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…
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.