Life and Death Decisions on the Farm

Life with livestock is inherently also about death with livestock. Killing animals for food is one kind of life and death exchange that carries its own emotional cost.

When you have a sick or injured animal, it’s even harder for me because the decision isn’t so clear cut.

Is the animal going to get better? Can you go all out to save it? Or is it suffering too much or too far gone and you need to kill it?

If you decide to kill too soon, you’re wasting life and not putting in the effort your animals deserve. If you wait too long you’re just committing the animal to unneeded suffering which they also don’t deserve.

It’s a harsh place to try to find a balance.

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Five days ago, Joshua noticed we had a limping, stumbling chicken. He was having trouble keeping up with the rest of the flock.

Four days ago we cooped the chicken. Our birds normally free range, but we have a coop. We put him up so he could be protected, warm, and have nearby, reliable food and water. Joshua also made an epsom salt and molasses mix. There were no obvious injuries on the chicken. Maybe he could recover from a mild injury or sickness.

Three days ago the chicken was almost entirely immobile, just sitting in its own waste. We moved him to clean bedding. It seemed he hadn’t touched the food and water, but he still had spunk and put up a fuss when handled.

Two days ago I crash-coursed on possible problems. Crop bound? No. Stuck egg? No. I settled on Marek’s disease as a probable diagnosis due to the way the chicken’s legs had acted. Marek’s is untreatable. It was also obvious that the bird wasn’t eating or drinking at all.

Yesterday I briefly considered beginning a hand-feeding routine, but with the probability of the Marek’s diagnosis that would be a sad futile game. I knew I needed to kill this chicken, but I procrastinated by debating killing methods. Joshua is out of town now, and waiting until he returned would be cowardly.

This morning I killed my chicken. Broomstick method.

Dylan helped me dig the hole for burying the bird. He was watching as I killed it. He inexplicably started saying “Happy! Happy! Happy!” Thinking I might be mishearing, I said, “You think the chicken is happy?” “Yes!” he declared, perhaps because of all the flapping that accompanies the death of a chicken. I said, “He’s dead now. Let’s go bury him.”

And so another generation of life begins to learn about death.