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   Inside Out - East: Monday 24 February, 2003


Could chickens replace the dog as man's best friend?

Inside Out journeys to Norfolk to find out why fancy fowl are becoming such popular pets. Stand aside Tiddles the cat, chickens are the pets to be seen with - if you live in Norfolk that is.

Retired security guard Roland Axman and, keeps about 200 chickens on his one-acre plot at Brisely, near Fakenham.

15 years ago, he set up the Norfolk Poultry Club, and membership has now grown to 150 with a budding junior section.

Chickens may seem an unusual addition to your rockery, potting shed and stylish decking, but it wasn't always so.

The practice of keeping hens became less common after the war. Lifestyles changed and houses didn’t have such big gardens.

Roland is pleased that poultry-keeping appears to be making a comeback.


One of the rarest, and a local breed to boot, is the Norfolk Grey. This is a stunning looking bird with black body feathers and a grey neck. It was bred at the turn of the century by a local worthy, Fred Myhill.

Edwina Curry holding an egg
Even Edwina Curry - not the biggest fan of eggs in the past - is impressed!

Over the century the breed began to decline, until by 1978 there were very few left.

Roland spent two and a half years tracking down the last few. Thanks to him, the breed is now safe.

Like all devoted pet owners, Mavis and Roland think their chickens can knock spots - and feathers off the rest and set out to prove it in the chicken fanciers' answer to Crufts.

Prize Poultry

The main shows are in December at Stafford and Stoneleigh.

Preparations start early in Spring, with the setting up of breeding pens with a cockerel and a few hens in each. The fertile eggs are taken and hatched in incubators throughout April and May.

One of their first engagements of the year is a farming education event at the Norfolk Showground on March 27.

They hatch 20 of each breed, but only select two of each. It doesn't end there however.

Like humans, chickens often need a helping hand in the looks department so a day ahead of the show, the kitchen transforms into a poultry pampering parlour!

The chickens are washed in the kitchen sink then blow dried with a hair drier.

Tricks of the trade

Baby chicks hatching
Out of 20 chicks, only two will make it to a show

There are all sorts of legal and illegal tricks used in the showing world.

According to Roland, aftershave works a treat on a red comb, whilst vaseline is the key to soft, supple legs. For shiny feathers, Roland recommends dog coat wipes.

Some more unscrupulous owners have been known to use shoe polish to blot out unwanted white feathers, and lipstick to make combs red. This is known as ‘faking’.

By far the worst fake to use is a product called ‘Glo White’. Glo White is traditionally used for making net curtains white, and when used on birds you can see a blue haze around them.

Judges will not be fooled however - the smell of Glo White is unmistakable to a trained nose!

You wouldn’t catch Mavis and Roland up to such tricks ….and they still bring home the prizes.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Poultry Club
Poultry Showing
Fowl Play
Fowl not Foul

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

I have had some chickens for 3 years plus a variety of other normal pets and the chickens, bantams ducks are the best any one could have they are great fun and worth the work and time.

Elydia Zavala
I am in the States, Idaho to be exact, on 35 acres. I didn't think I would take to chickens so readily as I did. I now rescue abandoned chickens, and have yet to lose one to disease. My chickens live in a huge enclosure that is bordered by wire, and covered with setting strong enough to keep away any predators (hawks, bald eagles, foxes, dogs,etc.) They all live in a strawbale house we built especially for them (yes, house, not a dinky little hutch, which would make them very upset) My favourite chickens are my Guineas, I raised them as keets, so they think I am thier mom, they follow me around, and if I tell them to go to bed (which means in the house, when it is cool enough to close up). And in winter they get 'hot tubs' (warmed water in thier bowls, they love it), and in summer they get 'cool pools' (the same, but with cold water) Makes them happy. Very nice to meet you all!

Inside Out's expert
In response to Anne Baty's question:

Q: I would like to keep a few hens in an ark so I can move them on to fresh land every couple of days. What breeds would be suitable? How much space should I allow?

A: The ark we find most useful and easy to handle is 6'-8' long, 4' wide at bottom. This will take 3 large birds (eg Rhode-I-Reds, Light Sussex) or 4 medium types (eg Leghorns) or you could have upto 5 Bantams. I would have a solid back and one end with a let-down pop-hole, the front 2/3 wire with a lift up door and a perch across the enclosed part and a nest box too. I would try and avoid birds with feathers on feet and legs as these are best kept in enclosed housing and only let out when the weather is really good. There are a couple of good magazines, which have lists of poultry keepers with birds for sale, these are called Fancy Fowl ( or Country Smallholding ( Hope this will be of help to you.

Rose Fisher
collect 1yr old battery hens,(50p) they take a couple of weeks to get used to being chickens again but soon get friendly and perky. 6 have always worked well for me. give as much running room as poss but watch out for foxes who really are the vandalls of the animal world. Cats will avoid hens as they don't like beaks and hens are attracted to eyes. you will soon lose your garden pests as hens love them and your grass will grow back the most stoopendous colour (eventually). hot bok poo smells like roast hen so you may find that you can't eat chicken. good luck, have fun!!

Lester Frenzel
more poultry on tv please.

Anne Baty
I would like to keep a few hens in an ark so I can move them on to fresh land every couple of days. Are there any particular things I should look for when choosing a breed? What amount of space should I allow for each bird? Where is the best place to buy chickens? Would bantams be more suitable - or would they be bothered by ur cats if I let them out. I would welcome any advice - I plan to start building the house/ark soon. Thank you.