GLINDA, Elphaba and Orlando are devoted house-mates who do everything together.

Rolling around and gently teasing each other, the three Serama chickens are very much home to roost in Andrew Hinkinson's Skipton sitting-room.

"They're lots of fun and very affectionate," says Andrew, who has 50 chickens and knows each one by name and personality. He keeps them at home and on his allotment, but this is no smallholding rearing poultry for meat - Andrew is a vegan and his chickens are pets. He gives the eggs to the Fransiscan Friars at St Joseph's Church in Bradford, who use them to feed homeless people in their soup kitchen.

Andrew has written a book as a guide to keeping chickens as pets, offering advice based on his experiences. Called Chickens as Pets, it breaks down the misconception that you need to be a farmer or live in the countryside to keep hens.

He shares his home with four cats and his Serama chickens. "The Serama is the best breed to keep indoors," he says. "They make adorable pets and are no more difficult to keep than rabbits or gerbils. They're easy to keep clean and they chatter away all day long. The cats are fine with them, they don't tend to bother with something their own size."

Andrew's birds are mostly rescue caged hens, and he also keeps traditional and unusual breeds. With a busy career in copywriting and editing, he had never considered keeping chickens until a chance remark sparked his passion. "I said I quite liked chickens but assumed you'd need a smallholding. A friend said that wasn't the case, you can have them as pets. That was it! I went online and saw all these different breeds, I was amazed," says Andrew. "There are more than 4,000 breeds, some go back centuries."

His first hens were former battery hens acquired via the British Hen Welfare Trust. Kept in cages for 12 to 18 months, factory farm hens have no human contact or access to grass or sky.

"Some EU countries still operate the old battery system, with each hen on a space the size of A4 paper," says Andrew. "Newly released caged hens have few feathers because they pull them out in boredom, and sometimes have wounds from pecking each other in the confined spaces they're forced to stand up in. They have trouble walking and have no knowledge of how to use a nesting box, so just lay their eggs as they walk around."

Andrew's first four hens arrived on a cold February day with few feathers. "They were like little pale ghosts. I was concerned they'd catch a chill but within days I saw an improvement," he says.

"I thought I'd prepared myself for the sorry state I'd find them in but I was still shocked and found it hard to imagine them ever looking any better. But their feathers grew back quite quickly, and they learned to enjoy life outdoors, as nature intended. Given time, patience, love and care they adapt."

As well as adapting to more space, Andrew's rescue hens have to get used to going to bed. "Towards dusk, free-range chickens generally move closer to the coop; nature tells them to go to bed because predators come out at night," he says. "My hens have a little routine - they form a slightly disorderly queue and there's one on the door, making sure they're all in order."

Andrew talks of his chickens with affection. "People think of livestock as dumb animals, but they have personalities. Chickens have moods, they sulk and they can be offended. Some are shy, others rush up to demand I pick them up for a fussing. You can tell when they're happy and they purr when you stroke them; having a chicken on your lap is just as relaxing as stroking a dog or cat," he smiles, cuddling Orlando who's enjoying our photographer's attention, while Glinda and Elphaba softly cluck in their cosy hutch, wondering what the fuss is about.

Seeing how well his "ex-battery girls" lost their ghostly white pallor and started to engage with their surroundings in "adventurous and cheeky ways", Andrew decided to expand his flock.

His first non-rescue birds were Marans and Buff Orpingtons who settled in after enduring the natural process of being shoehorned into the lower ranks of the pecking order. "Hens have their own social hierarchy, I have to let them get on with it, although if they fight and draw blood, I intervene," says Andrew.

When his brood expanded, Andrew set up a 'hospital coop', where sick birds live in quarantine until restored to full health. While hens which haven't gone through the factory farm system can live up to ten years, ex-caged hens only live for three or four years. "But if they're well looked after, those years of freedom are happy ones," says Andrew.

HIs family of hens remain with him 'in retirement' after their egg-laying days. "None of my chickens end up as meat," he says. "Old hens develop arthritis and rheumatism, like humans do. My oldest bird pretends to lay eggs. "

Andrew's back bedroom is home to a four-week-old chick called Serendipity nestled in a heated hutch with her mother, Vivien, a Silkie hen. "They were brought over from Asia in the 1700s as a cross between a chicken and a rabbit!" says Andrew.

Around the corner from his terraced house is his allotment, where most of the hens, and cockerels, live. Andrew collects eggs from here daily. "Everyone takes a photo of their first egg!" he smiles, as his birds come clucking towards him. "They know their names," he says. "That's Quentin, the white Silkie cockerel, and Elvis, with the quiff. There's Mary, who's always complaining. I think she lost her mind a bit in the cages."

Breeds of all sizes include Light Sussex, Sabelpoots, Marans, Bluebells and brightly-coloured Pekin bantams. Particularly striking are the Poland chickens - Orville, Rory, Cloud and Frizz - with a distinctive crest of feathers like a crazy hairstyle. "They're the world's smallest breed. I call them my Dusty Springfields," says Andrew.

There are chickens and other birds on surrounding allotments too. Are foxes a problem? "Because this is a rural town, foxes aren't really a threat. They tend to stay in the countryside. It's mainly urban places, where they've been driven out of their natural habitat, that foxes go looking for food. But you still have to be vigilant," says Andrew, who advises on protecting against predators in his book.

He did lots of research for a year before acquiring his first hens. "But I found poultry magazines and books were aimed at farmers and big commercial concerns. There was nothing geared towards people who wanted to keep hens as family pets, not livestock," he says.

The UK Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association estimates that there are half a million Brits keeping chickens as pets. Andrew's book offers practical advice, based on questions from a growing "online family" of pet chicken-keepers. It's full of information on all aspects of chicken-keeping - from building flat-pack coops, spotting bacterial infections and checking out legal regulations to rearing chicks and making compost from chicken droppings - peppered with his own funny, touching stories.

There's something moving about seeing Andrew in his allotment, surrounded by happy, clucking birds. "Being here every day, in all weathers, is good for the soul," he beams. "Chickens make great pets; you're taking responsibility for your own food and getting the best eggs you ever tasted, and their poop makes the garden grow. Best of all, chickens are funny and fascinating. I can't imagine being without them."

* Chickens as Pets, published by Spellbinding Media, is £14.99