7th November 2012
Catherine Scott, Yorkshire Post’s editor for Health & Food, caught up with Penny to talk about the launch of Henny Penny Hen Houses. In particular she wanted to find out how former international telecoms executive Penny had swapped handsets for hen houses, and turned her love of chickens from a hobby into a business.
Until last year, Penny, 46, had been travelling the world with her telecoms business. Now she spends her days at her farm in Brandsby, near York, indulging her passion for chicken welfare and in particular rescuing ex-battery hens.
“Although I originally trained as a graphic designer,” commented Penny, “and had a long career in telecommunications running my own businesses, I’m completely mad about chickens. In particular I’m passionate about rescuing ex-battery chickens, so that they can finally get the chance to live a lovely natural life away from the terrible conditions most battery hens experience.”
It was Penny’s love of hens that gave her the idea for her new business and a career change after receiving a hen coop for Christmas two years ago.
“The chicken coop arrived as a huge flatpack with some badly photocopied instructions,” explained Penny. “Eventually we (I had to enlist the help of my husband) managed to identify the anonymous planks of wood and spent two whole days putting it together. Even though the gift was quite expensive, the timber was of poor quality and it wasn’t very big. The coop was advertised as being suitable for four hens, but the run that came with it was so small we had to order another one.”
“When it was eventually safe for use we rescued four chickens through the British Hen Welfare Trust,” added Penny. “And while the girls seemed quite happy in their new home, I couldn’t help thinking of further improvements which would make life easier for both me and the girls.”
“I wanted to design light and spacious poultry housing which would be practical and look charming and attractive in any garden. My wish list also included a design that would be easy to clean out and easy to move. Above all else the build quality and materials had to be of the very highest standard, so much so that they would last for many, many years.”
And this weekend she launched the website www.hennypennyhenhouses.co.uk.
They are all made in Yorkshire by craftsmen, and feature a trademark natural thatched roof and cottage style windows, which make them look more like human homes than chicken coops, and come in a variety of sizes.
“Keeping chickens is becoming very popular no matter what size of garden you have, and I wanted something that looked nice as well as was functional,” said Penny.
On Penny’s farm, looking after the sixteen chickens and one cockerel is a family activity with Charlie, her eight year old son, lending a hand. “He’s a real little entrepreneur already,” enthused Penny. He sells the eggs to his headmistress and teachers, sometimes before they have even been laid. He cleans out the coop and puts the droppings into the composter, which he then sells in the summer.”
As well as hen houses, the company also provides home produce stands to sell eggs which help to offset costs and could be a great starter business for little helpers keen to pitch in.