With a huge increase in interest in Grow Your Own Veg and Fruit, the next obvious step for many gardeners is to keep a few hens for fresh homelaid eggs. It's not as difficult as it seems and yes, you can have a nice garden and hens.
There's a garden at this years' Tatton Park Flower Show that has been designed from scratch (sorry) to show visitors that it is possible to have a beautiful garden and free range hens. It also promotes a charity, The Little Hen Rescue that rescues thousands of battery and barn hens, which all need a good home when they have served their time as prolific layers.
I caught up with the garden designer Chris Howle on Press Day, as he watched two rescue hens acclimatising to his garden.
"I wanted to show that people could let hens free range in the garden and still have a beautiful garden. There's no reason really why you can't have lots of flowers and plants and still let chickens out. At home I've got all mine out and my garden is still 95% how it was before my hens were let loose in it. This garden is designed to promote keeping battery hens, they just make brilliant pets."
There are lots of great ideas in this garden, including an attractive, contemporary range of hen houses, appropriately named Chicubes. One is mounted on a huge oak post, out of reach of marauding foxes. Chris, who has been keeping ex-batts for two years now, is smitten. He loves the transformation that occurs when the hens are rehomed and allowed to roam. "I've only been on one rescue with the charity and some of the ones, when we were pulling them out the cages, well I was amazed how bald they were, almost oven ready, but 4 to 5 weeks after you've had them they are full feathered and eating out your hand virtually straight away."
Ex Battery hens will continue to lay wonderful eggs regularly, but when you give them a home you will be simply amazed to see what wonderful characters each and every one of them is. It is a very rewarding thing to do and a great way to get children interested in gardens, food and nature.