The Chicken Caravan is a book about rescue and rehabilitation, and not just for a worn-out old caravan that’s been transformed into a chicken coop.
Sally Newall, a Pātoka farmer and the person behind the popular Facebook page Kiwi Country Kids, has turned her hand to writing and produced a children’s picture book about 30 caged chickens her family “saved” from a local poultry farm that closed down last year.
“The story is about how we rehabilitated them, looked after them while they got their feathers back, taught them to eat and drink from different styles of drinkers and how to lay their eggs in nest boxes,” Newall said.
“Then we bought a little old caravan for them and turned that into their home. It’s about how they became free-range chickens and how we protect them from predators.
“There is a bit of education in it as well. It’s a real-life story about our rescue chickens.”
Newall said the main difference between The Chicken Caravan and other children’s books is that it features photos from the farm rather than illustrations.
The book was completed earlier this year before Cyclone Gabrielle ripped through the region causing extensive damage. But it was the impact of the cyclone – Pātoka was isolated for weeks after bridges and roads were washed away – that inspired Newall to persevere.
Immediate after the cyclone she found herself the only resident veterinarian in the town, despite not having worked at a practice for five years. Vets from around the region were flown to Pātoka to tend to the larger animals on farms but small animals and routine work, such as vaccinations, were left to Newall. A sleep-out at her and husband Nathan’s bull beef farm was converted into a temporary clinic.
“I guess the book came from having a little bit of stress on the farm through the cyclone and trying to find something to challenge me in new ways, and take my mind off the farm.”
She found the book relatively easy to write and the reaction to it has been “really positive”.
“The following we have got on Facebook is quite helpful. A lot of people are quite invested in our Kiwi Country Kids story and the farm life. They’re very excited about it.”
Newall hopes to sell 500 copies before Christmas and then look at a reprint in the new year. But long term, she hopes a publisher will get on board so she can produce a series of children’s books based on other aspects of farm life.
The book is $30 and a portion of each sale, and that of a 2024 calendar she has also produced, will go to Ronald McDonald House Charities New Zealand. The family spent a lot of time staying at Ronald McDonald House while youngest son Ted was receiving medical treatment in Auckland.
“The whole point of Kiwi Country Kids is to educate people about farming and put farming in people’s living rooms in a very positive light.
“I want to show what we do on the farm every day and take away some of the stereotypical view points on it, I guess. The book has just come about through that.
“We can help educate children about how we look after our animals, show farming in a realistic, positive light. I’m not trying to show myself as some wonderful farmer, I’m just trying to show that this is how most farmers operate.”