Gar­dens & Chick­ens

Susie Kear­ley talks to Anya Laut­en­bach whose home shows her love of gar­den­ing and chick­ens

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Work­ing in har­mony

Anya Laut­en­bach from Buck­ing­hamshire has a keen in­ter­est in na­ture, the en­vi­ron­ment, and sus­tain­able liv­ing. She re­cently started keep­ing chick­ens, and her hus­band Richard has kept bees and but­ter­flies for years.

Anya’s had an in­ter­est­ing life and is well trav­elled. Orig­i­nally from Poland, she lived in Ger­many for a few years and then moved to the High­lands of Scot­land in 2006, where she en­joyed the wild en­vi­ron­ment, the amaz­ing High­land land­scapes, and all the de­lights of the nat­u­ral world.

She moved south to Buck­ing­hamshire in 2008, where with hus­band Richard, she had two sons, Wil­liam and Ed­ward, now aged 7 and 4. She teaches them the im­por­tance of na­ture, bees, but­ter­flies, and flow­ers. She runs a busi­ness sell­ing lux­ury items and an­tiques on be­half of clients, so she can fit her work around her chil­dren and the fam­ily’s nat­u­ral life­style.

Anya has an amaz­ing gar­den, with a large veg­etable plot, a wild flower meadow, and bee­hives. They’ve just started keep­ing chick­ens and cur­rently have three hy­brids. Anya says: “We are a very na­ture ori­en­tated fam­ily and I love gar­den­ing. I de­signed our gar­den my­self and we had the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety pay us a visit last year. They were in­ter­ested be­cause I’d cre­ated the gar­den from noth­ing, and by shar­ing my ex­pe­ri­ences and my passion for gar­den­ing and na­ture, I’ve made con­nec­tions with all sorts of peo­ple, so that’s how they heard about it.

“Ev­ery­one was shocked when I de­cided to have hens, think­ing they would de­stroy the gar­den and I’d be dev­as­tated, but they’ve been a de­light. When we first got the hens, there were no prob­lems at all. They wan­dered around the gar­den ex­plor­ing their new home. They brought so much pos­i­tive en­ergy into our life and they look great with all my lovely flow­ers in the back­ground. Our boys ab­so­lutely adore them.

“After a few weeks, the hens did start scratch­ing, mak­ing a mess of the grass, and dig­ging up plants, so now we’re build­ing them a pen while I try to keep them away from the herba­ceous bor­ders! If I see a hen scratch­ing, I’ll shoo her away from the flow­ers! Once the new pen is fin­ished, they’ll still come into the gar­den, but they can spend more time in the chicken area, just while the plants are get­ting es­tab­lished. Then in the sum­mer, when the plants are grown and ev­ery­thing’s out, it’s a jun­gle of flow­ers so they can go and lose them­selves in it!

“The hy­brid hens were 15 or 16 weeks old when we got them, and they’re very so­cia­ble, which is just as well be­cause the boys do like to han­dle them a lot! For­tu­nately, they don’t mind all the at­ten­tion and they still fol­low the boys around. When I was lit­tle we had chick­ens, so I’m not com­pletely new to hen keep­ing. Now when I pick the boys up from school, they spend hours in the gar­den with the chick­ens. The whole ex­pe­ri­ence is up­lift­ing and pos­i­tive - we even like the sound they make. We’ll be get­ting a sil­ver laced wyan­dotte soon. I’m tempted to get a silky hen too!

“We al­ways put the chick­ens into their coop for the night. I’ve seen foxes in the gar­den in the win­ter, and a few of my friends have lost chick­ens to foxes, but we haven’t had any prob­lems. Some of the lo­cal farm­ers shoot foxes, which is sad.”

A SUM­MER GAR­DEN

“I’ve been work­ing on the gar­den since we moved into this house five years ago,” said Anya. “I de­signed and cre­ated it, grow­ing ev­ery­thing from seeds and cut­tings: 90% of the plants were grown from cut­tings. It’s a sum­mer gar­den, with herba­ceous bor­ders, which are good for bees. I plant flow­ers for in­sects, in­clud­ing cos­mos and ver­bena. Chick­ens eat the slugs and snails which is great for the flowerbeds and the veg­etable plot. Richard is very en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and prefers chick­ens to slug pel­lets, so in many dif­fer­ent ways, in­tro­duc­ing chick­ens felt like a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.

“Keep­ing the whole fam­ily in­ter­ested in na­ture is im­por­tant to me. I’ve re­duced the num­ber of other ac­tiv­i­ties we do be­cause I be­lieve too many ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties aren’t good for you. We live in a so­ci­ety that fo­cuses on achieve­ment and some­times kids strug­gle with pres­sure. We still do loads of things, but it’s find­ing the right bal­ance. Keep­ing it sim­ple is good and the kids play with sticks and find their own en­ter­tain­ment. There’s no need for me to con­stantly en­ter­tain them. The more they un­der­stand na­ture, the more they re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate it. If they don’t have a passion for na­ture, they won’t make the ef­fort to avoid things that dam­age the en­vi­ron­ment. It’s great that my kids get plea­sure from beau­ti­ful views and from un­der­stand­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween a honey bee and a bum­ble bee.”

BIRD KEEP­ING IS AD­DIC­TIVE

“The de­ci­sion to get chick­ens was trig­gered by a dis­ap­point­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with a pheas­ant’s egg. We’d found this pheas­ant’s egg ly­ing on the grass at Water­perry Gar­dens and bought it home to in­cu­bate it, but it wasn’t fer­tilised, so it didn’t hatch. We were all so dis­ap­pointed that we went to buy some chick­ens in­stead! The chick­ens lay eggs and hang around the gar­den, while a pheas­ant would fly off, so it’s a much bet­ter ar­range­ment any­way!

“Now the kids are des­per­ate to hatch more eggs, so when we get a broody hen we might buy some fer­tilised eggs. We saw some In­dian run­ner ducks with a friend and are tempted to get run­ner ducks too. This bird keep­ing is ad­dic­tive!

“The chick­ens have bought such life and vi­tal­ity to our gar­den. I’m try­ing to live a life in har­mony with na­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment, and I’m very con­scious of my im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. We grow our own veg­eta­bles, so in the sum­mer and au­tumn we try to be as self-suf­fi­cient as pos­si­ble. Ob­vi­ously the veg­etable plot doesn’t grow much over the colder months, but in the sum­mer we grow toma­toes, cu­cum­bers, a va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles and fruits. It’s good for the kids to know where their food is com­ing from. I do their lunch boxes with fresh rasp­ber­ries and black­ber­ries from the gar­den. We had a big crop last year! We have black­cur­rants, ap­ples, pear trees and plum trees.

“In the sum­mer, when we’re away on hol­i­days, the chick­ens go to the chicken ho­tel in Mar­low. The owner breeds chick­ens. She has loads of space and they have rows of plas­tic chicken coops for board­ing chick­ens while their own­ers go on hol­i­day. The chick­ens lay their eggs while we’re away and upon our re­turn, we get our chick­ens back, plus their eggs. The owner keeps al­pacas to scare away the foxes!

“One of the other great things about liv­ing here is that we have pur­ple em­peror but­ter­flies liv­ing in the trees. They are one of the rarest Bri­tish but­ter­flies. Once a year in sum­mer, we put shrimp paste all around the gar­den to at­tract the but­ter­flies and it’s a real treat to watch them all come down to feed.”

RICHARD’S BEES AND BUT­TER­FLIES

Anya’s hus­band, Richard, grew his own veg­eta­bles and kept bees as a teenager. To­day he also breeds but­ter­flies and moths, and keeps the cater­pil­lars un­der nets so they don’t get taken by birds. He says, “I have black veined white but­ter­flies, which are ex­tinct in the UK. They’re a French species, so I breed them and keep them in cages. It means they have lim­ited space to fly but they’re safe from birds. They pair up, pro­duce eggs and the cater­pil­lars munch all win­ter.

“We have a wild flower area for wild but­ter­flies. We al­low the grasses and flow­ers to grow and have or­chids, knap­weed and other wild flow­ers in that part of the gar­den. We don’t mow it un­til July or Au­gust.”

In the car port, Richard shows me some chrysalises. “Our oldest son Wil­liam found these ele­phant hawk moth chrysalises in the soil, so we’ve put them in flower pots while they ma­ture. They’re a year old now and due to hatch any time, so we’re watch­ing in­tently. The chrysalises move quite a bit at this stage.

“I used to breed en­dan­gered species of na­tive but­ter­flies, such as large tor­toise­shells and marsh frit­il­lar­ies. I re­leased them onto the com­mon, but some of them didn’t do so well when the grass cut­ters moved in.

“We pro­duce honey too. I’m pro­duc­tion man­ager of the bee­hives and Anya’s the sales man­ager. She sells the honey to con­sumers di­rectly on­line. I used to sell it to farm shops, but I got half the price that Anya gets for sell­ing it to con­sumers, so I let her do the sell­ing now. We get 300 to 400 lbs of honey a year and the hives are do­ing re­ally well.

“The Com­mon, a large area of land ad­ja­cent to our gar­den, is a site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est, so it’s not spoilt by com­mer­cial in­ter­ests or chem­i­cals. There are also rape fields nearby, which is great for the bees and the but­ter­flies.

“July is the most pro­duc­tive month for honey. The tap turns off after July un­til next spring! So the trick with bee-keep­ing is to have the hives stuffed with bees when the tap turns on, on 1st July, so the hive is ready when the honey flow comes.”

Walk­ing through Richard and Anya’s gar­den is in­spir­ing. The chick­ens are free, the land­scape is glo­ri­ous, the kitchen gar­den in planted with rows of veg­eta­bles, the wild flow­ers are start­ing to flower, and the sum­mer flower beds are slowly get­ting ready for a glo­ri­ous sun­shine bloom. As a vis­i­tor, I’m struck by the fam­ily’s con­nec­tion to na­ture, the chil­dren’s en­joy­ment of the nat­u­ral world, and their re­mark­able re­la­tion­ships with the chick­ens who seem quite happy to tol­er­ate any amount of han­dling - one was even pre­sented with a col­lar made from a toi­let roll tube. The col­lar was quickly re­moved by Anya who ex­plained that hens don’t like col­lars!

There’s clearly a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the whole fam­ily and the nat­u­ral world. It’s quite charm­ing and now that I’ve dis­cov­ered there’s such a thing as a ‘chicken ho­tel’ for hol­i­days, I’m quite tempted to get chick­ens my­self!

A chicken cud­dle for Anya

Anya’s beau­ti­ful gar­den

Chick­ens in the gar­den

Anya’s hen house

A net over the cater­pil­lars to pro­tect them from the birds

Ele­phant moth chrysalises

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