Friday, December 21, 2012

A Christmas Tale

This play appears in the current issue of Sheep Canada Magazine.

A Christmas Tale
A Play in one act

Cast of Characters:          
Flopsy – a ewe                                  
Dora – a ewe
                                        
Frank- a ram                                    
 Barn Cat
                                       
Floyd- a rooster                                 
Juliet- a ewe
The Ewe Chorus                               
 The Forgetful Farmer

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the barn,
many creatures were stirring, for the lights were left on…

Two ewes at the feeder picking through the leavings of their evening meal.

Flopsy:                  Can you believe it? She left the lights on in here AGAIN!
Dora:                     I know, eh? All that talk about what picky eaters we are, how much hay we waste, and she goes and leaves the lights on. Sheesh! Talk about waste! Hey, what time you think it is?
Flopsy:                  Dunno. Pretty late I guess.
Dora:                     Hmm.  Must be something going on. This is late, even for her.

Frank the Ram saunters over, looking for a snack.

Frank:                   Ladies. What’s up?
Flopsy:                  It’s late; the lights are still on; nobody seems to be around.  Any idea what’s going on?
Frank:                   Christmas.
Ewes:                   Christmas? 
Frank:                   Yeah, you know, it’s one of those human holidays. See, there’s this pudgy bearded guy in a fuzzy red suit who throws presents at you from his magic space sleigh.  And then there’s, like, all this food and singing and parties and stuff. Oh, and visitors- lots of visitors.  Remember last year when those small humans came into the barn and chased us around while the other big humans took pictures with those camera thingies?
Ewes:                    Yes.
Frank:                   Well, that was Christmas.
Ewes:                    Oh. Great.
Frank:                   Oh yeah, and here’s the totally cool part…I almost forgot… (Frank noses around in the feeder) mhmph…alfalfa… awesome! Hey, do you ladies mind if I eat that?
Ewes:                    No, go right ahead.
Frank:                   (Chewing) Mmmm…this is pretty good…now what was I saying? Oh yeah, yeah, the cool part. So, I heard from this other ram back on the farm where I used to live that at midnight on Christmas animals can TALK!  
Dora:                     Talk? Like with your mouth?

Flopsy shoots Dora a look.

Flopsy:                  No, like talk with some other body part, you moron.
Dora:                     What? It’s a legitimate question.  Ever stand next to Juliet when we’re eating grain? I’m pretty sure that’s not her mouth talking.

Both ewes laughThen from across the barn-

Juliet:                    Hey, I heard that!!
Flopsy:                  Talking. What a strange idea. I wonder if it’s true … (pauses) …WaitDo you suppose maybe we’re talking RIGHT NOW?!
Frank:                    (Stops mid-chew) Whoa…We totally are talking! Oooooooh Freaky!

Frank, Dora and Flopsy all look at each other with amazement.
Just then Barn Cat appears from the shadows as he slinks through the sheep pen 
on his way to somewhere else.

Flopsy:                  Hey Cat, do you think animals can talk?

Barn Cat stops mid-slink.

Barn Cat:         Talk? Talk about gullible, you mean. You sheep will believe anything. Of course animals can’t talk.
Flopsy:             Well, if animals can’t talk, then how are we having this conversation?
Barn Cat:          What conversation? We’re not having a conversation.  You only think we are having a conversation. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere to be. Somewhere that isn’t here.
Cat performs ninja moves and silently exits.

Flopsy:                  Cats are SO weird. And what does he mean by gullible? Who’s gullible?
Dora:                     I think Gullible was that spotted ram we met a couple of years ago, remember?
Frank:                   Ladies, if I may interject.  Gullible means you believe stuff easily without requiring proof…. Like that time I totally invented cold fusion and fooled all those journalists and almost won a Nobel Prize…Oh wait… that wasn’t me. But you get the idea. Hey, is that some of that fescue and reed canary grass blend? That stuff’s awesome! You ladies mind?
Ewes:                    No, go right ahead.

Across the barn in the chicken pen, Floyd the rooster begins to crow.

Floyd ( singing):     I've been really tryin', baby
                              Tryin' to hold back this feeling for so long
                              And if you feel like I feel, baby
                             Then come on, oh, come on
                              Whoo, let's get it on…..

Flopsy:   There goes that fool of a rooster. The lights are on so he thinks it’s day! Dumb as a bag of hammers.

Ewe Chorus:       SHUT UP!!!

Dora:                     I can’t believe the hens fall for that “Oh baby, baby” routine. Talk about, wait, what was  that word again?

Cat returns, this time with a mouse tail dangling out of his mouth. 
He mumbles because his mouth is full. 
           
Cat:                        Mullible.
Flopsy:                  What’s that, cat? By the way, you’ve got something stuck in your teeth.
Cat spits out the mouse.
Cat:                        Ahem. I said it before and I’ll say it again. You sheep are gullible.
Flopsy:                  Okay Cat, if you’re so smart, give me one example of how we are gullible.
Cat:                        In a word:  Freezer.

Dora looks slightly panicked    
   
Dora:                     What about Freezer?
Cat:                        Dora, what is Freezer?
Dora:                     Why, Freezer is a special place where only the Truly Good and Tasty animals go. A place where everything is perfect: the grass is green, the sun is always shining, the apples are ripe, and grain falls in gentle showers from the sky.  And there are no coyotes. Or intestinal parasites.
Cat:                        And it’s an actual place? (Commences gnawing on mouse)
Dora:                     Yes, of course it’s a real place, but why…..
Frank:                   If I may interject. Dora, perhaps Freezer is…  like a…um…a  metaphor. Not so much an actual place, more a state of complete peace, of perfect consciousness if you will….a sort of a goal on life’s path to spiritual enlightenment. (Frank sniffs the ground)  Oooh I think somebody missed a piece of corn….
Cat (choking):    Hack. Cough. Man, you have GOT to be kidding me! Do you seriously believe….

From across the barn, the rooster crows again.

Floyd (sings):   When a man loves a woman
                        Can't keep his mind on nothing else
He'll trade the world
For the good thing he's found…


Ewe Chorus:       SHUT UP!!!!!

Cat:        Dora, look over there.
Dora:     Where?
Cat:        Over there at the turkey pen. Tell me what you see.
Dora:     Nothing. It’s full of emptiness.

Cat shakes his head in disbelief.

Cat:        Yes Dora, it’s “full of emptiness”. (making air quotes with his paws) And why is it empty, Dora?

Dora:     Because the turkeys were Truly Good and Tasty Animals, and they went to Freezer.


Cat:   Look, let me tell you something about Freezer, okay?  If Freezer is a state of complete peaceand perfect consciousness, then those turkeys began their path to enlightenment on the back of a truck. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was a Ford.
Dora (horror stricken) NOOOO! It’s a REAL PLACE!
Cat:        Oh, it’s a real place all right….
Dora:     Lalalala I can’t hear you!

Dora runs away and hides her head in an empty water bucket.

Flopsy:  Great. Now look what you did. It’s going to take hours to calm her down.
Frank:   Hey Cat! Why you gotta be such a downer, dude?
Flopsy: Yeah.  And I thought you said we couldn’t talk. That was a whole lot of talking for someone who doesn’t talk.
Cat:        I wasn’t talking. In fact, I’m not even here. I don’t exist. It’s all just your imagination.

Flopsy stomps on Cat’s tail.

Cat:        YEOOOOOW! What did you do that for?
Flopsy:    Did you feel that?
Cat licks his tail.
Cat:        Of course I felt that! What’s wrong with you?
Flopsy:  That’s funny. I thought you were a figment of my imagination.

Cat realizes to his embarrassment that he has just been outwitted by a sheep.

Cat:        I just remembered that… I forgot…to do……stuff.

Cat exits in disgrace.

Frank (laughing): Hey Flopsy, I don’t know if this whole “talking” thing is real, but I think you just proved the existence of Cat.

From across the barn, Floyd the rooster crows again.

Floyd (singing):                 And I can't fight this feeling anymore
                                        I've forgotten what I started fighting for
                                        It's time to bring this ship into the shore
                                       And throw away the oars, forever!

Ewe Chorus:   SHUT UP!!!!

Flopsy:           I can’t take much more of that rooster. Now he’s singing REO Speedwagon. 
We’re going to have to fight fire with fire here. Anybody know a song? Some Cole Porter?  
Blue Moon of Kentucky?  Anything?  Please!  Anyone?

Dora returns with a water bucket on her head.

Dora:   Oh I do! I know one! Pick me!
Dora begins to sing

Dora:                               Jingle bells, jingle bells
                                        Jingle all the way.
                                        Oh! what fun it is to ride
                                        In a one-horse open sleigh.

All the sheep join in.

                                        Jingle bells, jingle bells,
                                        Jingle all the way;
                                        Oh! what fun it is to ride
                                        In a one-horse open sleigh.

Outside, a car pulls into the yard.

Frank:   Uh oh, everybody pipe down! I see lights coming up the driveway.
Flopsy:  She’s home. Thank goodness! Now maybe we can get some rest. Shush, everybody! She’ll hear us!
The Forgetful Farmer enters the barn to turn off the lights.

Forgetful Farmer:     Oh for the love of Pete, what’s with all the racket? Knock it off you animals and go to sleep! Don’t you know it’s Christmas? Now goodnight! I’ll feed you tomorrow.

Forgetful Farmer turns off lights. The barn is now completely dark. The animals are quiet.

Flopsy (whispers):           Psst. Frank, do you think she heard us?
Frank (also whispering): Not a chance. Humans are totally clueless.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dogged by Dogs.

My daughter and I recently outed ourselves as "cat people".  Not that we don't love dogs, but we have come to realize that we share a deeper affinity for cats. Go figure.  Whenever I have been asked which is my favourite animal, until recently my response would have been most assuredly dogs! But now......?

To me this feels a lot like the time I discovered that despite many years of believing myself to a Generation X Slacker, I was actually a member of Generation Y. Indeed, I missed true Slackerdom by one year. ONE YEAR! Stupid demographers.

Anyway. You might be wondering what the point is. If you read this blog often, by now you have probably figured out that there is seldom a point.  If you are looking for real literature or thought provoking ideas, I suggest the library. And I, meanwhile, in spite of my cat loving nature, continue to make art featuring - yes, you guessed it- DOGS!



"Eric at the Beach" 6x8 painted paper collage on panel , © 2012 Alyson Champ

 "Eric" is available from me via my website.



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Arnold Would Like a Cookie
8.5X11 painted paper and fabric collage on panel, © 2011 Alyson Champ

"Arnold" is available at Mackinac's Little Gallery

Friday, October 26, 2012

L'Artothèque

A couple of months ago, I heard about an art rental and sales progamme run by the City of Pointe-Claire, Quebec.  Pointe-Claire is a suburb of Montreal, on the western end of the island. The Art Rental Collection- l'Artothèque, en français- has been around for more than forty years, but this was the first I had heard about it. This is their mandate:

Since 1967, when it was established as a project for Canada's centennial, the Art Rental and Sales Service of the Stewart Hall Art Gallery has taken an active role in the promotion of the arts in the community by offering more than a hundred figurative and abstract works of art to the public. The success and popularity of the service amongst artists and art lovers continues to grow annually.

Every year, the Art Rental and Sales Service renews its collection by inviting artists of the greater Montreal area to submit their works to a professional jury. The selected works – including drawings, paintings, photography, prints and mixed media - are then exhibited in the Art Gallery. Following the exhibition, the Collection is available for sale or rent for one year at the Art Rental and Sales Service, located on the 2nd floor of Stewart Hall.

It is as easy to rent a work of art from the Art Rental and Sales Service as it is to borrow a book from the library. Works from the Art Rental Collection are framed and ready to hang and may be purchased, or rented for a limited time, offering an affordable way to bring art into the home or work environment.

It's a lovely space, too, in a beautiful renovated waterfront mansion.



I was able to make the submission deadline, so I figured I would give it a shot. I submitted three pieces (the maximum number allowed) to the jury, and much to my surprise two of the three were accepted.

Saratoga


Winter Blues

I'm delighted that these two collages,  Saratoga and Winter Blues, will form part of the 2012/2013 at the Art Rental and Sales Collection at Stewart Hall in Pointe-Claire. Pretty cool, huh?

Oh, and it gets better: there's a vernissage! This Sunday the exhibition opens to the public at 2:00 pm. Consider yourself invited.  The exhibition runs until November 25th, 2012.



Stewart Hall Art Gallery
176, chemin du Bord-du-Lac
Pointe-Claire, Quebec

Art Gallery Hours:
Monday through Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm
Wednesday 1pm to 9 pm
Free admission. Accessible by elevator.

tel. 514 630-1254


Friday, October 19, 2012

Cards and Prints on Fine Art America

Just recently I have begun uploading images to Fine Art America in order to offer them as inexpensive cards and prints. I thought that it might give would-be art collectors the opportunity to test out my work at a lower cost than buying an original.

So, out of curiosity, I ordered a bunch of cards off the site for my own use as I was curious to see if the ease of purchase and quality of the reproductions would be good as I had heard they are. Well, guess what? I'm happy to report that the printing quality is excellent! The cards are printed beautifully: rich colours, crisp images on high quality, glossy card stock, and they come with good quality envelopes. They arrived in Canada within a week of ordering. I have NO qualms about recommending this print on demand service!

If you like my art and have been considering a purchase, but aren't quite sure if you really want to spend that much to invest in an original work, perhaps you could start out with a print or some cards? The prints start  as low a $22.




A pack of ten cards sells for $32. 



See, aren't they pretty? I'm going to order some more for myself to send as Christmas cards this year.

And I guess now a whole bunch of people know what's on our living room bookshelf, too.

Here's the link:

Or just click the slide show image above right.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Along the English River

I grew up near the village of Howick, a blink and you miss it settlement in the Southwest corner of Quebec.  The English River, named originally for the English family who settled there - now mistakenly and officially translated into French as Rivière des anglais- is the waterway that runs through the village. The river, as you may well imagine, was the scene of much childhood activity. We fished in it, went boating and canoeing on it, swam (!) in it, rock hopped the shallow rapids, hunted for shells and "artifacts" near the shore, and skated on it in the winter.

Since moving a few kilometers south of  Howick, nearer to the village of St. Chrysostome, we have changed municipalities, but are still on the English River. It is, in fact, right at the bottom end of our smaller corn field.

The English isn't a spectacular river by any means- no showy, pounding rapids, no steep cliffs tower above it, no swift currents torment it- but it is a pretty river in a gentle, pastoral way. I have painted its scenery many times.
Now that I am experimenting with a wider range of collage subjects, I have grown increasingly interested in making painted paper collage landscapes. The idea of creating a collage image that looks like a painting, but isn't- this intrigues me. My newest work is entitled "Along the English River/ Rivière des anglais".

"Along the English River" 20x24 painted paper collage on panel ©2012 Alyson Champ

I am so pleased with the way this piece turned out that I have entered it in a juried exhibition in Montreal and also in an online international competition. Wish me luck!

P.S. In case you would like to know a bit more about this little spot on the map of this vast nation that is Canada, just click on the link here.http://quebecheritageweb.com/attraction/ch-teauguay-valley

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Department of De-Fence

Note: This blog post appears in the Fall 2012 Issue of Sheep Canada Magazine.


CLUNK.
“I am not accident prone!” my husband declares while trying to disentangle the various I.V. lines in his right arm, only to hit himself in the head with the cast on his left.
“That’s not what your mother says.” I answer.
“What does she know?! She’s my mother!”
Ten o’clock in the morning, a warm day in May, my husband is in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery and multiple fractures.
My mother-in-law has just left, but not before regaling us with tales of my husband’s various mishaps. The stories culminate in the re-telling of an incident from his childhood: At the age of two, tethered to the clothes line and under the “supervision” of his older brother, my husband ate poisonous berries off a shrub in the backyard and had to be rushed to hospital to have his stomach pumped only to return home a day or so later whereupon he promptly consumed a bar of soap in the bathroom.
“I was TWO!” he says, irritated.  “And just how does that story show that I am accident prone?”
“No, you’re right,” I say, “that’s not accident-prone. It’s something, though.”
He glares at me.
“And why were you on a leash tied to the clothesline?” I ask.
“How should I know- It was the SIXTIES!”

My husband is a woodworker by trade and so has had his fair share of job-related injuries: cuts requiring stitches, a splinter in the eye, the occasional smashed finger. Since taking up farming, he has had two accidents serious enough to require hospitalization, and, curiously, both of them were directly connected to fencing. No, not the white outfits, skinny swords, and “En garde!” type of fencing. More the “Why are there sheep in the backyard?” type of fencing.
Our farm used to be a goat farm and was fenced with goats in mind. We figured the page wire fences ought to be good enough to hold sheep.


"Omar The Bad"   (Photo © Alyson Champ)


For the first couple of years, the sheep were indeed easy on the fences; normal maintenance was all that was required. Then we added some Blue Faced Leicester genetics into our mostly Border Leicester flock.  One thing I will say about Blue Faced Leicesters, apart from their elegant bearing and gorgeous fleece, they have an uncanny ability to spot a loose picket. Within a year, all hell broke loose. And when I say “broke loose” I mean that literally.
To remedy the loose pickets, my husband designed for himself a gigantic, wooden maul - but he never got to use it. The angle grinder he was using to carve the maul slipped and cut open his right knee: Accident Number One. His recovery took several weeks; the fencing went unrepaired. The sheep continued to graze pretty much anywhere they chose.
Initially, the periodic out of bounds grazing wasn’t really such a big deal, so we let it go. Our farm is a long way from the road and we have no immediate neighbours to complain about sheep in their yard. The fences, though, got seriously damaged by sheep accustomed to pushing  their way under the wire at will, plus implementing any kind of rotational grazing was pretty much out of the question.  Eventually it became obvious that we had to repair the fences. Plans were made for the following spring, bringing us to Accident Number Two.
 Accident Number Two involved fence pickets, the front end loader of a tractor, and my husband’s left wrist and ankle. To make things just a little bit worse, this was also the spring that we were able to embark on a long awaited renovation project: having a cement foundation put under our house. Earth was moved; heavy equipment came and went; a section of fencing in the pasture closest to the house disappeared.
Unfinished, damaged, or absent fencing, combined with major home renovations, and a husband temporarily confined to a wheelchair meant free rein for a certain flock of sheep.

 “I think the sheep are eating the romaine lettuce.” says my husband, momentarily distracted from a DVD of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” by the sight of sheep in our garden.
Out the door I run to herd sheep through a gate back into the pasture where they belong. I see the sheep have arrived in the garden through a section of missing fence, but how did they get into that pasture in the first place? A quick walk out to the back fence shows me a sizable gap between the bottom of the page wire and the ground, along with the ample evidence of the crime: fleece caught on the wire. I patch up the fence with extra pickets, rocks, wire – whatever I can lay my hands on to block the gap. I inspect the rest of the fence for additional gaps, and satisfied that there are none, return to the house.

Later in the summer, on impulse one day in the feed store, I bought myself a length of portable electric fence and a solar battery, thinking that I could contain the sheep and mow our lawn all in one fell swoop.  It was a nice idea. The problem with this arrangement, however, was that I could never persuade ALL the sheep into the temporary corral.  While I could lure some of them in there with a grain bucket, there were always a few holdouts. Separated from their fellows, the sheep in the corral spent most of their time calling out to the others who remained in the pasture – like a very long, very loud game of Sheep Marco Polo.
And, of course, it also meant that the animals not contained within the electric fence were still able to get out. I gave up.

“Do sheep actually LIKE green peppers?” asks my husband seated in his wheelchair, Stephen King’s novel “Misery” open on his lap, as he surveys our yard through the window.
“I don’t think so,” I say, “Why?”
“Because the sheep are out in the garden eating them.”

Out the door I go again, this time determined to block access to the yard entirely. The fence is missing several pickets which I cannot possibly replace. What to do? I root through the piles of construction rubble in our yard and pull out some scrap lumber and a section of wooden railing from our old deck. From this, some extra pickets, wire, and baler twine, I fashion a temporary fence. It isn’t pretty, but it works. The sheep come up to the “fence” and look at it. The vegetable garden remains tantalizingly close, just out of reach.

"Fence Installation Project: Do you think I can get a grant for that?"  (Photo © Alyson Champ)

“HA!” I say to them, triumphant. They look at me and walk off. Days pass.
I enter the living room to find my husband peering out the window through a pair of binoculars, Grace Kelly in Rear Window frozen on the TV screen behind him.
“Where are the sheep?” he asks.
“Out in the back pasture, last time I saw them. Why?” I say.
“Hmm. I don’t think so. Here, take a look.” And he hands me the binoculars.
Out the door I go, this time to the car. A plume of dust follows me as I speed down our driveway, onto the road, and then a short distance up the neighbour’s lane. I stop and get out. The sheep are looking at me. They have broken out not to invade my garden or graze the lawn. No. They are in the neighbour’s fallow, herbicide sprayed field eating dried up cow parsnip and ragweed.
“What is the matter with you animals??!” I yell.
“Baaaaa!” they say.
I clap my hands and wave my arms at them. They turn to flee, kicking up their heels and cavorting as they go.  I follow them in the car in order to see where exactly they have breached the fence.
Lacking adequate materials, again I raid the pile of construction debris. Pulling out more wooden railing and scrap lumber, I drag it out across the pasture to fashion yet another patch.

Over the course of the summer, the sheep continued to escape. I continued to patch fences with whatever I could find; my husband remained in a wheelchair.  Our neighbour eventually did me the kindness of mowing down his fallow field. The sheep lost interest in that, at least.

“What are you doing?” my husband asks me through the window.
“I’m moving the electric fence.” I say as I lug the roll of portable fence across the lawn.
“Trying that again?” he asks.

"Fenced Garden"   (Photo © Alyson Champ)

“No,” I say, “I’m putting it up around the garden.”





Another bad sheep: "Miss Juliet" 10x8 painted paper collage on panel, © 2010


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Case of the Purrrrloined Kitten


When my daughter was in primary school, fundraising activities were common occurrences. I remember quite clearly one day in December when she and a group of friends spent a chilly winter afternoon going door to door selling bread. They came home  a couple of hours later with a sizable order list. And a kitten.

When I asked where the kitten had come from, the kids said they had found her shivering in a ditch by the side of the road, presumably abandoned. The kitten was a tiny little thing, maybe five weeks old, and my daughter begged me to keep her. Since I have a hard time putting out an animal once it has come into my house, I really couldn't refuse.


Tabitha in Bed  (Photo ©Alyson Champ)

Tabitha soon became a most cherished member of the family, and never for a moment did I regret taking her in. I also never questioned the "kitten in the ditch" story that the children told me. We live in the country, and, sadly, animals are abandoned by the roadside all the time.

Five years or so later, my daughter came up to me one day and said, quite out of the blue,

"Mom, we need to talk."

Now, I don't know if you have ever been the parent of a teenager, but if you have, you know that those aren't words that you really want to hear. Fearing the worst, I sat down to listen to what my daughter had to tell me.

And quite a tale it was.

"Remember when we brought Tabby home and I told you that we found her in the ditch?" my daughter said to me.

"Yes." I said.

"Well....we didn't really find her in the ditch," my daughter confessed, "we stole her from the farmyard down at Pam's." She paused, " Are you mad?"

Was I mad? well, not really, though I wasn't pleased that I was deliberately deceived by a bunch of children. Although I must say, I was a little impressed that they all stuck to their story- for years, in fact. And what's more, they had first tried to persuade all the other mothers to take the kitten, with no success. But in the end, my daughter was confident she knew how to sucker me into it. And sucker me she did.

Tabitha is seven now, and we love her as much as we did the day that she came into the house tucked inside a child's coat. She also makes appearances in my artwork from time to time, as below.

Tabby 5x7 painted paper collage on panel, © 2012 Alyson Champ




Thursday, September 6, 2012

Birches


If you were to find yourself out in our back pasture in January, this would be the view. I'm sure that months into our long, cold, Canadian winter I won't be so fond of the sight of snow, but looking at these nice cool blues was a treat in the hot days at the end of summer.

Birches - 12x16 Painted paper (acrylic) and found paper on panel © 2012 Alyson Champ

This collage is my first serious attempt at incorporating found papers into an artwork. "Birches" is made of papers hand painted with acrylic, painted wrapping paper, and printed magazine stock. I'm pretty happy with the result and will probably try it again. It could be a handy way to do some recycling!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Impractical Poultry Keeping: A Beginner's Guide

This post was originally published in the Summer Issue of Sheep Canada Magazine.
When we bought our sheep, a friend of mine who had had quite enough of sheep gave us a couple of her books. One was called The Shepherd’s Guide Book, and the other book had a blue cover with sheep on it and lots of illustrations on the inside. I read both books cover to cover. What did I learn? Oh, lots of stuff, although as it turns out, pretty much none of it was useful.  Sure, you’ll learn some things from books, but the lessons experience teaches you - those are the ones that really count.
What, then, has experience taught me about sheep? Experience has taught me that I know nothing about sheep, and probably never will.  I didn’t start my career as a shepherd until I was forty, which is simply too late in the game for all the mathematical probabilities to play out.  In the five years that we have been keeping sheep, never once has an ovine illness or mishap repeated itself: the sheep always contrive to contract new diseases and find different and ever more novel ways of dying. Begin keeping sheep in your twenties and by the time you are sixty you might actually know something.
Chickens, on the other hand, are a lot less complicated, and my experience with them goes back much further.  Yes, I own books with such titles as Practical Poultry Keeping, Bantam Breeding Genetics, and Pastured Poultry Profits.  Yet most of what I know about chickens I didn’t learn from books. I have kept chickens off and on for over thirty years. As a child I kept and bred fancy bantams. I also built three dimensional historical maps and invented my own language. I was a strange child. But by beginning early with chickens, I was well on my way to building up a storehouse of information and practical experience which serves me well now that I once again have a flock of chickens. I see illnesses which I first saw thirty years ago, and so, having the benefit of acquired experience, can say to myself, “Oh, I know what this is!”, and then am able to deal with the problem; whereas with my sheep, I am reduced to throwing my hands up in the air saying, “O- my- God -what –now?!!” and spending the rest of the day Googling symptoms and waiting to speak to veterinarians.
So if you ever want to keep chickens- and I heartily encourage you to do so - by all means get yourself a copy of Practical Poultry Keeping, but bear in mind that a book will never teach you everything you need to know.  Never fear though, for experience will be waiting to fill in the gaps for you!  Heck, experience will cram in those gaps with a trowel! And while you await the mortar and trowel of hands -on learning, I offer you some advice gleaned from my many years of keeping poultry.  
These are the twelve most important things I have learned about keeping chickens, things that you won’t find in any book.
1.       You do not need a rooster.

2.       If you absolutely must have a rooster, then for God’s sake DON’T have more than one.  A henhouse with too many roosters is like a frat house party during frosh week- minus the beer.

3.       Don’t hatch your own chicks. Buy them already sexed from a hatchery.

4.       If you absolutely must hatch your own chicks, familiarize yourself with the Rule of Inverse Poultry Proportion, a universal law governing chickens which can be summarised as follows:  Roosters will always appear in direct proportion to their LACK of desirability. For example: you hatch a dozen chicks and really don’t need any roosters. According to the Rule ALL TWELVE chicks will be roosters. Or, suppose you want to replace your old rooster with a younger one and so you hope for at least one rooster in your hatch of twelve. The Rule of Inverse Poultry Proportion in that case will grant you ONE hen- and eleven roosters. See how this works? Oh, and don’t go thinking you can fool this universal law by saying out loud, “Boy, I really hope we only get roosters this time, hahaha!”, and expect to hatch only hens. The forces of the Universe will know you are lying, and you will still get roosters. People will tell you that probability, given a large enough sample size, will eventually grant you a more or less fifty/fifty split between roosters and hens. Do not believe this; these people know NOTHING about chickens.

5.       Getting rid of extra roosters.  So you went ahead and hatched your own chicks, and now you find yourself stuck with a dozen scrawny roosters. What to do with them? Well, you could eat them, although chances are they will scarcely be worth the effort to kill and pluck them. Or you could do what I do: cultivate a wide circle of friends who also enjoy keeping chickens but who live in areas with large coyote populations. That way you will be able to divest yourself of unwanted roosters while at the same time filling a need within the community. It’s a win-win.

6.       Chickens get into things. If you leave a work cabinet door open or fail to close a storage shed, you can be sure that chickens will get in there. Before closing anything up, you might want to check to see if there are chickens in there first. This is especially important when you receive a load of hay in a pickup truck. If your hens are loose in the yard when your hay arrives, ALWAYS check the bed of the truck before the driver leaves. Unless, of course, your surplus roosters are loose in the yard. Then you don’t need to check the truck. This method of rooster reduction is nearly as successful as the previously mentioned number five.

7.       Do not wear sandals when feeding chickens.  Chickens get very excited when you feed them. Chickens like to peck at things. Chickens like to eat big, pink, juicy worms. If you must wear sandals into the coop, you should also wear socks. Yes, you will look like a fashion-challenged idiot, but you will look far more stupid minus a toe.

8.       Either fence your chicken run or fence your vegetable garden. Unless your plan was to grow summer cabbages and tomatoes for the purpose of feeding them to your chickens, in which case no fences are necessary.

9.       If you buy electric poultry fencing for your chickens, you must remember to turn it ON.

10.   In every flock there is at least one stupid chicken.  How do you recognise the stupid chicken?  It’s really pretty simple. On an evening when: a) It is raining. b) You are going out and are already late. c) You are wearing nylons and high heels.
There will always be one chicken who refuses to return to the coop, and who will resist all efforts to be herded in the correct direction. This is the stupid chicken.

11.   Coyotes always eat your best laying hens first. Then they eat your roosters.

12.   Coyotes never, ever eat the stupid chicken.

The Evil Eye - 6x4 painted paper and fabric collage on panel.