Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Story ~ As Told by the Chicken Lady ~

  It was a cold December night, close to Christmas. It was late...Dan was asleep in the recliner, tired from waking up at 4:30 several mornings in a row. As I felt bad for him, I decided to leave him in slumber and volunteer myself to head outside for one last time that day.
  I grumbled to myself as I pulled on my poop encrusted ski pants over the thin layer of my pajamas. All I wanted to do myself was climb into a warm bed. It had been a long day at the mall, standing in long lines (apparently checking a customer out at Christmas time was the equivalent of performing brain surgery), my back still ached from the miles of walking, searching for the perfect gift for the people who have everything, and I had been close to passing out on several occasions from the heat of my winter coat in an over crowded store...oh and said coat now reeked of mall food from the food court.
  "I'm gonna have extra laundry to do tomorrow." I mumbled to myself, then cursed out loud from stabbing my thumb with the baby pin used to close those buttless ski pants. I sucked at the drop of blood oozing from my thumb then pulled on my gloves, thinking not for the first time, that it took longer to bundle up then it did to actually do the work that needed done.
  When I stepped outside, the crisp night air stung my cheeks and I hunched my shoulders and buried my hands into my coat pockets. It was a quiet night; the only sound that reached my ears was the soft crunch of my boots on the gravel driveway.
  "Not gonna have a white Christmas either." I said sarcastically aloud.
  Almost to the barn, I heard out of nowhere, deep and ancient baritone voices sing on the breeze that also blew with it the hint of wood smoke from Mike's chimney across the road:

"O come O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel..."
  I stopped dead in my tracks as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up straight. I felt the goose bumps race over my body even under the thickness of the heavy coat I wore. Now the only sound I heard was the blood hammering in my ears. As puffs of air came from my lips and hung frostily in the winter air about my face, I slowly turned around and looked behind me. All I could see was our house with it's cherry Christmas lights and inviting glow.
  I thought of Dan, asleep in the chair, and made a step to go back and get him. He knew how chicken I was in the dark...YES, I'm almost 31 and I'm scared of the dark! But usually it's the thought of the Exorcist chick standing in the glow of the night guard light that scares the crap out of me or that deranged clown on American Horror Story: Freak Show... not men's voices floating on air. In fact, maybe I didn't hear anything after all. Perhaps it was just a figment of my imagination.
  But when I turned back around, a huge light shone down on our barn, far greater than that of any night guard light. Again, I heard the voices on the wind, louder this time and yet, less frightening:
"Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven above,
Heavenly hosts sing 'Hallelujah'.
Christ the savior is born!
Christ the savior is born!"
Completely stunned, I walked the last few paces to the barn with my head up looking at the sky. Only when I tripped and fell over the barn threshold, did I come crashing back to my senses. I pushed myself back on my feet, not bothering to brush off the strands of hay and straw that clung to my clothing.
  Jimmy and Charlie stood in their stalls, heads over their gates and looking at me. I blinked. They didn't blink. I licked my dry lips and looked over at the chicken coop. All the chickens were out in the kennel, lined up along the fence, quiet as church mice. The steers too were all inside and standing in a perfect line at the fence of their pen, looking in to where we used to store their hay under the low mow in the back of the barn.
  My heart sped up again and I began to shake as I crept slowly forward. As I did so, Jimmy and Charlie turned their heads to follow me down the aisle and so did the chickens; as if I were walking down the aisle on my wedding day.
 The voices sang again in time to my light footsteps:
"Why lies he in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here,
The silent word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you,
Hail, hail the word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary."
   By the time I had walked down to the end of the barn, I thought I was again about ready to pass out. When I stopped and turned to the right, all the blood drained from my face and I had to clutch an old beam for support.
  When the voices sang out again, it was with a thunderous boom, louder than any rumble of thunder from the strongest of summer storms:
"Fall on your knees,
O hear the angels' voices!"
  And I did. I fell, right there in the loose hay and straw and chicken poop, on my hands and knees. Tears blurred my vision. I shook and sobbed out loud as I thought of own precious son, who means more to me than my own breath and life, pierced with nails and spears and other sickening means of brutality. My own little boy, who was also fast asleep, but warm in his clean crib surrounded with his favorite soft furry toys.
  Throughout my emotional outburst, no one said a word. I was aware of the steers, quiet save for their soft breathing, all seven of them standing at the fence with their heads bowed low. I was also aware of the voices, not booming this time -I didn't know how much more I could take-but in a sing-song (happy) way:
"Veiled in flesh the God-head see;
Hail the incarnate Deity!"
  Finally, as the emotional storm within me subsided, I raised my head (at the exact same time as the steers), snot pouring forth from my nose and down over my lips. I opened my mouth to try and say something, but no words came out.
  She just looked at me and smiled, and as my brain began to process things again, I thought hilariously that she didn't look anything at all like the scandalous Keisha Castle-Hughes who played her in The Nativity Story. When she looked back down at the baby in her arms, her veil and hair covered most of her face. The strong hand of her husband, who stood behind her, rested on her shoulder. I wanted to look at more, but my eyes couldn't budge from the baby.
  I have no idea how long I stayed there...maybe only seconds, or maybe it was hours. The cold was slowly seeping in through my winter clothes, my now lack of adrenaline no longer aiding them in warmth. Finally, as if on their own accord, my limbs began to move and I quietly stood up, my eyes never leaving the baby who made no more noise than what a contented newborn makes. Before I turned to leave, she looked back at me with a smile and looked beyond me to the east and nodded. I opened my mouth to ask what she meant, but before the words could be formed, I felt a force pulling me towards the entrance of the barn.
  Jimmy and Charlie were still standing at their gates, but their eyes were shut and Jimmy was resting his back foot, clearly relaxed and not wanting to be let outside that night. The chickens had all retired into the coop and I looked at the closed coop door perplexed. As I stepped over the barn threshold, all the electric lights shut off by themselves. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a small dim glow from the back of the barn.
  Finally, once out in the driveway again, I looked east and remembered that in the daylight we can see the beginnings of the Appalachian foothills. As their images came into my mind, I heard the voices for the final time that night:
"Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Come Along My Darlings

  A couple of nights ago we decided to keep all the animals inside for the night because of the predicted rain. With that decision made, I went out a little later in the evening to tuck everyone in for the night. Now for the past several weeks, we have a group of Golden Comets who escape on a daily basis. (I'm sure we'd get more eggs each day if they were in with the rest of the flock...and I've been too lazy to search for their hoard of eggs I'm sure is out there somewhere.) Anyhoo, these broads are getting gutsier and gutsier, coming up close to the house and exploring new territories far past the safe reaches of the barn. Even as I'm typing this they are scouring the fence row at the edge of the yard.
  As I suited up to go outside, I could see out the window the form of two waddling chickens up the driveway towards the light of the house. They greeted me with soft clucks as I stepped out the door. As I began walking down the driveway towards the barn, they turned and followed me, seeming to be picking up the pace once they discovered where we were headed. All I could hear was the clacking of nails on the gravel and soft guttural singing all the way down the drive. When I turned around, I saw my two little darlings in a perfect line following m obediently.
 Not every evening is as humorous and soul touching as that one was. Usually I have to chase them back in and it's a goat rodeo of wings flapping, straw flying, cursing and squawking before everyone is safely inside for the night. But I'll take the treasured moments while I can!

Friday, December 12, 2014

One Fine Day

  These past couple of days have been pretty special. Just when you think you can't love someone anymore, you discover that you can.
  Yesterday, in particular, was a simple kind of day. It was beautiful and sunshiny, warm enough to go outside and take advantage of, but Old Man Winter's presence was still apparent. Even though there have been acceptable days to venture out of doors before yesterday, the Chicken Lady was unprepared to take her youngster out for long periods of time.
  Last Friday Carl had his 18 month well visit check. After his doctor appointments, I like to hit up the local thrift store because you never know what goodies you might find. I was really hoping to score a snowsuit that would fit Carl this winter. I'm sorry, but I'll be darned if I'm going to spend a decent amount of money on something he's only going to wear this winter...and watch it be a mild winter at that! The whole episode was truly as if it was meant to be. I walked inside and went right to the infants/toddlers rack and there it was. An 18 month pair of ski pants! I couldn't believe my luck! I was scared to pick them up because they were on the very end of the rack, almost as if someone had put them there while they looked at other things. I half expected someone to come up and start an argument with me, like fighting over the last Black Friday door buster. I kept looking around...I probably looked like I was about to steal something...built up my courage and swiped the ski pants.
 I basically did steal those ski pants. $2.19 later, my kid is going to be warm this winter while he's outside. Peace of mind is priceless.
  So anyhoo, yesterday I dressed Carl is his new (and freshly washed) ski pants and winter coat and we went outside to visit the chickens. Carl was very excited to get back to his favorite place...outside!
 We went and visited the chickens first. He got right to work thrusting hay and straw through the kennel bars...

Though the ladies were excited to see their cherub friend, I think they were disappointed Carl didn't have any real treats for them. Aside from the debris of the barn floor.


 After our visit to the barn, Carl helped me pick up all (ok, maybe 2 or 3) of  the dead limbs from side yard and put them on the fire pit. We waved at passing cars and trucks, watched the school bus fly by and an unknown WHITE tractor that varoomed past. Carl also practiced stair climbing and descending on the deck steps.
  Eventually we found ourselves in the backyard. I was perched on the top of the knoll (our only version of a "hill"), and Carl was enjoying the act of walking up and down the slope. I thought how odd it was that in 6 months time the grass would be green and already mowed a couple of times. The leaves would be back on the trees, flowers would planted and mulched and the air would be warm.
 It was here that I got my idea for this particular post. It was here I looked up at the blue and cloudless sky, feeling the strength of the sun's rays on my face, that I also felt a pang of guilt. I thought about my old job in Cincinnati, and that someone my age should be sitting at desk, falling asleep at the computer and counting down the seconds to closing time. Oh, and actually making a living. Providing insurance and retirement. And here I was, basking in the sunbeams, thinking about my next blog post to the music of my toddler son's trills and babbles. As I looked at the afternoon's lighting on the side of the barn, I thought about Dan at the farm working and "making a living" so I could sit in my sunbeams and peck away at the computer to fuel my "hobby".
  I know what everyone says...I have the most important job there is and don't ever think that I don't "work".  Even the doctor last week told me I must be exhausted by the end of the day as we both tried to hold down a little boy, who was more interested in the cool crinkly paper on the table than he was to lay quietly so she could listen to his heartbeat. Physically exhausted, no...mentally and sometimes emotionally exhausted, yes. And because of all that, I feel bad. Guilty. Like, compared to a working mom, I have no rights to complain or to feel guilty for my hiatus from the workforce.
  On the flip side of things, I would feel guilty for leaving Carl to go out and be selfish; be it to work out or even sub and "work" for the day. I would feel guilty for leaving him with someone (even a paid person) all day because my place is with him. It's my place to sit there and snuggle in the mornings, to eat breakfast together and take him outside to feed the chickens hay and straw and dead leaves from the barn floor.
 A continuous tug-of-war that is always going on. Maybe that's true for all moms, whether they stay at home or go to work. Oh well, by the time it's all figured out, Carl will be grown and able to take care of himself. Even with all my pondering yesterday, it was still one fine day. I wouldn't trade it for anything else...even a farm fresh hard boiled deviled egg.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Who You Gonna Call???

  "Who you gonna call?"....The Pied Piper!!!! Well in our case anyway. The Shawhan farm as been taken over with rats! Does anyone have the number to the tight wearing, flute playing yahoo who is famously known for enticing the vermin away? If so, do please share it with me!
  Actually, my complaint on the rats has lessened to some degree. This post should have been done a couple of months ago.
  Once upon a time, there lived a farmer and his wife who began to raise chickens. They also raised Holstein steers and had two happy and plump Percheron draft horses. Because the farmer and his wife were just starting out, they were raising these animals with ancient supplies. One of these supplies was the "steer stuffer". (I did an individual post on steer stuffers...it's what the corn is kept in, which is what the steers eat.) The stuffer the farmer and his wife had was very old and outdated. It was made of wood and steel and was basically falling apart. It also sat on the ground, offering no protection against the rats who could easily chew through the wood of the stuffer and therefore engorge themselves on the golden grain feast. The rats also decided to move into the tunnels they had dug in the dirt underneath the stuffer.
  Then, one day, the farmer and wife showed up with a brand new steer stuffer! It was made of more durable materials and wasn't falling apart at the seams! More upgrades were being made on the farm, which included a new fence around the steer lot and concrete pads for the waterer to sit on and the new steer stuffer. Because of the new stuffer, the rats were unable to chew through its walls. because the new device sat on a concrete pad, the rats were unable to burrow under it in the dirt. The rats had nowhere to go.
  Except into the barn. The new fence, stuffer and pads were nice, but the farmer's wife cringed every time she went into the barn and heard the incessant squeaking of rodents. They were under the chicken coop and in the walls, SQUEEK...SQUEEK....SQUEEK!!! Sometimes, though not all the time, the farmer's wife would see a fat pink tail scurrying into the shadows and would think about gagging.
  Then one day, as the farmer's wife was collecting the eggs, she was deep into the chicken coop, when she turned around to leave she saw a fat, grey blob, running to and fro just inches away from her feet (concealed only in slip on garden shoes). The only thoughts in the farmer's wife mind were that disgusting rat running over her feet! So the farmer's wife screamed her very manly scream, and danced around a bit, praying the rat would leave her feet alone, panicking because the rat was between her and the door. During her frantic dancing, the farmer's wife peed her pants just a tiny bit. Finally, the rat disappeared, to where, the farmer's wife didn't know, nor did she care. All she wanted was out of the small space where the rat lingered in the shadows.
 That night, when the farmer got home from a long hard day of work, the farmer's wife put her foot down. "That it! We need to get rid of those rats!" So the farmer went out and bought some magic green pellets and threw them everywhere the chickens couldn't go, nor the farmer's tiny son. Soon after that, dead rat carcasses began to show up at different places.
 Now when the farmer's wife went out to the barn, she had to make sure no dead rats where within her tiny son's reach.
 But she would much rather do that than listen to the squeaking of vermin or peeing her pants.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Carl the Chicken Chaser

Let me begin by apologizing....there are no cute pictures to go along with this post...so sad, I know. You see, the Chicken Lady is in desperate need of a new camera, so until then, I fear there will be limited pictures posted, and those that do happen to make it on here were taken by an antique.
  Anyhoo, Carl usually accompanies me out to the barn in the evenings to feed the horses and collect the eggs. We bundle up (he wears more cold weather gear than I do, even though I'm sure the chilly air bothers me more than it does him), but I do tend to have the first-time mommy tendencies. His head is covered up with the hood of his coat, his cheeks are pink and excitement is in his eyes, as Carl LOVES going outside. Bundled up and he walks beside me, trilling his tongue and pointing to the barn for the entire stroll. He looks at me, then straight ahead, back at me, straight ahead. I know he's trying to tell me something and I can't wait to hear it one of these days with real words.  Once we get there, Carl greets and chickens who happen to be naughty and loitering around in the barn instead of the kennel/steer lot/coop where they should be, and proceeds to get said chickens all riled up by chasing after them as I pour grain into Jimmy and Charlie's feed buckets. At first I told him not to, but as I saw he wasn't going to listen to me anyway, and how can really get the girls moving, I decided to put him to work. He has successfully chased a few of these broads back into the kennel when I open the door for them.
  After we have corralled any strays back to where they belong, he goes into the kennel part of the "coop" with me as I collect the ONE eggs that someone insists on laying there daily (at least she's consistent). All the while Carl practices his chasing skills. I feel like I'm in a tornado of feathers and BE-COKS as I try and painstakingly make my way to the door, calling for Carl to follow me as my voice is lost in the ruckus as Aunt Em's is lost to winds of the twister in 'The Wizard of Oz'.
  This daily activity is paying off, however, as real-life storm chaser and thrill seeker Reed Timmer has called to see if Carl is available to chase tornados once he is potty trained....
  The other night I left my sidekick indoors in the trusty hands of the Notekins as babysitters (because I'm going to receive the "Mom-of-the Year' award for 2014) and ran to the barn myself. These really cold days I can get the work done faster since it takes the same amount of time to bundle everyone up as it does for me to go and do the feeding and egg collecting. After several minutes of chicken chasing, I regretted my brilliant idea. One particularly stupid bird kept running past the open kennel door and out into the dark night. I had to chase her halfway down the steer lot fence row before I could get in front of her to try and scare her back in the barn. Then the genius ran past the OPEN door and almost out in the horse pasture. *Insert Shaw sigh here* Finally I succeeded and had her back in the coop with the door shut so that all the chickens were shut in for the night.
  Or so I thought.
  As I reached my hand in a crack of the horse hay where said less intelligent bird laid a hoard of eggs before we could find them, up sprang another chicken from the hiding place like a freak popping out of a birthday cake!
  "SURPRISE!" She squawked at me, hay flying everywhere and feathers flapping like crazy. *Insert annoying Carrie Screamerwood "Blown Away" here* So there I am, going into round two of chicken chasing, wearing a sexy getup, let me tell you. I had my skipants on over my stay-at-home-mom yoga pants, pinned closed with on old baby safety pin I think my mom used on me back when parents used cloth diapers, because the zipper broke on the ski pants. The nylon on the butt of my ski pants is almost all melted off because I stood too close to heater in the dairy barn office one morning. I had my Shaw Farm coat on under my heavy coat (that was free by the way) that smells like dairy cows (sorry Janet!) with dried poop going down one arm. Jimmy and Charlie are laughing hysterically at me, rolled on their backs, slapping their bellies with  their front hooves, as tears running out of their eyes.  
  I'm praying for three things as I chase this dumb bird to the OPEN kennel door, where she can't seem to comprehend the fact that she has to go AROUND the door and that the world doesn't end in the corner of the door and the wall of the kennel.
  1.) I pray my son is still OK inside and isn't screaming yet,
  2.) That a Yoder doesn't decide to pull in the driveway and see a sexy beast who apparently can't contain and catch her chickens, and
  3.) That this stupid chicken would just die for all the trouble she's caused me.
SO, lesson learned here, Carl is a much better chicken chaser than I am. He actually thinks it's fun!
 If you see me with a bald spot, it's from pulling out my hair over these birds and nothing to do with my toddler son.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Deviled Eggs & Blown Away!

  WHEW! I just got done cleaning the horse stalls, and it’s just down right angry out there! The wind is really something today. It feels more like spring than fall; the air is warm on your bare arms and smells like damp earth. The only thing missing is the faint whiff of hyacinths and the promise of more days like this to come…oh and a tornado warning…though I wouldn’t necessarily rule that one out, as anything can happen weather-wise in Ohio.
    Anyhoo, all the animals are hunkered down tight in the barn, save for Jimmy and Charlie.
 I don’t think even this wind is strong enough to blow those two away! The chickens on the other hand should probably worry about it. Kinda figures the poor things get a nice warm day (which I’m sure these kind of days are going to be extinct pretty soon) and it’s too gusty for the poor things to be able to go out and enjoy it any. 

   It’s also a shame that Carrie Underwood (or as Dan and I call her, Carrie Screamerwood) is playing on repeat in my head right now, her horrible screaming song “Blown Away”. I mean, seriously? Country music has been reduced to a girl screaming about a tornado blowing away her abusive father, as he was “a mean old mister”. (Boy I sure hope whoever wrote THAT lyric doesn’t win any literary prizes for it…if so, I’m in the wrong business!) I’ll save my down fall of country music rant for another day.
  Back to the chickens…
   Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving with my in-laws (it felt more like Easter with the 60 degree temperatures, but the pumpkin pie and cranberry Jell-O mold reminded me that Old Man Winter is just around the corner). It was my job to bring the deviled eggs. Ah, I can still taste them now! Not much is better in life than a true farm egg that has been hard boiled. You top that with the mustard/mayo combination of the yellow filling, and BA-ZINGA! you have a true culinary delight. (Even as I type this I’m tempted to make more and indulge myself in a sickening gluttonous binge of eggs.) I had a few left over that weren’t going to fit in my little deviled egg dish, so I peeled the shells away and scooped the yellow stuff on the eggs and enjoyed a small taste of heaven. It brought back memories of pregnancy cravings and nursing starvation…it also ruined my appetite just a touch.
  I wonder just how many hard boiled eggs per day are considered unhealthy? Whenever I have a carton of them I have to stop myself from eating too many, usually by envisioning my cholesterol spiking. And let’s not even get into the nutritional breakdown of egg yolks and mayonnaise. I don’t feel like doing the research on it all, plus it’s hard enough to type this with a toddler on my lap.
  Nope, I’m just going to enjoy the times of deviled eggs and work hard to get this song out of my head. This time last week we were buried under several inches of snow and I was fighting myself to not put up the Christmas decorations (it’s not allowed to do so until after Thanksgiving in the Shawhan household). Today I’m fighting the temptation of the Easter decorations as strongly as the chickens are fighting off the strong southern gale!
  Enjoy Thanksgiving and wonderful deviled egg delights!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Double Homicide Takes Place at Shawhan Farm

Double Homicide Strikes Aloof Chicken Farm; Mink Mob is Suspected
Written By: jack Kelly of the Manhattan World
     A double tragedy struck the once famous Shawhan Farm late last week. Two working hens were found headless.
    "I heard a lot of ruckus when I went out to change over the laundry and ran outside to find two headless chickens." Rebecca Shawhan, formally known as the Chicken Lady, told us. As she rushed down to the barn, she says she had a gut feeling of what could have caused all the commotion.
    "I do suspect a mink, or weasel, whatever the suspect may be. We have had numerous run-ins with this guy before."
  The Shawhan Farm has been in the headlines quite a few times in the past due to the heinous crimes that members of the now suspected, Mink Mob, have been known to commit on the Shawhan's property. Their trademark be-headings, drifts of plucked feathers from the victims bodies, and the induced panic of the surviving members of the chicken flock, all point to the liberal mob family.
  "I don't think I would care as much for losing a bird if it wasn't so wasteful," Ms. Shawhan commented. "I'd rather something eat the body instead of not touching it and just ripping off the head." Ms. Shawhan confessed to actually contemplating on trying to salvage the meat off the carcass, but decided she wasn't that desperate for a meal. The remains of the two victims were buried in Manure Memorial Gardens after an autopsy and identification by Daniel Shawhan.
  Dan Shawhan has been in the press for his mink-slaying abilities. It was reported that Dan was responsible for the death of one Mink Mob family member.
Is this attack perhaps in retaliation to that infamous killing? Rebecca Shawhan commented "No." to that particular theory.
 We asked Ms. Shawhan how the rest of the flock was taking the tragedy. "they are ok," She responded. "I think it was hard on them for a few days. Egg production dropped off for awhile. It's slowly coming back around."
  The Shawhan's are taking precautions on their farm in an attempt to thwart off another attack. They are playing a radio during the days the chickens are allowed out of the coop with the hopes that human voices may deter the Mink Mob from slinking back around. Other days, the chickens just don't get to go outside.
  "We are hoping to throw off the suspect as much as possible. We will be letting the chickens out on random days, trying to throw him off a little bit." She shrugs. "We'll see if it helps."
  This reporter just had to ask a question that wasn't related to the story at hand. I asked Ms. Shawhan why the long hiatus from her comical literary contributions? To which she responded quite testily that it was "none of your business." I tried to provoke her further, but she ordered me off her property and threated to call the police.
  Speaking of which, no arrests for the double murders have been made at this time and no more evidence has been procured.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flock 4 Contributations

  1.) That I finally blog again! I have to apologize for the lack of chicken posts the last few weeks. Summer is a busy time of the year here on the Shawhan farm. I've been peeling, cutting, snapping, canning, mashing, freezing...weeding, mowing, washing, hoeing, picking, plucking, pruning...running, wiping, changing, chasing...how many more action words are there??? Let's just say it's been very busy lately keeping up with all the goodies the garden has been blessing us with along with a one year old. (A big thanks to my mom and dad who have put in some time and labor out in the field, I mean garden!)
 2.) That Flock 4 is starting to lay!!!
  It's always very exciting to see a pullet egg in the nest box, or some other secret hiding place, for the first time. You can easily get in the grove of going out and seeing all your chickens hanging around, knowing about how many eggs you'll probably get that day and just put the thought in the back of your mind that someday...someday, the newbies will start producing too. Then, when that day comes, it's rewarding and exciting...like finding money in your pocket you didn't know you had, or buying something at the store and it rings up cheaper than you were expecting.
  So far we have gotten a handful of these pullet eggs. They are smaller than an a "regular" egg,

and the couple that I've cracked open for scrambled eggs have been missing a yolk. Perhaps it was in there, but to me it looked like it was just the white part. Oh well, I don't mind because I know that by October or so, we should be hitting a peak in egg production.

 And speaking of egg production! Talk about a bunch of slackers right now! Some days we only get 6 or 8 eggs! I don't know if all the up and down temperatures are messing with the girls or not...I could ask them, but I don't think they'd answer me. Sometimes I think the fear of the testing facility gets to them and they can't perform under pressure.

 At least we have Flock 4 who can take up the slack!

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Near Death Experience

 Last week my momma came up to spend the day with Carl and I. Because I have to have my excessively large garden and we have had an excessive amount of rain this summer, it has caused an excessive amount of weeds to grow at an excessive rate. A couple of Sundays ago, I spent a good part of the afternoon hoeing the eight rows of sweet corn we put out. I hacked and hacked until my arms and back ached as the searing sun beat down upon back. All I could think about was pool, as I dared not envision the beach down in Punta Cana because it was a cruel reminder that I won't be going down there anytime soon. (This beach is AMAZING!!!! Think Kokomo and any other beach the Beach Boys ever sang about or any tropical picture they ever painted for you...here is a mean teaser for you!)

 It's a cruel summer, I know...

 Anyhoo, back to my garden and last week.... after hoeing all the corn it needed to be done a week later. *Shaw Sigh* So last Monday mom came up to visit me and a very special little boy so that I could hoe the green beans and run the tiller.

 As I was finishing up the garden work, mom came out with Carl and they watched me finish the tilling/played in the yard. After the forest of weeds had been officially destroyed, we all ventured in the barn to check on the animals. I went to the chicken coop first since it was a rather warm day and I figured they needed more water. As soon as I opened up the door I cried out in horror, "She's dead!"

 There, hanging lifelessly upside down from the top of the nest box, was one of the Araucanas from Flock 4! I named her Snowy because she's such a beautiful white-ish bird. (A word of chicken owning wisdom... don't name your birds...those are the ones who will be killed or runaway.)

 I stood there in the door of the coop dumbfounded with my jaw hanging open. Mom was already offering her condolences and Carl was chewing on his fingers happy in grandma's arms. A feeling of defeat washed over me like the waves in Punta Cana. What the crap am I doing wrong!! I try and try to keep these birds alive, well and happy, but they seem so fragile. Sometimes keeping them all alive, well and happy is like trying to hold a palm-full of water cupped in your hand and expecting not to lose any, but it always runs out.

 *Shaw Sigh Again* I walked into the coop with the intentions of removing the carcass. As I edged closer I saw a flicker of movement. Her eye moved, then she began to stretch out her wing like one can see chickens do sometimes as they stretch. So much movement...she was still alive!!!

 "She's alive!" I cried back to mom like Dr. Frankenstein (all that was missing was a clap of thunder and a flash of lightening.)

 "She is?" Mom asked, sounding truly stunned.

  As I investigated closer I saw that Snowy was hanging on top of the nest box by her toe. The top of our nest box has hinges in the middle of it and part of the top opens up so we can collect the eggs. A certain someone, who shall remain nameless, though it WASN'T ME, collected the eggs later than usual the night before. Snowy must have been perched on the top of the nest box for the night and when this person opened and closed the lid of the box, it must have caught her toe, making her trapped. My guess is that she appeared so lifeless because if you a chicken upside down/on it's back, it releases something in their brain that makes them "relax"/ not fight you.

 I was a bit worried about her since it was a hot day and she hadn't been able to drink in hours and I'm assuming she'd been in that position for awhile. I also didn't know if her leg was broken or not. I kicked out the current testing subject in the brooder and put Snowy in there for a few days. Now I'm happy to report that she's back with the flock and running around acting like nothing even happened.

 Thankfully, this time I didn't lose another chicken and for last week, anyway, my garden looked great!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Passing the Test

 The time has FINALLY come on the Shawhan farm that we begin to weed out our old non-laying hens. I have been dreading this day because I will never ever forget bringing home Flock 1 and not sleeping that first night imagining all kinds of meat-eating beasts breaking into the garage and massacring my cute new babies. I will never forget the days we let them roam freely around the yard, giggling as they ran towards us when we pulled into the driveway and sweeping the chicken poo off the porch every night.
 Flock 1 was trained early on to come running across the property when they saw and heard the shake of a bread bag. Those same hens, the ones who are left anyway, still come running to the kennel door when you approach with something yummy to share.

 However, we have to come to the realization that Flock 1 is 4 years old now. That is getting old for a chicken, at least an egg laying one. Personally I've never researched how long a hen can and will lay eggs...I've heard their prime time lasts a year and half to two years. After they finish laying eggs, there isn't anything wrong with them and they are great for pets and entertainment, but if you keep adding to your flock every year like we do, you run into spacing issues. And unfortunately, there isn't any room for freeloaders when space is needed for the working girls.

 Dan and I have decided to test almost every single chicken we have. Now that the brooder is empty, it's the perfect space for a testing facility. We are now testing our 5th chicken in the brooder. We started out by placing one of our Light Brahmas into the brooder with food, oyster shells, water and artificial lighting. (She was a bit camera shy...)

 We started out with five of these birds four years ago, and sadly we are only down to two.

 I was both happy and extremely surprised when this old biddy laid an egg after about three days within the testing facilities walls!! I'm not 100% sure the egg was actually hers or not...I wouldn't put it past another chicken to have snuck over there and given her egg to make it look like she laid it, but since I have proof of this and no one has confessed, I have to just assume it was hers.

 Because she still produced the goods, this hen gets to stay at the Shawhan farm. Her twin, however, did not pass the test and received a failing grade and a black zip tie leg band so we can distinguish the slacker.

 I was under the impression all our hens from Flock 1 had dried up long ago and were no longer part of the Shawhan farm work force, but so far they have proved me wrong!! So far the only Golden Girl who hasn't produced is the one pictured above! I'm pretty proud these girls are still giving an egg every three to four days. Dan is harder on them than I am...he would rather send them along their way and have hens who produce more than just once every few days. My attitude on it is that they are still producing and contributing to my egg fund, so they get to stay!!!

 Thankfully, all the hens who receive a black leg band will go to my cousin's house and live there until the month of October, where they will be on display for school children and the thousands of families who visit the pumpkin farm. I'm happy with this arrangement since that means no one has to die! I couldn't bare that thought, though I know they can't stay forever as we are reaching a record amount of chickens...I believe we are in the 30s to 40s now.

 Those chickens who get to stay are marked with a white leg band and continue to click their long talons together to the beat of a typewriter every morning and sing a wonderful rendition of Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five".

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hazing Reports at Local Farm

Hazing Reports at Local Farm
Young Chickens Too Terrified to Leave Coop Confines
Written By: Jack Kelly of the Manhattan World
 Dan and Rebecca Shawhan's farm (pronounced 'Shaun'), is in the press yet again, for their infamous chickens. This reporter is pretty sure reality TV is going to be knocking at their door any day now, as every day seems to bring about new drama to the young couple's farm.
 The scoop is that now their new flock of chickens, dubbed 'Flock 4', is being hazed by the older chickens on their farm.
 In the past, the Shawhan farm has been in the papers when the older members of their flock threatened to go on egg laying strikes if new members were added. Apparently it continues to be a sore subject for the hens.
 "We aren't sure exactly what is going on," says Dan Shawhan, as he takes off his Pioneer hat and wipes the sweat from his brow. "We introduced Flock 4 a couple of weeks ago and we thought the transition went smoothly. But ever since that first day, Flock 4 has not left the coop." Most days the new chickens can be seen perched on the roost, he continues. No one has yet to see a member of Flock 4 venture past the feeder in the coop and go into Kennel Bar.
 "They all kind of stick together," adds C.E.O. Rebecca Shawhan, known to most as 'The Chicken Lady'. "I haven't seen them mix with the other members of the flock yet."
When asked if she was concerned about the issue, Mrs. Shawhan responds, "Of course not! When they feel like they have to poop out an egg, they'll go to the nest box and become a productive member of the flock. I can't wait until that day gets here."
We have had several anonymous callers who claim they are members of Flock 4 reach out to us, wanting to share their stories. One caller claims that the other members of the flock peck them at night and others will rake their claws down a chalkboard, making it impossible to sleep. Another caller said that the older hens whisper mean and derogatory comments in her ear all night. One member of Flock 4 was so upset on the phone, saying she's about to go crazy if she doesn't get a good nights' sleep, that she was too hysterical to share her story with us. We sent her a package of sleeping pills.
The Shawhan's claim to no nothing about these hazing reports, though they are aware that their flock of hens have created their own sorority, called Sigma Shawhan Sigma. "I guess they have established this organization and their is their way of inducting new members." Says Dan Shawhan.
We asked the C.E.O. what she plans on doing about the actions of her older hens. She responded: "What can I do? I cannot go outside at night and baby-sit my chickens, I have a one year old for crying out loud! As long as the hens are producing eggs, we have no grounds to penalize them. They seem to be getting enough rest, as our egg count has not dropped any."
We were unable to get any comments from the accused members of the Shawhan flock. They refused to speak to us unless we were from a network television station, or they had a lawyer present.
The Manhattan World will continue to bring you any developing updates on this case.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Tell-Tale Crow

 A couple of weeks ago I ventured out to my field, I mean garden, to put in the first round of green bean seeds. I bought a pound of green bean seeds (Blue Lake Bush beans...the only ones I'll ever grow!) with the intent of selling them by the bushel to my grandparent's farm later this summer. At least the ones I don't can since I didn't can many last year as we are still eating beans from 2012.

 Anyhoo, it was later in the afternoon before I could get outside while Carl took his nap. It was hot, muggy and thunder could be heard in the distance. I was humming Wouldn't It Nice as I loaded up the seed planter and dropped the bar into the dirt to mark off my rows. I gave the seeder a push and watched closely as the kidney shaped seeds dropped into the row before being covered with dirt again. A thrill of excitement coursed through my veins for two reasons:

1.) Using the seeder is 100 times easier to plant a garden with versus making a furrow with a hoe, dropping in the seeds (making sure they make solid contact with the dirt, as it helps with the growing process, as per Dan's advice) and then taking the hoe and closing over the furrow. The only benefit to this planting method as far as I can see is that it provides a good ab workout. Using the seeder gets the job done in minutes; and

2.) A few days before I planted beans I had tried to use the seeder to plant my corn by for whatever it wasn't working. I spent over a hour in the muggy sunshine fighting it. I'd load the seeder, push it through the dirt, and not see any seeds dropping in because they were backing up in the tube they go down before landing in the dirt. I probably loaded that seeder up 4 or 5 times, dumping corn into my yard (I'm sure I'll get a few stray corn stalks in unwanted places), banging the thing on the ground (sorry Mike!) and shoving scissors and drill bits through it to unclog whatever was keeping the seeds from dropping through. At last my time was up, the baby monitor told me so, and I had nothing in the ground to show for my hard work. Of course the dumb thing worked for Dan when he got home and made me out to be a liar.

Back to pushing the device through the dirt, waddling along like I was pregnant again because I'm looking down at the seeds and not thinking I can actually step on the rows, nor am I looking where I'm going, so now I have crocked rows, singing in my mind, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up, in the morning when the day is new..."

 Out of the heavy air, I heard a strange noise. I had to hear it several times since I didn't really notice it at first. I wasn't expecting it. A strangled, alien-like sound. Like a sick animal. I made it to the end of one of my bean rows and I looked towards the barn. The creepy noise came again.

 Wait a second! I thought to myself, interrupting Brian Wilson's falsetto. I've heard that noise before...it can mean only one thing. We have a new rooster! My shoulders sagged in disappointment. Are ever going to get a group of chicks and NOT get a male in a package that promises all females? Four years in a row we've obtained at least one rooster from the new flock.

 Dan and I had had our suspicions about an Araucana that looks like a mini-version of Chicken Hawk, so much that I'd tempted to name this rooster "Mini Me". (Though we haven't settled on a name for him yet.) If he's the only rooster we have, I think we'll be ok having two now that my beloved Fumm is gone and lost forever. I do like only having one though, and Chicken Hawk is a great rooster. So far he hasn't gotten mean and he's relatively quiet throughout the day. I want to do some research to see if the Araucana breed is one that has less aggressive roosters.

 It's still too early to tell if this new guy is only rooster from Flock 4. We have had late bloomers ion the past (remember Chaz??) so it won't surprise me if we were to discover weeks from now yet another one. It's also disappointing we will get one less blue egg now...

 Worse than a preteen boy band, it's as if his short comings are displayed to the world for everyone to know, but I really wish everyone could hear a young rooter find his crow. It's truly an awful sound until he gets it perfected.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

More Than Just a Pretty Place

 Every spring I try to deck out the Shawhan farm in beautiful flowers. I like to get a few perennials each year along with numerous annuals. My goal in time is to establish a lot of perennials so I only have to buy a couple of flats of annuals. It's a slow process because I tend to get overwhelmed at the greenhouses as I browse the perennials, thinking to myself, This would look good there, but what if I find something even better? Or my personal favorite, I'll buy that and it'll end up dead. (Which happened to a few of the perennials I planted last spring thanks to the harsh winter we had.) Flowers along the house, a couple of planters, my ginormous garden and some hanging baskets later, I must say the Shawhan farm looks pretty nice these days.

 My flower planning starts early since I roll up all the spare change we've collected over the year and take it to the bank. I always feel like a nerd carrying in my paper sack and asking them to cash in my coins. I try not to use car washes for this very reason. I can wash my car at home for free and save the $8 for flowers. This year I felt like a millionaire because we took some scrap metal to the recycling place and I had a decent wad of egg money to spend in addition to my cashed in mint.

 I think I did a pretty good job in selecting blooming buds and I'm happy as to where I planted them. I got two hanging baskets that I will religiously water all summer long. Even last summer as I was cooped up in the hospital recovering from my C-section, I strictly ordered Dan to go home every day and water my hanging baskets. The two I got this year, I had trouble deciding which one I wanted, so I just got both of them. They are beautiful and come from a Mennonite greenhouse that have amazing prices on all their flowers.

 The first few evenings in taking down the baskets and watering them, nothing out of the ordinary happened. Then just a couple of nights ago, I noticed something in one of my baskets...

Someone has decided to have her babies in my flowers! At first there just one egg, and now we are up to six! Every night there is a new egg inside the nest. I've carefully watered around it, but I'm not sure what's going to happen once they hatch and the nest is over packed with baby birds. I am honored the momma bird has picked my hanging basket to bring her chicks into the world in, but there is a selfish part of me that is afraid my basket of colorful blooms will eventually die. I also don't want the mother to abandon the nest, since I'll continue to water it.

 To the unknowing eye, this particular basket looks like any ordinary front porch decoration, but to me and a silly little bird, it's more than just a pretty place.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mo' Minks, Mo' Problems

 A diabolical force has once again been plaguing the Shawhan farm. When the weather began warming up I expelled a big sigh of relief thinking we escaped a winter (finally) with no murdered chickens...the first winter ever! I thought to myself, Maybe this winter was just too cold for slaying varmints. And for awhile, it seemed to be true.
 Then one day... a nice, warm beautiful day... the nightmares began again. One of our Buff Orpingtons was found dead in the next box, all the clues surrounding her death pointing to the Mink family. Ms. Orpington was a nice young lady, a devote member of Flock 3, so she wasn't very old and probably in her prime egg laying year. My heart goes out to her since she was in a place she considered safe enough to lay her egg when she was killed.

 After that we began keeping the chickens locked in the coop. I really hate doing that since I know how much they love to get outside and peck and scratch around. After several days of confinement, we began letting them back out again. Then one day, Dan and I heard a loud ruckus, a more dramatic than the ladies make after they've triumphantly laid an egg. Upon rushing out, the mink was spotted in the coop! Dan tried to corner it and stab it with the pitch fork, the little devil was too quick and made it's escape, but thankfully that day, no chickens were harmed.

  Once again, we began to keep the ladies and gents locked up in the coop. We figured during the day they were sitting ducks in the nest box. Eventually in the later afternoons I'd go out and let them outside, figuring they were done laying eggs and no one would be caught off guard in the next box. This tactic seemed to work for awhile, and of course, we all settled down into an unsuspecting routine again.

 Just the other day, the first chilly day we had, (so our door was closed and it took me awhile to hear all the commotion) I heard all kinds of craziness coming from the barn. The chickens were going nuts! It was about 5:00 P.M., so I knew something was going on, as all the hens were probably done laying that late in the day. I ran outside and sure enough, the mink had struck again! What was worse was that I saw it!! The little son of a gun had scrambled under the coop itself (it can't get to the chickens from under there) and peeked its head out and LOOKED at me! LOOKED at me! Taunting me! Push the knife in a little deeper why don't you!

 On this day we lost a Golden Comet.

  The barn was FULL of drama! All the chickens were worked up, scared for their lives, looking at me, begging me to keep them safe and make the killer go away. The chicks across the aisle way had witnessed their first chicken slaughter and were begging me never to put them over with the rest of the flock. Charlie was standing in the back of the barn looking at me and begging me to feed him because he is always starving, despite his obesity...it was a stressful evening.

  Back to confinement for a few days. We let them out today after we got home from church since we will be outside and will be able to watch for the suspect. Our first mink was identified as Jason Mink Voorhees. I'm suspecting this killer is his mother, Mrs. Voorhees. I'm also beginning to wonder if Fumm and Stupid Bantam couldn't take the pressure anymore and high tailed it out of here to a place where minks don't exist.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Farewell Fumm

 It's been a sad few of days here on the Shawhan farm, as we have come to the realization that our mighty, cocky and larger-than-life Bantam rooster, Fumm is gone. We didn't notice it right away...there was no evidence of a struggle or chicken-slaughter, we just noticed how QUIET things were.

 One evening a couple of days ago, as I was locking in the chickens for the evening, I didn't hear (as one would hear Fumm more than see him, thanks to his dwarf size) him anywhere. He always made his presence known, especially strutting across the entrance to the barn even when all the other chickens were confined to the coop and kennel areas. There was no chitter chatter from my little blond boy.

 I immediately knew something was wrong. Fumm was always so predictable. I looked everywhere, even though I knew it was no use. Even if Fumm was out in the yard, he always managed to get back into the coop at night (he was a sneaky little thing), so the fact that he wasn't in the coop that night was a dead give away he was gone.

 Like I said, there were no feathers littering the yard, there was no dead body stomped to death in the steer lot. I began to blame our new neighbors (they are weird) in that maybe they wanted a chicken dinner one night. Dan just laughed at me since 1.) Good luck actually catching Fumm, and 2.) There wasn't any meat on his microscopic bones anyway. So the only thing I can think of is maybe a hawk got him at some point.

 Or he ran away...

 There is SOOOOOOOOOOOO much gossip in the coop right now that Bravo TV is calling me asking if they can do a reality show. See, Fumm had a steady girlfriend, Jane Doe, a Barred Plymouth Rock, from I don't know which Flock. They were always out in the yard together going on hot romantic dates. At about the same time Fumm went missing, so did one of our Stupid Bantams (curtsey of Blooms and Berries). Blooms and Berries gave us 3 Bantams last fall, two hens and a rooter, who didn't last long. They are black with white poofy feathers on their heads that fall into their eyes, and I think impairs their eyesight. Those chickens are easy to sneak up on and catch, so we always refer to them as the Stupid Bantams. One of those is missing too...

 So, now the questions still remain, 1.) Did the weird new neighbors steal a couple of our chickens? 2.) Did a hawk or some other predator have itself a chicken dinner? or 3.) Was Fumm courting a Stupid Bantam on the side and they ran off together, leaving Jane Doe heartbroken?

 Rumors are flying (hahaha) all over the place around here! Charlie Percheron said he saw Fumm and Stupid Bantam running down the road towards the Old Order Amish community, both carrying knapsacks. Buzz (one of the Beefy Boys) says he saw them hitch a ride on a buggy with Samsonite carry on bags. THEN Chicken Hawk told me he received a post card from Fumm that was postmarked from a Five Star resort in Punta Cana.

 Whichever of these rumors are true, I don't know. All I do know is that I miss my little mighty Fumm and his larger-than-life personality.

 The Shawhan farm just isn't the same without him.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The 'Thing'

 A few days ago, as I was collecting the eggs, I discovered a mystery object in the second nest box. It was well hidden under some straw, so well that I almost missed it. Even though it was buried beneath the covers and barely visible, I could tell right away that it wasn't just another egg. In fact, I gasped at first and stood there staring at it, not even wanting to peel the straw back and take a look!

 It was pink, not brown, blue or those greenish/gray looking eggs we sometimes get. It also didn't have the smooth appearance of an egg shell, but something that looked more like skin. At first I thought maybe an animal had gotten in the next box and hunkered down, OR that one of my birds had squirted out an organ.

 Being the chicken that I am, (no pun intended), I got my trusty pink chicken herding stick and some gloves before I dared touch it or pluck it up. In my imagination, I pictured this little pink alien "thing" come to life as soon as I picked it up, snarling and flashing it's fangs. Did I mention little beady black eyes? In about two minutes, I had already given this creature a life of its own and I was scared of it.

 Finally I put on my gloves and slowly uncovered it and picked it up for a closer look.

 I know it looks like a tempting apple dumpling, but I can assure you its not! In fact, this picture was taken a few days after I discovered it, so it didn't look as pink as it did the first time I saw it. It also started to smell funny. I put it on the trash can where we store the chicken feed so Dan could see it, then told him not to mess with it because I wanted to take pictures (to share with you!) and so I sort of forgot about it.

 I'm wondering if it's a failed attempt at an egg. I really don't know what else it could be. The fact that it was so well hidden in the straw backs up my assumption. I can the poor hen who pooped this thing out, stand up and look at back at her craftsmanship. As her eyes widen with horror, her cheeks grow lobster red. She looks around nervously to see if anyone has seen her in the next box and that could identify her as the matriarch of this "thing". When she sees that she's in the clear, she hurriedly covers the reviling object with as much straw as she can, all the while trying not to draw attention to herself wildly scratching away inside the nest box. When she feels like it's buried god enough, she glances out the door of the nest box and looks around to see if she can get out without having been seen. Ba-gacking and flapping her wings, she jumps down into the coop and runs away like the devil is nipping at her heels.

 Poor girl...

 Before I laid this "thing" to rest in Manure Memorial Gardens, I performed an autopsy. After some examination, the results are inconclusive.