Monday, November 19, 2012

Lisa Steele Fan Club

We love Lisa Steele and Fresh Eggs Daily.  Fresh Eggs Daily was where I was first given sound, sane friendly advice about the best way to raise healthy and happy hens. 
Never preachy or ignoring newcomers, Lisa dishes up her experiences as a learning tool for us all.  You won't find her regurgitating generic facts any of us could google answers to.  Expect her replies to be honest, often heartfelt and always based on a farm chick's experience.
Check out her Facebook, her blog and even her featured article in Chickens Magazine.  (We are so proud of her!)  Meredith and Tinkerbell really enjoyed the article and we know you will too!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ohio National 2012

For me, it was only one day.  A few brief hours in all actuality.  But for this Farm Chick Chit Chat girl, I had found and experienced the Chicken Mecca.

On November 10, 2012 I stepped foot into the Ohio National in Columbus, largest and most spectacular gatherings of poultry breeders, exhibitors and fanatics that amassed in the state of Ohio.  With my husband and 8 year old daughter in tow, I began walking down the countless rows of birds, vendors and clubs on display.  The enormity of the building was overwhelming, yet every available space was occupied by people wanting to take part in such an amazing event.

My first priority was to stake out the Meyer Hatchery booth and say hello.  For those of you who don't know Meyer Hatchery, you don't know what an amazing and helpful staff they have.  They have some amazing people working there who are not only knowledgeable and have experience with poultry, but who are also very courteous and take the time to get to know you and what your needs are.  They truly want you to walk away from your experience educated, satisfied and happy with your new flock members, and they know the key to return business is in these details.

After catching up with my favorite hatchery's on goings, and snagging one of their GORGEOUS 2013 catalogs (get my treat recipe with your QR scanner on page 75 and see little glimpse of my daughter, another Meyer Hatchery fan, on page 104) and calendars, it was time to look at the vendor and club tables.  Products were lined up neatly as far as the eye could see; books, medical supplies, leg bands, feed, treats.  You name it, it was there.  Some wonderful companies had their products available for purchase and I was tempted at every turn!  Buckley Bros. Inc.PBS Animal Health, Smith Poultry & Game Bird Supplies, Foy's Pet Supplies, Keipper Cooping Company and Twin City Poultry Supplies are all proud affiliates of the Ohio National.

Several clubs also had tables set up distributing information and speaking about the wonderful qualities of their breeds.  Whether your eye tends to stray toward bantams, exotics or heritage, there was a club in attendance for you.  Just a few of the many attending were the American Buckeye Poultry Club, Serama Council of North America, Wyandotte Breeders of America, American Brahma Club, American Bantam Association and the American Poultry Association.

Who else is connected with the Ohio National?  Why none other than the Ohio Poultry AssociationBackyard Poultry Magazine and chicken guru Andy Schneider, better known as the Chicken Whisperer.  I didn't get to personally meet Andy, mind you, but rather he is listed on the Ohio National site as an affiliate.  It's probably a good thing I didn't run into him.  I'd have probably embarrassed myself (not to mention my husband and child) by asking him to autograph a copy of his book for me.  It would totally be worth it!  Sorry Mike and Meredith.

One of my favorite chat's I did have was with Rick Rieser of Percy Learning Farms and author of Percy the Perfectly Imperfect Chicken. Mr. Rieser has an impressive background including (excerpt from the book's About the Author page) "25 year career as a writer, nationally recognized children's advocate and most importantly, chicken farmer. He has developed resources for children of all ages that emphasize and focus on the inner strength and potential that exists in every child. He is a cum laude graduate of Capital Law School, earned two degrees from The Ohio State University including a Masters in Family Science. He has received numerous awards including the Martin Luther King Jr Award (Ohio), 1997 Friend of Education Award, the Peacemaker Award and other national recognitions for his work."

All these credentials aside, in speaking with Rick, I could tell he was incredibly passionate about  his beliefs.  As a therapy dog handler myself, I immediately connected with him and his message he is trying to teach.  In his beautifully illustrated book, he tells us the story of Percy, a chicken who is told by the others that he is not perfect.  "What's perfect?" Percy asks.  In reading this book you learn not to question by who's standards you should measure up to, but rather to stand up and embrace what makes us different.  I encourage all parents to pick up a copy of this book for the young children in your life, be they chicken enthusiasts or not.  The positive message it convey's is uplifting and encouraging.  I will be taking my copy of the book into school for use in my reading therapy program and I know the children will all enjoy it as much as I did.

It was a wonderful day spent admiring all the beautiful birds, gathering information on clubs and perusing the vendor tables.  I could go on for days about all the amazing animals that I saw there, but I wouldn't hardly begin to do them justice.  So many breeds I had never seen before, or had only seen in the glossy pages of a magazine, where right there before my eyes.  Getting a first hand look at them, you really can appreciate the unique qualities of each breed.  My only complaint?  Trying to photograph birds behind bars!  I so wanted to be able to share with everyone the details in their feather patterns, the sparkle in their eye, and of course that chicken personality that always shines through.  While I think I got a few decent shots in, I was wholly disappointed that the bars obstructed my shots (and caused some nasty flash glares).  Thankfully, I wasn't alone.  My 8 year old daughter, Meredith, decided she'd be an ace photographer for my blog.  HERE are the photos taken by her, and I thank her for showing you the Ohio National from her perspective.  (Can you tell what breed is her favorite?)

I will leave you with a few more shots from my album (a few more here from my phone's camera), and some from Meredith's as well.  Be sure to visit these websites to learn more about the Ohio National and the people, groups and organizations involved in it.  If you plan on attending next year, please let me know.  I'd love to explore the event with more chicken enthusiasts, especially if I can convince them to take pictures too!

Still want to see more?  Visit our albums here:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

One Dozen Lessons My Chickens Could Teach Me

Have you ever found yourself reflecting on your life?  Looking back at all the things in the past; decisions you made, chances you took, mistakes you made.  It isn't too long after you spend some time strolling down memory lane that your thoughts begin to focus in on the future.  If you are anything like me, these two paths usually end up with a varying amount of regret, a certain amount of bargaining with yourself, a little bit of crying and a whole lot of lofty goals.  I recently had one of those thinking sessions with myself, hoping for self improvement.  Sure there are tons of books out there I could pick up and maybe sift out a few gems of information from, but who wants to listen to someone who seemingly has their life all together pass judgement?  No thanks!  Instead my somewhat tired mind, in a punch-drunk emotional haze, began to wonder what advice my chickens would give me about life if they could write a self help book.  Here is what I've come up with.

Boo and Fifi go in to swipe a treat at the same time

Lesson One:  It is ok to squawk if someone steals your treats.

Chicken Perspective:  Most of the girls in the yard do a pretty good job of asserting themselves.  What they find are the spoils of their victories and they usually aren't keen about sharing.  Sure, they'll mill about with one another looking for goods, but the moment two birds spy a treat and dive for it, it's game on.  If they feel they've been robbed, they make sure not only the thief knows, but the whole yard knows!  Does it change the outcome?  No, but they have expressed to the other(s) their hurt and feelings of betrayal. 

What I Should Learn:  Sometimes we swallow our feelings for so long that they start to make us sick.  Convincing yourself that you are "dealing with" or "handling" or "putting up with" someone who either is deliberately or unconsciously saying or doing damaging things isn't in fact dealing, handling or putting up with them at all.  It's accepting that person's ill behavior and essentially giving them the green light to continue it.  I should learn that while it may not always be appropriate for me to stand up and shake my fist at all of the worlds injustices, I could certainly stand up for myself and more importantly for my feelings a little more.  It may not change a thing, but I might make them aware of the way they are upsetting me and change an unintentional behavior.

Lesson Two:  At some point you will realize you have parasites.

Chicken Perspective:  Toward the end of September, I noticed a handful of little creepy crawlies on the outside of the chicken coop one morning.  After staring at them, somewhat puzzled for a moment, I realized what they were.  Mites.  I knew this.  I had read up on this.  I was prepared for this.  I flew into action!  My girls are fed natural remedies that help ward off parasites internally and I was pleased to see that after extensive examination, they were all clear.  Still, I didn't want the little buggers shacking up in our coop.  We did treatments to the coop and I kept an eye on the girls, making sure the mites didn't make a desperate attempt at infesting them in their last hours.  I'm glad to say the mites are history and the girls are happy and healthy still!

What I Should Learn:  Sometimes, no matter how much you prepare yourself, you will find a parasite here or there.  I'm talking about emotional parasites of course.  These people can rob you of your energy, your positivity and your time.  If you let them, they may not stop there.  It's pretty easy to tell when someone is being taken advantage of from the outside looking in, but often times you try to convince yourself that you would never be duped in that way.  This is especially true if the parasite is a family member or a long time friend.  I should learn that someone who is feeding off my emotions in a negative way needs to be exterminated immediately.  Ok, not really exterminated, but definitely removed.

Lesson Three:  Some days it's going to rain but you've still got to forage.

Chicken Perspective:  Watching chickens in the yard is being witness to some serious determination.  For hours on end they will hunt, peck, scratch and scrape through the day and might only come up with a few bugs and a less than perfect looking flower bloom for their troubles.  Does that deter them?  Heck no!  They keep on scritching away, day after day, hoping for that mother-load!  Muddy feet?  psssh!  Wind ruffled feathers?  Forget about it!  The good stuff is out there just waiting...and they've gotta find it before the chick next to them does!

What I Should Learn:  It's easy to feel sorry for yourself.  The economy stinks, my boss is a pain, I'm short on money and dang it, I'm tired!  Pick an excuse; we've heard them all and then some.  But guess what?  Life doesn't get any easier while you sit on your backside and boo-hoo away your blues.  Sure, you are entitled to a good cry now and again if things get you down.  (remember, I coped to one at the beginning of this blog?)  Finish it up though, wipe your tears away and charge back out there with a game plan.  Problems don't fix themselves and the last time I checked, nobody was handing out passes to Easy Street.  You've got to work at it, and working hard towards what you need is a lot better than crying about it!

Georgette enjoys a good roll in the dirt

Lesson Four:  Afternoon naps and dust baths are absolutely OK.

Chicken Perspective:  In the chicken world, there is perhaps no greater luxury than the dust bath.  It can be a social experience (yes, these birds aren't prudish and often bathe in groups) as well as a much needed pampering for health and well being.  My girls enjoy their afternoon naps almost as much as their dust baths. After foraging around outside for a few hours, they shamelessly find a perch (indoors or out will do) and settle in for a little snooze.  They awake refreshed and recharged, and ready to find that bug in hiding!

What I Should Learn:  Most of us live the rat race every day.  It's a hectic world in which we live and often times we put our own needs last.  But perhaps the key to being a more efficient, happier person is taking a little time for yourself.  Take a bubble bath (or a dust bath, if that's your thing), take a nap, read a book, meet up with friends for a while, get outside and talk a walk.  Do what relaxes you and you may find that the reward for allowing yourself that tiny slice of indulgence was worth the time sacrificed.  I plan on scheduling some time for myself, soon!

Mim (front) and Ursula (back) start to head for the coop at the first squawk of assumed danger

Lesson Five:  You don't have to be a rooster to defend the hen-house.

Chicken Perspective:  For the time being, we have a rooster-less coop.  We did not plan on hatching chicks nor did we see a real need for a rooster to protect the hens since they are super secure in their run and coop (aka Fort Knox).  I've noticed a funny thing though; that still doesn't stop the girls from calling out to each other when they spot potential dangers, as roosters are classically supposed to do.  Disclaimer: we've had no real danger come to the hens in their 5 months.  Thankfully, no predators or stray animals have wandered on our property.  No massive catastrophe has befallen them at all, but they still see danger in some of the strangest things.  A tractor in the neighbor's field, the dogs running and barking in their fenced in portion of the yard, my husband working on the cars or banging around in the shed.  Sure enough, one of the girls will signal the alarm and make sure the others get down or get to safety.  After a few minutes, they will issue a gentle clucking "all clear" and resume normal activity.

What I Should Learn:  It's easy to turn a blind eye to some of the things we don't agree with and not get involved.  Life is complicated enough without dragging yourself into some other mess, right?  Yes, I can't argue with that.  However, being alert to the world around you, supporting others and standing up for what you believe in is something we should all strive to do.  "If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else"  (quote by Booker T. Washington)  I volunteer my time to organizations I love, and also donate my money when I can.  Even when those two options fail, you can always use your voice.  Speak up, speak out.  Support a cause or support a friend.  It's doesn't have to be a great big gesture.  Often just a little encouragement means the world.  I hope that I have been there for my family, friends and favorite organizations in the past and I will be making an effort to do more in the years to come.

Lesson Six: Don't try to change others.  You'll just be met with squawking and flapping about.

Chicken Perspective:  My girls personalities have a pretty decent range, though I'm fortunate enough to say that I don't have any mean birds in the coop.  That being said, not every hen is a love bug.  I thought that through time, patience and a lot of treats, I could convince a few of them that having me pet them wasn't such a bad thing.  As of this date, we still agree to disagree.  They will tolerate a stroke or two of the hand, but shimmy off soon after.  Occasionally, they will surprise us and seek us out in the yard for attention...or in my husband's case, they will jump on his back to perch when he is unsuspectingly closing up the coop at night.  Either way, both species know what to expect from the other.  The arrangement isn't always perfection, but it's a working agreement.

What I Should Learn:  People are fairly adaptive creatures.  We find ways to cope with things and learn new strategies to help achieve our goals.  One thing that this usually isn't effective on is getting another person to change their ways.  You see, people are also stubborn creatures.  This is what happens when we are given free will (and free range perhaps).  We always want things to go our way, because to us our logic is superior.  I have learned that it is a colossal waste of time and energy trying to mold others to your standards.  You can make changes in your own life, you may make suggestions to others on their own.  Ultimately, unless that person sees the logic (and often, the payout) in changing their ways, you won't get much progress.  If you can come to a working compromise, then do it.  I think it's much better to get the occasional perch on the back and random pet than total aloofness and fleeing in terror of your approach.

how many birds can you count?

Lesson Seven:  Life feels cozier when crammed in between a dozen of your closest friends.

Chicken Perspective:  I doubt there is a chicken keeper who would deny this simple truth: no matter how much space you give your birds, unless they are feeding or foraging, they will all end up scrunched together in a three foot square space.  My husband and I considered our birds mature sizes when determining the right amount of perch space to put inside the coop.  Large enough to give them ample room to move about, but small enough that there isn't much wasted space.  (Body heat can help keep those chicks warm in the cold Ohio winter!)  I was warned, but didn't really believe it til it happened in my very own back yard.  As many chickens as possible cram on to one perch and snub the notion of carefully spacing themselves out.  To them, comfort is in the company.

What I Should Learn:  This lesson is simple: surround yourself with those who love you, support you and are willing to share body heat with you in vital situations.  Ok, maybe just the love and support.  The chickens have it right though: comfort is in the company.

my two sweet girls together

Lesson Eight:  Sometimes the kindest people are not the attention getters.

Chicken Perspective:  We took time selecting the chicken breeds in our flock.  My husband astutely made sure that our selections were mainly based on egg production (that was why were were getting chickens, wasn't it?) and my influence was for their personality, but my daughter and I were still able to sneak a few fancy looking chicks in the mix.  Now to sit outside with them is quite a sight to see.  Deep red plumage, some speckled or laced, a few black bodied birds with feathers that glisten green, some fluffy cheeks and a pair of bouffant heads grace the flock, just to name a few.  Truly a beautiful group!  But who's my biggest sweetheart?  Surely she must be the showstopper of the group!  Alas, no.  My mild mannered Buff Orp, Tinkerbell, is the lap dog of our coop.  She doesn't have flashy markings, or a crazy topknot to make her stand out.  It is her quiet, gentle and persistent friendship that makes her one of my favorites.  (Just don't tell the others I play favorites)

What I Should Learn:  Big displays for attention aren't what matter to me.  I often remind myself  of this when I hear others brag about how many friends they have, or how many followers on a social network, or some other self imposed mark of popularity.  To me the things that matter most are in the kindness a person shows, their devotion to their friends and family, their moral fiber and their loyalty.  You can draw attention to yourself pretty easy with obnoxious behavior and controversial comments, but shallow people often stand for shallow things.

Georgette jumps her way to the uppermost levels

Lesson Nine: Just because you can't fly doesn't mean you shouldn't soar.

Chicken Perspective:  There are few chicken breeds that excel at flying.  In fact, at best they are merely capable of flight at short distances.  The hens I have are not these birds, yet a few of them fancy themselves ace pilots in training.  The topmost perch of the coop and run aren't good enough for them, oh no!  They must roost amongst the rafters only to descend (on their schedule, not mine) at a glide, then with all the grace and elegance of landing as if they were blindfolded.  They keep on trying though, and I'm sure they'll get it down one of these days.

What I Should Learn:  Sometimes we chalk up our dreams to be unreachable; a goal which we could never realistically achieve.  As we continue our day to day lives, inside us somewhere is that spark of passion we have to make a move in the direction of what we want most.  It could be dreams of fame and fortune, it could be to write a novel, maybe a non-profit group you wish to start or going back to school.  Every day you talk yourself out of your dream is one less day you have to achieve it.  Each time you tell yourself you are foolish to hope and could never do it, you make that more true.  I've had an idea kicking around in my head for years that I've denied, but I just realized that I'm the only one stopping myself from trying.  I will give myself permission to dream and to try to reach my goal.  I may not get to fly the distance, but soaring would make trying all worth while.

Lesson Ten: We may get sidetracked by shiny things, but try to focus on what is truly important.

Chicken Perspective: A healthy curiosity for life, chickens have an abundance of.  If it's shiny, makes a funny noise, creeps or crawls, looks like food, smells like food or is believed (in any respect) to be food, they are all over it.  My daughter, like most girls her age, has some clothing pieces with what is commonly referred to as bling on them.  You know: rhinestones, sequins, jewelry charm chains, etc. This is a chicken magnet.  Other attention getters that cannot  or rather should not, be consumed?  Flip flops, exposed toes, jewelry, moles or freckles on skin, nail polish, plastic bags or containers that could potentially contain treats.  (you are holding out with the treats, aren't you?  GIVE ME THAT BAG!)  I can literally toss down some goodies and they will waste their time pecking at a rhinestone gem on my daughters flip flop or a rivet on my jeans.  Sigh.  Open your eyes ladies.

What I Should Learn:  Each year the "American Dream" seems to get a little bigger, a lot more expensive, more high definition (HD for the techies) and bring us a whole lot deeper in debt.  No matter how modestly you try to live, there is always something that becomes your money pit.  Are you a clothes horse?  Maybe you like your ATV toys and mechanical what-not (*ahem-my-husband-ahem*).  It could be a love of literature that does you in.  (Guilty book junkie here)  Instead of focusing on the next big thing coming out or our next "want", we should focus on our needs.  In an instant gratification world, it's an easy fix to drop some cash to feel momentarily happy, but is it worth the expense you pay in the end?  I, like many others, need to keep my priorities in strict check.  Anyone know a good support group for fiction and non-fiction addicts?

Mim growing in her feathers
Kevin has an unusual look

Lesson Eleven:  It's ok to be different.

Chicken Perspective:  Most of our birds, as earlier mentioned, were selected for their egg laying abilities. Our coop proudly houses several heritage breeds.  But you might do a double take when you see two mop-top polish out strutting side by side with the high production gals.  Our birds of a different feather are Kevin, the white crested black polish, and Madame Mim, the silver laced polish.  With reading up on the polish breed before their arrival, I found many reports of them being timid and low on the pecking order.  Even some horror stories of other breeds attacking them because of their highly visible, flashy feathery hairdo.  I was apprehensive to say the least.  5 months later, they fit just fine into the group and are welcomed without question.

What I Should Learn:  People are either going to love you or they are going to hate you.  Don't waste time trying to be someone you aren't just to fit in.  Those who are truly worth having in your life will respect your individuality and while they may not always share your opinions, beliefs, and choices (etc), they will respect your right to have them.  Let the judgmental people sit in their own private jury.  Don't let them into your life.  Besides, normal is overrated!  The difference between extra ordinary and extraordinary is only a short space away!  (Really, look!)

Lesson Twelve:  Every once in awhile you've got to strut.

Chicken Perspective:  I have a shameless bird in our group named Minnie.  She is a Plymouth Barred Rock and she is about as attention seeking as a D-List celebrity.  (As if this photo bomb isn't evidence enough!)  Whatever the flock is doing, she's in the middle of.  Whatever you are doing, she's right there.  Whatever you think you might do, guess who?  She's bold, she's daring and she's not afraid to get you to take notice.  Maybe she's a bit of a diva, but it's working for her.  And you know the most important thing to a diva, don't you?  Working it!

What I Should Learn:  I'm as guilty as many of you are in shrugging off compliments.  I will pshaw even the simplest of things to remove the focus from myself.  Every once in awhile though, I should take a cue from Minnie and revel in my accomplishments a bit more.  Not in a haughty way, but in being proud and assured that my work has paid off.  We've all got to take a little time to enjoy our success and bask in it while the moment is fresh.  So lift your head up high, pat yourself on the back and heck, strike your best pose for a few photog's...even if they weren't pointing the camera at you!

So there they are; the dozen lessons I think my chickens could teach me.  Maybe yours could teach you a few things too.  We just need to slow down, open our eyes and hearts to the wisdom all around us.  Wherever you draw energy and inspiration from, take notes.  After realizing these lessons I could take away with me, I may be spending more time in the chicken coop with a pen and paper.