the cycle of life

We got chickens with the knowledge that we wanted to enjoy their eggs and then planned on butchering them when they reached a certain age.  Once they reach about three years old, the egg production level decreases dramatically. We’ve had a number of chickens suddenly die on us, which was tough at first, but I’ve been really removed from that process.  They die, I got out for eggs, and find them dead. End of story.  But Monday was the first day I had to take a more active role in one’s demise.

The chickens were fine on Sunday and Monday morning.  Mid-morning, our nanny and Sophia went out to feed the chickens their snacks (basically any veggie scraps in the chicken pail under the sink).  As I was leaving the house to meet up with kids at a local school to work in their habitat, they came inside.  She told me one chicken was laying on its side, not moving, covered in red ants (the kind that really sting when they bite you).  She said it was still alive.

I didn’t know what to do.  I mean, we planned on butcher – in some humane manner – with my dad.  I figured he’d have a plan, he always has a plan.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t just leave and deal with the chicken until I got back – it was suffering horrible. It would be hours. I asked her what I should do.  She said either swing it around and break its neck or get an axe. She offered to do it for me, but I said no.  This was my chicken. I had to leave in 5 minutes to get to my job on time…

While she put Sophia to bed for a nap, I got an axe.  I went into the chicken coop.  I moved the chicken into the shade.  She couldn’t move – and the ants were everywhere all over her.  She looked at me with the one eye that was facing me and it seemed as if she was asking me to make the pain stop.  With that one look.  I told her it wouldn’t hurt anymore and thanked her for the good eggs.  I told her I was sorry.  I lifted the axe and brought it down.  And her neck wasn’t completely severed.   The ground was too soft. She just kept looking at me, pleading, it seemed.  No fuss, no crying out,  just a look. I brought the axe down again and again until her head was separated from her body.  Thankfully, for me, there was little blood.  Unfortunately for me, her body kept twitching.

I wanted to keep chickens and other food animals so I could give them a good life and then celebrate that life by finishing the cycle – eating them.  Most animals we eat for food never had that chance – to really live in a good environment where they were raised in a humane manner and then treated right through the death process.  Some would say it’s not right to eat animals.  I say it’s hard for us to eat animals after celebrating their life and the sacrifice they make so we can live off of them. Of course, they don’t know they’re making any sacrifice, they’re just going along, chasing bugs or digging in the dirt, until suddenly, they aren’t anymore.

I couldn’t stand the thought of eating her. One, I didn’t know what caused her sudden paralysis.  It’s likely an egg broke inside her.  This is more common than you’d think.  And second, I just couldn’t stand the thought of it. It’s really really hard to raise your chickens from babies and then actually take the axe to end their life.  I just felt it could have been done in a more humane manner, but I didn’t know how and just didn’t have time.  Horrible.   I’d like to think maybe I’d feel different having time to prepare for the death.  But I didn’t have that luxury and neither did she.

I cried all the way to the school across town.  I got out of my car, washed the tears from my face, and planted cactus in the habitat with the fifth grade class as planned. I still feel a bit weepy about this whole thing even now.  I don’t know why.  I stopped naming the chickens after a couple of girls turned out to be boys and they had to leave our home to the rooster rescue place. I didn’t want to make friends.  They were a source of food.  I planned on butchering them soon anyway.  But still, a life was ended today by my hands and now I feel a bit lost.

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4 thoughts on “the cycle of life

  1. That was a beautiful post. I feel for you. I’ve never killed an animal either. I can see how the hurried situation would make you feel lost. I hope it gets better or easier…

  2. Trinka

    Hey Pamela – I know it’s difficult that the axe didn’t go through with the first strike, but it sounds like you finished the process quickly after that and I’m sure the ants were more distressful than your method of euthanasia. I would sharpen that axe and get a wood block just incase this happens again. As a veterinarian, I’m used to seeing animals euthanized, and I’ve had to euthanize a lot of animals myself. It’s never easy, but as long as you know you’re doing what’s best for the animal, and the death is quick and painless, there’s not much more an animal can ask for. Death is a part of life, and those chickens were lucky to have a nice life with you. And I know the body twitching is hard to watch, but the animal isn’t registering anything at that point. They’re gone. I always warned clients that that was a possiblity, because it happens quite often (even when using intravenous drugs to euthanize an animal). In retrospect I should’ve warned you about all of this when you first got the chickens. I just figured you’d be ending them for meat at a certain point and would ask then. I’m so sorry you had to experience this.

  3. A-M

    Terrible suffering is much much worse than death, even if it wasn’t the perfect death. You did what was right regardless of whether it felt good or not and that’s all the matters. Hugs to you!

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