This month, Jeremy Hobson talks with Joanne Southall-Campbell, a French-living ex-pat, keen showjumper, mounted archery enthusiast and avid chicken keeper
How did you first become interested in chicken-keeping?
About five years ago, I bought six ex-battery hens to give some company to a horse who needed rest after an injury. I thought that at two euros each, these birds must be good value and would help prolong their lives… and, if it all went wrong, it wouldn’t be too expensive a mistake! My first ‘chicken house’ was cobbled together in a polytunnel, using whatever pallets and baler-twine there was laying around and yet, amazingly, these ladies laid way beyond expectations… and the chicken keeping bug had well and truly bitten!
So, off to the local poultry exhibition (a very French affair where the main business of the day seemed to centre on lunch!). There were many breeds to look at [and] the French Marans Poultry Club had some very dark eggs on display. I just had to have some of the birds that could produce these dark beauties! However, it took a year (and considerable persistence) to source some stock, some fertile eggs and (eventually) breed some layers. I still have the descendants of the originals and have sourced outside bloodlines locally.
Do you keep any other breeds?
After sourcing the Marans, I found a local specialist in Sussex hens (a breed I would definitely recommend to beginners). The ‘Breed List’ has since expanded rapidly, with the chickens taking more of my time than the horse – which wasn’t supposed to happen!
I now have Plymouth Rocks, Vorwerks, Welsummers (which I have crossed with the Marans to provide a nice brown egg layer) and Cream Legbars – whose chicks and eggs are in great demand. My husband has a preference for bantams… so we are trying with Lavender Pekin bantams [but] the first hatch yielded four cocks and one hen. However, as I’ve decided not to have an incubator (for now, at least) and to instead let nature take its course, our breeding programme is broody-dependant, although, earlier this year, I gave a friend with an incubator and the expertise to use it some fertile eggs to hatch for both her and myself – an arrangement that suited us both very well!
How do your French neighbours treat your passion for chicken keeping?
Local friends – both French and English – love the fact that we can supply them with fresh eggs surplus to hatching, or for our own kitchen use (we’ve been getting 18 a day of late) and keeping chickens has certainly opened a few doors with the neighbours, in just the same way as having horses has.
Being both a chicken and horse lover like yourself, I’m fascinated
to know more about your interest in mounted archery and show jumping
Mounted archery is fascinating and – wait for it – I’ve been practising for that whilst sitting on a saddle stand mounted on the floor of a small trailer being towed by a quad bike! For now we’ve a young mare bred in North Wales who has Sports Horse GB papers – and breeding lines for eventing. However, eventing being the one discipline I don’t do, we make our choice between showjumping, short distance endurance and, of course, the mounted archery, which is great fun.