Young chicken keepers sharing their tales from the hen house

Keeping chickens is proving more and more popular, especially with youngsters, as Marie-Claire Kidd reports.

Jessica

Many parents want their children to understand where food comes from and a growing number of families are not only producing vegetables, but also choosing to keep animals.

Chickens are, in most cases, the first choice. They are the cheapest and most readily available animals to buy and, with the correct feed and equipment, among the easiest to care for. They require relatively little land and regularly provide food which requires no processing.

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Debbie McCall of Blackshaw Head near Todmorden is among the mums who have chosen to keep chickens, and she is encouraging her children to take part.

She wants her daughters to learn to care for and respect animals, and to be sure the eggs they eat at home have been produced without cruelty. To get set up she turned to friends and neighbours who had grown up keeping chickens.

“There’s more knowledge out there than you might think,” she says.

“People say their parents had chickens, or their grandparents. It’s about sharing that knowledge between generations. Children are inspired by food and where it comes from.”

Siobhan Beckwith and Jason White are also involving their young sons in keeping both chickens and pigs on land next to their home in Wellhouse, near Huddersfield.

Ms Beckwith said: “We want them to understand where food comes from.

“They’re learning about the cycle of life. We’re lucky to have enough land for the chickens to eat grass, the chickens’ waste is used for the compost, which we use for vegetables. It all ties in.”

But what do the children themselves think about the experience?

We asked them to share the ups, and downs, of rearing chickens at home, and discovered that chickens and the stories that surround them are the stuff that brings families together.

Jessica, eight

Jess has been looking after chickens since she was four. Even though she was frightened by the birds when she was younger, she has always been fond of them.

The family looked after the chicks through the summer holidays, before they were distributed throughout the community. They kept three; Myrtle, Blondie and Miss Smiles.

Miss Smiles was a previous favourite. She once laid 16 eggs under a bush in a neighbour’s garden. Unfortunately, she disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The family still do not know what happened to her, although they suspect it may have been a fox attack.

Another of the chicks convinced them he was a hen, when in fact he was a cockerel.

“We gave her to our friends who live down the road,” says Jess. “One day she went ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’. It turned out she was a boy.”

Jess fell in love with Myrtle as soon as she hatched, and she still feels the same. “She’s calm and when you pick her up she bobs down for you,” she says.

“She puts her wings up and you can stroke them. They’re so lovely and soft.”

Abigail, 10

Abi’s favourite chicken is Blondie, a Well Summers cross. “She always used to follow me across the orchard, wherever I went,” she says.

The family recently added to their small flock with two hens they acquired on the way back from a family holiday. “We brought them back from Northumberland in a sack that smelled of cow muck,” Abi remembers.

But Abi has lots of sweet memories of the hens.

“One day I came home 
and all the chickens were 
lying down under the pear tree with Thomas, our cat,’ she says. “They were all huddling up together. The hens aren’t afraid of Thomas. They’re bigger than him. If he tried to attack them they would win.”

Kerry, 13

The McCall family keeps 12 chickens and a cockerel on land next to their home in Blackshaw Head, a pretty village in the hills above Todmorden.

The coal man, the postman and other passers-by enthusiastically buy their eggs, and Kerry and her sister Sinead make a bit of pocket money taking any surplus to neighbours.

When they first got them, the family gave all their birds names, and Kerry could easily tell which was which. She would visit them regularly and carry them around.

Sinead, 10

Sinead says: “I like watching chickens with their wings out running straight to the field.” Her favourite is the escape artist of the flock, which has a fetching, bouffant hairstyle.

She is also fond of their Black Copper Maran, and her delicious dark-shelled eggs. Sinead likes her fluffy feet, and has named her Pompom the Great of Northampton II.

Rufus, four

Rufus and his family keep over 20 chickens on land next to their house in Wellhouse, near Huddersfield.

They bought their first birds two years ago, when Rufus was just two, and have been breeding hens since then. By crossing their previous cockerel, a Silkie, and their current cockerel, a Well Summers, with Light Sussex, Rhode Island Red, Well Summers and other hens, they now have all kinds.

Rufus says: “We use them to make scrambled eggs and boiled eggs and pancakes and cakes. You can even stroke their feet.”

The birds live in a purpose built enclosure surrounded by a high fence, but unfortunately they were still attacked by a fox, which killed 10 birds.