NOT your average pets but great ones nonethelesss – keeping chickens at your home is on the rise in Gwent.
Many families are discovering the joys and the benefits to keeping these feathered friends over the typical cat or dog.
Not only do chickens have the obvious benefit of provide a family with fresh eggs, but they also have educational advantages for those with young children.
Monmouthshire coordinator of the British Hen Welfare Trust and freelance journalist Kathy Jones, 56, is just one of many people across Gwent who keep chickens and has discovered their educational advantages.
Mother of two Mrs Jones, who keeps chickens at her Abergavenny home, decided to take the plunge when she realised that her garden didn’t have to be huge.
“It was just something I always fancied doing,” she said of keeping them.
“I always wanted to keen hens but I thought you needed a large space but you don’t.
“I keep seven hens at the moment as a person with a small garden, although the average person keeps three or four hens tops to start with as they are a little bit nervous about keeping them.
“But I encourage people to have more than two hens as they like to live in a community and they would just die if they don’t have interaction with others.
“They are very easy to look after – they just need food and water and to be locked away at night or they will be eaten by a fox.
“The biggest appeal is the fresh eggs every morning, but we do have our eldest hen who is seven and doesn’t lay eggs anymore so we keep her as our pet.”
Mrs Jones said the educational aspect comes through teaching the children how to care for them, the egg producing process, and they have the joy of eating the eggs to back it all up.
After keeping chickens, Mrs Jones decided to take her love of the birds further through her involvement with the British Hen Welfare Trust.
“I am the Monmouthshire coordinator of the British Hen Welfare Trust, where Every eight weeks we rescue caged hens that would otherwise be killed slaughtered,” she said.
“We have been going around a year and a half now.
“With the intensive farming of hens, They get to a certain age of around 16 to 18 months old and they are culled and a new batch of hens comes in.
“We have teams of volunteers and around 200 to 300 hens are re-homed with people coming to collect them.
“It is gaining recognition with a member of the royal family backing it.
“Going back to their appeal, the laid back attitude to caring for them is something that will appeal to many prospective owners.”
Easy to care for, Mrs Jones added that chickens eat the usual pellets along with vegetables and scraps.
“It’s also not unknown for the chickens to peck into their own eggs and eat them,“They eat anything that moves,” Mrs Jones added.
“They are easy to look after and If you have a garden they will keep the grass down for you.”
But what happens when you go away on holiday?
Well, Monmouthshire business The Cosy Hen Company have got it covered provide a ‘chicken hotel’ service for when the chickens’ owners are away for a while.
Set up in 2008, The Cosy Hen Company run by Peter and Glenda Stoneman specialises in both breeding and boarding chickens.
Running alongside alpaca breeding business ‘Amazing Alpacas,’ Mr and Mrs Stoneman decided to provide several chicken homes for owners with a place to leave the chickens when they go away.
Operating like a dog kennel Mr and Mrs Stoneman, who were both in banking previously, have seen a huge demand for the service and are booked up at peak times such as Christmas and school holidays.
“We've been breeding chickens for about seven years now and we have a range of birds that we breed and sell,” Mr Stoneman said.
“A few years in to it a couple of people came back to us explaining that their neighbours were going to look after them but they had been eaten by a fox or whatever and that got us thinking that maybe we could keep the chickens for them when they were away.”
They have now been boarding chickens for around three years and keep them in separate plastic housing units instead of wooden as they are easier to clean and create a bio-secure environment, reducing the risk of contamination.
“It’s increasingly popular, and we are getting repeat business,” Mr Stoneman continued.
“When people go away they just give us a ring.
“We have seven units and each unit is made up of a plastic chicken house which we get from Green Flag Designs made from recycled Dutch bottle tops.
“They have a nice old life.”
To complete their stay, The Cosy Hen Company also provides the chickens with food and bedding.
Chickens typically stay for two to three days but they also have the option to stay for much longer periods.
“It has raised the profile for people keeping chickens.
“What we have seen is People are coming back to keeping chickens after years away and young families buy chickens as a working pet for their children.”
The farm has around 150 chickens but boarding birds total 30 at maximum capacity with birds staying in different sized houses.
The chickens are well looked after not only are they provided with a secure bed for the night, their hosts also ensure that they have enough food and water and plenty of woodchips and treats of mixed corn.
At the end of the stay owners are given a selection of eggs laid over the boarding period.
The boarding chickens can be both hybrid and pure bred chickens and can be let out each morning and securely locked up at dusk.
The ‘hotel’ also provides all feed, water, corn, grit and bedding and houses are cleaned out regularly and each new group is moved onto fresh grass.
Catering to demand, The Cosy Hen Company also breed chickens depending on the requirements of the prospective owner.
“Chickens are hugely popular due to the whole ‘grow your own’ message in the media,” Mr Stoneman added.
“We have birds incubate 90 eggs every three weeks and sell different breeds depending on what people want.
“Its proving to be very popular and we can hatch them to order,” Mr Stoneman continued.
“People come from all over the country, from places such as Scotland and Northumberland to get their chickens from us.”
Susan Fiander-Woodhouse, of the Blaenafon Cheddar Co also keeps chickens and is reaping the benefits.
The 52-year-old mother of three also cited the highlight of chickens as their fresh eggs and the satisfaction of knowing where your food was coming from.
“We wanted some chickens to run around and liked the idea of having nice free range eggs,” she said.
“I think People have been educated about battery hens so it’s great to know that these are happy hens that are free range.”
“When We gave them some cheese and some scratchings and they began to produce gorgeous eggs which went on to win the True Taste Award for ‘flawless eggs’ twice.”
Mrs Fiander-Woodhouse started off with hens and now has 13 hens and one cockerel.
“I think they are a good idea and I absolutely love them,” she added.
For details visit bhwt.org.uk, cosyhens.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @cosyhens