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!

Your Chickens - - Feature | Poultry People -

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

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