Behind the scenes at The Hatch in Frodsham
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 March 2018
When Michele Scott visited The Hatch poultry farm at Kingsley, near Frodsham, it was a life-changing experience, writes Mairead Mahon
Seven years ago when Michele Scott made a trip to The Hatch to buy a pet hen for her son, the last thing she expected was to make an offer for the entire smallholding... but that is exactly what she did.
‘I have always loved hens, I was looking for a change and The Hatch had just gone up for sale. Luckily my spur of the moment or, as my partner Jem said, my moment of madness, decision coincided with the fact that garden hen keeping was becoming one of the fastest growing hobbies in the UK and still remains so.
‘Nonetheless, it was a big learning curve: vaccinations had to be understood and of course, it’s essential to know how to sex a chicken...not always easy,’ explains Michele who is now regarded as one of the country’s leading garden hen experts.
Michele usually has about 75 garden hens for sale. They include breeds with gorgeous names such as the Snow White, the Bluebell and the Copper Black but she’s always keen to ensure people know exactly what to expect from garden hens before they take them away.
‘People can worry that they won’t have enough room but you don’t need a massive amount of space: the clue is in the name and a normal family-sized garden is perfectly adequate. Sometimes, The Hatch can be a bit like a match making agency, as people and hens have their own personalities but there will be a hen for everyone. Some people want to keep garden hens for eggs and, by the way, if you pick your breeds carefully you can have an assortment of coloured shells from pale blue to warm brown.
‘I have known some folk choose a hen specifically because it will lay eggs that match their kitchen décor, and why not! Others want them as pets; they make an ideal pet for a child and many people find them calming. Cuddling a hen really does help eliminate stress,’ smiles Michele.
Of course, in order to cuddle a hen, you first have to be able to catch it! ‘Yes,that’s one of the things I most frequently get phone calls about,’ says Michele, and it was this that led her to offer garden hen keeping courses.
These can be one-to-one courses or for a whole family. She offers advice on feeding, vaccines and how to keep hens safe from predators such as foxes and buzzards, birds of prey which are making a comeback in Cheshire.
‘Housing is usually key here and we can supply custom-made hen houses. As long as it’s secure and you remember to put your hens in at night, the risk of harm from predators should be greatly reduced,’ says Michele.
But how do you catch a hen? ‘Pretend you’re a cockerel! Don’t worry, you don’t have to be RADA trained, just use your imagination. When a cockerel swoops towards a hen, they usually stop running and sit down. So, if you channel your inner cockerel correctly, that will have the desired effect and you can swoop them up by holding them upside down by the legs. Bearing gifts in the form of chicken food helps too!
‘People usually get the hang of it quite quickly and we have a lot of fun in the process, including the occasional fall on the bottom,’ smiles Michele, who will also happily give advice over the phone.
One of her most bizarre phone calls was from a chap who thought his three hens had all simultaneously suffered some sort of stroke, as they were lying completely motionless on their backs.
‘It transpired that far from having a stroke, the hens were simply enjoying a spot of sun. As soon as Cheshire has a warm, sunny day, hens all over the county will lie flat out, making the most of it although granted, if you haven’t seen it before, it could be a worrying sight,’ laughs Michele.
Michele also offers a Holidays for Hens service: ‘It’s a sort of holiday camp for Cheshire hens. It has luxurious housing, top notch food and although we can’t guarantee the sun, we make sure things like dust basins are provided, so they can roll around and enjoy themselves,’ says Michele, who also provides homes for hens that have had to be rescued.w
The Hatch, Roddy Lane, Kingsley, Frodsham, WA6 8HG.