Marlow Chicken Hotel, England

Rachel Misra offers chicken boarding, with alpacas keeping an eye on things

Marlow Chicken Hotel, England

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“There’s a chicken hotel in Marlow?” I said to a friend who was telling me about her chickens’ holiday arrangements. I felt compelled to investigate, so I went to visit this “hotel” in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England, and met Rachel Misra, the owner of Marlow Poultry, who also breeds and sells chickens, coops, and supplies free-range eggs.

“It’s chicken boarding really,” she explains. “We don’t offer a luxury ‘hotel’ service, but we do take good care of people’s chickens while they’re away!

“Lots of people are keeping chickens these days, so there’s plenty of demand. People travel from all over Buckinghamshire to bring their chickens here for their holidays. We get a lot from London too. The modern plastic coops have made chicken keeping more appealing to people living in the city — they’re so easy to clean and move.”

The chicken boarding enclosure is close to the house. “It means we can keep an eye on things,” says Rachel. “When I move the hens onto fresh grass, I put Stalosan powder down where they’ve been. This helps to sanitize the ground between occupancies. Some of the chickens dig holes everywhere. Others aren’t bad, so depending on how messy they are, I’ll typically move them every couple of days.”

Disinfectant bath for shoes.

We sanitize our shoes and step inside the fenced enclosure. “We’ve got a cockerel called Debbie boarding with us at the moment,” says Rachel. “His owners found him as a chick, wandering around behind Debenhams department store (hence the name). They took the chick home and called it Debbie. When it turned out that Debbie was a cockerel, the neighbors started complaining about the early morning wake-up call, which can be as early as 4 am in the summer!”

The Environmental Health Department paid Debbie and his owners a visit, and after that, Debbie got a special collar to lower the volume of his crow, by restricting how much he can extend his neck. Debbie also now has a sound-proofed hutch, so both Environmental Health and the neighbors are happy! Debbie has brought his favorite toy on holiday, but we think he’s more interested in the feathery young ladies in the next coop.

Debbie the cockerel.

“Chicken boarding is open all year,” says Rachel. “I have people dropping their hens off on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and New Years Day, but I don’t accept drop-offs or pick-ups on Christmas Day.

“Children sometimes arrive in a car, with their pet hens on their laps. We get a lot of chickens with curry names, like Tikka, or Masala. Most people give their hens names, but the dads who’ve been put in charge of dropping the chickens off don’t always know their names!

“We have to get the hen houses ready for the next occupants on the day of departure, so I ask people to pick their hens up by 11 am and to drop off new arrivals after 1 pm. I get the coops cleaned and disinfected. It’s easy to do with the modern plastic coops. I wouldn’t use wooden houses because it’s hard to get everything totally clean. You can’t pressure wash them in the same way.

Rachel checking on one of the hen boarding coops.

“We do get fully booked in the summer, and on one occasion a guy bought his own coop with him because our hen houses were fully occupied, but he still needed someone to care for his chickens.”

Healthy hens

Rachel’s very keen that the hens arrive in good health and she takes a hard line on any hens that arrive looking poorly. “One of the most important things is not to bring infection into the pen,” she says, “so I’ve refused one or two chickens for boarding and I won’t take a hen if she doesn’t look well. If we get hens coming in with age-related ailments, we don’t mind taking them, as long as they’re not contagious.

“We normally feed chickens layers pellets, but we’ll give chickens anything that their owners bring along, such as their favorite fruits.

“We’ll treat hens for mites if necessary, but we do encourage people to check their own hens. It’s better if the hens are treated and free from mites when they arrive. We encourage people to worm their hens every three or four months too. You just give them a bag of layers pellets containing Flubenvet for a week and then they’re wormed, so the maintenance is easy.”

The breeding hens and hybrid laying hens

Rachel takes me to see her breeding hens and hybrids, who are all pretty lively and sociable. “I’ve got two cockerels who hatched together,” she says showing me her Silver-Laced Wyandottes. “They’re okay living together now, but once they’re separated, they can’t be put back together again. They’d fight.”

Some of the hybrids are for sale. The different varieties particularly appeal to families who allow the children to choose which color hens they like, and which shade of eggs they want to eat. “I’ve got some Marans who lay dark brown eggs, which are a bit of a novelty for some people,” says Rachel.

She shows me a large circular brooder where Pekin Bantams, silver-laced, and buff-laced chicks are all huddled together under the heat lamp. “They stay under the lamp until they’re six weeks old,” she says.

“Every year chickens molt and look raggedy,” she continues. “They stop laying eggs as all their protein goes into making new feathers. We have a number of older hens in the field. They don’t lay — they’re just retirees living out their days in peace.”

The challenges

Rachel’s pretty busy running the chicken boarding business while her husband’s at work. She’ll be cleaning coops, feeding, and checking on the birds, or waiting for chicken deliveries and collections. She has four children, so is busy looking after them too, doing school runs, and fitting in supermarket shops. “Dad does a lot of the practical work, but doesn’t like the admin side,” she says. “My son helps with social media.”

One of the challenges is predators. “We keep alpacas who are very effective at frightening foxes away,” she says. “The alpaca field surrounds the chicken pens, so they protect the hens from predation. If the alpacas see anything like a fox, they’ll go to investigate and the foxes run away! The chicken houses and runs are also fox-proof, with skirts to stop foxes from digging underneath. All chickens are shut in their houses at night and we keep an eye on things from the house.”

“When we go on holiday, Dad’s in charge. He’s really good on the practical side — feeding and cleaning, and he doesn’t have many holidays, so it’s not hard to arrange cover.”

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Originally published in the August/September 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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