Stepping out of my bedroom, I pushed open the back door and breathed in the fresh air.
As I approached the chicken shed, the clucking grew louder.
‘Good morning girls!’ I called out.
Peering into the henhouse, I checked for eggs and gave the chooks a quick stroke.
Three years ago, I’d moved from my farm in Wallerawang, NSW, to the Whiddon aged care home.
Aged 76 then, and living alone, the prospect was a daunting one. But my children, Donna, Bronwin, Lorraine and Michael, knew I would be in good hands.
Soon after I moved in, the care home’s leisure officer Leanne approached me as she pulled a little cart behind her.
‘Would you like a cuddle?’ she said.
It was a fluffy white chicken!
‘Yes please,’ I beamed.
I’d grown up with all sorts of farm animals, and as the hen got settled on my lap, my heart melted. I felt like I was home again.
Her feathers were silky soft as I stroked her body and she soon fell sound asleep.
It was lovely.
The care home had launched the HenPower program a year before I arrived and it was a hit with residents. I couldn’t wait to get involved.
From then on, I started my day by checking on the chooks and letting them out into the garden.
Along with Leanne, and a group of other residents, it was our job to keep the hens fed and watered.
Afterwards, I’d sit outside the cafe and watch as they trotted around the garden.
Then, each night, we made sure they were tucked up in their coop.
I soon got to know their funny personalities.
And if I ever felt a pang of loneliness, I’d go outside and they’d make me smile.
Recently, we got a new addition – Roger the rooster.
‘Roger’s been causing trouble,’ I laughed to the others one day, as we watched him following the hens around.
Each week, Leanne took her cart – lovingly named the chicken chariot – around to the other residents.
Like me, a lot of them had lived on rural properties.
I loved watching the expressions on their faces as they held the chickens for the first time.
But best of all, my great-granddaughter Maddie, seven, loves playing with the chooks even more than I do.
‘Can we go outside?’ she asks excitedly as soon as she arrives with her grandma, my daughter Donna.
I can barely keep up as she rushes out into the garden.
‘Look, I’ve found another one!’ she’ll say, holding an egg carefully in her hands.
The local schoolchildren enjoy their visits too, and we even helped them build their own coop.
Then one day, I woke up to exciting news. One of the eggs had hatched and out of the shell came an adorable new arrival.
Now, alongside Roger and Olaf, we have another two that we call the twins because we can’t tell them apart.
Our newest chick is only a few months old and once we know the gender, we’ll cast our votes for its name.
I never thought I’d be a hen keeper at the age of 79.
But while I may not be a spring chicken anymore, my chooks have given me a new lease of life! ●