When Shirley and husband, Ken, moved to Gabriola almost two decades ago, they were both still working. They’d come from West Vancouver where she’d been an arborist for the district and he was a Notary Public. He continued working and they ran a Bed & Breakfast called Notary House.
Now Shirley is fully retired she’s hit full stride doing all the things she has wanted to do and didn’t have the time.
“I decided when I retired to do whatever I wanted. I spent years doing things I didn’t like and putting up with other people.”
So what is that she wanted to do? Shirley’s a self-described ‘wannabe vet’ whose time is spent on a variety of volunteer gigs and taking care of animals. Her goal has always been to have chickens and as soon as they moved to their 7-acre property she got them. Her flock has changed over the years: she started with production layers and rescues, then Silkies, who turned out to be good broody mothers for hatching ducklings.
Shirley’s still got rescues in her flock, birds that were neglected or living in deplorable conditions, and will always have room for more chickens needing good homes.
A few years ago, she saw my birds and decided to integrate some fancier breeds and coloured egg layers. I sold her some chicks, as well as hatching eggs and she still has some of those birds.
Her flock of nineteen also includes a Mottled Houdan, some Easter Eggers, Appenzeller Spitzhauben x and three gorgeous roosters. They range in age from last year’s hatch to a 12-year old Barred Rock hen, who still looks pretty lively.
A dog kennel was converted into a coop and German WWOOFers built an attached pen. Shirley and an Italian WWOOFer wired everything so it is predator proof. The roof is currently tarped, awaiting the installation of a permanent metal roof, which will be sloped so rainwater will run away from the pen keeping it dry.
The chickens used to have outside runs but were picked off by Cooper’s Hawks. Now they only get outdoor time under Shirley’s watchful eye. She had India Runner Ducks – again, victims of the hawks – and hasn’t replaced them.
Shirley blames Ken for her getting the chickens: “I tried not to get chickens but my husband doesn’t like store bought eggs.” Who’s she kidding? She loves those birds and once she was bitten by the bug there was no turning back. Chickens are insidious. they have a way of working into your heart until you become a victim of ‘chicken math’. They’re a bit like chocolates, you can’t just have one or two (or three or four). I know, I’ve currently got 50 and know I’m going to have to re-home a few soon.
Living in the pen with the chickens are two feral cats who were trapped by local rescue organization Cats Alive. After they were neutered and vaccinated Shirley took them in. Dorby and Petra are too wild to adjust to house living but they’ve found a place amongst the birds and kill whatever rodents venture into the pen. They’ve got their own house and like to hang out on the roost during the day. They are safer now and well fed – a big change since the days on their own.
There are two large vegetable beds: she doesn’t spend as much time in the garden now, but does maintain some year round crops for the chickens: apples, berries, kale and greens. Lawns surround the house as well as trails through the forest and a large pond. It’s home to hawks, owls, ravens, newts and snakes – all of which Shirley delights in seeing.
For the last 12 years she’s volunteered as a shepherd on Gray’s Farm. They probably thought she was just there for the fun stuff like lambing season but she’s stuck with it. Yes, she enjoys the lambs, but she’s also involved in giving shots, castrating rams, worming, driving the tractor and haying. It’s a part-time gig that’s a labour of love and she clearly loves that flock of 100 Suffolk, Dorset and Hampshire sheep.
Not new to farming, Shirley grew up on a 180-acre beef farm in Ontario’s Bruce Penninsula; a piece of property sold to her family in the 1950s for $100 by the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation Band. She sold it, at less than market value, as the last piece of land required to complete the Bruce Trail – a public walking trail that stretches 890 kilometres from the Niagara River to Tobermory. It was important for her, as a strong proponent of protecting the natural environment, to support that cause.
When Shirley’s not tending to her flocks she juggles her involvement in all kinds of community organizations: she’s got a PhD in Aquatic Ecology and has volunteered in the Forage Fish Program, sampling fish eggs from species of ecological significance.
If you went to the Warming Centre during our recent island-wide power outage you would have seen her at the reception desk as part of the island’s Emergency Support Services. She does meal prep for the Search & Rescue teams and is a member of The Lions. Good thing she retired to make time for all her volunteer work.
Nothing gives her more satisfaction than her animals. She might not be a vet but she’s fulfilled her vocation to take care of animals. It’s a win-win: she’s provided them with great lives and in return they’ve supplied her with hours of love and entertainment.