Easter is just around the corner and images of eggs – those laid by hens as well as the chocolate variety – already surround us in schools, churches and shops.

It seems a good time then to share a few thoughts about my experience of keeping chickens!

I’ve kept chickens for as long as I can remember, and I guess I always will. There’s just something so relaxing and peaceful about the way that they scratch about.

More recently I’ve looked after rescue chickens from the British Hen Welfare Trust, a brilliant charity which has rehomed nearly a million birds. The Trust does a sterling job rehoming battery farmed chickens.

It’s immensely satisfying to see the birds’ transition from the poor state in which they arrive, scared of their own shadow, to quite quickly feeling at home with room to roam.

I never tire of the sense of happiness from discovering a freshly-laid egg. I give lots of the eggs away and always smile when people say, “It must be great getting free eggs!!” Free eggs… I think to myself… after buying a coop, feeders and feed and fencing, those eggs cost far more than you’d pay in a supermarket! But it’s definitely worth it!

Even after all these years I still feel sad when one of the hens heads up to the great chicken coop in the sky. I always know it’s coming and towards the end I go out each morning with a sense of trepidation, expecting the worst, but still hoping for the best. You get used to it and it comes with the territory, but it’s still sad.

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Last year’s outbreak of avian influenza – better known as bird flu – was a tough time for anyone who keeps chickens. It led to a lockdown for the birds which was particularly hard going. I tried to explain to my hens why I couldn’t let them out, but they weren’t happy!

We have also felt the impact of parasites. Red mites have caused us a few dramas because infestations can lead to hens suffering skin irritation, reduced egg production and – in the worst cases – death. The threat has gone away for now but for a while I was engaged in a battle of wills to defeat the mites!

Keeping chickens is quite a lot of work, can be a tie and comes with some expense. If you keep birds or animals, then you will know that going out on a dark and cold morning won’t be for everyone.

But the benefits – nurturing chicks, discovering freshly-laid eggs and just enjoying spending time with them – far outweigh the costs and I’d miss them dreadfully if I didn’t have them. I will be hoping to gather a bumper collection of eggs this Easter and for many more years afterwards!