it comes to devouring the real thing, the British really go for it, with over 10 billion eggs being eaten in the country annually. As many as 86% of these eggs come from battery farm chickens.
However, with celebrity followers like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall embracing the trend, the UK has been hit by a rather new concept of ‘grow your own’ urban chicken farming.
City dwelling families wanting a different kind of pet and young professionals conerned by the plight of battery hens have taken to keeping chickens in their gardens – a trend that has greatly increased in recent years. The credit crunch may also have a part to play, as people are looking for alternative ways to save money, yet still be healthy.
Chickens are reasonably low maintenance; they simply need to be fed, let out for exercise each morning and shut in the coop each night to avoid fox-related tragedies.
Although it varies depending on the breed, you can expect to welcome an average of one egg a day per chicken (though laying is affected by feeding, trauma and the seasons).
The cost of a chicken can vary; whilst a pure breed hen can cost between £15-35, ex-battery chickens can be adopted for a small donation to the Battery Hen Welfare Trust. Older chickens, or “end of lay” hens, lay less often than young hens and sometimes lay eggs with thin shells that break easily so ask about this when you go to adopt them. Since 2003 the BHWT has re-homed close to 200,000 chickens no longer required for commercial egg production.
Only a small space is needed for your feathered friends, though a medium sized garden is recommended. One of the most popular chicken homes is the ‘Eglu’, which is 100% recyclable, easy to clean and can house 2-4 chickens. If you fancy getting adventurous in the garden, you could make your chickens a delightful home yourself. With chickens there is also no worry that your pet will get lost or run away; they can only flap a few feet in the air and most cannot hold their own body weight!
Omlet, the company that produce the Eglu, have noticed a surge in urban chicken owners. Johannes Paul, marketing director and one of the founders of Omlet, said: “They’re definitely getting more popular. We launched in 2004 and sold around 1000 Eglus. We’ve since doubled every year, so last year we sold 30,000 Eglus.”
Jessie Redican, 31, of Lee, joined the ranks of the urban chicken farmers last year and hasn’t looked back since. “I love keeping chickens! We got Maggie and Rosie as alternative pets for my two girls, and I loved the idea of going out to collect eggs in the morning for breakfast. My husband was a bit reluctant…but as soon as we got them he fell in love!” Mrs Redican also highlights how easy the birds are to look after, and believes they’re definitely worth the initial costs (around £100 for a coup): “The eggs are so delicious. At first we were worried about foxes but thankfully so far it’s been ok!”
Like any pet, keeping hens isn’t all sunshine and roses. Foxes will always be a potential threat, but a good quality chicken house should ensure your little darlings stay safe. With any animal, owners must consider what to do when going on holiday. Of course, if you are kind enough to let your pet hens wander all over the garden, it might be an idea to be prepared for the consequences – urban chicken poop!
Perhaps to ease yourself in to handling chickens, it might be an idea to visit an urban farm to see how your kids (and you!) interact with the chickens.
Hackney City Farm, which is free to visit, allows close interaction with the animals. They host numerous environmental and craft activities, including beekeeping and pottery, making it a fun day out. Charlotte Macgregor, a spokesperson for the farm, advises potential chicken owners: “People need to do their research well, make sure the animals have space to roam and allow them to behave naturally.”