IS UP AND AWAY
The stock might look like a
flight of fancy but success has
definitely come home to roost
on this Shropshire farm as
Tom Montgomery discovers
WHOS a clever boy, then? Fifth generation farmer Chris Taylor has taken a real flight of fancy in his choice of diversification. Out has gone his Friesian dairy herd and in have come – parrots!
Cockatoos have replaced cock-a-doodle-dos on the farm as the traditional yard and buildings have been converted into a flourishing business catering for anything and everything to do with the exotic and colourful birds.
Chris and his wife Rebecca have more than 100 breeding pairs of parrots and sell everything to cater for their needs, from a perch that fits in the car to a walkies harness, medicines, toys, cages and aviaries. You can even buy a parrot weather vane.
The attention they give their birds is just as close as that lavished on the finest pedigree heifer. Parrots go to breeders and the public, not to pet shops. New owners can choose which egg they want, then visit regularly to bond with the newly hatched chick while is it hand-reared and weaned for the first few months. The birds are valuable, worth from £200 to over £1000.
The farm resembles a crèche on Sunday afternoons in summer, with people getting to know their fledglings. "Whats its name?" they ask each other. "When are you taking it home?"
The Taylors had 100 cows until three years ago and had experienced the normal ups and down of farming. The birds were already an established hobby. Originally, Chris wanted a finch aviary and while considering this, they fell for parrots and built a home for 10 pairs. They did not realise then that it was the foundation of a new enterprise.
They were planning to expand the dairy business, but a series of crises, not least the BSE scare, led to a drastic rethink and the decision to sell the herd and stake all on the parrots.
Shippons, barns and milking parlours became hatcheries, aviaries, bird rooms and parrot shop. Macaws, cockatoos and Amazons made their home in the farm garden with a flock of Quaker parakeets.
But the Taylors havent severed all links with traditional farming. The land has been rented out to a neighbour to rear goats and pot-bellied pigs.
Rebecca has always had a soft spot for tortoises and she breeds about 15 a year.
The Taylors, based near Telford, Shropshire, call their business Becks Bird Barn. Over the years they have become very knowledgeable and have succeeded in breeding the New Zealand kakariki parrot in a new yellow colour instead of the normal green or cinnamon. Rebecca wrote an article about it in a bird magazine.
They couple stress to new owners that a parrot is a big responsibility. Macaws, for instance, can live over 80 years. Different species have their own characteristics. African greys are the best talkers, dont like change and are suspicious of strangers; cockatoos like being stroked and Amazons need to know who is boss. All parrots need a large cage, a diet of fruit, vegetables and seeds and a radio for company when left alone.
"They are very intelligent, about the same level as a two-year-old child," says Rebecca. "They can pick up on your moods and even though they are mimicking, say something relevant."
Switching from dairy cows wasnt a soft option for the Taylors. "Tiny fledglings weighing as little as three grammes, that will eventually become pets, have to be hand-reared and fed every two hours, day and night," says Rebecca. Her alarm clock can be ringing constantly between May and September. Before hatching, the eggs are monitored by a computer.
* Constant work
"The difference between this and farming is that the harder we work, the more we get out of it. We can see the financial rewards, though we are more tied than we were. We did get a break with the dairy herd, but with parrots the work is constant. We have had one holiday since we made the switch but neither of us has any regrets. It was a good move."
Daughter Laura, 19, is now working full-time in the business and son William, 14, helps out of school hours. They have about 100 visitors over weekends during the summer.
The Taylors supplied a macaw, called Morty, for the Walt Disney film One Hundred and Two Dalmatians. Parrots often come back to them for a stay when their owners go on holiday. They share their home with budgies, a cockatoo and a 46-year-old Macaw called George who sings opera when he has a shower.
The new venture has proved so successful that when the Taylors sidle up to one of their feathered friends and say "Give us a kiss!", it has an extra special meaning.
The "parrot farm" is open every day (including bank holidays) except Mondays. An open weekend, with bird-related attractions, will be held on August 4 and 5. Details: 01952-541244.