Poul­try Peo­ple

In this month’s col­umn, Jeremy Hob­son talks to Fer­gus Collins – ed­i­tor of the BBC Coun­try­file mag­a­zine and chicken en­thu­si­ast. Fer­gus lives in Mon­mouthshire.

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Fer­gus Collins

When did you first be­come in­ter­ested in chicken-keep­ing? My fam­ily had quite a menagerie when I was very young, in­clud­ing pi­geons, rab­bits, dogs, guinea pigs, ducks – and chick­ens. They were an in­te­gral part of our lives though there was a rogue cock­erel called Chan­ti­cleer who was very ag­gres­sive to adults. He would of­ten es­cape onto the veg patch and grandpa would go out, armed with a spade, to drive him off. Grandpa – a First World War vet­eran – didn’t al­ways win. Later in life, I was se­duced by Hugh Fearn­ley Whit­tingstall’s fairy-tale ef­forts at run­ning a small­hold­ing at River Cot­tage and knew that I had to have a patch of land of my own one day and pop­u­late it with pro­duc­tive chick­ens. I be­gan with two Light Sussex hens. We later added a pair of ‘Speck­eldies’ and a ban­tam cock­erel of mixed parent­age. For three years we had more eggs than we needed and they were a de­light­ful ad­di­tion to our mi­cro-hold­ing on a Welsh hill­side. We would let them out in the morn­ing, they would put them­selves to bed at dusk and gave us no trou­ble.

What is it about chick­ens that ab­sorbs you – is it the practicalities of fresh eggs, their char­ac­ters? I loved sit­ting with a cof­fee and a book and have them peck­ing and cluck­ing around the gar­den. It was a great stress re­liever. They had an acre to roam in and for­aged on a huge range of plants and an­i­mal life so their eggs tasted fan­tas­tic. Each of the chick­ens had a clear char­ac­ter – one was very timid, an­other very friendly, a third would al­ways go to bed early and the cock­erel would al­ways sleep in a tree.

To many, your role as ed­i­tor of Coun­try­file mag­a­zine, must seem the ul­ti­mate ‘dream job’. What is it you most en­joy about it? I never have Sun­day evening blues. I get to work with words and see the very best of the coun­try­side – if not in per­son, then through the ex­pe­ri­ences of my team and con­trib­u­tors - learn about food and farm­ing, wildlife, ru­ral crafts and the many big is­sues that af­fect coun­try life. The sub­ject mat­ter is end­less and the team and I are only con­strained by our imag­i­na­tions – and what the read­ers want. We re­cently ran a very un­usual piece on “Where to sur­vive the apoc­a­lypse in the Bri­tish coun­try­side”, which, al­though tonguein-cheek, took many read­ers by sur­prise. It re­minded us that most peo­ple see the coun­try­side as a place to de-stress and find beauty and sta­bil­ity in an un­pre­dictable world.

Do you have any spe­cific ad­vice to of­fer as a re­sult of your chick­en­keep­ing? Keep them safe. I’d built a high se­cu­rity run for them – which was never breached – but we be­came over-con­fi­dent at let­ting the hens wan­der and a fox struck. We lost both the Sussex and one of the Speck­eldies. We gave the last lonely bird to a neigh­bour with chick­ens. I don’t blame the fox at all – it was en­tirely my fault. I have learnt a lot about fox be­hav­iour while work­ing on BBC Coun­try­file and BBC Wildlife Mag­a­zines, and I have huge re­spect for their re­source­ful­ness. How­ever, they can­not breach a well-made run. [Sadly] the small­hold­ing ad­ven­ture came to an end not long after. I’ll cer­tainly have chick­ens again though – es­pe­cially some of the pretty lit­tle ban­tam breeds.

Fer­gus Collins

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