- Shaun Baines
Sarah Brookes, chicken lover and accidental entrepreneur
It is my great pleasure to introduce Sarah Brookes, someone whose search for a creative outlet led her to create her own business. Never afraid to follow her heart, Sarah tells me what Yellow Chicken House is all about.
Who is Sarah Brookes?
I currently run Yellow Chicken House alongside studying for a Master’s in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Management at Nottingham University Business School. My business originally began as a blog to document my progress as a first-time pet chicken keeper and was named after my yellow Omlet Eglu chicken house. Keeping chickens helped me to re-connect with my creative side and I began drawing and painting my own hens. The natural next step seemed to be to sell those designs by printing them onto greetings cards and gift products. I developed an online shop and began sharing my creations via social media. I’ve found that putting artwork out into the public sphere can be very intimidating and nerve-wracking but much to my relief, many people seem to like my designs! I’ve always juggled Yellow Chicken House part-time alongside other less-creative jobs, so it’s proven to be a much-needed creative outlet for me. After losing two other hens to illness, I currently have just the one pet chicken called Speckledy who is defying all expectations of typical chicken behaviour by loving life as a single hen. I’m looking into getting her some friends but for now she is loving all the extra human interaction that comes with being alone.
What were your circumstances before you launched Yellow Chicken House?
Prior to launching Yellow Chicken House, I felt that my life lacked creativity and I was struggling to find the inspiration and motivation to engage in my artistic hobbies. I began keeping chickens in 2013 and they really were the catalyst for change that led to the launch of the business. They unlocked a lot of creative potential in me! At the time, I happened to be working in sales for a printing company and had gotten to see first-hand the lifecycle of a product from design through to print. Gaining a real understanding of this process paved the way for my own business as it gave me the confidence to try printing my own work in an environment that was easily accessible to me. My work circumstances, my chicken-keeping blog and my art hobby turned out to be a great entrepreneurial combination even though I hadn’t actually set out with the intention to start a business! Rather than going through a huge launch, the business just naturally evolved out of these circumstances, so I guess you might say I was an accidental entrepreneur.
Can you tell us about the products you sell?
I have a range of over 100 greetings cards designs featuring all kinds of illustrations from the humorous to the heart-warming. Many of the designs feature chickens and other rural animals. I have a growing range of handprinted products which I make myself including mugs, coasters, fridge magnets and ceramic money boxes and an illustrated children’s story book.
All the products are available to buy from my website: www.yellowchickenhouse.co.uk.
I’m also happy to consider bespoke artwork on request and have designed hand-drawn logos and branding for several other small businesses. I’m currently developing a website where I plan to specify these services separately from my chicken-related activities: www.sarah-brookes.co.uk
You also sell cards in the Welsh language. How important is this to you?
I was born in England but lived in Aberystwyth at the time of launching the business. After living there for ten years, it felt like my true home. Welsh is a beautiful and thriving language, so it was very important to me to ensure that my Welsh customers could purchase my cards in their native language. Although I am now living in England again, I am planning to introduce more Welsh products in the future.
How is your business going? And do you have any big plans for the future?
The business has deliberately grown very slowly because I’ve always had other full-time jobs alongside it until recently becoming a student. My last role as a productivity consultant in the public sector was particularly demanding on my time but despite this, the business has been going well. I’d always harboured a desire to return to university for further study and wanted to find a university with a genuinely supportive and inspiring atmosphere for entrepreneurial activity. After a few years of saving, I finally took the plunge and enrolled at the University of Nottingham and it’s been a great learning experience so far, helping me to understand the direction my business needs to take and the steps I need to take to get there. My plan is to continue introducing new and unusual chicken-themed designs but to focus more on gift products such as mugs and coasters. I intend to make sure chicken-lovers always have a varied and unusual range of gifts to choose from which reflects the love and affection people have for chickens. I have also recently self-published a children’s book called ‘Which Nest is the Best?’ which is a simple story written in rhyming couplets, charting Cookie the hen’s attempts to discover the best place to lay her eggs. I noticed that many children’s books featuring chicken characters tend to relate them to farms in some way, so my own hen characters live in a garden as pets. I think it’s an important distinction to make.
The best way to stay up to date with my various business activities and chicken-filled life is to follow me on social media. I love to ‘chat chicken’ so please do come along and say hello!
What is it about chickens that inspire your artwork?
I try to channel the fun factor of chickens into my products! They are endlessly entertaining and thought-provoking creatures whose little personalities have so much to offer in terms of inspiration. During my research into purchasing chickens for the first time, I realised that chicken-keeping is growing in popularity in the UK with more and more people choosing to embrace chickens as pets. With that in mind, I believe the need to provide chicken-themed products is more important than ever. It’s not unusual to look for a dog-themed greetings card to send to a dog lover so the same principle should apply to a chicken-lover. My designs aim to focus on the perception of chickens as sentient beings who evoke feelings of wellbeing, warmth and quirky humour. Life is never short of laughter when you keep chickens!
Do you have any tips for people thinking about getting chickens as pets?
Chickens make fantastic pets and are fun and easy to keep, not only for the practical benefits such as fresh eggs but for the enjoyment and humour they bring. My top tips would be:
· Do your research on housing and make sure you purchase one that is suitable. For example, I chose plastic housing as I find it easier and faster to clean than wood.
· Consider rescuing hens if you can. There are many fantastic charities that help to re-home ex-commercial hens, giving them a chance for a better life. I recently became a volunteer for the British Hen Welfare Trust who have found pet homes for over 550,000 commercial laying hens destined for slaughter since 2005 which is amazing. Hens need our help and deserve to experience the simple pleasures that can be denied to them in a commercial setting, such as the sun on their backs and the soil beneath their feet. If you think you may be able to offer a caring home, take a look at the BHWT website for further information: http://www.bhwt.org.uk/rehome-some-hens/
· Find a vet that understands how to treat chickens as pets rather than livestock. Many vets lack specialist knowledge in poultry care so should your pet fall ill, you will want to be assured that you are taking them to a place where they will receive the right treatment.
· Speak to your neighbours first before getting your chickens. Although only roosters crow in the morning, hens can be quite vocal for a few minutes after laying their eggs. This is often referred to as ‘the egg song’ and I like to think of it as a little happy declaration of victory! Otherwise, hens are very quiet but it’s something to bear in mind. To hear an example of the egg song, watch this video: https://youtu.be/Hx_Hdpg1M8g
· Take the time to enjoy your chickens. Simply sitting and watching their diligent search for the best bugs, listening to their gentle inquisitive clucking and gaining their trust as they jump on your lap for the first time can be a very therapeutic.
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