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Friday, January 27, 2023

People with pet chickens supply desperate neighbours but say birds need more light to lay enough

People who keep hens as pets are being inundated with requests for eggs from neighbours returning from their supermarket shop empty handed.

But even they are struggling to meet the demand.

“I can hear people coming to my doorstep all day long, lifting up my eggs bin… and walking away,” said Jaki Hann, who has 20 hens in her garden in Kent.

“Some days, I go out there and I’m lucky if I get half a dozen eggs… I went out there yesterday and not a single fresh egg laid.”

Ms Hann, who sells six eggs for £1, said the problem is that hens need at least 12-14 hours of daylight to lay.

“When we keep them in the back garden, they don’t lay very much [at this time of year] because they need a certain amount of daylight to make eggs. When they’re kept on a farm, they’re given that light artificially.

More on Bird flu

“So we’re getting a reduction in eggs. Back garden keepers are already going out and having to buy eggs themselves. So in actual fact it’s compounding the issue [of shortages].”

Shoppers are finding it increasingly difficult to purchase eggs due to nationwide shortages. The lack of eggs is being driven by the UK’s largest ever bout of bird flu and producers leaving the industry due to increased costs and low pay.

The supply issues mean some supermarkets are rationing egg purchases.

Ms Hann, a director at Fresh Start for Hens which rehomes 70,000 hens a year, is against forcing her pet chickens to lay in artificial light. “It goes absolutely against everything we do… we’re about giving the hens a really nice retirement. Just a happy little life, they can mooch around and pop an egg out when they feel like it.”

Her scarcity of eggs is just temporary until the spring, when Ms Hann “won’t be able to move for eggs”.

Until then, she will have to contend with constant messages on social media from neighbours asking her to “save” eggs for them.

How to rehome a hen

The RSPCA recommends people take in at least three hens.

Prospective owners will need to have a warm, dry and well-ventilated chicken house, according to the welfare charity. It specifies that the house should have a sufficient entrance so the animals do not have to crouch, enough space for exercise, covered flooring, perches and nest boxes.

Outside the house, you will need an area for the chickens to roam, featuring short grass, shelter and dry soil.

Pet chickens will need to be properly protected from foxes and other animals.

The type of chicken feed you need will depend on their age and breed. They will also need insoluble and soluble grit for a balanced diet. They should be fed and given constant access to clean, fresh water in their house.

Caroline Ashby, who has become known as the “chicken lady” around her town in West Sussex, is also experiencing a high demand for eggs.

“I sell eggs from my door and have seen a 50 per cent increase in new enquiries this week.

“Some of them are reporting having been unable to purchase eggs from supermarkets for a couple of weeks. My new enquiries are coming from friends of friends, neighbours and all who know me as the ‘chicken lady’.”

She sells eggs laid by her three hens, as well as eggs from her friend’s smallholding and some local farms. Recently, she has been selling up to 1,000 eggs a week, charging £1.50 for six.

More on Eggs

Ms Ashby, a volunteer for Chicken Rescue UK, which seeks to rehome ex-commercial hens with families, began selling her eggs during the Covid-19 lockdowns to her elderly neigbours.

“The eggs are fresher and taste better – in my customers’ opinion. I’ve continued as demand grew and I now see it very much as a social support service. People are also considering getting hens now – as they did during lockdown.”

She is currently struggling to meet her neighbours’ demand as some of the farmers she works with have been affected by avian flu.

“I do not sell caged bird eggs. I won’t even buy them… I won’t sell anything other than free range eggs because of the welfare for the birds.

“So I am now struggling [to meet the demand] and I’m just about to reach out and try and find some other suppliers.

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