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Ex-battery hens the coop winners as suburban Scots seek Good Life

10/01/2011

It harks back to the self-sufficiency boom of the 1970s which inspired the hit British sitcom The Good Life starring Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers.

 

Garden centre retailers and animal charities say they experienced a huge surge in demand for egg-laying hens and chicken coops last year, suggesting the recession has sparked a new generation of suburban farmers.

 

In the past few years, poultry-keeping has enjoyed massive growth, fuelled by celebrity endorsement from chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, who succesfully persuaded mayonnaise manufacturer Hellmann’s to stop using eggs from battery hens. Both of these celebrities keep one or more chicken coops of their own in their gardens.

Estimates suggest more than 500,000 homes in the UK now have their own fresh supply of eggs and their own chicken coop in the garden.

Garden centre chain Dobbies said it had been “inundated” with requests for chickens and chicken coops at its centres.

The firm, which is owned by Tesco, sold over 400 chickens across its Scottish stores throughout 2010 – more than double the previous year’s figure of 155. Sales of chicken coops were up 27% on last year, chicken food is also up 261% and healthcare for poultry is up 203%.

The hens are priced from £25-£30 and the top-selling breed in Scotland is the Isa Brown which retails for £25.

The firm insists customers buy a minimum of two hens, but suggests four to six is a better option and would produce an average of 20 to 30 eggs a week. The hens do not need the help of a cockerel to live in their chicken coop to produce their eggs, so there should be no unwelcome early morning alarm calls for neighbours of suburban farmers.

It’s quite unusual for chickens to be so appealing at this time of year because they don’t tend to lay a lot of eggs during the winter months, but we have been inundated with inquiries. Not only does keeping chickens give families a greater sense of wellbeing, but it provides people with real value for money because having their own eggs links with growing their own food while building on the rise of environmental consciousness.”

A trial in six stores last year proved an “overwhelming hit”, encouraging Dobbies to sell hens at 15 of its 29 garden centres in England and Scotland.

There are no laws that prohibit the public from keeping hens but laws exist concerning welfare and the sale of eggs. The British Hen Welfare Trust advises that a chicken coop should be at least 250 sq cm in floor area for each bird, with a perch for sleeping, an exercise run, a nesting box and protection against predators such as foxes.

 

 


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