It’s cluckingham palace! So many families have embraced the Good Life during lockdown. But have these women over egged it by giving pampered hens their very own home?
You’ve heard of pampered pooches, now make way for chickens who turn their beaks up at run-of-the-mill hen houses. Chicken ownership boomed in lockdown as people took on new hobbies, with many trying to recreate the 70s sitcom about self-sufficiency, The Good Life, in their own back gardens.
Hen re-homing charities report soaring demand for birds and, while most are housed in simple coops, a lucky few live in far grander surroundings. SADIE NICHOLAS meets the fowl who’d get in a flap if they had to live in anything less than these well feathered nests…
Lives of luxury for feathered friends
Alison Gelling, 47, is a carer and lives in Moray near Aberdeen with husband John, 58, a social worker. Their son Jacob, 22, is at university in Switzerland. She says:
Far from being cooped up in a dull brown shed, my three hens live a life of luxury in a quirky cottage within the acre garden of our own cottage.
Nothing makes me smile quite like seeing them peeping out from behind the little curtains — which I made on my sewing machine — when I go to open up the Palace every morning. They then wander rather regally down the steps past pots of flowers to their huge run to peck and play.
Alison Gelling, 47, is a carer and lives in Moray near Aberdeen with husband John, 58, a social worker
My husband built the coop five years ago using materials left over from house projects, combining his flair for DIY with my love of little cottages.
Cluckingham Palace is made from timber with a corrugated metal roof and the whole thing is lined to ensure it’s warm and dry inside. There are glass panes in the windows, and the hens perch in the main area of the palace to roost, while to one side is a nesting area in which to lay their eggs.
There are two large doors at the back so that I can reach in easily to clean it. The mature trees in the run help to shield them from harsher weather.
Small wonder that our chickens love their posh home!
Angela is a 12-year-old light Sussex hen, which is ancient in chicken terms. She’s very quiet and has always been at the bottom of the pecking order.
Whitey is another light Sussex who’s ten and the very bossy queen of Cluckingham Palace. Meanwhile Sophie is an ex-battery rescue hen who was bald and in a terrible state when got her from the British Hen Welfare Trust four years ago.
It was so rewarding watching her begin to do normal chicken things after a few days, such as scratching around in the earth, and she loves to run up and jump on my knee for a cuddle.
We’ve kept hens now for more than 20 years as they’re lovely to have around and, of course, visitors are always mesmerised by their palatial pad.
Top of the pecking order? Bill and Hillary in the White House
Catherine Belso, 40, lives in Newmarket with her partner David, 41, a financial director, and their children Gabriel, three and Kitty, two. She says:
My flock of 40 chickens don’t just have one coop, they share an entire village of four, located by the paddock in our large garden.
There’s Hensylvania Cottage, a black timber coop with cerise pink faux flowers on the roof, the sage green Haven Cottage, Swan’s Nest Cottage and my all time favourite — sugar pink Fluffy Butt Cottage.
Catherine Belso, 40, lives in Newmarket with her partner David, 41, a financial director, and their children Gabriel, three and Kitty, two
I built them all myself during the various lockdowns after buying four huge Jersey Giant chickens to add to my existing collection of 30 pure breed Pekin Bantam chickens last spring.
My dad died just before the first lockdown, and my partner and I were then both made redundant, so I desperately wanted a distraction.
I’ve always been creative so I painted it green, stencilled pink roses on the front and made a sign saying ‘The First Ladies’ Cottage’.
The whole of the back opens up for easy cleaning, and the ‘window’ holes have mesh behind them to allow good ventilation.
Jersey Giants like to roost up high so I installed tree branches inside on three levels to allow their feet to curl naturally, and so that they can huddle up together under the eaves.
I loved the process and the result so much that I decided to make more, hence my village and I’ve since built them a better coop called The White House — after all, three of them are called Bill, Hillary and Monica.
The coops have battery-operated Chicken Guard doors to keep them safe, and sit within a large run measuring around 4m by 5m, because avian flu restrictions require them to be penned in.
So many people started asking me about the coops after I posted pictures on social media that I’ve now turned it into a little business.
Treated like royalty in a very British coop
Donna Iliffe-Pollard, 52, is a children’s author and ghost writer and lives near Leeds with her husband Jason, 51, who owns an electrical business. She says:
Chickens came into my life 13 years ago after my dad died and I read that they can be therapeutic during grief.
My nickname is Donna Dolittle thanks to my love of animals, so I bought a few and fell in love with them.
Donna Iliffe-Pollard, 52, is a children’s author and ghost writer and lives near Leeds with her husband Jason, 51, who owns an electrical business
But I didn’t feel the same about the boring coops we used to have, so when I spotted a cute, pale blue, 5 ft tall rabbit hutch for £99 in a pet shop a few years ago, it was a light-bulb moment: I would buy it and turn it into a Cluckingham Palace!
First, I put it on stilts as chickens like to be off the ground, and secured it on a bed of concrete so that foxes can’t dig down from outside the run to get inside.
Wire grilles on the windows were replaced by pieces of shiplap cladding, and I painted the timber a clay colour with white window frames, and used stencils to add pink flowers to the front.
Cerise pink steps lead down from the front door to Cluckingham Palace gardens — a covered, galvanised steel mesh pen that’s 10 ft tall and 12 ft wide with screening on two sides.
In one corner is a wooden swing with cerise faux flowers entwined around the ropes, plus decorative tubs, plants, buckets and feeders for them to play with.
But it doesn’t stop my six hens from wandering into our cottage — when they’re not in lockdown — and following me round the kitchen.
Not only do they live in luxury, they feast on grapes, grated cheese, peas, dried mealworms and sweetcorn, and if they see me in the garden with a trowel in my hand, they swamp me as if to say: ‘She’s here and it looks like she might dig up some worms!’
Our 38 cock-a-hoop chickens!
Rebecca Rushworth, 34, is a furniture restorer and lives near Blackpool with husband Chris, 45, a company director, and children Sienna, six and Frankie, four. She says:
Living in splendour at the bottom of our large garden are 38 chickens, all rescued during the pandemic.
Although ordinarily they are free range, a nationwide outbreak of avian flu means the chickens are also under lockdown in their main 30ft covered run, which is book ended with two impressive, hand-crafted coops.
Rebecca Rushworth, 34, is a furniture restorer and lives near Blackpool with husband Chris, 45, a company director, and children Sienna, six and Frankie, four
The outside is decorated with bunting, flowers and wreaths made from twigs so they look pretty.
Inside, I’ve used old drawers to make a nesting box for each chicken, filled with hay or wood shavings and sprinkled with dried lavender so they smell fragrant.
Sienna and Frankie helped me to paint three old tyres in bright colours for the chickens to play with and we tie cabbages to the wire meshing on the sides of the run for them to peck at.
On the floor is lots of soil and diatomaceous earth, which helps protect them from parasites and keeps their feathers shiny.
We’d never kept chickens before but got our first four at the start of the first lockdown — including my favourite, named Sadie after Chris’s late grandma — from local charity giveahenahome.co.uk, which rescues them from battery farms.
I thought it would be wonderful for my children to be involved in their daily care. Having this routine at a time when everything else has been so changeable has been a lifesaver.
After rescuing several more chickens, word got out locally and people now phone me to dash to the aid of other chooks in need.
Last month a chap called to say his elderly neighbour had died and he’d since found a forgotten cockerel and six hens in the old man’s coal shed.
The cockerel, David, needed daily salt baths to help heal his sore legs while his harem of six girls required food and nurturing to nurse them back to health.
We now have 30 hens who lay at least 15 eggs a day between them so I’ve made a little stall at the front of our house where villagers can buy them.
Last week I was about to throw away an old bistro table and chairs when my husband suggested I should put them inside the run so that I can sit and have a glass of red wine while the chickens peck around my feet — which is exactly what I did in the beautiful spring sunshine last weekend.
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