We just clucked! The A-list’s latest obsession
From royals to celebrities, anyone who’s anyone is keeping hens. E, discovers Stuart Heritage, it’s not just for their eggs…
A couple of weeks ago, at the end of a playdate, the grandmother of my son’s best friend came sidling up to me holding a box. ‘Want some eggs?’ she asked with a conspiratorial smile. And she had every reason to be pleased with herself. As everybody knows, there is no greater gift than a box of free fresh eggs. Anyone can buy a bunch of flowers. But a fresh egg is one of the best things a human being can eat. I said yes a little too quickly, then spent too long gazing at my eggy haul.
Ripensandoci, I can see the gesture was a power move. Because she wasn’t just giving me eggs. She was also letting me know that she had hens. And these days, nothing is as fashionable as a hen. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge admitted to acquiring ‘lots of chickens’ during lockdown while, during their blockbuster Oprah interview, their arch rivals Harry and Meghan showed off the elaborate ‘Archie’s Chick Inn’ coop in their garden. The Camerons and Geri Halliwell have chickens. Jennifer Garner has been known to walk her hens around Los Angeles on a lead. Isabella Rossellini wrote an entire book about her chickens and Elizabeth Hurley has posed proudly with her brood. Tori Spelling calls herself ‘the chicken whisperer’ and carries a hen around town like a chihuahua. If you haven’t got a chicken, you’re nobody.
Which isn’t to say that my son’s friend’s gran is status obsessed, but she is one of a growing breed. According to recent research, hen ownership is on the rise in the UK. L'anno scorso 1,338,000 people owned chickens. Country Life magazine claims that chicken ownership boomed so wildly during lockdown that they are now the nation’s fourth most popular pet.
Perché? Simple: a dog can give you companionship, but having chickens means you’ll never have to panic buy a box of eggs again. Plus hens are good company. You’ll be able to derive endless fun from watching their complex social hierarchy work itself out. Dopotutto, we didn’t get the phrase ‘pecking order’ from nowhere. A hen’s personality is a distinct thing, although to be fair it does help if you buy the right breed. A Buff Orpington, per esempio, won’t give you the most eggs, but they’re famed for their calmness. While Rhode Island Reds have a reputation for being very mean but are great egg producers.
Now that you’re convinced, it’s time to start looking for chickens. Finding a chicken from a breeder might guarantee some placidity, but it can also cost; the closest breeder to me sells German Deathlayer hens for £50 a pop. Much better would be to adopt. The British Hen Welfare Trust exists to rehome commercial hens, saving approximately 60,000 a year from slaughter. però, due to extreme demand you might not get your hands on a hen any time soon. But doesn’t the exclusivity just make you want one more?
Doing your research helps. In the 1990s my family became the owner of one solitary, noisy cockerel named – thanks to my little brother – Roast. It woke us up too early every morning, did nothing but strut about and gave us nothing to eat. After a few weeks my mum made my dad give it away, although it’s only now that I’ve realised ‘give it away’ was probably a euphemism for something scarier.
Anziché, you should get a minimum of three hens and make sure they have a large, sturdy coop and plenty of space. The PDSA recommends a diet of commercially produced feed and plenty of clean water. Foxes are a problem, so you will need to spend extra to keep your chickens secure. Once that is all in place you can rest easy, showing off pictures of your little pals on Instagram.
But even though the hen is the latest must-have pet, there is a limit. A Washington Post article profiled a bunch of chicken-loving Silicon Valley wunderkinds who fed their hens a diet of salmon and watermelon and put them in nappies so they could roam around inside their houses.
Getting eggs from a friend is a wonderful thing, but it’s important to keep this thing in perspective. If the answer to ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘in order to take up its place on your sofa’ then it’s time to put the birds back in the coop.