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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Hens are 'hobby with eggs appeal'
by Nuala McCann
BBC News Website

When Elyse Mercer got Trinny and Susannah for her Christmas present, it was a dream come true.

But not for her the tortures of the dressing room with a pair of bossy tv stars sizing up your fashion sense.

Elyse Meyer and her hen
Elyse Meyer enjoys a little hen time

Her Trinny and Susannah share several similarities with their makeover namesakes. Both are mother hens and both tend to cluck around you.

However, Elyse's mother hens are the real livestock variety - feathers, beaks and all.

Her Christmas gift was a small hen hut, known as an eglu, and two hens to call her own.

Call it urban chic, call it "the good life" - "Please don't," sighs Elyse - but she finds that having your own chickens cluck, cluck, clucking at the back door makes living a touch more serene.

Elyse is one of at least 500,000 householders across the United Kingdom who enjoy keeping hens.

Hens are no longer the preserve of the farmhouse and countryside.

People living in the cities with just a small patch of lawn have found that they can look after two hens quite easily and go to work on their own eggs.

The eglu: lo-rise living for city chicks

Online bookseller, Amazon UK recorded a 400% increase in sales of hen keeping titles since 2000 and it is rumoured that popstar Madonna keeps hens.

Elyse is no farmer, but she always liked the idea of having her own hens.

"I didn't know what was involved," Elyse, who lives on the outskirts of Lisburn, explained.

"It's my first time looking after hens and I'm loving it."

She is the first to admit that it is a lifestyle choice. She can ensure the eggs her family eat come from happy hens, because Trinny and Susannah have the run of her garden.

"The makers of the hen hut - known as an Eglu - wanted to make it as easy as looking after a goldfish - and it is. There's a special tray for the manure and it slides out and goes on to the compost. Then just hose the hut down every so often and that's it," she explained.

The rewards are two eggs a day - "They are much more yellow than ones you buy in the shops. They have a stronger colour and a stronger flavour. Eggs you buy in the shops can be up to a week old, I know my eggs are fresh," she said.

But it is not just the eggs. Elyse believes her hens add a touch of serenity to family life. She, her husband and their three children love them as pets.

The hens love to wander into the house and will jump on to your knee to be petted.

Trinny has even been known to peck corn without inhibition from Elyse's niece's tummy button as she lies flat out on the floor.

The eglu is a kind of plastic hut and a net run made from recyclable material.

It was designed by four industrial design students at London's College of Art as part of their final year project.

They thought people might like to keep hens and were keen to show that you didn't need a big garden or a degree in agriculture.

After graduation, they decided to bring chicken keeping to the urban masses.

The Good Life
"Tom, just go and pee in the garden to put the foxes off"

Demand grew quickly across the United Kingdom and, before long, people in Northern Ireland were ordering the eglu and looking forward to the rewards of keeping hens as pets.

"When you get your eglu, you get plenty of information," said Elyse.

"Really, the hens are no bother. You let them out in the morning and they put themselves to bed at night. They have their own little roost. You just have to remember to close the door."

When the family goes away for the weekend, it is merely a matter of filling up the feeder and leaving them in their hut. For a longer period you can ask a neighbour to let the hens in and out, their reward will be the fresh eggs.

Foxes always pose a threat. But Trinny and Susannah have survived unscathed in the security of their hen hut.

One way to put off unwelcome foxes is to ask the male of the household to urinate around the edges of the territory.

The Mercers have not put that to the test.

Elyse can't help feeling sentimental about her Christmas hens. Just as a mother holds onto her baby's lock of hair or first pair of shoes, she has carefully preserved the egg shells from the first eggs laid by Trinny and Susannah.

They have pride of place on her kitchen shelf.

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