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Saturday, June 18, 2011

And Then There Were Three

I had to cull a chick today.

One of the girls started wobbling when she walked a few weeks ago, then losing her balance while standing.  We started to call her Doofus, because she was the only one of the four that we could distinguish from the others.  Then as the other girls' personalities and coloring started differing, they acquired names, and I started calling Doofus 'Lucy', because she was still somewhat comical.

Her lameness continued to progress, and this week I realized that she was no longer able to stand up.  I have no idea when the last time was that she was able to get water for herself.  We'd talked about culling her previously when we weren't sure how well she'd do outside, but now it was clear it needed to be done sooner rather than later.

So after we returned from buying yet more studs for the coop and run, I set up an area in the garage for her execution.  Steve helped me get the other birds into the holding pen, and then Lucy was last.  I grabbed a paper towel in case she pooped on me and carried her into the garage.  She was trembling.  I was reminded of the Buddhist notion that 'all animals tremble before danger, all fear death', and it saddened me.  But I had a humane job to do.  I set her on her side on the newspaper, holding her down, and placed the paper towel on her head so that she couldn't see what was coming, and then swiftly dealt her a blow with my three pound hammer.  It has a large head and is heavy, and I trusted it most to do the job quickly.  I smashed her head pretty thoroughly with the first blow, but she was still trembling.  I said so.

Steve said, "she'll continue to do that for at least twelve seconds."  He had researched the best way to cull a chick for me this morning.

I hit her two more times to just make sure, and in a few moments it was all over.  I wrapped her up in the newspaper and placed her in the plastic bag Steve was holding for me, and put her out in the garbage can.  She didn't get a burial out in the backyard because the last thing I need is for a raccoon to dig her back up.

Ethel, front and center, Vivian, and Violet at the back
So then there were three.  They are Ethel (after The Merm, because she's always front and center, Violet (because she's a shrinking violet) and Vivian (the other half of Lucy, poor baby). They'll be five weeks old on Monday.

Before I'd started this whole ordeal today, I said a quick prayer, thanking God for the chickens, and the lessons they provide, and I asked Him to help me learn what it was He wanted me to learn by giving me Lucy, so that I don't have to repeat the lesson.

What I learned today was that I can dispatch an animal quickly and humanely without remorse if it becomes necessary.  I don't feel heartless or maudlin, and now I think when the time comes that I may be able to more easily dispatch an animal with the intention of eating it.  I won't know that for sure until the time comes, but I handled today so quickly and purposefully I rather surprised myself. Farmers have to deal with death all the time, and while I don't kid myself by calling myself a farmer, I have to take all the responsibility when I take responsibility for putting food on our table.  I haven't replaced all of our grocery shopping, hardly any of it in fact, but that's the intention.  My eventual goal is to be able to get most of what we need out of the yard. And someday that will include meat. Someday.

But I still feel bad about poor Lucy, who never had a chance.  She gave up everything by her lesson to me, and I'm grateful to her for it.


Joleen said...

I'm sorry you had to have that experience, but you did the humane thing. Who says you're not a farmer? I believe urban farms are totally ligitimate!

Miriam said...

I'm so sad to hear Lucy didn't recover, but very happy that her end came so quickly and kindly and thoughtfully. Good for you.

John said...

You did what had to be done. Must have been a hard day, though. My hat's off to you. I get upset when I have to mercy-kill a mouse my cat's brought home. RIP, Lucy.

Paula said...

I says I'm not a farmer! But I agree with you- urban farms are real. I just don't have one.

Thanks, Miriam. Coming from you, that's a good pat on the back.

It was hard, John. I wasn't upset when I did it because I was intent on taking her out quickly. But it was still hard. I just did what I had to do.

Jennifer Montero said...

I like the matter-of-fact way that you reported doing what had to be done. And, that you gave thanks for what you still had. This is one of the best posts I've read on dispatching a sick animal, in tone and approach.

Like you need my literary criticisms on the topic, right?....

We know from our own experience that if a batch gets too hot when hatching, the birds suffer neurological and liver damage. They essentially get overwhelmed with toxins that the liver can't process and during their first week display the signs that you described. They really can't recover from early hyperthermic exposure. I would have done the same thing in your place.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Paula, the single hardest thing I've had to do since I started harvesting my own food was becoming someone who could willfully kill an animal. I've slit throats with a knife, I've shot things with a gun, and if we had a sick chick, I would do what you did.

This, from someone who can't watch a movie when a dog gets kicked.

I found, as you did, that the utility, humaneness, and appropriateness of killing an animal gets you over the hurdle of doing the deed.

Good for you, my friend.

Oxray Farm said...

I had a similar situation happen to me, only our chicken was fully grown. Quizzie was her name, she started laying internally (means just what it sounds like.) It will kill them eventually but it's very painful. I researched how to kill a chicken humanely and we discussed the prospect of eating her.

I told her thank you before it happened. We did eat her, not wanting that sacrifice to be wasted.

It was a hard lesson, but from that we learned to be meat farmers, it is amazing the transformation one little bird taught us.

I am sorry to hear about Lucy, I am glad she died by your hand, quickly and humanely.

Paula said...

Literary criticisms are fine, as long as they're positive! Actually, I'm kidding; my writing can use improvement, I'm sure. But thanks for the compliment Jennifer. I really couldn't figure out what did it to Lucy, since the others were fine, and her debilitation really progressed. I have the Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, and none of the lameness descriptions really quite fit her; none of what I read made any sense in her regard. So thanks for shedding some light on what it could have been. I think the next time I'm picking out chicks, I won't be so hasty and I'll really scrutinize them. Although I'm not sure I would have seen it on her; it didn't seem to start until her second week.

Paula said...

Thanks Tamar. I really appreciate that everyone seems to understand that this was something that had to be done and that it was hard.

Later that afternoon I was walking past the bee hive with a bucket of scraps for the compost pile and I saw a bee waving her legs in the air on the roof of the hive. Her wings were stuck in a small puddle of rainwater on it. So with a bare finger, I gently slid her off the roof and let her take her time walking off my finger on to the stand where she could finish drying off.

So, a life taken and a life saved. I hope they balance out.

Paula said...

Thanks Oxray. I think if Lucy had been older and bigger, and I knew that what it was that had affected her wasn't going to hurt us by ingesting her, we would have eater her. We even talked about it. But she stopped growing and feathering out at the same rate as the other girls and was pretty small anyway, so eating her didn't seem like a good idea or use of time. I'm glad for you that Quizzie's sacrifice made a meal for you. That's the best use of an animal's death, I think.

Rae said...

So sorry Paula. That's never fun.... :(

Holly House said...

Having had to put down a pet myself (my rat who had a tumor,notably different from a chicken, but the sentiment is similar) It can be challenging and difficult, we wept like children when it was done. I admire your ability to act quickly, respectfully, and that you treated her with dignity, which is rare. It's sad you had to spare her, but she's better off. I doubt very much I could have done it, good for you!

Paula said...

Thanks, Rae. Yeah, if it were fun, there would be something seriously wrong with me. Seriously wrong. Eeesh.

You know, at one time, Holly, I may not have been able to do it either, but to let her continue to live would have been a very cruel way to let her die. I don't want to be cruel, and I don't think you do either, so you might have surprised yourself as I did, if you were in my position.