Room at the Inn

Go­ing away this Christ­mas and not sure what to do with your beloved birds? Susie Kear­ley finds that Hel­ston’s The Chicken Ho­tel of­fers board­ing over the fes­tive pe­riod (and at all other times of the year) and feath­ered vis­i­tors are warmly wel­comed by choo

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Corn­wall’s The Chicken Ho­tel, by Susie Kear­ley

David Roberts is per­haps the most en­thu­si­as­tic poul­try-pas­sion­ate per­son I have ever come across. He is to­tally nuts about chooks, and The Chicken Ho­tel at Bosken­wyn, near Hel­ston in Corn­wall, enables him to in­dulge his love for feath­ered crea­tures.

Driv­ing up the nar­row coun­try road to The Chicken Ho­tel, the lane opens out into a farm­yard with free-range hens, the sound of dis­tant moo­ing and coun­try smells. David comes out to greet me with a chicken in his arms and a big grin. Dressed in work­ing clothes, he has just been clean­ing the coops and is sport­ing bits of wood shav­ings and hay in his hair. Now is not the best time for a pho­to­shoot he as­sures me.

David’s pas­sion for chick­ens started here on Bosken­wyn Manor Farm when he moved into the farm­house in 2007 in or­der to take up a join­ery po­si­tion in Pen­zance. He loved liv­ing the good life on the farm and he started to keep chick­ens and grow his own veg­eta­bles. A few years later he had a ca­reer change, be­came a teacher and that is when the spark of an idea for The Chicken Ho­tel was born.

David had made friends at work and talked about his ad­ven­tures rais­ing chick­ens with col­leagues. He had fallen in love with the birds and his en­thu­si­asm was con­ta­gious. A cou­ple of teach­ers, a hus­band and wife duo, liked David’s lifestyle and wanted to keep hens. They had moved into a lit­tle cot­tage with seven acres of land, but felt un­able to get chick­ens be­cause they didn’t have any­where to board them when they went away. David of­fered to look af­ter their hens; he even built the chick­ens a coop for their hol­i­days. The cou­ple was de­lighted.

“They even­tu­ally got about six chick­ens,” says David.

Hav­ing dis­cov­ered that there was no one else of­fer­ing hen board­ing in the re­gion, David de­cided to of­fer his ser­vice more widely by ad­ver­tis­ing. “I thought that it might be a fun lit­tle ven­ture and I hoped that it would pro­vide some nice ex­tra in­come to sup­ple­ment my teach­ing work,” he ex­plains. David soon dis­cov­ered that there was plenty of de­mand for chicken board­ing in Corn­wall. “The first book­ing was a de­light and sur­prised ev­ery­one on the farm,” he says. “Then more book­ings trick­led in and it looked like the idea might work.”

The Chicken Ho­tel was born and run­ning it all year round be­came a joint ef­fort be­tween David and Colin, a farmer on site. That was seven years ago.

“As the num­ber of cus­tomers grew, we ex­panded or­gan­i­cally,” says David. “I built ex­tra coops when we reached ca­pac­ity. We now have nine coops and can fit up to six chick­ens in each, so our max­i­mum ca­pac­ity is 54 birds. How­ever, the most com­mon num­ber of chick­ens is three in a coop; an eas­ily man­age­able num­ber. Chick­ens feel com­fort­able and re­laxed in a nat­u­ral flock. Two is still a bit lonely for them and you def­i­nitely shouldn’t have just one — they would get very de­pressed.”

To­day The Chicken Ho­tel, lo­cated in one of Corn­wall’s premier hol­i­day hotspots, is thriv­ing. How­ever, while most peo­ple are put­ting their feet up over the fes­tive pe­riod, David finds that Christ­mas is his busiest time of year.

“I didn’t ex­pect Christ­mas to be the busiest time. I thought

the summer hol­i­days would be the most fre­netic, but it makes sense: Christ­mas is when ev­ery­one has the same fixed pe­riod of hol­i­day and wants to go away to visit rel­a­tives. Out of our loyal cus­tomer base there are al­ways a few who go away ev­ery fes­tive sea­son.”

Keen to look af­ter his reg­u­lars, David makes sure that his cus­tomers are well catered for. “Book­ings are taken on a first-come-first-served ba­sis, so if the ho­tel starts get­ting booked up I try to give our reg­u­lars a friendly re­minder be­fore the Christ­mas diary be­comes fully booked,” he says.

The chick­ens were al­ways guar­an­teed to give David a warm fuzzy feel­ing, but he didn’t ex­pect to be­come so fond of the hu­mans too.

“My cus­tomers are one of the best things about run­ning The Chicken Ho­tel,” he says. “I knew I’d en­joy car­ing for all the dif­fer­ent breeds of bird that come to stay, but an un­ex­pected high­light is how much I’ve en­joyed deal­ing with their own­ers. They’re so friendly and we en­joy a shared love of poul­try, so there’s lots to chat about.”

A walk around the coops shows chick­ens of all va­ri­eties look­ing out — fancy breeds, hy­brids and some ex-bats. They look con­tent in their ru­ral sur­round­ings, and al­though all vis­i­tors are penned, David’s own chick­ens are free to roam.

“Do you get ex­tra help dur­ing the Christ­mas pe­riod?” I ask.

“No, I just have to get up a bit ear­lier,” laughs David, who un­doubt­edly bounds out of bed with great en­thu­si­asm at the thought of see­ing all those chick­ens in the morn­ing. It is clearly no great hard­ship to tend to his feath­ered friends, even on Christ­mas Day. “It’s ac­tu­ally great fun,” he en­thuses. “When the chick­ens have been set up for the day, I en­joy a nice Christ­mas din­ner and the chick­ens have their own favourite foods and nib­bles.”

Run­ning The Chicken Ho­tel in win­ter, how­ever, is not with­out its chal­lenges.

“One of the most dif­fi­cult things about the job over Christ­mas is that the wa­ter­ers can freeze and crack. If I’m try­ing to get the coops set up for the day it can take quite a while to sort them out. The eas­i­est thing to do is to empty them and take the wa­ter­ers in at night and put them out again in the morn­ing, but raised a lit­tle off the ground. Some­times the feed can freeze, too, if mois­ture or dew soaks into it. I try to avoid this by giv­ing the birds just enough for the day. Then I’ll

BE­LOW: David is handy and makes his own hen housesRIGHT: David loves car­ing for the chick­ens that come to stay, and oc­ca­sion­ally he will greet his guests and their own­ers in his bow tie

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