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Personified Poultry

April 16, 2009

img_0831They say that you should not name the animals you are going to eat, it just makes it that much harder to kill.  The only animals on the farm that have names are Cali, the house cat, Sharlene, Nate, Pete and Peg the Belgian work horses and us humans.  Even the barn cats don’t have names.  The cows all have numbers, and the chickens have a note card that goes where ever they go, keeping track of how many we had to start with, and how many have died.  I made it ten days without having to write anything on that note card.

The first few days of a chicken’s life is supported primarily from the nutrients that the yoke of the egg that is still inside the body of the chicken.  This is to give them a little jump-start on life.  They still need food, water and most of all heat, but most of the chickens look chipper and healthy in their first few days of figuring out the pecking order.  Then as that health boost wears off, and they have to start relying on their own ability to feed and survive, we start to see who are the potential sick chickens.

img_0783Crazyman got his name from the way he stood.  He could always be found just below the southernmost heat lamp, just standing there, swaying slightly as he tried to keep his balance.  The way he walked with a slight limp, and uncertainty, with exaggerated knee bends reminded me of a few homeless men I have met in my wanderings who have that certain twinkle in their eye and flare in their step.

I didn’t mean to name him, and I can’t even say if it was a him or a her, but as I noticed his strange walk, the constant wetness on his lower body, which made it look like he was wearing some worn out furry tights, I would ask myself “where’s Crazyman?”  I was warned that he would not make it, his digestive tract was doing something strange to make his lower body all wet, and he was noticeably smaller than the rest of the flock.  Yet he had a strange perseverance, an unwillingness to lie down and be trampled.

img_0794I tried at one point to build a little barrier to give him some space and separation from the group; I was worried that he might get pecked and he wasn’t eating enough.  As soon as I put the short cardboard walls around him he began to chirp and flutter about, calling out to the other chickens, and they all responded by flocking around the walls and chirping back.  My scientific mind knows that this is not an act of loneliness, nor compassion on the part of his fellow peers, but it felt like he wanted to belong.  I couldn’t help it, I was smitten with an ugly baby chicken.

As the days wore on and Crazyman did not die, defying the odds that the rest of us had given him, I began to get more attached.  Other chickens had developed leg problems and were now smaller than he was for they could not even make it to the feeders.  Crazyman had figured out that at night when others are in the corners sleeping, he can have easy access to the feeders.  I could usually find him, before I went to bed, wobbling around from feeder to feeder, pecking away at all the food he could ask for.

Then one morning, one particularly sunny spring morning, I hummed my way into the greenhouse to start my daily chores of cleaning their pen, giving them fresh water and cleaning their feeders and topping them off.  Looked for Crazyman, as I always do, and he was not at his usual post under the southern light.  I began removing their newspaper bedding, as is apart of cleaning their pen, and I just assumed Crazyman was off sleeping with his buddies.

When I found a dead chick, flattened by a night of trampling pecking peers I did not want to believe it was him.  When I pulled out the carcass, and took a closer look the matted, damp feathers on his lower body left no doubt that Crazyman had given up, and that perhaps the last of that yolk-energy-boost had indeed run out.

Reality set in.  These were chickens, statistically speaking we are doing extremely well, most loose about ten percent of their flock in the first few weeks of brooding.  And I knew then the follies of personifying poultry, but somehow Crazyman won me over, where none of his other counterparts could.  This morning one of the chickens with a lame leg had a portion of his feathers pecked off his upper shoulder, and he was looking quite trampled so I made the decision to end his suffering.  Why the second death is easier than the first makes no sense to me, but somehow when death is more noticeable and you get to know him, he is a bit easier to have around.


One Comment leave one →
  1. April 17, 2009 9:24 am

    I understand.
    You’re a great thinking-farmer; what a thing to talk about coexisting with death*.

    My father, having heard your story, says that my grandmother, back in the days in Asturies, when a chicken looked sick used to give him a drop of olive oil and surprisingly this trick worked. Maybe you can try it.

    *That’s one of the reasons I always tell you about Six Feet Under. You’ll see.

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