Feel free to follow me on Facebook for updates on publication dates for The Flawed Farm, and The Promise (my book on adoption).
My memoir, The Flawed Farm is available on Amazon’s Kindle.
Thank you to Lise Henderson, my agent at Anne McDermid and Asscoiates prior to her retirement.
She put in a great deal of effort when I initially wrote the book and I am grateful. Lise helped me believe in the book.
Although she grew up with parents in the music business, author Christen Shepherd held one lifelong dream—to live on a farm. After suffering a grand mal seizure, Shepherd finally took the steps necessary to realize her childhood wish, and moved her family to a small hobby farm in Ontario, Canada.
In The Flawed Farm, Shepherd candidly recounts her first two years of farm life, which is not entirely bucolic and relaxing. The vivid memoir weaves you through the trials of realizing a dream in the hilarity of the unknown. Shepherd finds herself doing things she did not anticipate: milking an engorged mother cat, chasing an impossible to catch runaway llama, and rescuing twenty-three ducks hiding in a barn filled with liquid manure. She faces many obstacles, from ill animals to windstorms and fallen trees.
After several months of farm life, the author opens her heart and home to needy livestock. Shepherd learns to love each flawed animal, and, in doing so, comes to terms with the flawed aspects of herself. The Flawed Farm is a book of amusing animal anecdotes, with a wonderful cast of creatures that are each as different as their species. There is Tallulah, the old goat with only one horn, rescued from a mud pit; Napoleon, the haughty llama; and Freedom, the curious barn cat. Each animal is worthy of love, only rivaled by Shepherd’s desire to love them.
Above all else, The Flawed Farm is a timely and true story of risking failure in order to pursue a dream, following your heart, and about the peace that comes from truly becoming oneself.
For past readers of the blog, keep an eye on Amazon.com for The Flawed Farm; the numerous (and deleted) blog entries will finally be in book format. It should appear appear late summer or early fall.
August 17, 2011–The Future
So many things have changed at our farm in the last year, and it is now impossible to keep up with this blog! I have deleted the multitudes of entries, leaving just a few of our earliest ones about hen rescue for those who somehow keep searching for them. I will delete these shortly too. I am currently compiling the other entries into a book, in my spare time when not completing a book on adoption, co-written with an amazing child and youth worker. The blog will just have to wait–we are too busy! Aside from writing and rescuing, and focusing on the new changes occuring at the farm, my human family has grown and expanded. Although already a mother to two children, I became mother to six beautiful children in the past year, many of whom are undergoing their own healing process. Blog writing must wait. I would like to personally thank the thousands of readers who have read the blog over the last few years and shared their own comments and stories. I wish I could continue on, if only to continue a dialogue with you! Who knows, at some point perhaps I will find the time.
The farm continues on with our battery hen rescue, and at this point we have had rounds of hens come, be rehabilitated and leave to fantastic homes. The healing process never ceases to inspire me. The farm has changed and grown in ways I never could have forseen. We are currently planning and expanding, with the focus of the farm being a place of peace for traumatized children, where they are able to learn life skills. The hens are an integral part of this (and I continue to thank the farmers and rescuers who bring us hens for the children to work with) as the children are able to demonstrate their love and care and use their skills to heal the hens. Every child deserves a few moments of peace.
Dec. 10, 2009–Winter
I know the official start of winter hasn’t truly arrived, but the storm that has battered the farm for the last two days says otherwise. The same routine this year, trying to fasten plastic over every drafty window, piling up the straw bales and feed sacks against every leaky door. I have doubled the amount of straw in each stall so the animals can nestle and hide from the cold. I’m boiling the kettle twice a day so the hens can have warm water to drink.
The former battery hens are doing very well at their new homes! Our friends with a bed and breakfast (who had adopted goats from us before) took some. Someone who saves Pot Bellies took four hens. A wonderful couple with an idyllic retreat in Moonstone took eight other hens, and last weekend a kind-hearted animal-loving lawyer adopted four other hens. The barn cats took one look at the Mercedes in the driveway and were trying to find ways to sneak inside and leave with him. Cats can be so fickle.
Photos have come pouring in, showing the happy hens in their new digs. Most of the hens are living in heated barns! They have tons of room to run indoors and out, and have their fellow hens for companions. Best of all, they have safety and will truly spend their remaining years in peace. The boys who did the rehab work are thrilled.
We still have sixteen hens who are slow to heal. They make continual progress, but will be here a bit longer while they regain their feathers. Homes still await these girls and they will leave sometime in the new year. We have sixty new hens coming in the spring, so it will be perfect timing.
Three new residents will be arriving at the farm in just another week– all goats– and the boys are excited to have new animals in need of their care. Now that all of the stray kittens have been placed in new homes, the boys have a lot of affection they need to lavish on something. These goats are in for some attention!
The boys were out at the farm last night. It is so dark and cold at 6:00 now, a switch from the beautiful red evenings we had when the program began two months ago. The van arrives in utter darkness, but I hope the golden glow from the barn windows is inviting. They rushed in, as they always do, this time clutching paintings and sculptures they had done at school and wanted to show me.
We cleaned the coop as usual, fed the animals. I was able to spend a bit of one-on-one time with a boy who has cared for the rescued kittens. I have a home for the kitten he was most fond of. (Just last week, after the sister kitten had been adopted out, this boy had run to me with tears in his eyes and begged me not to let the kitten be sad or lonely because it would miss its sister a lot! It broke my heart.) He told me how upset he’d be if this kitten left, but I told him that we had a warm, loving home waiting, and that sometimes we have to let something we love go to a different life in order to keep them safe and happy. I asked him what he wanted to do, if he would keep the kitten here in the barn when it could be in a warm house with even more attention. He said he wouldn’t do that to his cat. He did say that he would cry when it left, and I told him we would cry together. There are learning experiences here every day.
The grocery store called about another kitten pleading for help at the store door this week, so that kitten is now here and I’ve enlisted the boys’ help to nurture and heal this thin kitten too.
We didn’t just work through loss last night, we had some fun too! We had crayons and paper and the boys scribbled away in the barn aisle, making pictures of hens. One boy, our little writer, wrote a full-page manifesto on kindness towards chickens.
What struck me, is the difference between now and two months ago. Not just the light outside or the temperature. One of the boys picked up an ex-battery hen for a model for their sketches. But he didn’t draw. Instead, he sat with this very plump, fully feathered brown hen in his lap. It soaked up his warmth, pecked at his arms in a friendly manner. Two months ago this hen was scrawny, bald, terrified and screeching. It now appeared to be an entirely different bird. We looked at the hen’s short nails, caked in mud from her afternoon foray outdoors. The best change of all, is that the boy holding her looked more confident, more calm than the child who showed up here two months ago, not sure of what to expect in this barn. Changes….
Oct. 26, 2009–Eating Out of Their Hands
The Pet Network day of filming was a great success and we will be featured on the show Pet Central at some point. The host, Candice Batista is an enormous animal lover, as is the producer. Candice had the feral kittens soaking up her attention, purring every time she held them. The filming was quick and easy and lots of fun, and the crew even brought a vegan lunch for us all to share.
Although a few hens are still missing feathers, the majority are beautiful, with lots of small brown feathers. They are running outside and stretching in the sunshine. Best of all, they are trusting the boys who work with them. They are literally eating out of their hands! Last Tuesday the boys lay on the floor of the coop, and filled their cupped hands with scratch grains, lay mash and corn. The hens gathered around each boy, pecking away and eating from the boys’ palms. It was a great show of trust. With each achievement I am more encouraged to expand our program.
Oct. 20, 2009–The Past Week
It has been busy around here to be sure, but productive as well. Last Thursday the boys came out to care for their chickens. I had planned on letting them help trim a few of the hens’ nails, and then I would finish the job at another time. It is tedious and time-consuming and most adults would find the job lengthy, but these boys continue to amaze me. Once the boys were shown what to do, they kept at it until every single hen had her long, over-grown nails trimmed. The boys were so calm, so incredibly focused as they gently held the hens and steadily cut the nails. Not a single hen bled, not a nail cut too short, which would be a feat for an adult. These boys are capable of big surprises. The hens look like they walk much better.
We also had planned on a small tidy of the coop, but again, with shouts of “I love this job!” they filled wheel barrow after wheelbarrow of dirty straw, ran it to the manure pile in a frenzy, and had the hens bedded down on clean straw in no time–the entire coop cleaned out.
On Sunday I was called about two small kittens who were abandoned outside. They look about 5 weeks old and feral. In two days they have gone from hissing and scratching to purring. The boys are back out again tonight and I look forward to greeting them at the barn door with yet more tiny creatures for them to love.
Oct. 12, 2009– Hens & Media
Just a week ago the Toronto Star came out to spend the afternoon with the hens. Both the writer and videographer were wonderful guys and we had a really nice time. One hen, now dubbed J-Lo, really loved having her photograph taken and ended up making the front page. Driving home from town, I kept glancing down at the newspaper in disbelief. This hen was hours away from slaughter, had spent her entire life in a wire cage with the personal space amounting to the size of a mousepad, yet here she was on the front page of the Star. What an unexpected journey for a little hen. You just never know what awaits you in life, and this chicken surely couldn’t have predicted this.
Nor was I able to predict what would follow the article running in the paper. I’ve been swamped by emails, some swearing off caged-eggs, some offering homes for hens, some offering much needed funding to keep the animals fed, and also some kind letters of encouragement. We’ve also had a few offers of help as we move forward and expand our therapy program.
There have been requests for radio interviews (had a really great chat with Mary Ito on CBC Radio One on Saturday morning — she’s a fantastic lady!) and more newspaper stories. The Pet Network is booked to come out and do some taping here.
Last year I toiled alone in the cold barn, just dreaming of beginning a small therapy program, letting animals and children heal each other. In my mind I could see it developing but didn’t know how. Even during my business meetings with Pierre, I sometimes wondered if we could realize our goals. But like the hen who had no idea what was in store, I didn’t realize that our little story would resonate with people, that people might care and want to help.
Now I truly believe that by tapping into the expertise that is being offered we will be able to expand the program and help more children and more animals. It is so heartening to know that support is out there. The boys are proud of their work and they will be thrilled to hear how much people have cared about them, and about their chickens.
Oct. 2, 2009–Chickens
What progress the ex-battery hens have made! Within three days small tufts of white downy feathers were appearing on some of the birds. The yolk of their eggs had turned from pale yellow to vibrant saffron, thanks to the corn introduced to their diet. The hens began to run around their coop on sturdy legs.
For several days they seemed unsure of how to rest. In battery cages if you lie down you are stepped on, pecked, and possibly killed. The hens tended to stand up to sleep, eyes closed, keeping one leg in mid air to rest. Slowly, one by one, the hens are learning to nestle down and relax in the straw. They are no longer dropping their eggs wherever they walk, but instead, are going to quiet corners and nesting, laying their eggs the way nature intended.
It is wonderful to watch the hens move about and slowly, luxuriously stretch out their wings, or stretch out their legs and hold their appendages there, as though they savour the ecstasy of what had been denied them for so long… space.
Last night the boys came out from the group home and after tidying up the coop and feeding the hens, they helped put sweaters on some of the hens who remain painfully bald. Cold, damp fall weather has arrived and copying the lead of UK battery hen rescues, we took donated sweaters and put them on the birds. Each boy so quietly and gently slipped a sweater over each of the chicken’s head, fastening the straps beneath wings and legs, always taking the time to pet their hens and speak to them. By the end of the evening one of the purple-vested hens was already gaining trust in humans, allowing herself to be touched by the boys, rather than running away in a flurry of chicken squawks and feathers. I continue to be amazed, that despite the dark histories of the children, they are utterly benevolent towards their fragile hens.