Belgians egged on to keep chickens – but they're not for eating

Hen-rearing craze takes hold after drive to reduce household waste

In a garden dotted with daffodils overlooking open fields, a trio of English Sussex hens strut their stuff. Two small boys stroke their resplendent white and black plumage while feeding them. The youngest child takes advantage of the diversion to dive into the birds' dark-red wooden coop to play hide-and-seek.

"We get two eggs every day, which go towards making pancakes," says Tibo Duijsters, a blond eight-year old, as he scatters grain around the ground.

Their father Michel Duijsters points proudly to his fast-disappearing compost heap. Most of the food scraps and vegetable peelings have been eaten by the hens.

The Duijsters and many of their neighbours in Dilsem-Stokkem, a small town of neat detached houses a few miles from Belgium's border with the Netherlands, have no agricultural background or training in poultry farming. But they have joined a chicken-rearing craze which has taken hold with tens of thousands of hens now living in coops in family gardens.

The boom is thanks to own-a-chicken schemes launched by the Belgian authorities in a bid to cut down on household waste. In the region of Limburg, near the Dutch border, more than 2,500 families adopted hens just last year, a 306 per cent rise on the previous year. There have been similar successes in other parts of the country.

The Duijsters family were egged on by a marketing campaign by the authorities, which also subsidises the cost of buying the hens. One hen only costs around €4 (£3.50), but comes with expectations.

"We expect owners to look after them properly and provide a lot of reading material for them to go through," said Annick De Paepe, an official with the Limburg regional authority.

"It's been a huge success and it's proving ever more popular". She believes the boom has been fuelled by the recession. "There is very much a mood of getting back to nature right now and people love picking up their own eggs from the garden. But it's also a great way to cut down on household waste as the chickens will eat any leftovers and cut organic waste by half."

"So far, we haven't had any bad experiences, but of course, we can't be sure that people aren't just throwing them into the oven. Not everyone wants to take on a chicken for life."

Mr Duijsters, a civil servant, leads the twice-daily feeding round and says the hens have become part of the family. "They look so lovely and they do all have their own personalities. They get very impatient if they don't get fed on time and come pecking at the windows to complain.

"But it's nothing unusual around here. Everyone seems to own hens, it's the thing to do"

In the Flemish regions of Belgium, authorities typically apply a stringent approach to ensuring the well-being of the chickens.

"We have proper training courses in rearing and feeding the hens and we watch out for anyone who might not be suitable," said Christophe Deneve, who recently launched a chicken scheme in Mouscron.

The town, a stone's throw from the Belgian-French border, is distributing 50 pairs of chickens for free to families with sufficient space to keep the birds in their gardens.

But anyone who takes part has to agree not to eat the chickens for at least two years, or give them away.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin