Poul­try Busi­ness

Char­lotte Carnegie has built a thriv­ing poul­try busi­ness in Wilt­shire, and has even fea­tured on TV. She talked to JOHN WRIGHT

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Char­lotte’s Poul­try

Char­lotte’s Poul­try is lo­cated on a green hill far away in ru­ral Wilt­shire, and owner Char­lotte Carnegie her­self has to make a 45-minute drive each day (and back) to visit her chick­ens. If rent­ing a re­mote one-acre field seems any­thing to lament, cut to the Hairy Bik­ers, who fell so head over heels for Char­lotte and her set-up last year that they fea­tured her in the first episode of their in­com­pa­ra­ble BBC 2 TV se­ries Chicken & Egg.

Meet­ing an­other amus­ing and gutsy per­son would’ve been right up their street, and the rap­port be­tween the three is quite ap­par­ent. Still, the mod­est star did agree to an in­ter­view, and told me her hobby turned into a busi­ness four years ago.

Char­lotte has had chick­ens since she was four when she was in­tro­duced to Brown Leghorns. “I have fond mem­o­ries of my first hen Beauty, whom I was de­ter­mined to teach to talk,” she says. “Un­for­tu­nately Beauty never did speak, but it was tend­ing to her and her friends that sparked my pas­sion for poul­try.”

A vis­it­ing fox led to a change to Pekin ban­tams, and when asked what she wanted for her birth­day there was lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion: ‘Chick­ens!’ Por­ing over the book Ban­tams in Colour with her mum, Char­lotte went for Par­tridge Wyandotte ban­tams, a breed she has been fond of ever since. Her dad bought her first in­cu­ba­tor at 11, which yielded only three chicks from 12 eggs. “We pur­chased an auto-turn cra­dle and soon we were over­run,” she said. “Within a year we were get­ting a 100% hatch rate and that lit­tle ma­chine served me well right up un­til re­cently!

“At 14, I was di­ag­nosed with chronic fa­tigue syn­drome,” she said. “I found the birds very sooth­ing and I’d of­ten spend my hours when I was awake with the chick­ens, clean­ing

out and feed­ing. Over the years we be­gan col­lect­ing more breeds and colours (up to 20 colours of Pekin ban­tam) and, with more chick­ens, came more in­cu­ba­tors! By the time I left school at 18 I’d bought a few more Brin­sea Oc­tagon 20s and an Oc­tagon 40, from which I’ve had many suc­cess­ful hatches. Char­lotte now sup­plies in­cu­ba­tor spe­cial­ists Brin­sea with hatch­ing eggs which they take to shows.

LAUNCH­ING THE BUSI­NESS

“With my ill­ness, job searches proved fruit­less and even­tu­ally I came to the con­clu­sion that work­ing for my­self may be the best op­tion. The ob­vi­ous an­swer was, of course, chick­ens. I’d had my web­site (Char­lotte’s Poul­try) since 2003 for sell­ing sur­plus from my own breeding pro­grammes, but now it was time to give it a re­vamp and turn my hobby into a job. My part­ner Si­mon’s idea, in June 2013, was that we found some land to rent.”

A plot of land was found west of Chip­pen­ham in the Cotswolds in Wilt­shire and, af­ter weeks of clear­ing bram­bles and net­tles and build­ing pens, Char­lotte’s Poul­try started to take shape.

“My main aim was to have a good se­lec­tion of pure breeds of good qual­ity,” said Char­lotte. “The next chal­lenge was choos­ing which breeds and colours to keep, which was quite dif­fi­cult as I felt I needed to feel passionate about the breeds in or­der to put 100% into im­prov­ing each type, but each breed needed to be pop­u­lar enough to sell well. I found there were many things to con­sider: colour, egg colour, size of the bird, to friz­zle or not to friz­zle?

“I thought this would also be a good op­por­tu­nity to show some of the rarer breeds to peo­ple who’d not seen them be­fore and chose Cream Leg­bars, Vor­w­erks and Groninger Meeuwen. Now that the Leg­bar has been taken un­der the wing of the new Au­to­sex­ing Breeds As­so­ci­a­tion, I’m plan­ning to add a new rare breed, per­haps a Dork­ing.

“In the first year we hatched 200 pure breeds but, as breed num­bers and de­mand grew, I found I was in need of even more in­cu­ba­tor space and pur­chased our large Brin­sea OvaEasy 380, which has helped us pro­duce much needed stock. I pre­fer to use my 20s and 40s more for hatch­ing now to keep the big ma­chine clean at all times, al­low­ing me to set the eggs weekly so they’re as fresh as pos­si­ble. My step­dad Mar­tyn is our res­i­dent in­cu­ba­tor op­er­a­tor and, with his help, we man­age to run in­cu­bat­ing and hatch­ing like a well-oiled ma­chine. He sets the eggs, I can­dle them and my mum over­sees the hatch­ing, though we do oc­ca­sion­ally find that Mar­tyn has gone rogue and end up with some ‘Mar­tyn sur­prises’ in the hatcher!”

FLUFFY CHICKS

Char­lotte now has 25 dif­fer­ent breeds and colours on site and is look­ing for­ward to a good hatch­ing sea­son this year. “Noth­ing beats com­ing in to find hun­dreds of fluffy chicks wait­ing for me in the in­cu­ba­tor.” She usu­ally has more than 1,000 birds

in the sum­mer and most of the pure breed stock is sold by the end of Au­gust/Septem­ber, win­ter jobs be­ing clean­ing out and deep lit­ter­ing. Char­lotte uses var­i­ous types of lit­ter: wood shav­ings or ea­sichick bed­ding (which she buys and sells), and she has straw in two poly­tun­nels for the larger flocks.

Start­ing her busi­ness in­volved six months plan­ning and a start-up loan from a fam­ily mem­ber to cover her out­go­ings for six months, in­clud­ing equip­ment and fenc­ing, a big elec­tri­fied main fence and pens within, 9m x3m for large fowl and 6m x 3m for ban­tams. As well as chicken houses, Char­lotte has a chick shed for up to 200-400 young birds of var­i­ous ages (which Mar­tyn has gen­tri­fied with a ‘Rear­ing cen­tre’ sign), a feed shed/store, gift shop, and an aviary Char­lotte de­signed and Mar­tyn built for keep­ing quail.

Char­lotte trav­els to the land from Stroud, Gloucestershire. It is her full-time job (Si­mon works else­where), but she can pick her own hours and call in at her mum’s on the way for a cup of tea or ad­vice. The farmer who owns the land has planted it out with English wood­land species, and Char­lotte likes the idea of her chick­ens even­tu­ally en­joy­ing some more of this cover to roam in.

HELP FROM MUM

“My mum, Caroline, and Mar­tyn help me,” Char­lotte says. “My mum is dis­abled and she comes up with many a ‘To do’ list, say­ing ‘I know you’re the boss, but...’”

Costs are cut with some DIY, Mar­tyn both mak­ing hen houses with dif­fer­ent wire gauges, nest boxes and perches and sell­ing them. Char­lotte re­turns the favour by find­ing him cus­tomers. “One lady had a green and purple one on wheels with fairy lights and au­to­matic door opener which she needed for her ill­ness.”

The rare breeds Char­lotte has at present are Vor­w­erk (large fowl) and Groninger Meeuwen (ban­tams). “Both are good lay­ers, very pretty, not too bonkers, and don’t have enough recog­ni­tion yet,” she says. Her favourite birds are pure breeds and ban­tams, though she also keeps and sells hy­brid lay­ing hens. Her favourite pure breed is the Salmon Faverolles. “They’ve got big char­ac­ters, are not in a rush to do any­thing, and are friendly and hardy,” she says. Her se­cond favourite is the first she bred, the Wyandotte.

The poul­try books Char­lotte has found most useful have been The Chicken Health Hand­book, the first edi­tion by Gail Damerow. “What­ever’s wrong with the chick­ens I know it’ll have it,” Char­lotte says, sug­gest­ing that other good books are Ban­tams in Colour by Michael and Vic­to­ria Roberts, Cre­ative Poul­try Breeding by Dr W.C. Care­foot, and The Poul­try Hand­book by Jamie Toms of Poul­try Talk.

Birds bought from her are usu­ally for back­yard pets and (of­ten no more than six) have been col­lected from as far away as Ply­mouth and Lon­don, one boy get­ting his very agree­able par­ents to drive him down from Lin­colnshire. Char­lotte sells hatch­ing eggs all over the UK, sev­eral thou­sand in 2016, the year she started break­ing even. She mar­kets her birds on her web­site and Face­book, uses PayPal and hopes to put up more pens and get more pure breeds.

Any doubts about how things would go for Char­lotte’s Poul­try must have been dis­pelled the day last May when the roar of ap­proach­ing mo­tor­bikes could be heard over the hedge and Char­lotte was about to find out from two charm­ing guests that of all the poul­try busi­nesses they had short­listed to ap­proach ‘they liked our place best’ (as a film­ing lo­ca­tion). I like the way she says “our”, not “my”. They would have no­ticed that too.

MORE: Web­site: www.char­lotte­spoul­try.co.uk Text or call 07585 921541 Face­book: https://en-gb.face­book.com/Char­lotte­sPoul­try/ Buy her episode Meet­ing Mr Red or the whole Hairy Bik­ers: Chicken & Egg BBC 2 TV se­ries from store.bbc.com

Char­lotte Carnegie hold­ing an An­cona pul­let

A Sil­ver Ap­pen­zeller Spitzhauben ban­tam pul­let, a new breed for Char­lotte’s Poul­try

A Rhode Is­land Red pul­let.

An ex­hi­bi­tion qual­ity trio of Light Sus­sex

Salmon Faverolles, Char­lotte’s all-time favourite breed

Char­lotte with the Hairy Bik­ers, David My­ers (right) and Si­mon ‘Si’ King, in May 2016

A Black East In­dian drake, Char­lotte’s favourite duck breed, cur­rently on RBST rare breed list

Daisy, a White Mus­covy duck

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