no, this is not a post about the mayan calendar, or a doomsday prophesy.
it’s a think-out-loud kind of post about diamond the chicken.
philosophically, i decided early on that i would be getting chickens just for the eggs they produced. to clarify this, i did not want chickens so that we would eat them, but only for the eggs they could give us during their productive years. this of course raised the issue of what to do once they stopped producing eggs, but
A) that seemed a long way off, and
B) it seemed pretty obvious that they could just grow old gracefully and live out their retirement years peacefully on our happy little pseudo-farm.
well, as with children, chickens grown up sooner than we expect them to, and we now find ourselves in the position (meaning i find myself struggling over something while everyone else rolls their eyes at me) of having to make a decision.
you see, diamond, who is probably about 5 years old (that’s about 475 in adjusted years, in case you are interested…), is not aging gracefully. rather than the bucolic picture i had in my head of a babushka-headed old biddie clucking around the homestead teaching the ropes to young upstarts, diamond can barely walk. she wobbles and hobbles, and quite frequently her legs give out under her and she tips over or falls. she loses her balance and is never not precariously positioned somewhere or other. she is mostly blind, and what started out as a cute nearsightedness has now become a full-blown inability to get food and water for herself. this means that i pick her up each morning and set her down next to a bowl of soft food (holding onto her so she doesn’t lose her balance and pitch forward into it), and wait until she’s eaten enough. then i make sure she has some water. i let her hobble around the yard, where she will try to peck at the bare concrete, or try to peck where there is food, but just peck air because she can’t judge the distance. if i see her stumbling around near the food again during the afternoon, i will go out and hand feed her, but she’s still losing weight and she is malnourished and sad looking…
at night, i go out and find her to put her to bed. i used to put her into a box lined with wood shavings (to keep her dry and off the cold ground), because it’s been a long time since she has been able to climb the ramp to the nesting boxes and roosts. for the last few nights, i’ve put her into a nesting box, because it’s just too cold for her to be alone at night, although now i worry that she will fall down the ramp and break her neck in the morning (a blessing in disguise? but frightening for her, and not an ideal end…), so that’s not great.
so the question arises: what value is there to diamond continuing to stay alive?
she is not a beloved family pet.
she is not providing a service.
she does not have people around her who would be devastated-or even that upset- by her not being around.
so is there objective value in a life just because it is alive?
or is it a kinder thing to end suffering if that is within our power?
i used to love these morally murky waters, and i could debate them ad nauseam. i obviously don’t know what, if anything, is in diamond’s mind as she struggles around our yard trying to live another day.
i know that it’s hard to watch.
i reconciled within myself that if i’m going to be farmer enough to own chickens, then i need to be farmer enough to kill them when the time comes. to everything there is a season, and all that…
i have a hatchet, which needs to be sharpened, but no set-up at all for killing chickens. i have a lot of kids who are horrified at the thought that i would turn our backyard into a de facto slaughterhouse, even if only for 10 minutes.
i wonder if it makes me more cruel or more kind that i am contemplating this deed.
i know i could take the easy way out and just go on craigslist and offer her up to someone who wants to toss her in a pot of soup. but i don’t think they would treat her kindly or with respect.
and then i catch myself, “she’s just a chicken”.
and then i catch myself again, “she’s a living creature, deserving of dignity and respect.”
just because she might have to die doesn’t mean she has to die horribly or in some haphazard gruesome way.
so i circle back around to the DIY. maybe it’s better and more humane. maybe it’s cleaner for her, but more important than that, maybe it’s cleaner for my psyche.
or maybe i should look into hospice…