Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Strike-Less Spring for Chicken Lady

Peaceful Spring for Chicken Lady
Written By: Jack Kelly of the Manhattan World
 This reporter has covered numerous breaking stories that have taken place on the Shawhan farm. I am so used to getting a juicy beat on the place, I have often times considered it a second home of sorts. Now, however, it has been months since getting a late night or early morning phone call from the residence, that I decided to drive out there one day and see if everything was going alright.
 After driving down the one lane road and passing numerous Amish buggies, I approached the white farm house and fenced in property with caution. As I pull up short at the beginning of the driveway, my path is blocked by a set of black gates sung shut to keep unwanted guests out and a little redheaded boy in. The reporter in me is also assuming the structure is there to prevent Amish poultry scabs off the property since this place is legendary for its yearly egg laying strike.
  Soon I hear chain on metal and the Chicken Lady herself is opening the fence for me so I can drive through. Upon parking my vehicle, I am greeted by Ms. Shawhan at the passenger side window.
 "What are you doing here?"
  "Well, I wanted to check in on you...I haven't heard anything out of your camp in quite some time."
  Even from behind the sunglasses I catch a quizzical look.
  "You say it like its a bad thing."
 I can't answer as I step out of the car. My job depends on good stories and in years past this place has always offered plenty of fodder.
 "Can I offer you a beverage?" She asks dryly and I am suddenly reminded that the Chicken Lady doesn't like me very well.
 "Do you have any of that tea?" I ask and can taste the notorious Shawhan ice tea/lemonade mix already exploding across my taste buds. 
 "Sure. One moment."
 I take the few minutes to look around at my surroundings. It's quiet except for a few distant clucks and a constant whirring noise from across the yard by the tree line. There I see little Carl riding a battery powered John Deere tractor completely oblivious to my arrival. He is leaning almost off the tractor on the right hand side and studying the spinning wheels. Then from behind me I hear a noise and jump clean out of my Doc Martins.
  I see for the first time Baby Abigail gaze up at me from her stroller, blue eyes wide. As her mother comes from the house with two glasses of tea, she squeals loudly again. I fail to mention to Ms. Shawhan that her child sounds a lot like the veliciraptor from Jurassic World. Cute baby though.
  "So you're paying a courtesy call?"
  I sigh and lavish the few seconds I have in my tea. Might as well cut to the chase. "I was wondering if your chickens are going on strike this year. I mean, they always do."
 To my amazement, she smiles. "HA! That's funny. Actually, no. They aren't. Everyone is very happy this year. I know it's a first."
  "Hmm." My heart sinks. Goodbye Caribbean vacation this year. This reporter won't be getting his annual bonus.
 "Sorry to disappoint you. We didn't get any chicks this year-"
  Tea sprays all over my Doc Martins.
  "Seriously!? Are you for real?"
  "I'm sorry." I murmur as I pat my dripping chin with a pressed hankie. I clear my voice. "I'm sorry. I wasn't aware. I always get new chicks." And then your adult birds are always p.o.ed, I add silently.
  "Yeah, well we're allowed to take the year off." She retorts. "I was sad about it at first, but now I'm glad we did. With Abigail only a baby right now it's one less thing to do in a day's time. Plus the girls are really happy. I don't know if it's the mild weather or more space in the coop, but we get 20 or more eggs a day now. We've never had a spell like this before."
 "How many chickens do you have now?" I ask, whipping out my pen and paper.
  "This is going on the record?" She asks.
  Now it's my turn to give her a look.
 She sighs, "Fine. 31 hens and 1 rooster. 32 in all. Over the next year we'll have to cull out the older biddies and next year get a good number of new chicks. That's the plan anyway. But yeah, no strikes. Not a single rumor either."
 The ink isn't even dry on the number 31 when I realize that is all I'll get story-wise out of the Shawhan farm on this visit.
 As the baby begins to fuss and Carl cries out for help as he spins and spins the wheels of this tractor and doesn't go anywhere, Ms. Shawhan sets down her empty glass and sighs. "You'll have to excuse me."
  "Of course. Thanks for your time...and the tea."
 "Sorry you didn't get a good story." She calls over her shoulder on her way to address the first issue.
 "I'll see myself out!" I call.
  Driving away I realize how much I'll miss the week in the sun and sand, but I am happy peace seems to reign for the Chicken Lady and her birds. Her days are filled with enough drama and mishaps and fussy young ones...besides...there is always next year!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Gone Goliath


We once had a rooster, and pretty was he,
As tall as a house and as regal as could be.
A giant of a bird so I called him Goliath,
We kept him around because he did something for me.
Goliath was a pleasant poultry lad,
Mild in manner, he was never ever bad.
Due to his size, I was quite surpriseth,
He dealt with many a hen and never got mad.
So we eased into a comfortable routine,
With two gentle roosters who never got mean.
All seemed well and we figured it would forever be so,
With two strutting males who just had to be seen.
Then in the eve Goliath refused to go into the coop,
He'd roost on the old feed trough above all the poop.
It made us question if he had made a true foe,
With one of the other birds who threw him out of the loop.
Again we relaxed into a comfortable lot,
(At the end of the day not all chickens can be caught.)
Until I had that moment from 'Home Alone',
When I realized Goliath was for him I frantically sought.
He was gone from the coop, gone from the kennel and not with the steers,
At least I couldn't see him, not through all of my tears.
He just vanished without leaving a feather or bone,
No note no nothing to calm my worst fears.
So now he is gone, and it's such a mystery,
Goliath is gone, he must be history.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Empty Nest


It's that time of year again! The grass is turning green, the flowers are opening up despite the lingering nip in the air and lawn mowers have begun to make their seasonal appearance...Spring has sprung! (Even though technically it starts on Sunday.) All of the aforementioned clich├ęs have happened on the Shawhan farm... except for one. Sadly we have not gotten our yearly batch of chicks.  And this year we have decided not to.

  I'm a little bummed about this. It's been a standing tradition to take a Saturday morning and get our chicks for the past four or five years now, even as a way to "celebrate" my birthday. Bringing home baby chicks is the epitome of Spring (next to Easter that is). Now the dates have come and gone and time is just whizzing right by...we have never gotten chicks this late into March before, although there isn't a law saying you have to raise chicks in Spring or get them by a certain date.
 We've decided to make several changes to the Shawhan farm this year and hopefully in years to come. For this year we've added another raised bed for peas and decided not to plant sweet corn in the big garden. I will be up to my elbows this summer freezing, canning and making as much baby food as the soil will provide for us. Have I mentioned I want to put in a standing fence in the yard for raspberry bushes?? Oh and I'm banking on all those strawberry plants I planted last year to produce their little butts off!
 We aren't looking at this as the beginning of the end. Only a new beginning by trying to thin out the old crowd (not sure when or how this is going to happen but it will over the course of the coming year), so we can start fresh with a new batch of ladies next Spring. That is the goal anyway. I want at least 20 or more next year. Hopefully by then we will have made the changes to accommodate an ever growing flock!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Home is Where the Nest Box is

How many of you are enjoying this typical Ohio weather? One day it's 61 degrees and the next it's back down to 32 and snowing again! No wonder everyone has a runny nose and itchy throat. However, nothing about Ohio weather surprises me anymore. Thankfully the weather has been corporative in the respect that the nice days seem to be falling on weekends. I can deal with the cruddy weather for the weekdays.
Last weekend was no exception. It was gorgeous! Sunny and breezy with that hint of spring in the air. It was the kind of teaser day that made you want to go out and buy flowers and dig in the dirt. Too bad the 7-day forecast said snow again or you probably wouldn't have stopped the twitching in your hands. Luckily we had some chores to be done here on the Shawhan farm and a spring-esk day was the perfect day to get it done.
We have planned some changes for the Shawhan farm. I'll tell you about them as they happen. Last weekend was a jumping off point so to speak for one of them and honestly, I don't know why we haven't done this sooner!
Cooptown has been looking a little cramped to me for quite some time. 

We had two nesting areas for the cluckies (the regular nest box and the rarely used vertical nest box), the oyster shells were located in front of the vertical box on the floor, and the waterer on the heating pad has been of opposite that. Dan designed a roof over the water a couple of years ago to prevent poop from falling in the gals drinking water; a very nice and extremely useful construction, yet it does take up some space. Other amenities in Cooptown included the roosting perches and of course the feeder hanging from the ceiling.
'Go Big Or Go Home'
is still the motto around these here parts, so I'm always itching to grow our flock, garden, sustainable food sources etcetera, etcetera, etcetera .................................. we've even increased the number of Beefy Boys on the property. So after an insightful Bob Evans breakfast with my father-in-law, I've realized that change is going to come in baby steps.
Baby step number one was reached last weekend when we moved the nest box out of Cooptown and into Kennel Bar. Since the ladies lay their eggs during daylight hours (no vampires in the chicken world!) they technically only need to be in the coop at night. We figured if the nest box was moved into Kennel Bar, it would make more room in the coop for roosting perches. Since Kennel Bar is quite a large space and the chickens have access to the steer lot all day, we calculate that we have room for expansion within our flock and facilities. With the nest box out of the coop, when we increase our poultry numbers, we hopefully won't have an issue with overcrowding.

A little spring cleaning to freshen up Kennel Bar...

Don't worry, his head isn't stuck. He just had to add his two cents on the job I did!

Don't worry, his head isn't stuck. He just had to add his two cents on the job I did!

Here we go!

Where are Gabe and Bam from Alaskan Bush People???


My dream scenario would be to eventually make Kennel Bar into the actual coop. What is now Cooptown, I'd like to make into a storage room for feed, shavings, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera..................................OR turn it into the brooder/isolation room for sick chickies. My other dream scenario is to buy the little white house next door and turn it into the Taj Mahaal of chicken coops...but my money tree didn't produce last year.

Did yours???
In the meantime, I'll settle for the changes that have been made. Now the nest box is located in Kennel Bar and Cooptown has a little more breathing room. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016


I really wanted to post this on Valentine's Day (as the title is the color of valentines) but life got in the way and well, it just didn't happen...but Happy (Late) Valentine's Day everyone!
I've dedicated this post to a chicken I've started calling RED. I call her RED not in a positive way but from a place of anger. No I'm not bullying her out of jealousy...I'm already a unicorn and have my own red hair. I'm calling her RED because this little chick-a-dee rubs me the wrong way.
RED. There are a plethora of names out there to call red heads these days. Some nicer than others. Some have been outdated...for example I don't really hear "carrot top" used anymore probably because it's been replaced by "ginger". (I don't really get the use of the word "ginger"'s like whoever made it up was really grasping for straws when they thought of it. Not only does it remind me of ginger root, but also that beautiful chestnut mare in Black Beauty and sometimes if you catch me on a good day, when I hear it I just want to channel my inner Ginger Spice and bust out a dance move or two while singing "Zig-a-zig-AHHHH!") Ok, sorry I got a little sidetracked.
Of all these names I think I hate RED the most. Like it's so original people have to call you that to get your attention. Because they are such original people and can't think of anything better to say. When I hear the name RED being used when someone is talking about me or to me I literally feel the wind sucked from my sails.  My eyeballs can't reach any further in the back of my head. It's as dull as powder.
There has only ever been one person in recorded history that I haven't minded them calling me RED. Old Richard Chandler. He was kind enough to put a "Miss" out in front and let me throw whole bean plants at him out in the bean field. (Sorry Grandma!) Anyone else will be ignored for their lack of creativity. The only reaction you might get out of me is something as equally lackluster like, "Hey Blondie!"
So it's with these attached connotations that I call this bird RED.

I don't think RED has spent a night in the coop for probably months. Or if she has, then she is a permanent escapee.

It has sadly become a common sight around the Shawhan Farm to see this girl out and about, even on the other side of the fence and inches from the road, peeking and scratching. A NASA space ship can probably see her hoard of eggs miles above us because trust me we haven't found a stash to raid daily. (If she's not laying inside the coop then she's laying outside the coop.)
Aside from her top secret egg cash, RED was also part of an elite hole digging operation in the gardens and under the trees here at the Shawhan Farm. This past fall Carl and I raked level all the empty flower beds. We spent an entire morning blistering our hands with those rakes and my esophagus burned from pregnancy-related reflux, but we had the grounds around this place looking comparable to one of the royal palaces. That afternoon what did I look to see? RED and her counterparts selfishly indulging themselves in dust bath and scratching in the newly raked dirt. It. Was. Everywhere. Bush and tree roots now lay exposed thanks to those birds. I literally saw RED that day. I called Dan and threatened to shot her.
RED is living on borrowed time as I see it; not just from her daring escapades to the road but also with my tolerance. I made peace with myself long ago that I felt such traitorous feelings towards a sister in the ginger and now all that is left is pure annoyance.
Dan says the day he cleans the steer lot out will be the day he finally discovers how she is escaping the confines of the steer lot, but this girl is good. Like, really good.
So when you visit, please ignore the craters surrounding our house and please watch your step, as we don't need to sprained ankles. It's all the work of RED who has successfully made this chicken lady throw her arms up in defeat.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

They Say That Becca's Back

Can I just say "WOW!"....and not in the Flava Flav type of way...
It's been soooooo long...for a lot of things. Blogging, chickens, being creative. A lot has gone down since I last posted.
A couple of years ago I attended our church's annual Ash Wednesday services and committed myself to not only give up something near and dear to my heart for 40 days, but to DO something near and dear to my heart for 40 days. I was going to write something everyday and sling shot myself into the daily discipline. It worked too for almost two years; no matter how late a journal entry was or how busy I was or how many episodes of The Real Housewives I had DVR'd, the second Carl went down for his nap I came to the office, opened my laptop and typed away dreaming of book tours and book signings. Man was I popular in my fantasies!!
The day I found out I was pregnant obviously was a journal-entry day (as those big events are usually reserved for the books in which we record our thoughts and emotions) but something happened. All my creative juices that buzzed through my veins was suddenly redirected to the daily care of my son and the epic job of creating a new life (a nine pounder I may add!) I had nothing left at the end of those muggy days...all I could do in the evening was crawl to couch and watch Caroline Ingalls do it all on the prairie and still have the energy to run out the door at the end of the day and say "Oh Charles!" with more enthusiasm than is believable. (I still love her though.)
So...that's where I was for the past, I don't know, more than nine months now.
But, I'm happy to say that as the last whisper of postpartum pain diminishes, it is replaced with an old fire, an old pulse that still beats deep inside of me and that is to write and create.
Something that bugs me about pregnancy is the fact that you are made to sit out on the disabled list. I hate the DL...probably because I've been blessed enough in my life not to have had to spend a lot of time there. But thanks to 21st century law of wussiness, (I really want to use a stronger term here) one who is with child cannot do an array of daily/normal activity, despite what is portrayed on episodes of Little House on the Prairie.
 This time "away" gets you in a whole new mind set so that when you are officially cleared back to health and back to normal again, it feels odd at first that you don't have that "I'm pregnant" excuse. Your whole thought process is different.
For example: the day I found out I was expecting, I'd bought a 20 ounce Mt. Dew (judge me as you will). I'd taken like two sips of the thing, watched as the positive sign was revealed, tried to keep from passing out on the toilet, then threw the rest of the Dew away. Fast forward nine months and I'm heaving a wheelbarrow full of horse poo out of the stall and that voice taps my ear and says, "Should you lift this? You're...oh wait. No you're good! Not pregnant anymore!"
And so...I'm back. Even though I can't make any promises how consistent this is going to be, I have been feeling those old vibrations of my past self more and more lately.
A nice day not too long ago, Carl and I were in the barn cleaning stalls. As we went through the old and familiar motions I could feel the wheels begin to turn in the creative side of my brain, despite the rust and cobwebs that had grown there. Funny how such a place can generate such a strong spark, but it's always been that way.

And funny too that today is Ash Wednesday, the day it all began not so long ago. Things have really come around full circle.
And lastly, for all the time spent on the DL, the empty pages that have yet to be written, the eye rolling of pregnancy rules and the self berating that you didn't have Caroline's energy during the first trimester, you'd go through it all over again in a heartbeat to have the latest addition to your family.

Welcome Abigail Catherine!