Households struggling with rising bills can embrace the spirit of post-war austerity Britain by keeping chickens
Households struggling with rising bills can embrace the spirit of post-war austerity Britain by keeping chickens.
Free range egg prices are rocketing due to the rising cost of grain and a recent outbreak of bird flu. Shoppers face paying £2 for half a dozen eggs although some farmers are threatening to shut down production altogether because they can’t make a profit.
Yet by using as little as 3 sq ft of your back garden, you might enjoy 250 free eggs a year from a single hen – the equivalent of an annual saving on grocery bills of about £80.
MY HENS LAY FOUR EGGS A DAY
As someone who keeps hens at my home near Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, I enjoy fresh eggs nearly every day.
As a result, I save time and money on going to the shops. My brood comprises three Cream Legbar cross-breeds and a couple of Silkie hens.
Financial coop: Toby Walne tends to his hens at his home near Bishop’s Stortford
They lay on average four eggs a day at this time of the year, but for as long as four months over winter, they stop laying.
My total egg savings works out at £300 a year. But I derive much pleasure from them, too.
An early morning visit to the hen house in the garden to feed them is the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life.
And so far, the foxes have stayed away.
During the ‘dig for victory’ era of rationing introduced in the Second World War – and that lasted until 1954 – it was common to keep hens in the garden to supplement meals. The alternative was a ration of one fresh egg a week plus a tin of dry powdered eggs every two months.
Jane Howorth, founder of the British Hen Welfare Trust, says: ‘You can obtain egg-laying birds for nothing. We have 48 centres across the country where you can pick up our birds for free – though we accept donations.’ She adds: ‘We rehome 60,000 battery hens a year – birds that might otherwise end up in a curry, meat pie or dog food. They can often continue laying for another three or four years.’
These former battery hens, typically Lohmann Brown hybrids, are usually 18 months old and can lay eggs daily. Alternatively, you might prefer to choose your own breed. ‘Point of lay’ hens generally cost £15 or more and websites such as chickens.allotment-garden.org offer details of about 500 breeders selling poultry. It also has details of allotments that can be rented from as little as £12 a year for those without enough space at home to keep hens.
Since late last year, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, has issued guidance that all hens should be kept under cover in pens to stop the spread of bird flu. This applies to hens kept at home, on an allotment or commercially farmed. Websites such as The Carpenter’s Daughter advise how to build coops with enclosed spaces using materials that cost around £100.
Howorth says: ‘If you do not fancy building a coop and enclosure yourself, you can buy a basic coop from as little as £200. Outfits such as Omlet offer plastic designer homes from about £400, but if you want to break the budget, you could consider a £4,000 gypsy caravan from Flyte So Fancy.’
Those worried about foxes causing carnage should consider an electric fence powered by a 12-volt car battery. These cost around £120 and keep hens safe without harming any predator.
Although hens need to be fed and well looked after – with the coop cleaned and straw replaced in the egg-laying area perhaps once a fortnight – owners soon more than recoup these costs with the savings from producing your own freshly laid eggs.
Kaye Robson, owner of Robsons Feed Supplies in Clavering, Essex, says: ‘A hen consumes less than £20 of feed a year. I keep 25 birds and they get through an £11 bag of mixed corn a month, plus a £12 bag of layers’ pellets.’
A sprinkling of grit will ensure the egg shells are strong and daily fresh water is a must. Poultry owners usually keep a minimum of three hens as birds like company. Neighbours are best kept sweet by presenting them with occasional free eggs. You must ask their permission if you want to keep a cockerel.
For bees and pigs, ask the neighbours first
A hive of bees can produce up to 60 pounds of honey a year – a harvest worth £300 if you sell one pound jars for £5 each.
But before you start counting all that money, you must consider the cost associated with this rewarding hobby. A basic hive costs around £200 while a nuc – a small starter colony with a queen – might set you back a further £150. A protective suit with a few basic tools, such as a smoker to calm bees down, adds a further £150. Contact the British Beekeepers Association for further details, including courses available to wannabe beekeepers.
Whether a Gloucestershire Old Spot, Black Tamworth or a Saddleback, you can choose from more than a dozen British breeds to bring home the bacon. But be aware of the mess they make of flower beds. Each pig typically requires 30 sq ft in which to wallow. Fences plus a sty costs at least £250.
Keep at least two pigs for company. Piglets cost from £25 and by the time they are four months old can be sold to a butcher for £250. They can eat 2kg of feed a day, costing £5 a week. You need understanding neighbours who do not mind farmyard smells. For details, contact the British Pig Association.