The Agony and the Eggstasy

May 29, 2013 § 6 Comments

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If I haven’t scared you out of getting backyard chickens (and I’ve already had 3 different people, unsolicited, come up and tell me that all the stories of the egg-eating has done just that), this will most likely be the final nail in that coffin.

And before we start, a brief warning: some of you may find this post disturbing.

It is so, so appropriate that last Wednesday I came across this article and sent it to Paul with the intro, “Awwww we could never do this to the girls!!”

Here’s what happened:

Michele started acting a little weird on Thursday.  By Friday mid-morning it was clear that something was wrong with her.  By Friday evening, it was clear that something was very, very wrong with her.

I googled the crap out of her symptoms.  Long story short, it could have been any number of things.  Regardless, at that point (over 24 hours in), most sites suggested putting the bird down.  Especially because any sort of bacterial or fungal infection can be easily spread to the rest of the flock.

Further complicating the matter was this: we were going out of town the following morning for the weekend.  So we had to deal with the chicken like RIGHT THEN.

I, personally, have never killed anything larger than a fish (and that’s relatively easy, just pull it out of the water and it stops breathing).  It was my understanding was that my brother in law’s farm, where we got the chickens, had a cone (if you don’t know what that is, don’t google it.  Unless you want to see a lot of blood.)  So we called him and asked him if we could use the cone to put down a chicken.  Turns out, they don’t have a cone.

Us:  Oh, ok.  So, then, how do you usually kill the chickens?
Bro in Law: With a shotgun.  Or sometimes a shovel.

Yeah, no.

On to Plan B.  I was like well maybe we can take it to the vet and have them put her down.  Yes, it’ll cost us money, and that sucks, but it’ll be humane and she won’t suffer.

Here’s another fun fact: local vets won’t see chickens.  You have to call like a country vet to come to your house.  And who the crap lives in the suburbs and has a country vet in their rolodex.

So Paul googled “how to kill a chicken”, hoping we could find something reasonable, quick, sanitary, and humane, and came up with some answers:

The best way to quickly and painlessly kill a chicken is to chop its head off.  First, be sure that you have an axe that is both very heavy and very sharp.  Make sure you have something holding both the head and the feet down, and be careful of your fingers and thumbs.  Also keep in mind there will be quite a bit of blood, and you will most likely get sick watching it.

I used to chop their heads off with a hatchet, but it makes a bloody mess and the headless chicken running around is unpleasant for women and children to see.

You have to chop its legs off first otherwise it’ll run around after you cut the head off.

Jesus.

I vetoed that approach for any number of reasons.

Next we called Alix, who lives on a legit farm and has had to deal with this before.  She basically said, “Dude, that sucks, it’s hard to do, I’m sorry” and told me that one other option was to pick the chicken up by the head and swing it around in the air.

At this point, I started to get anxious and feel sick.  Yes, she was a chicken, and she was obviously suffering, and I didn’t feel that putting her down was particularly inhumane or the wrong approach.  But when you get down into the nitty gritty, it’s one thing to talk about doing this stuff and another to go out there, pick up a live animal that you’ve been raising for over a year, and actually DO it with your bare hands.  Mostly I was terrified of having a legless half-decapitated bird flopping around on the ground suffering because we didn’t know what the shit we were doing.

It also probably didn’t help that we had named her and constantly referred to her as “one of the girls”.

Then Paul swooped in with a pinch hitter and saved the day: his dad, Bernie.

Bernie is a biochemist and works in a lab, where he has spent much of his life killing mice and rats and other small animals.  We called him to ask his advice on how to do this, and he said “Oh, I’ll come over and do it now.”

I’ll spare you the details, but Bernie walked right in, picked up the chicken, and without flinching did the deed while we stood there awkwardly watching.  It was quick and horrible and there was some flapping, but it was all over in a few seconds.

Take aways from this experience:

  1. Ms. Strauss, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head.  Chickens aren’t normal pets.  It’s a different kind of responsibility than getting something like a dog or cat or even a rabbit.  Before you decide to raise laying hens, make sure you know what options you have should one of them get sick or stop laying (whether that’s getting them treated or otherwise).
  2. I’ve always told myself that my philosophy on meat eating is that if a person is going to eat meat, they should be comfortable with killing the animal they’re eating.  In sticking with that rule, I was convinced that I could easily kill a chicken if the situation arose (since I eat a lot of chicken and turkey).  Turns out I am a total hypocrite and very good at lying to myself.
  3. I have a new found respect for Bernie.

And so, we’re down to one.  Updates to come on where we go from here.

RIP Michele, you were a good chicken.  Thank you for the enormous eggs.  We all miss you.  Especially Romy.

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