Happy Chicks for Christmas

Happy Chicks - talking turkey Noel and Sarah Holden
Happy Chicks - talking turkey Noel and Sarah Holden
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It’s not everyone who can get a word in with Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson.

But then not everyone is top turkey Noel whose way with words spared him the chop at Christmas.

Noel the Gobbler, to give him his full moniker, is a Manchester City and Oasis fan. We know because we’ve asked. And he answered. For this is the definitive talking turkey.

Gobble? Me? Just what Noel said when he first learned he was likely to be guest of honour on someone’s dinner table is unprintable.

It took the combined voting power of various celebrities – the laconic Mr Clarkson included – to save this bird’s ‘bacon’ courtesy of a Manchester radio station.

People even called in to speak to Noel personally. Now he’s going cold turkey from celebrity status, as popular as last year’s left overs. The radio people don’t call, don’t write, don’t even send him a Christmas card. But cometh the turkey, cometh the hour ... and we’re now back to the season known as Murder Most Fowl to our feathered friends.

Some 800 ex-battery hens have already had a lucky escape, rescued by former graphic designer Sarah Holden who runs the expanse of free range birdie heaven known as Happy Chicks in Pilling.

Within a few days of arrival there, balding and henpecked, they stretch their legs, develop muscle tone, forage for food, and start feathering up. They also realise that Sarah isn’t just there to press buttons to give them feed, remove eggs, or have a cursory check of their health.

“I’m their mum,” Sarah confides. “I love my ex-batts. They’re so cheeky. They start off all nervous, huddled together, but before long they’re following you around, begging food, finding out where the warmest part of the farm is, and establish their own pecking order. They make fantastic pets, really loving. If they fall out we send the boys in to sort them out.”

The “boys” are the resident cockerels, restoring order and harmony to quarrelsome hens.

For much the same reason, Buzz the miniature stallion is out on patrol in the field with his pal, the llama. Both are male and keep the local foxes at bay from the hundreds of geese. And one leggy female rhea (an ostrich-like bird) called Barbara. She’s hopelessly in love with Tom the rhea, who was given to Sarah by Blackpool Zoo in thanks for the loan of her stud goat. Tom doesn’t want to know. Yet.

But the fox prowls the place relentlessly.

“Buzz scares the fox away,” says Sarah. “They won’t come near if they smell testosterone. We can’t smell it, but the fox can.”

Happy Chicks is open daily – bar the Christmas period. In six years it has turned what amounted to a hobby into a way of life for Sarah, her husband and their two teenage children. It’s now a haven and a business as well as a labour of love.

Their 14-year-old son wants to join the police, while their 12-year-old daughter hopes to be a vet – and has already had some hands-on practice with the birthing of kids (to the goats) and even a caesarian section on a sheep.

“They sometimes say ‘why can’t we have a normal life, mum?’ But I don’t think they would have it any other way,” says Sarah. “Imagine growing up on such a place, with all the space and animals and birds around. Couldn’t be better.”

It’s also on the flight path of migrating geese – Vs of flying birds are regularly sighted above.

Right now sales of hens and houses are booming. Head for Pilling Lane and you’ll hear Happy Chicks before you get there – the combined chorus of clucking hens, quacking ducks and honking geese. Plus Noel, king of the turkey roost, top “dog” as Sarah puts it to some 20 or so turkeys, all shapes and sizes, male and female.

Two words are banned here. Christmas. And cranberry. Even Sarah’s brood have to send out for a turkey, buy one prepared for table locally, rather than look to a member of their own extended feathered family.

“My dad looks after our turkeys and he wouldn’t dream of losing one of his girls or boys to the dinner table,” Sarah admits.

In fact, they do sell birds for the eating here. Of their live turkey sales half go for growing for eating, the other half for family pets. In reality, Sarah adds, half of those sold for so-called eating, are still going strong several festive seasons later.

“Turkeys are great fun and make lovely pets,” she admits. “They’re comical and vocal and full of character. They’re also one of the few birds you are allowed to kill for the table. But can you imagine doing after a three-year-old has thrown himself at youcrying ‘mummy, mummy, don’t kill Betty’?”