October 25, 2011

Full Circle

I knew this day would come, and I knew that I wasn't going to be ready for it when it did. Realistically, when you have 42 chickens, it's pretty unlikely that they're all just going to pass away peacefully in their sleep, sparing my husband and me the unpleasantness of having to dispatch one of them, but that day came and went, and it was actually okay.

One of our Red Star hens (the one who suffered a prolapsed oviduct back in the spring, and actually recovered after 8 days of me poking it back in) hadn't been her usual perky self for a few days when she suddenly took on this strange upright posture:

Since she couldn't get herself up the ramp into the coop, and the other chickens were starting to bother her, we brought her into the house while we tried to figure out whether there was anything we could do for her. After several days of hoping that she would magically pull through, it became apparent that she was getting weaker and we'd probably have to step in (but we were still hoping beyond hope that she might just expire on her own). I moved her into a sunny spot for the afternoon while I did some gardening nearby, but after a while I noticed that she had started moaning.

Dang it, she wasn't going to let us off easy.

We decided to try using the killing cone method, and set one up on the wood shed (out of sight of the other chickens, of course). Not having an actual cone, we modified a milk jug for the job.

I was quite emotional in the moments leading up to it (I became a vegetarian, and stayed one for almost 20 years, as a result of my last chicken butchering experience). I held and comforted her (me) for several minutes, and made my husband promise that we could back out if she freaked when we put her into the cone, but being upside down made her surprisingly calm, and it was over in a matter of seconds.

I have to say that I'm amazed how easy it was (for me anyway, she'd probably disagree), and I'm starting to think that maybe we could actually do meat birds one day. Granted, I'm sure it's different killing a vibrant, healthy bird than one that's obviously suffering, but it's more of a possibility than it was before (you seasoned farmers can stop laughing any time now).

To satisfy our curiosity, we did a crude autopsy to see if we could find out what was wrong with her, and she appears to have been egg bound. Her ovary held an egg which, for all intents and purposes, was hard boiled. Don't even ask me to try and explain that one, but it confirmed for us that she likely never would have recovered.

Happy trails, my friend.


Free Range Mama said...

Awwww... I know how it feels. We had a mink attack in our henhouse and I found 3 babies who weren't roosting yet dead and the hen we bought with a bad leg and couldn't roost(Limpy) half dead. I was sobbing and had to kill her on my own. Since then I have had to put another one down on my own but the first was the hardest.

I am nowhere to be found when my husband does the meat birds.

Sorry for your experience. You will be stronger in the long run, and you did the right thing.

I enjoy your blog posts.

Annie said...

Oh my goodness.

Bev said...

This is my fear as well. It was inspiring to read your account and congratulations on being able to do the right thing. I nursed a sick chicken back to health this spring, worrying all the while that I'd have to put her out of her suffering. Now I wonder, if I'd been braver, whether she'd still be with us, as she did recover and is now in fine health.

Erin said...

the only chicken we (okay my dh, but i was there) have killed was a roo we tried to keep as a second in command, which worked well, until after about a year and a half he decided to start pecking and went for my youngest's cheek, near the eye. sorry, my kid's safety comes first mr. roo no matter how much i love you. (the other roo seemed more relaxed after this too.)

so that afternoon, with a friend's help, who had slaughtered many a chicken in her day, we did it. It was scary in that he didn't go fast and to this day i think we didn't cut properly and really hurt him :(. DH tried to reassure me it was just the nerves, but it didn't seem that way and be bawked alot. sigh. some day our hens will age and need our help to die.

i doubt i will ever do meat birds, as i simply feel too much empathy for their crippled existence and the freakish life they live. cornish crosses have been inbred so badly they live miserable lives, getting wings caught under chicken tractors and broken, their brittle-boned legs often breaking or fracturing under their own growing weight. just so i can have chicken breast? when i buy chicken (organic, pastured) i feel guilty and i would really like to find a dual purpose breed and grow them and just eat less meat. which we do, mostly salmon. but a chicken in the oven is a once every three month treat, and at that rate, heritage dual purpose breeds would do us well.

glad you got through it, mama :)

and sorry for the rant, i just don't love the idea of meat chickens, yet i'm still eating them.


Paula said...

Bless her heart... but good for you for being brave enough to not let her suffer anymore.

Cheryl said...

Thanks you guys, I appreciate the words of support. :)
Erin - I agree about the meat birds ("meat blobs"); I hate the idea of them and would probably go with dual purpose birds, which most of ours are anyway. The only "upside" to the blobs is that their poor, distorted bodies would give out within weeks if we didn't process them, so I'd be less likely to grant them all a last minute stay of execution. :)


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