The Chicken Hotel
Holiday Boarding for Chickens
By Susie Kearley – When you go on holiday, it’s not always easy finding someone to care for your flock. So in 2007, David Roberts opened The Chicken Hotel in Cornwall, England, offering holiday boarding for chickens. It was a huge success, attracting plenty of customers from Cornwall’s poultry owners and interest from the world’s press.
David’s story began when he moved from Essex on the east coast of England to Cornwall in the southwest in 2007. He took up residence at Boskenwyn Manor Farm, sharing a house with a farmer.
“I’d completed a furniture making degree and taken a job with a kitchen maker in Penzance,” explained David. “I immediately fell in love with farm life, waking up and looking out across fields full of cows to the beautiful valley beyond. I felt a sense of belonging and freedom. I created an allotment in the back garden and fell in love with the chickens that roamed around the farm. They were so quirky and curious — it was lovely to see them scrambling around looking for food.”
David wanted to keep birds of his own and thought he’d start small … with quail. “I borrowed an incubator and found some eggs on eBay,” he recalled. “Everything was a learning experience, not least the discovery that you could buy fertilized eggs on eBay!”
He incubated the eggs, made a coop and a run, and waited in eager anticipation for the eggs to hatch.
“The hatch was really exciting,” said David. His young quail grew feathers, some grew crests so he could tell the males from the females, and he moved them into their new coop. “They were sweet,” he said.
“However, their sweetness didn’t last … quail, apparently, are not like chickens; they do not like being in close proximity to each other. In fact, they ended up killing each other. My idyllic idea of country life got a little tarnished when I finally realized why I kept finding my little quails dead each morning!”
David finally ended up with one female and one male. “At this point, I thought the killing would stop,” he said, “but it was like a Battle Royale!” The male was the last quail standing, so David let him go free.
“That’s when I decided I’d go over to chickens,” he said. He started with four chickens and grew very attached to them. “If I went away, I didn’t need to think about holiday boarding for chickens because there were plenty of people on the farm to look after my little brood.”
The Chicken Hotel Was Born
David opted for a career change and went into teaching. He befriended other teachers, including a husband and wife who’d moved into a cottage with seven acres of land. They wanted chickens but didn’t have anyone to look after them during vacations. Keen to help, and unable to find holiday boarding for chickens in Cornwall, David made a simple, easy-to-clean coop, and offered to take his friend’s chickens while they were away.
“They were very pleased,” said David, “They could now get some chickens as I’d be able to look after them during vacations.” The couple got six chickens and David started to think there was a market for his services.
“I thought I’d test the waters and advertise,” he explained. “I created a logo, put posters in a local feed store, and created a website for The Chicken Hotel. The first telephone inquiry was such an exciting experience, I thought this really might work!”
David’s neighbors on the farm laughed when he started talking about holiday boarding for chickens. They were convinced that no one would pay to leave their chickens at a boarding house.
“To them, farm animals had a certain value as livestock, nothing more,” he explained. “But I realized people keep chickens as pets like I do. I’d grown really attached to mine and felt sure there was a need for chicken accommodation. It was a surprise to everyone on the farm when I started to get bookings! The Chicken Hotel grew organically — if I had a period where I had more bookings than coops, I would make another coop.”
As David’s holiday boarding for chickens business grew, he soon had nine coops. They were full over the Christmas period; the busiest time of year.
The World Went Crazy About The Chicken Hotel
“Shortly after the first Christmas, I decided to write a short piece for the local newspaper,” continued David. “It ended up on the front page! The Chicken Hotel story was then picked up by The Metro (Britain’s highest circulation newspaper) and British TV and radio presenter, Chris Evans, who talked about it on his morning radio show. Having Chris Evans and his guest star, Elton John, talking about my Chicken Hotel was surreal. I had radio interviews in Canada, Australia, and Spain. I was featured in a Mexican newspaper and a German textbook. I also appeared on TV in France and Japan.”
When media attention died down, David settled into running his holiday boarding for chickens business, but it isn’t a chore. “I love meeting the customers and their little feathered ladies. All the chickens are quite different and have unique personalities,” he explained.
He gave some thought to expanding his offering and started testing ideas. “Some ideas were dead ends, like the traveling butler service where I would do home visits for large flocks,” said David. There was no demand for that service, but other ideas were a success.
“I adopted the theme of a boutique hotel and anthropomorphized all the descriptions,” he explained. “The chickens are described as guests, their meals are ‘open air buffets’, and the extra services are pedicures (a claw trim), nose jobs (a beak trim), and mite powder spa treatment (to keep them mite free).” These treatments solved problems David had encountered with his own flock, and they are well-received!
David enjoys dealing with chicken owners too. “The owners are always a delight,” he said. “When the owners depart, leaving chickens with me, I write out a postcard from their chickens telling them about their lovely stay at The Chicken Hotel and then sign it from their beloved pets. It’s just a bit of fun and the owners love that idea. It may seem mad, but the owners are just as crazy as me. They’ll often bring treats for me to give to their birds like mealworms, apples, and tins of sweetcorn. One of the owners kissed each bird on the beak … that was a little too much for my farmer friend to handle!”