Hens For Hire – Backyard Poultry

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Hens for Hire is a great way to have chickens available in schools and for teaching about poultry.

By Susie Kearley

Paul and Sandy McEvoy are the founders of Hen House Farm, a small farm in an idyllic part of Devon, England. They hire hens to schools, families, care homes, and campsites, along with starter kits and chicken coops, supplying everything the hens need for the duration of their stay. The hen-keeping experience can last for a week, a month, or an entire term.
“It’s a great way to get close to nature and have the best-tasting eggs ever!” says Paul. “People can experience the good life without paying too much. Our experiences are ideal as school holiday projects for families, enrichment activities in schools, or even as birthday gifts.”

Renting a Hen

If, after a trial period, people who’ve rented hens decide they’d like to keep their hens permanently, they can purchase the hens and their equipment. Paul and Sandy also offer “raise your own chicks” incubation experiences.
“I’ve taught in schools for over 25 years and have seen how animals in schools have a significant impact on the wellbeing of children and teachers,” says Paul. “I also understand the issues schools face when they’re arranging egg-hatching experiences or keeping hens.”

Copper Maran with the Blue Laced Wyandotte. Photo by Susie Kearley.

Prior to delivering hens to schools, Paul and Sandy arrange risk assessments, face-to-face discussions, and offer advice about where to put the coop, as well as linking the experience to the school curriculum.
“Children experience a range of emotions every day,” Paul says, “and being with animals helps give them a sense of calm and control. It helps them deal with pressures from home and school, to worry less about exams, and to release their inner passion for nature. Keeping hens provides positive experiences. When students get time with the hens, we see huge benefits to their well-being.”

The hens are rented out to grade schools, middle, and junior high schools (primary and secondary grades in the U.K.). Care for the animals is rolled into the day’s curriculum so students can learn about breeding, genetics, and animal husbandry. Having the birds around also inspires artwork, music, math, and reading skills as students study about and observe the hens.

Care Homes and Campgrounds

“We also take hens into care homes and many of the people there come from rural backgrounds. The hens prompt nostalgic memories and the residents enjoy reminiscing. It’s great for mental health and to combat dementia.”

In addition to that, the couple hires hens to campgrounds and bed and breakfasts. “The campsites and B&Bs particularly enjoy our ‘Rainbow Sets,’ which are six or seven hens that lay different color eggs. The campsite owners sell these great tasting eggs to guests, and it adds to people’s experience of staying in a rural idyll.”

Hens for Hire hanging out at a summer show. Photo by Hen House Farm.

On the campgrounds, they have large walk-in coops. But to protect everyone, they provide foot baths for biosecurity. Visitors walk through the footbath before entering and when leaving the coops. This not only keeps the birds safer but also educates their visitors about how to care for a flock.
“When we hire hens and their coops to families or campsites, many choose to keep their happy hens and arrange to buy them from us as the hire period winds down. Helping to keep everyone in the hobby is part of our ethos,” says Paul. “We’re dedicated to hen welfare and supporting our customers.”

School Routines

Schools not only host birds in the classrooms, but also set up webcams to broadcast the hiring process or a hatching. This lets the local community watch the birds and teaches families about their care. Paul has also observed that kids can learn about the birds’ well-being and think about their own health. Additionally, spending time one-on-one (supervised) with the birds is a calming experience, and for many students helps them engage more fully with their other school activities.

“After the risk assessment and training have been completed, we encourage and incentivize students to take responsibility for different aspects of hen care. Family members and the wider community take an interest, and the school might even start to sell their eggs.

Cream Legbars. Photo by Susie Kearley.

“It’s all based on getting back to the natural world. The students have a routine for the day. They give the hens feed and check their water. The pen is only visited once a day, so the hens aren’t stressed by lots of noisy children all day long. Our priority is always animal welfare, so it’s better if the birds come to the children. We sit the children down on 10 log stumps inside the pen. They will hold out food for the hens and wait for the birds to come to them.”

Teaching Empathy

The hen-keeping experience teaches empathy and compassion. Children bond with the birds and become attached to them.

“When you’re looking an animal in the eye, it’s harder to think of it as food,” says Paul. “A lot of young people today are disconnected from animals and nature because of the many distractions in our modern world. This scheme helps bring people back to a simpler life and encourages them to consider the welfare of an animal,

its place in food production, and the sciences employed to create it.”
“There’s a ‘field to fork’ event here in Devon, called Farmwise, which engages local children in discussions about the future of animal and plant-based agriculture. Children are encouraged to take part in discussions about where food comes from and welfare issues.”

The biggest challenge of supplying hens to schools is when people are sad to see the hens go. “Teachers and children have been left with a range of emotions when we take the birds away, but we give them the option to continue the experience or to secure their own birds at home or at school,” says Paul.

“We try to do everything as ethically as we can. For example, we source hens from breeders who don’t cull the male chicks as part of the hatching process. We use heritage breeds with our own hatching experience, so we can pass both boys and girls onto the breeding programs of others. We’ve even moved the farm inside to mitigate the issues of avian flu.”
Find out more: www.thehenhousefarm.com

SUSIE KEARLEY is a freelance writer and journalist who lives in Great Britain along with two young guinea pigs and an aging husband. In Britain, she has been published in Your Chickens, Cage & Aviary Birds, Small Furry Pets, and Kitchen Garden magazines.


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