The Birds of Bonterre

For the last few years we’ve wanted to get our poultry roaming free in the orchard, producing fruit in balance with the birds and the natural environment on our site. After a huge effort to install fencing all around the orchard, we’ve done it! Our chickens and ducks now roam free across the orchard during the day, where they’ll help keep the bug population down, clear the fallen fruit, keep the weeds under control and provide some free fertiliser!

Thanks to all those that have supported us by buying our produce and chicken and duck eggs from the stall by the gate this year. We thought we’d introduce the birds we currently have on the farm, so you know a little bit more about where the eggs come from.

Orchard Hens – A new home for our rescue chickens

Our largest poultry group on the farm are the chickens in the orchard – we currently have 27 hens. The majority are ginger coloured, hybrid breeds reared for egg laying that have come to us from Fresh Start for Hens. Fresh Start is an organisation that liberates chickens from commercial farms when they reach around 12-18 months old and their egg laying rate slows down. Our hens will still lay an egg most days, each producing around 280 eggs per year.

We also have some other varieties of chicken, re-homed from owners that were no longer able to look after them. They have a wide variety of different feathers and colourings, and produce different coloured eggs, so we have good fun with our students trying to work out who’s laid what.

The group is led by our cockerel Hagrid, a Polish cross rescue, also from Fresh Start. It’s his job to manage any squabbles and watch out for danger. You can always hear him checking in with the group or calling out “dinner’s here guys!” – It is possible to learn how to speak chicken!

With the chickens in the orchard, we also have a group of 4 Cayuga ducks (Marcel, Mountain Dew, Rolo and Malteser), a breed with black coloured feathers with hints of iridescent greens and purples that shine in the sun. We didn’t have much success with our incubator for ducklings this year, but hopefully we’ll be able to add more to our group next year.

The orchard is also home to a very noisy guinea fowl called Blake.  We originally had a pair of guinea fowls, but Blake harassed her boyfriend Ryan so much that he ran away! We still often hear Ryan in the woods nearby, but so far he’s decided he’d rather steer clear for the time being…..

Elsewhere on the Farm

On the other side of the farm, we have a group of Pekin Bantam chickens, which are much smaller sized than our regular chickens. The Bantams are all rescues, re-homed from various places and are a complete mixture of different colours and varieties. They’re led by cockerel Lava, who is 2.5 years old and good at pretending like he’s doing his job well in protecting the group, but he’d probably be the first to go and hide in the face of any actual danger!

Next to the Bantams’ enclosure, we also have 3 Franconian Geese (Florence, Felicia and Francis). The geese do a great job of guarding and sounding the alert if there are any predators nearby, but unfortunately also showed some aggression towards the chickens so they’re currently in their own separate enclosure. We’re hoping that now our main chicken group have access to a lot more open space in the orchard, we’ll be able to try reintroducing them soon.

Looking to the Future

Putting up fencing around the orchard, building new overnight shelters and training the chickens to come back in when called has been a mammoth effort! Watching them exploring their new space in the autumn sunshine makes it totally worth it though, and allows us to hopefully expand our group in the future!