Day in the life of a Kent poultry breeder
PUBLISHED: 11:05 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:05 13 March 2018
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Kate Whyld on how a passion for animals turned into setting up her own poultry-breeding and supply business on Oxney
Name: Kate Whyld
Job title: Owner, Hens on Oxney
Tell us about you
I grew up in a l village in Wales until I was 18, when I left for Southampton University and studied Business and Finance before moving to London. I worked in London in the property world for six years. In 2000 I escaped to the beautiful Kentish countryside where the first thing that I did was start collecting animals. Over the next few years I gained a degree in Biology and my first child was born. By then, I had acquired dogs, cats, horses and my first chickens, some rather sweet but visually uninspiring Lohmann Browns. I was soon on the look out for some more exciting hens to add to my flock. I fell in love with the Cream Legbar, a small, sweet hen that lays blue eggs and before long I had six Cream Legbars and a cockerel, along with a small seven-egg incubator to attempt to hatch some chicks of my own. I became seriously bitten by the hatching bug and within a few months had upgraded to a 40-egg incubator (to which I later added a 190-egg incubator) and was madly hatching Cream Legbar chicks. As they are sexable on hatch, they were easy to sell as I could guarantee my customers female birds.
And your business now?
After my daughter was born in 2011 I gave up horses and used the extra stable space to create more chick pens. I still hatch Cream Legbars, but also have a small breeding flock of Copper Marans, which lay chocolate brown eggs, and a flock of very rare Swedish Flower Hens. I hatch my own Legbar x Marans which lay beautiful green eggs that are always very popular with people who want to add colour to their egg collection. I have also started to breed Golden Italian Quail and Guinea Fowl. Last year I decided to set up the business, as my hobby had got rather out of control and I now have a wonderful selection of coloured hybrid layers which are available for sale at point of lay. During summer I also have day-old Bronze turkeys available. It’s becoming very popular to ‘grow your own’ turkey in time for Christmas; people like to know that their turkey has had a healthy, happy life.
I pride myself on my friendly approach and I’m always happy to chat to people, giving information and advice, even if they choose a variety of hen that I don’t stock and end up going elsewhere.
How do you promote?
I advertise locally in feed stores and in the local papers, although the internet is usually my best source of customers. I am upgrading my website to enable potential customers to be able to see the types of hens I have available at any given time. Word of mouth is very important and I also see return customers who are so happy with their hens that they have decided to come back for more, which is very satisfying. I post pictures of my hens, updates of new hatches or the arrival of new flocks of hybrids on Instagram and Facebook Business, which brings in new business.
Have you had training?
Although I have had no formal training, I have gleaned a lot of information from books and magazines over the years, along with the practical experience that comes with many years of chicken keeping. I have also taken an online course that covers all aspects of chicken keeping, going into particular detail about illness and disease. On the whole, chickens are very hardy and straightforward to keep.
A typical working day?
I get up at 6.30am, prepare the children’s breakfast and while they are getting ready for school, pop out to feed the hens and let them out. After the school run I collect any eggs and clean the coops. I organise my day depending on how many customers I have booked in and around these visits I get other work done. I enjoy boxing the different coloured eggs and delivering them to the local shop. During hatching season incubators need to be cleaned, checked and filled, eggs candled and any infertile eggs removed.
Any eggs close to hatch are placed in the hatcher and chicks removed from the hatcher to their heated chick pen. From here they move into the unheated barn, then on to the growers’ pen outside. They would move from here to the main paddock, but have usually been sold by then. They make their way inside at dusk and are safely shut away.
How is your sustainability?
My eggs are delivered weekly to the local shop, less than a mile away. I’m registered with The Animal and Plant Health Agency, so my premises are checked and all my eggs are officially registered as free range. The bedding I use has Organic Farmers and Growers approval, so I compost this and spread it on the garden.
Your business in five years?
I’d still like to be running the business, with an increased turnover of hybrid hens. My current hatch of about 500 chicks a year will probably remain about the same as I’m slightly limited by available indoor space.
Marks out of 10?
On a sunny day, collecting my beautiful coloured eggs with the chickens happily scratching around, it would have to be a 10. On a cold, wet day struggling through the Kentish clay to the muckheap with a heavy wheelbarrow, maybe only a 9!
Get in touch
Hens on Oxney, Owley, Acton Lane, Wittersham, nr Tenterden TN30 7HL
07767 822575 and @Hensonoxney