The Duchess of Richmond
PUBLISHED: 01:16 28 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:03 20 February 2013
The Duchess of Richmond is well known throughout Sussex. What is perhaps less well known is her hobby of keeping chickens. She is a patron of the British Hen Welfare Trust. Here she tells us some more about her pastime
How many hens do you keep and what breeds are they?
At last count we had nine ex-bats and 5 Bantam Silkies. I get all my ex-battery hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust.
Why did you choose this breed?
The Bantams were given to me by my daughter, the ex-bats I decided I wanted to rescue from such a terrible existence.
What inspired you to start keeping chickens?
Well my Mother and Grandmother always had chickens so I have had chickens in my life since childhood.
I have kept chickens on and off ever since, and about four years ago I heard about the plight of battery hens and felt I had to do something about it.
What sort of chicken housing and run do you have?
My chickens have a big wire run with lots of shade, sunshine and dust baths and all the things they need to thrive. The chicken house is a Forsham Cottage chicken house and is very nice and practical, especially in winter.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction in keeping chickens?
Seeing the ex-bats recover and, of course, having free range, organic eggs which we cook with regularly. I also like the sound the chickens make, and their friendliness. The ex-bats lay very well we get nearly one a day from each of them.
What is the most difficult thing about keeping chickens?
I would think just being aware of their potential health problems as they are not always easy to spot, such as mites and scaly leg. You need to be vigilant. And of course, keeping the fox at bay
Do you give your hens names?
Yes, on the whole, and we ring them too. We have Betty, Matilda, Floppy Comb and even Big Mama! They tend to pick up names that suit them as they go along.
Do you have a funny story about your hens?
They do silly things from time to time. We have lots of fun watching the new ex-bats getting used to their ladder especially the first time they use it. But they soon get used to it! It was also hysterical watching one of our bossier hens seeing off a rather surprised cock pheasant; it was very funny to see her challenge him, with great arrogance and attitude!
What advice would you give to beginners?
Read a sensible book about hen-keeping before you start. Especially with ex-bats, be aware of illness. Get good feed from a reputable firm. Ensure you have a vet that deals with poultry in the area. Ensure you have the time to devote to them so you can look after them consistently and develop a regular routine for them they need to be fed at approximately the same time each day. Buy the best hen house you can afford, preferably one you can get into easily to clean and, of course, to collect the eggs.
What is your top tip?
Get good advice before you start. Then enjoy the fact that chickens all have very different characters, and whilst at first sight they might look similar, it is extraordinary, when you spend time with them, to see how different and unique their personalities are. Enjoy their quirks!
The Duchess of Richmond is also featured in the October issue of Your Chickens, a dedicated magazine for back garden henkeepers. The magazine is priced 3.25.