Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My First Cull

Warning: This post contains graphic content that may not be suitable for all readers.    

     By Sunday, after 4 days in isolation, our sick baby had started to smell.  Oh, we did a great job on sanitation; keeping the bedding fresh, cleaning his vent, and washing our hands religiously.  But the sickly sweet smell of infection had started to permeate the air.  The unmistakable odor that tells you death is peeking through the curtain, waiting for his cue.  We both knew what needed to be done.  Hell, the farmer in me knew what needed to be done the instant Nikki brought that chick inside, four days ago.  We had been holding out hope that this was just a vitamin E defficiency, which seemed plausable from the symptoms.  We got some gel capsules right away, and did our best to dip his beak into the goo and get some into his food and water.  Reports online told us that others had seen a full recovery within 48 hours.  But our chick remained the same.  Legs useless, but otherwise ok.  Eyes bright and clear, chirping regularly.  Good appetite, but unable to reach food and water unless we placed him right in front of it.  Every time he would try to walk, he would filp over on his back and be stuck.  We must have set him up a dozen times a day.  We were even getting up at night, summoned by a panicked chirping. 

     Between working full time, taking care of two flocks, the cats, the neighbor's dog, and the gardens, we simply don't have the resources to play chicken hospitol.  The sick chick demanded more of our time and energy than all the rest combined.  In addition to the risk we were putting our other chickens through, simple household economics demanded that we put an end to it.  The shaggy lawn and stack of dirty dishes told the story that we had both known all along; "You can't operate this way, so do what needs to be done."

     We are no strangers to killing.  Nikki has been going to deer camp with her dad and uncles since she could carry a stick and walk on her own.  I have also hunted, though not as often or as well.  We have harvested and cleaned numerous chickens, including two from our own flock so far.  Still, this seemed different somehow.  Maybe because it was so young and helpless, or maybe it was because it was not for food.  There was a twinge of guilt at having failed an animal in our custody, tempered by the desire to protect the rest of the flock.

     There was no resistance as I carried the tiny bird to an out of the way spot behind the garage and set him on a weathered cedar fence board.  He seemed resigned to whatever fate would bring at that point, still, I am glad I kept a firm hold.  I used a large, heavy bladed butcher knife with a very sharp edge.  I held the tiny bird firm against the wood with my right hand, and positioned the knife with my left, and then said out loud the words that we use for such an occasion.  The only words that seem to make sense at that moment.  "Thank you for being a good chicken."

     The cut was a good one, severing the head completely in one smooth stroke.  The tiny body struggled in a shocking surge of strength as the blade touched flesh.  The head rolled once and landed upright staring straight at me as the beak opened and closed in a silent scream.  The body writhed and twisted under my grip with a shocking force as the truncated neck protruded from the body like a worm and searched around in a circular motion for it's missing head.  Blood pooled on the cedar.  The scene was straight out of a John Carpenter movie.  I held the body firm waiting for the pulsing to stop.  Having a good hold is important to avoid getting sprayed with blood, and to avoid the indignity of having our chicken's life end flopping around in the dirt, both of which we have experience with from our first clumsy kills.  For two full minutes the body fought my grip as I marveled at it's will to live.  I thought about the millions of fictional murders I have seen on a screen and how not a single one of them captured the real drama and messiness of a life ending.  I wondered if people would have more respect and reverence if they knew.  If they didn't have so many clean, effortless deaths to imagine as they read about the atrocities happening in our world. 

     The corpse went unceremoniously into the trash.  I breathed a sigh of relief that the unplesant task was done.  We never found out the cause, but all of our other chicks are doing great, so I don't think it was the result of our husbandry.  The voice of my inner farmer told me that it was a righteous kill, and I had done the right thing.  Still, it's not something I ever want to come easy for me.

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