Raising Chickens Brought Positive Energy to Our Lives!
Beginner Chicken Raising: Anya's Experience
By Susie Kearley
Anya Lautenbach from Buckinghamshire, England, started raising chickens last year, and the whole family fell in love with the birds; they’re totally devoted to them. Her husband Richard keeps bees and butterflies and they live as sustainably as possible on a smallholding in the countryside.
“The hybrid hens were 16 weeks old when we got them,” explains Anya. They’re lively characters who enjoy attention. Anya’s sons William and Edward, aged 8 and 5, share her passion for nature. “The boys like to handle the hens a lot!” she says. “Fortunately, the birds don’t mind; they follow the boys around.”
She has memories of her parents raising chickens when she was a child. “We always had chickens when I was little, but we only had hybrids and I never got involved as much as I do now with my own birds. I’ve learned a lot about hens and their behavior, and become interested in different breeds, their characters and history.”
After school, Anya’s boys spend hours in the garden with the hens. “The whole experience is uplifting and positive,” she says. They find the clucking and other noises endearing. “I’m considering getting more chickens. I think I’m addicted!”
The garden was an agricultural field when they moved in six years ago, but Anya transformed it with hedgerows and floral borders, so that by 2017 it was attracting the attention of gardening experts. “We had the Royal Horticultural Society pay us a visit, because I’d created the garden from nothing, and they were interested in my approach. By sharing my experiences and my passion for gardening and nature, I’ve made connections with all sorts of people.” As well as floral borders, the garden contains a large vegetable plot, a wild flower area, and beehives.
“Everyone thought raising chickens was a bad idea. They said the hens would destroy the garden and I’d be devastated,” explains Anya, “but they’ve been a delight. There were no problems for the first few weeks. The hens wandered around exploring their new home, bringing bundles of fun and positive energy into our lives. They look great among the flowers and our boys adore them.”
After a few weeks, the hens started scratching and digging. “They made a mess of the grass and dug up my flowers!” So husband Richard built them a pen. Now they have a large dedicated chicken area, away from the herbaceous borders! But they’re still allowed to roam in the garden — they just spend more time in their own pen while young plants get established in the spring. “By the summertime, my plants are grown and everything’s out,” says Anya. “It’s a jungle of flowers so they can go and lose themselves in it!”
The downsides of raising chickens didn’t put her off; she went on to get even more chickens! A few months later she told me, “We’ve now rehomed a silkie rooster called Nando. He’s so lovely and we absolutely adore him. He completely changed the dynamic in our chicken coop. A silver laced Wyandotte also joined us few weeks ago and we are waiting for a cream legbar. She will be with us at the end of the month. She is a rare British heritage breed and we really look forward to welcoming her. I think it’s so lovely having a mixed flock.”
Anya’s friends have lost chickens to foxes, but Anya and her family secure the hen house at dusk and haven’t had any problems with foxes themselves.
A Wildlife Garden
Ninety percent of Anya’s plants were grown from cuttings. “It’s a summer garden, with herbaceous borders, which are good for bees,” she says. “The chickens eat the slugs and snails, helping the flowerbeds and vegetable plot to thrive.” The couple prefers not to use slug pellets because they harm wildlife and the environment, so raising chickens that eat pests is the perfect solution.
The decision to start raising chickens began with a disappointing attempt to incubate a pheasant’s egg. The egg wasn’t fertilized, so it didn’t hatch, but the children (and adults) were all so disappointed that they decided it was time to get chickens. Anya admits, “The chickens lay eggs and hang around the garden, while a pheasant would fly off, so it’s a much better arrangement anyway!”
“The boys are really keen to hatch an egg, so when we get a broody hen we might buy some fertilized eggs,” she adds. “We saw some Indian runner ducks with a friend and are tempted to get runner ducks too.
“Raising chickens has bought such life and vitality to our garden. I’m trying to live a life in harmony with nature and the environment, and I’m very conscious of my impact on the environment. We grow our own vegetables, so in the summer and autumn we try to be as self-sufficient as possible. Obviously the vegetable plot doesn’t grow much over the colder months, but in the summer we grow tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of vegetables and fruits. It’s good for the kids to know where their food is coming from. I do their lunchboxes with fresh raspberries and blackberries from the garden. We had a big crop last year.
“In the summer, when we’re away on holidays, the chickens go to the chicken hotel in Marlow. The owner breeds chickens. She has loads of space and they have rows of plastic chicken coops for boarding chickens. The hens lay eggs while we’re away and upon our return, we get our chickens back, plus the eggs. The owner keeps alpacas to scare away the foxes.”
Walking through Richard and Anya’s garden is inspiring. The chickens are free, the landscape is glorious, the kitchen garden in planted with rows of vegetables, the wild flowers are starting to flower, and the summer flower beds are coming to life. I’m struck by the family’s connection to nature, the children’s enjoyment of the natural world, and their remarkable relationships with the chickens, who seem quite happy to tolerate any amount of handling.
Anya says, “My advice to anyone thinking of raising chickens would be to read about it first. Like with any pets, chickens are a commitment. I would also recommend they find out if there are any local farms offering a boarding service where the hens can stay while the owner is away.”