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Page 38

Wild Dorset

WHY DID THE CHICKEN CARAVAN CROSS THE ROAD?

V

Ben Scriven, Tamarisk Farm

isitors to West Bexington may have noticed a rather strange pair of caravans sitting in a field and wondered how they seem to mysteriously move around periodically. They represent my latest (bird brained?) idea: can we produce eggs without importing feed? Sadly, it’s a topical truth that almost all the poultry and eggs we produce in Britain are dependent on imported soy to speed growth and increase output. This is largely a consequence of the banning of feeding waste animal products and needing to make up the protein shortfall by importing soy beans, usually from increasingly deforested parts of the world. I had long wanted to add laying hens to the farm, if only because we produce an excess of grain cleanings and barley, used from time to time to help give our rams extra energy for their annual ‘services’, and sometimes to give ewes a bit of extra condition before lambing. The rest is sold to nearby farms as animal feed. Why not keep the barley ourselves and feed some pigs or chickens, we thought? Adam too had thoughts about good uses for this resource and, with his new de-husking machine, is now selling pot barley and barley flour for people to enjoy. Well, such naive musings often lead to many trials and tribulations, and we have certainly had a few. Overall, though, it was working well enough for me to be invited to share my thoughts about our system with other farmers at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January as part of a seminar on feeding livestock sustainably. I thought it worth sharing the ideas here, especially as they are just as relevant to anyone with a few chickens of their own. Hens are, at heart, animals with an overwhelming desire to scratch about looking for good things to eat, especially bugs - it’s practically their raison d’être. It seemed fairly obvious that if hens could find enough of what they wanted simply by happily foraging in nature’s larder they would be able to balance their own diet, selecting from the herb-rich grassland salad bar and the 38 | Bridport Times | March 2020

all-you-can-eat-bug-buffet of the soil beneath. Sadly, truly free-range hens were never going to work in West Bexington – cars, foxes and dogs are not the friend of a wandering hen and a wandering hen is not the friend of a vegetable garden. So, we’ve managed to do the next best thing: we decided that hen houses on wheels, moved frequently with the hens safely corralled by solarpowered netting around them, would be the answer. Leila and I managed to find two derelict caravans which we’ve repurposed and fitted out. The first became Cluckingham Palace and this year we added Hensington Palace. Caravans make excellent chicken coops provided you keep them well ventilated and they’re light enough to trundle around fields with our electric quad bike. We decided fairly early on, though, that caravans are not the prettiest things for everyone to look at, so we camouflaged them with some green paint and damask stencils. Twee you say? Kitsch? Most definitely, but we like a bit of whimsy here. The effect on the hens of this frequent movement is amazing. You see them head down, fluffy bums in

Profile for Sherborne Times

Bridport Times March 2020  

Featuring Hooke Park + What's On, Arts & Culture, History, Wild Dorset, Outdoors, Archaeology, Food & Drink, Body & Mind, Home, Garden, Lite...

Bridport Times March 2020  

Featuring Hooke Park + What's On, Arts & Culture, History, Wild Dorset, Outdoors, Archaeology, Food & Drink, Body & Mind, Home, Garden, Lite...

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