We were down to one remaining handful of straw last weekend, having been somewhat remiss in keeping up our stocks of such henkeeping essentials, but it was a good excuse to visit our favourite farmshop and replenish supplies. I’ve been going to Upsons Farm Sales in Hatfield Peverel since I was a toddler when I was more interested in its penny sweets than its poultry supplies. It’s expanded in the meantime and today you’ll find displays of toy tractors and cows alongside chicken drinkers and displays of preserves from local Wilkin & Sons. Instead of opting for our standard-issue barley straw, owner John Upson showed us a giant bag of beautifully soft, short straw which has anti-bacterial properties and is also promises to be extra absorbent – always good when the occasional egg breaks. I never knew straw could be so sophisticated. Seeing as the Araucanas Audrey and Mabel still sleep in their nesting box, I reckoned they should have the best possible lining. Along with a coffee and walnut cake, green fig jam and various other treats from the shop shelves, we went to the counter where we couldn’t resist asking John to show us the hens he keeps in a field behind the shop.
It’s always a little dangerous browsing chickens – a little like window shopping, the temptation is to steam right in and but half a dozen items without thinking it all through, but it’s always hard to resist seeing hens for sale. John looks after his girls beautifully – we walked up to a field divided into two different free-range runs withal house each and plenty of grass and space for the flock to roam. The coops are huge and, having bought some pullets the day before, John was keeping them inside one one to acquaint them with their digs. He showed us inside where the beautiful, tiny young birds from Rhode Rock Hens (Rhode Island Reds crossed with Plymouth Rock) and pure-breed Leghorns which produce around 300 eggs a year – far exceeding most pedigree yields (and almost doubling our lovely Araucanas’ Audrey and Mabel).
We didn’t come away with any poultry purchases, as tempting as it was, but no doubt we’ll be back soon to stock up on some lovely layers. Happy henkeeping.