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