Sara’s city hens
This month, Jeremy Hobson meets Sara Ward who has transformed a West London Victorian terrace house into an urban smallholding – complete with 20 hens!
What first got you interested in chicken-keeping? [It was] part of a journey to discover where our food came from - we decided to shop more ethically and, to offset the cost of choosing organic food [and] to produce some at home we were [soon] growing vegetables, herbs and salad but our small back garden wouldn’t allow a cow or a pig (neither would my husband!). Our first pair of hybrid hens arrived with their ‘Eglu’ as a birthday present in 2007; a couple of chicks hatched in my daughter’s classroom at school came to join them and, when moving to a house with a larger garden the following year, we decided to invest in a bigger Eglu Cube and to expand the flock.
We love to keep a good variety of chickens. This ensures a good supply of eggs throughout the year. Current favourites are Orpingtons, Pekins, Polish and bantam Wyandottes. The Legbar and cross breeds keep us in blue eggs and the Leghorns lay perfect white eggs – we love the egg varieties so much that we designed our new kitchen around their colours!
Your website is ‘Hen Corner’ (www. hencorner.com). How did it come about? The name was quite straightforward. We have hens and live at the corner of the street! A key part of Hen Corner is to encourage those living in towns and cities to appreciate all that we have to hand and look to incorporate elements of country living into our day to day lives. For us, this seemed quite normal, but to others it was fascinating that we were starting to ‘farm’ our London back garden and by April 2010 we had started blogging about our exploits and ran our first chicken-keeping course the following month.
While our chickens will always play a significant part, over recent years we have expanded and broadened our projects as we continue to produce as much of our own food as possible from the garden. As we learn new skills, we like to pass them on, and it wasn’t long before we were also offering preserving courses and bread-baking courses. The installation of a couple of bee hives presented more opportunities for us to invite others to join us as we explored new ways of producing food. I expect our lifestyle is not too unusual for a family living in the countryside, but we are nestled virtually under the elevated section of the M4, halfway between Harrods and Heathrow!
What would you consider to be the major difference between urban and rural chicken-keeping? I think space is a big factor; be it for housing, free range opportunities or even bulk storage of feed (it’s quite a bit more expensive to buy layers pellets by the sack at the pet shop).
I think there’s a wider variety of predators in rural areas; we just have foxes and I don’t expect many country families have neighbours feeding foxes with cat food to help them survive, thus attracting many more! It’s worth investing in high quality housing with a fox resistant run [but] we let our chickens range free while we are around to supervise and in 11 years have only lost three to foxes. I’d always rather take a bit of a risk to allow free-ranging and give a better quality of life to the hens.
A benefit of keeping chickens in rural areas could be that you are closer to other neighbours keeping poultry which could be good for breeding stock and mutual support, though a big advantage of keeping hens in the city is that your eggs are always in high demand and you can ask a good price for them!
I expect our lifestyle is not too unusual for a family living in the countryside, but we are nestled virtually under the elevated section of the M4, halfway between Harrods and Heathrow