A 15-year- old smallholder
Ellie Hall, 15, from Gloucestershire, has created her own little smallholding. She talked to John Wright
Keen smallholder Ellie Hall may only be 15, but she owns 20 hens, six ducks, two pygmy goats, four guinea pigs, and a pony, all of which she looks after, feeds, waters and pays for herself.
Ellie’s parents have been impartial observers in her growing interest in animals, the desire for a practical involvement with them having been all her own idea from the start.
The family moved to their present 1½ acres on the edge of the Forest of Dean in rural Gloucestershire, for their two horses (Ellie’s and her mother Sherryl’s) and an outdoor lifestyle, nine years ago.
Ellie was 11 when she asked her parents if she could hatch chicks. She not only presented them with the results of careful research into the right incubator to buy but even had the money to pay for it.
She was given some fertile eggs which duly hatched at 21 days and later she bred some pure breeds. Finally, there were 10 hens to which she added a cockerel. Since
then she has had up to 45 chickens, such as Silkies, Dutch Bantams and crossbreeds for eggs and to experiment with egg colours.
From the start, Ellie has had a business interest in her animals. Her mother Sherryl said: “She’s up around 7am to 7.30am to let the chickens and her six ducks out and make sure her two pygmy goats and pony have hay, before having breakfast and school.”
You sense this is one military operation. When the two goat kids were born prematurely they had to be fed half-hourly. Once Ellie got them stronger, they slept overnight in the goat shed for the first few nights with heat lamps. Sadly, the weaker one died and, when the other was old enough, he was sold. “Ellie is the only one who knows how to milk the nanny,” says Sherryl.
Ellie’s father, Jeff, is a self-employed builder and built the goat shed, stables for their horses and a field shelter. Sherryl works as a child minder of preschool children, who are excited to be able to watch chicks hatching, collect eggs or have a pony ride.
Ellie has been keen to take on challenges. After selling the eggs and chickens, she asked if she could buy pygmy goats. She has a sense of business and researched the going price for kids, as well as chickens, and works out other ways to make money. Her parents have encouraged her to keep a record of all her income and outgoings and don’t contribute financially.
“In the peak season she sells 90 eggs a week,” Sherryl says. “She had 45 chickens last autumn, some of which she sold, thus providing space for more. The older hens were sold before winter set in.”
Ellie also rescues and re-homes ex- battery chickens, and is now hoping to buy a bigger, 40-egg incubator, to sell more eggs and breed more chickens to sell at point of lay. “I hope to do Cream Legbars and more crossbreeds to produce blue and green eggs, and I sell the older hens for a lower price before they stop laying,” she said.
“Male chicks will be grown on for slaughtering which I do myself. My dad taught me how. I grow the females until they’re six months old and sell them at point of lay.”
“Mum takes me to the feed store every few weeks,” Ellie says. “I like having the support. We get layers pellets and corn for the chickens and ducks, pony nuts for the horses, and salt lick for the pony and goat for minerals. Recently I bought some live mealworms to breed to give to the chickens. You put the worms into a plastic box with their food in. When it goes into larvae stage, it hatches into a beetle. You put the beetle into the next box, where it breeds and lays eggs. When hatched you have little worms again – it doesn’t take that long.”
It’s a perfect example of the businesslike way Ellie thinks. Nor does her horse get off lightly. She is breaking her in to drive so that she can pull a harrow to scarify the ground where the chickens free range to bring up loose grass and aerate the surface to restore healthy grass cover. “She’s a Welsh pony and quite strong,” Ellie says.
And so Ellie’s venture continues, each step prepared for carefully and with an entrepreneurial eye. “I’m on different Facebook groups, such as the Rare Breeds Survival Trust one, which has a monthly magazine.”
She even offers holiday boarding for animals and holds local charity fundraising events, including a ‘guess the name of the chick’ stall, egg sales, pony rides, goat racing and offering tea and cake.
Ellie is justifiably proud of having created “a very small smallholding”, as she puts it, while making time for other activities such as horse-riding and cross-country running. “It’s hard work, especially with school work, but I love everything about it. Soon I’ll be doing work experience at a farm milking goats and lambing. I really can’t wait!”
It’s hard work, especially with school work, but I love everything about it
Ellie with some of her animals
Ellie’s parents and the family dogs
Ellie moving straw on her quad bike
Ellie’s pygmy goat kid with his mum, Eclipse