Guest blog: Chickens at the bottom of the Perch Hill veg garden

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Arthur one of his first visits to Perch Hill and his poultry discovery...

At the bottom of the Perch Hill Vegetable garden behind the hawthorn hedge, is a hen house, made by the farm manager Col. It stands several feet high on breeze blocks, the hen’s entrance is a romantic, traditional wooden ramp, with slats which gives the birds footing as they come and go.  

The fowl found here are lucky creatures, with the small group having the liberty of a grassy run that is interplanted with coppiced hazel.  Trees and grass provide the best sort of range for chickens, as having vegetation overhead and around them, helps them feel secure. This is the sort of habitat that their wild Indian jungle fowl ancestors would have been strutting about in. 

Good free range egg farmers have recognised that fields planted with comfort of trees, helps encourage more hens to leave their large, commercial hen houses and instead, live the proper daily life a free range hen. Studies carried out by Compassion in World Farming, have proven this too.  This led the British supermarket Sainsbury’s to introduce the woodland egg scheme. Since its establishment in 2004, the Woodland Trust is currently in partnership with over 180 farms.

 

On my first visit to perch Hill, I was delighted to discover that the garden had the presence of poultry. Since then, I have hatched Hamburg hens. This was because they already had 2 beautiful Hamburg cockerels of this pure breed of chicken. The Hamburg eggs came to me in the post from a breeder to then incubate and rear at the Emma Bridgewater factory. To my delight, both chicks flourished into sleek, shy, slate-blue-legged female beauties, that were much needed. They are accompanied by dumpier but more productive and seemingly kinder faced, cuckoo Maran cross breed hens, known as speckledy hens.

Last week I arrived off the train with a box containing Perch Hills newest ladies, a pair of fluffy Buff Orpington Pullets whom I hatched in January. They behaved very well on the train down from Stoke on Trent and were glad to find themselves, after being boxed up, pecking Sussex grass in the sun after their journey!

The Hamburg in focus

The Hamburg was originally bred in Lancashire in the 17th century. They were bred as a hardy farmyard bird and still are today. They are keen ranger’s, foragers and fliers! 

The hens lay white eggs, in good numbers during the spring and summer. They fly well and may choose to roost away from the hen house, if given the choice and cockerels have especially sharp toned crows.

Their combs (the red part upon the top of a chicken’s head) is classed as a rose comb, being flat and bubbly in its surface, almost like a split pomegranate! 

 

Buff Orpington in Focus

Buff Orpington's were a favourite chicken of the late Queen Mothers, with flocks being kept at Highgrove. They are renowned for their large size, docile characters and being the finest of broody hens.  While originally bred as a dual purpose breed, today most strains of them are poor layers as the importance of their looks has overtaken almost any interest regarding their laying abilities.

 Thanks for reading!

Arthur works as the gardener and florist at the Emma Bridgewater factory in Stoke on Trent.  He follows Sarah’s principles in growing cut flowers which are used in the factory shops, café and during events. Before this, he worked for Sarah for a summer after completing training at the Royal Botanical gardens of Kew.  Arthur’s favourite plants are those which make fabulous cut flowers but that are also bursting with pollen and nectar for visiting pollinators. His first love are chickens and feels strongly that a garden is not complete without the presence of poultry.