Coun­try diary:

Named af­ter the Mit­ford sis­ters, homed in a “palace” and treated to spe­cially baked cakes, life is good for Wendyl Nis­sen’s new brood of hens…

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

Wendyl Nis­sen gets clucky over her lat­est ar­rivals

My life is com­plete – I have chick­ens again. I’ve spent the past few weeks fuss­ing around the empty chook palace, mak­ing sure the boxes have clean wood shav­ings, get­ting all the right food care­fully placed in spe­cially made feed­ers and not one, but three, dif­fer­ent com­pli­cated wa­ter de­vices just in case one fails.

It re­minded of those last days be­fore you give birth, when you find your­self in the baby room re­fold­ing clothes and nap­pies you had al­ready folded three times and check­ing every cor­ner of the room for dust and mak­ing and re-mak­ing the cot. Here I was, at 54, lit­er­ally get­ting clucky.

My last hens are now liv­ing with my good friend Lynda Hal­li­nan on her Hunua prop­erty. I had them in the city and one day a Jack Rus­sell dog tore two of them to bits and left the last three ab­so­lutely pet­ri­fied. Chick­ens are very ner­vous wee things and once they get a huge fright they’re not in a good way. So Lynda took them out to her place and has al­lowed them to gen­tly ease back into be­ing good, happy pro­duc­tive chick­ens. And I re­alised that when you live in a city, where peo­ple feel they can walk their dogs off leads, then chick­ens just aren’t safe.

But I’ve al­ways pined for more and when we bought this prop­erty in the Hokianga three years ago I tagged an old fern house as the fu­ture hen house.

Now I have four splen­did girls who go by the names of Diana, Unity, Debo and Decca – I’m bor­row­ing my poul­try names from the Mit­ford sis­ters, the six sib­lings who took English so­ci­ety by storm in the 1920s and 30s.

Diana is a black Or­p­ing­ton with glossy black feath­ers which have a beau­ti­ful dark green sheen. Diana Mit­ford was one of the more beau­ti­ful Mit­fords so this name suited my dark-eyed hen. She is also a bit regal and a tad shy so there’s a bit of Princess Diana in the name too.

Debo and Decca are the two Plymouth Rocks breed, who have lovely black and white feath­ers. They are true sis­ters – if one shakes her feath­ers, so does the other and they rather sweetly sleep hud­dled to­gether. Debo Mit­ford (Deb­o­rah, Duchess of Devon­shire) was a writer and a long-time chicken keeper, while Decca (Jes­sica) was a jour­nal­ist, ac­tivist and po­lit­i­cal cam­paigner. These two are my dar­ing hens; the youngest, but the most ad­ven­tur­ous.

And then there is Unity – my white Sus­sex hen, who is a wee bossy-boots and at present spends her time hen­peck­ing all the oth­ers in her bid to be­come top hen. Unity Mit­ford was a Nazi, which I’m choos­ing to ig­nore, but I fig­ured she’d prob­a­bly ap­prove of an Aryan hen.

I’m spend­ing far too much time in the hen house with the girls – in fact I have put chairs in there so my hus­band Paul and I can have our morn­ing cof­fee and our evening drink with them. I even had my lunch in there the other day. I can watch hens for hours – they are very re­lax­ing. But it’s not all sweet­ness and light in hen land.

My other hens were hand-raised, mak­ing them very easy to pick up and cud­dle, but these ones are ter­ri­fied of me, so we have daily tam­ing ses­sions where I en­cour­age them to eat from my hand. But, un­like my other hens, they turn their noses up at sul­tanas, which were like choco­late to the other girls. In­stead I am us­ing home-baked ap­ple oat cake, which they go crazy for – un­like Paul, who took one bite and said, “We should re­ally save this for vis­i­tors” (which means he didn’t like it).

As you will know from my last col­umn, the hens are housed in a rather large palace where they have loads of room to roam, lots of fresh grass, a few trees for shade and a great view of the ocean. So they don’t want to leave. They are too young to lay yet so I was hop­ing to put them to work free-rang­ing and clean­ing up my vege patch for the win­ter gar­den, but they won’t come out. I am re­minded of my­self when I book into a fab­u­lous ho­tel over­seas and love it so much I have no de­sire to leave and see the sights, much to Paul’s hor­ror. I want to lux­u­ri­ate in the clean white sheets and or­der room ser­vice!

So I’ll keep up the room ser­vice and clean bed­ding in the hen house and hope the girls will soon re­pay the favour.

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