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
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