‘They’re not bird-brained’: the joy of keeping chickens – and a quick how-to guide

Our hen-keeping writer explains how they make for charming, calming companions – the eggs are a bonus

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to get hens – and really, if you’re lucky enough to have the space, you should – an impending egg shortage may be it. British egg producers have said there could be one coming. Blame rising costs of feed and energy, and avian flu. For commercial free-range producers, this means hens have to be housed (they’re still allowed to be labelled as “free range” for the first 16 weeks), and many have reduced the sizes of their flocks.

In the smug self-sufficiency dream, you’d wander to the bottom of the garden to collect still-warm fresh eggs, rather than fight over the last box in the supermarket, but there’s no guarantee. I have four hens who seem to have given up for winter – decreased daylight and energy diverted towards keeping warm can result in fewer eggs. Still, I’m hopeful for an abundance come spring, and you may be able to use the potential egg shortage to convince any reluctant domestic companion that chickens would be a good addition to the household.

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