We keep a large flock of free-ranging hens which supply our demand for eggs. They are kept within a fenced area to protect them from predators, but they have plenty of space to scratch, hunt for insects, and squabble.
Many of these birds are ex-battery hens, that have spent the first year to eighteen months of their existence in restricted indoor cages, so this is a new lease of life for them. We get most of our birds from the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, and we would encourage you to contact them if you live in the UK and are thinking of keeping hens. It takes the girls a while to settle down and start laying properly - they need to get their own health back on track first - but they continue to lay quite well for some time to come despite their unfortunate start. Some of our birds have been with us since early '08 and are still going strong.
Rare breed pigs
We continually keep a small herd of rare breed pigs, which are for meat purposes. Our breakfast sausages and bacon are generally from our own animals, so we know exactly what goes into them.
We originally sourced Gloucester Old Spot and Tamworths as weaners from Adam Henson's farm (of the BBC's Countrywide fame) which is near us. We now breed from our own Tamworth sow and a Hampshire / Duroc cross boar.
The pigs live in a very large paddock area, which they keep close to devoid of vegetation through much of the year.
Our small flock of ducks is a mix of Khaki Campbells, Cherry Valleys and Indian Runners - all generally good egg layers. Ducks are very good natured with each other, trailing a leader all round the run, but less sure with visitors than are the hens. Their eggs are slightly larger than a hen's egg and beautifully creamy ... perfect for baking, poaching or frying. We can therefore generally offer guests the option of duck eggs on the breakfast menu as well, and many guests find they're quickly converted.
Goats and Sheep
Our small flock of goats has not proved very effective for milk production and are now kept as pets. They are good natured, inquisitive and greedy creatures who like visitors.
We also have a small flock of sheep which are breeding ewes and their lambs.
We started beekeeping in the 2014 season and have been fortunate enough to be able to reap some honey this year, which is available at breakfast. We currently have four colonies - up to 200,000 bees during the height of summer - but as bees range over a large area and all our hives are quite a long way from the house, you are very unlikely to notice any more bees around our farm than in a regular suburban environment.
We don't plant crops on the farm, but keep the main field for grazing or for hay.