Key Points:

I know there are at least three ways to kill a chicken. I'm just not sure which one I'll use when the time comes. Which could be a matter of days away. I used to live in a lovely old villa with lush gardens front and back, albeit a little overgrown and disordered. I now live in a home which seemingly overnight was transported to the most war-torn and arid parts of Baghdad. Only the trees survive amidst the desert-like dust.

Our hens, Hillary, Marigold and Yoko, who are our first adventure into self-sufficiency, have eaten everything. Three birds, each the size of a small bucket, consume 10 times their weight in plants and bugs a day.

I am also a prisoner in my own home, surrounded by green chicken wire and several makeshift gates which involve hooking bits of wire around nails in a haphazard manner.

Our outside living space is now confined to a small deck and a veranda out the front. The rest is officially chicken land.

One of these fences has a sign that reads: PLEASE CLOSE THE FENCE - CHICKENS ARE OUT! Hardly the welcome one expects in the inner city, but a necessity to keep the hens from conducting lightning raids into the unknown.

When it comes to escape, our hens are regular little Hogan's Heroes, compiling coded intelligence as they check out the perimeter of the fence for gaps while masquerading as a chicken merely carrying on as a chicken does. They've also trained the cats to squeeze under the fence, thus creating a convenient chicken-sized gap, the location of which they record in their notebooks for later use.

"You wanted them to be free range," my husband quite rightly argued as I wondered aloud how far you actually have to stretch a hen's neck before it breaks.

"I had no idea of the sheer force of their destruction and quite frankly I want my garden back."

This would be the garden which is now permanently under siege, protected only by some chicken wire and a series of mini-greenhouse tunnels. Tomato plants bravely produce fruit under fire, basil cautiously puts out leaves, lettuces wilt gratefully in the heat of the tunnel. What used to be lush now resembles a seed-trial laboratory at Massey University.

"Wow, the flies are bad this year," is a statement made by everyone lucky enough to get through the makeshift gate, past the threatening sign and out on to our deck.

"It's the chickens," I respond, reaching for my homemade fly repellent and spraying it forcefully over their food, drinks and babies.

"Don't worry, it's natural," I assure them. "Nothing but black tea and citronella."

They exchange a look, which I now believe to mean "they've totally lost the plot over those chickens", then politely leave, clutching the fresh eggs they really didn't want.

We now only have guests after dark, when flies hand over the job of terrorising humans to their good friends the mosquitoes and the hens are safely tucked up in their coop where I can pretend they don't exist.

My family, meanwhile, love the chickens with a passion. Part of the chickens' invasion plan was to win over the people closest to me.

They deliver three eggs a day in time for breakfast. Yoko even produces gigantic double yolkers, which delight my youngest daughter every time.

They come running and clucking - for all the world like loving pets - the minute they are called, crouch down obediently so that they can be picked up and pretend to enjoy being cuddled.

Even the adult children who are called in to mind them while we are at the caravan confess to affectionate feelings and some of them don't even like eggs.

As I sulk and moan and invent even more powerful natural fly sprays, the family are calling in a builder to get some proper fences and gates built "so that it looks like we've always had hens and people don't have to tie bits of wire around nails any more".

I'm thinking a simple neck-wringing after dark might be in order.