Happy Hens at Sandford Farm

Finding a new trusted supplier for a market became essential when the old one fitted the bill perfectly can be a tricky moment, Marketeer Annie Bull writes. After our lovely egg provider Amy had moved to a new farm and wound down her flock of hens, we needed to find a reliable replacement with really good eggs. There also needed to be enough eggs to enable a regular supply, and the eggs needed to pass our happy hen test and be properly free range.

We keep chickens and have done for some years now. The domestic flock lays when it likes and where it likes. So our random assortment of bantams and normal sized hybrids lays eggs under hedges, by our Calor gas canisters, in the wood shed, under bushes, in the neighbour’s garden (part of which they’ve made into a dust bath), and sometimes where are they supposed to, in their house. Stephen indulges them with a daily handout of digestive biscuits. They lay regularly for about eight months of the year and try and evade the fox for all of it. We have no slugs at all and the most splendidly yellow yolks. But it’s a hit and miss affair and you couldn’t run a commercial operation with hens like ours.

There’s no denying it, though, our hens are shy and nervous, even though hand reared. We give them a wonderful life and it doesn’t seems appreciated. So when I went over to Sanford Farm, stood in the middle of their 30 acres given over to their Hy-Line hens, I was astonished to be surrounded by as many hundreds of hens as could get near my wellies. Nicky Waters explained that they keep 24,000 of these sociable birds, grown for various good features including reliable laying, good feather retention, and friendliness. This is a breed suitable for home and business and I think I might be knocking on Nicky’s door when their really good egg laying span comes to an end at about 18 months, and import some into to my flock to show them how to behave.

Nicky and her family come from generations of Herefordshire farmers. The diversification into eggs has allowed them to maintain the farm after its former dairy herd and it’s a relatively new venture. The family ethos is a key aspect of the enterprise. After building the house and fencing, the point of lay hens arrived last August. Nicky, an early years specialist (one of the founders of the Little Swallows nursery) had to overcome a slight antipathy towards hens, but that disappeared on day one as she helped some of the less assured intake of hens find their way to their perches for roosting, aided by a supportive family of her three daughters Jess, Emily and Charlotte, and husband Trevor.

Jess, now away travelling, was key in the start up, and helped her father plant a thousand-tree wood to give the hens somewhere to play, and shade, too. The hens have plenty to do, apart from lay, and have access to various toys. Climbing frames are on the way. They get rides on the back of the family horses. Jess rescued some of Nicky’s handbells; these hang in the shed for the birds to peck at.

Kempley Market has received excellent feedback on the Sandford Farm eggs. Daughter Charlotte has been in charge of selling at KPM. Most of the eggs are sold under the Happy Egg rubric, but to buy them locally you need to come to KPM, visit the community shop in Gorsley, or as I did give to the honesty box in the Bromsash garden centre Castrees. KPM sell them at £1 per half dozen, and if available £1.50 for the extra large. Welcome!

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