"Kids are fascinated by chickens" says busy mum, registered childminder and Early Years Teacher, Jess Webber. And she should know, she keeps them in her back garden.
Hi I’m Jess, a mum of three - Imogen, Jade and Kael, a childminder and teacher from a small village near Lyme Regis in Devon, UK. When I was a child I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm. I thoroughly enjoyed spending my time outside, getting involved in farm life, and looking after the animals; including ponies, sheep, cows, pigs, dogs, cats, rabbits, and chickens. Growing and eating our own produce has always been important to our family.
My childhood has had a huge influence on the experiences I like to offer the children in my care. I like encouraging time outside, and having chickens helps give children an understanding of food, where it comes from and how animals need to be treated.
I started keeping my own chickens about ten years ago, initially just for eggs, but naturally became involved in hatching a few every year, using an incubator or a broody chicken. I currently keep ten chickens including a cockerel. I enjoy the experience of caring for, and learning about them. I am happy to work hard to grow and produce my own food. It gives me a great appreciation of what I am actually eating and how it's ended up on my plate.
Children enjoy being with animals, and chickens are a great way to teach them about life cycles, food, and the responsibility that comes with keeping them. They love to feed them, collect the eggs and cook with them, pet the chickens and watch the eggs hatch. Children are always fascinated with this experience and enjoy watching the chickens develop.
The children sing 'Chick, chick, chicken lay a little egg for me' when we collect the eggs!
We don’t name all of the chickens, just the odd few that have particular characters, or the cockerel at the time! I keep a variety of breeds:
Orpington: My favourite, (they come in a variety of colours, buff – a pale yellow brown – being the most common). I have a lavender Orpington hen and a buff cockerel, at the moment. The Orpingtons are multi-purpose birds, providing eggs, and they are also big enough to eat. They are a laid-back, traditional breed, which are good around children.
Silver Dorking: I have a hen, which I hatched here last year (you can also source eggs ready for hatching), this traditional breed is new to me and reasonably rare.
Pekin Wyandotte Bantam: a very pretty blue and brown coloured hen. Her eggs are much smaller than the other chickens', and she is definitely at the bottom of the pecking order in my flock.
The rest of the hens are hybrids - a mix of two different pure breeds. And they are the main egg layers. They include, a brown Leghorn, an amber Link, a Cou Cou Maran, and a few Warren hens. We have one really friendly hen called Chica. She will follow you around and get in the bucket when you’re trying to feed them. She has been known to walk into the house when the door is open!
The chickens have a shed in the garden where they live overnight. They usually run free around the garden during the day, living happily among my other animals. Just for the moment, I do have a small covered run attached to their shed, due to the threat of bird flu.
I feed the chickens layers pellets which I buy locally, mixed corn and then scraps from the kitchen. They are very easy to look after, I let them out in the morning and shut them in at night to prevent foxes or badgers eating them. I make sure they have access to grit, which is good for laying hens to peck at to strengthen their shells. I also put ping pong balls in their nest boxes, the chickens think they are eggs and lay their eggs near them. This means I always know where I can find them! I fill up their food and water everyday, and collect eggs. I clean them out every few weeks, and keep an eye out for any parasites, like lice or mites and treat when necessary.
To keep your own chickens, you will need a coop or chicken house for them to go in at night, and some outside space that is secure. This can be your whole garden or a purpose built run. Chickens like to scratch around outside, the more green space the better (makes tastier eggs)! You’ll need a feed and water container and bedding to put in the house. There are a lot of places you could get chickens from, I started with rescuing a few battery hens (the British Hen Welfare Trust can help you). It is lovely to watch them discover the outside for the first time. Moonridge Poultry Farm, Exeter sell some great laying hens, and there is a poultry auction near Dorchester called Revels which is always entertaining!
Our chickens lay about 1800 eggs a year and we are able to sell some of them to the local community. I enjoy cooking and all my family love eggs. What's our favourite egg recipe? Yikes there are so many! We would all say something different. We love making puddings with the eggs especially meringues. I am currently playing with frittata recipes to find one we all like, and to use up an oversupply of eggs!
It makes me happy to have chickens, to offer some of what I experienced as a child to others. I love the feeling that I am producing some of my own food through keeping chickens, and I like to watch the chickens out the window when I wash up! It is also nice to give the odd box of eggs to someone, when you have too many, and no one has bought any! 🙂
Busy mum and happy chicken keeper
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