Coun­try diary

Mother-hen Wendyl Nis­sen plans the ul­ti­mate abode for her feath­ered friends and re­calls a dra­matic emer­gency med­i­cal pro­ce­dure on pet chook Hil­lary.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

By the time you read this I am ever hope­ful that I will have a hen house built and ready to take a new flock of chick­ens. My hen house has been in the plan­ning for a year and my mate Richie who is build­ing it has had a few is­sues to deal with – mainly me. My chick­ens will be free-range, but when we’re back in Auck­land they’ll need to be left in an en­clo­sure big enough for them to be con­tained but not crammed to­gether. I wanted it built around an ex­ist­ing tree, and onto an ex­ist­ing shed, and near an ex­ist­ing wa­ter tank, and with enough shade for the sum­mer but also enough sun for the win­ter. I also wanted cor­ru­gated iron dug into the bound­aries to stop rats and stoats get­ting in and ter­ror­is­ing my chick­ens while help­ing them­selves to eggs. Oh, and I wanted it big enough so that I didn’t have to crawl in to get the eggs.

Richie has now nearly fin­ished build­ing me some­thing that would hap­pily house six peo­ple as a spare bed­room com­plete with fea­ture tree, wa­ter sup­ply and a feeder thrown in.

I used to keep chick­ens in Grey Lynn, Auck­land. I loved those chick­ens and had many ad­ven­tures with them. They would of­ten es­cape into my neigh­bour’s man­i­cured gardens or sim­ply hang out on the street amus­ing passers-by. But one in par­tic­u­lar, Hil­lary, had her own set of prob­lems, which I wrote about in my book,

A Home Com­pan­ion: my year of liv­ing like my grand­mother, in 2010. One fine Satur­day af­ter­noon all hell broke loose.

“Do we have any K-Y Jelly?”

It’s a ques­tion I don’t usu­ally ask my hus­band Paul on a Satur­day af­ter­noon, but he was in an awk­ward po­si­tion. He was hold­ing Hil­lary firmly while I was peer­ing at her back-end. She was in a bit of trou­ble. Ac­tu­ally, I’ll re­phrase that. I think, in mid­wife terms, she had what you call a pro­lapsed uterus. She was also egg­bound, which I think in mid­wife terms is what you would call “can’t push the bloody thing out”.

We were hav­ing an an­i­mal emer­gency and my usual source of poul­try-keep­ing wis­dom, the in­ter­net, ad­vised a gen­tle rub of K-Y Jelly.

When we first got hens we de­cided, rather wisely, that if one got into a bit of trou­ble we would not call a vet. They only cost $20 each so why would we pay $1000 – our last vet bill for an an­i­mal emer­gency – to get them fixed? Bet­ter to do like a farmer and have a cull.

I gloved up. “Oh God, this is so dis­gust­ing,” I man­aged to screech be­fore Paul yelled:

“We’re los­ing her,” in his se­ri­ous voice. The one Dr McDreamy used on Grey’s Anatomy.

Hil­lary looked just like the dead chick­ens you see hang­ing in Asian markets over­seas. I rang the vet. He wasn’t in.

“Phlopp,” said Hil­lary’s bot­tom. An egg sped past my leg to land tri­umphantly on the kitchen floor, smash­ing and spread­ing all its yolky glory.

The K-Y Jelly had done the trick. Or Paul had squeezed her in his panic. We’ll never know. We put her back out­side and ex­changed high-fives and a mod­est “it was noth­ing re­ally”, let­ting the adrenalin wash over us in a post-emer­gency high.

I looked out the back. Hil­lary’s eyes were clos­ing again, she was not look­ing good. “We’re los­ing her! Again!” I shouted in my tele­vi­sion nurse voice. I gloved up and re­peated my good work. “Phlopp.” Out popped an­other egg, nar­rowly miss­ing my ear be­fore land­ing on the deck. I put things back where I pre­sumed they be­longed, then doused it all down with warm salt wa­ter.

“I think I’m go­ing to throw up,” I mut­tered as I col­lapsed into the deck chair, wrung out like a TV sur­geon af­ter an all-night brain oper­a­tion. “It wasn’t re­ally that bad,” ven­tured Paul.

“You’ve ob­vi­ously never been in labour,” I snapped back.

Mean­while, Hil­lary had re­turned to the gar­den, where she soon re­sumed her nor­mal ac­tiv­i­ties of ter­ror­is­ing the cats and rip­ping the soil to shreds.

Now, as I am about to em­bark on hen-keep­ing again, I feel con­fi­dent we will be able to han­dle most things that come our way. The only prob­lem is that I can’t seem to find any hens. I’m go­ing for her­itage breeds, be­cause they are big, strong no-non­sense chick­ens and have a good lifes­pan. The only prob­lem is, it looks like I’ll have to wait un­til spring for the new chicks to ar­rive.

So I’ve told Richie to take his time.

She was egg­bound, which I think in mid­wife terms you call ‘can’t push the bloody thing out’.

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