Friday 22 February 2019

Woodland free range eggs

The earliest ancestors of my hens were domesticated in S.E.Asia over 5,000 years ago, these Red Jungle fowl lived in the jungle undergrowth and woody scrub that provided food, shade and shelter. Watch your hens and you will see many behaviours that originated in woodland.

Woodland hens in the new plantation
Under summer sun and heat mine head straight for the hazel scrub on the hillside where they dust bathe, feed, socialise and occasionally roost. Despite the 5,000 years of domestication they still seem to prefer their ancestral habitat to climate controlled intensive housing. One tenet of the poultry welfare code is that they should be able to exhibit, "natural behaviour" access to woodland must surely provide for this; shelter, shade, food, water (my hens prefer to drink from puddles rather than metal or plastic drinkers).

In 2018 the last of my sheep were sold. They were becoming heavier and stronger as I got older and of course I could not see a profitable future for upland sheep after we leave the European Union. The hens stayed and this year there will be more of them. Some of the sheep pasture has already been planted with a mixture of native broad leaved species and Arran the highland pony grazes the in-bye field. Marketed as "Woodland Eggs" they must be even more attractive to visitors.

At the moment there is only tree cover from the hedgerow trees and hazel scrub, it will be some time before the former pasture becomes woodland, but there are environmental benefits; carbon sequestration, control of  water run off, increased biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

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