This Merc no foul house for hens

It might not be the Rolls-Royce of chook houses, but it is definitely the Mercedes Benz.

Home for four red shaver hens belonging to the Hillis family, who live near Alexandra, is a 1989 Mercedes 190E car.

Helen and Alister Hillis decided the vehicle would make an ideal henhouse about a year ago. Their son, Simon, left the broken-down car under trees on their 12ha property.

"We got some extra chooks to keep the weeds down in the orchard and thought the car would make a good house, so texted Simon to tell him that's what we were going to do with it," Mrs Hillis said.

She shared her knowledge last night about "back yard chooks" and the henhouse during an Alexandra Thyme Festival workshop.

The theme of the festival is "cherishing our environment", and the focus is on sustainability. Mrs Hillis is a member of the festival organising committee and is also hosting other event workshops, including one titled "Eat, Drink and Be Merry from the Garden".

Alister Hillis was responsible for the design of the Mercedes henhouse, she said. The windscreen has been painted to provide shade in summer and underneath the car has been blocked off, to prevent the hens from laying there.

"The timber for that was about $5, so that's all it's cost us, as well as our time," Mrs Hillis said.

Other "conversions" included clearing the way into the car's boot, to make the home more spacious.

The hens seem happy with their unconventional house and lay their eggs in the spare wheel well in the boot. Air-conditioning is provided by winding down the car windows in summer and, of course, the windows are closed again before the weather gets too chilly in winter.

During the day, the hens have the run of the pear and apple orchard, complete with windfall fruit during autumn.

"At night, they're shut into the car, and then they're safe from any dangers, such as stoats," Mrs Hillis said.

lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz