May 12, 2013

La Gringa can't kill a chicken

Three chicks out and one to go

Once again we have baby chicks. When these hens get broody, they go off and hide somewhere to sit on their eggs. I was beginning to think that something was eating our chickens until one hen showed up with four chicks and another showed up a few days later with one chick.  I don't know what we will do with them.

bantam hen sitting on eggs
We disappointingly only get eggs for a few months at a time. It's a conspiracy. The rest of the time, at least one of the hens is broody and the other hens cooperate by giving that hen our eggs! I also think that some of our hens are just getting too old to lay reliably. By the way, we still have one of our original hens, 7-year-old Conchita, and Pancho is doing well, though we have one other rooster who the hens seem to prefer now.

This reminded me of an old article that I wrote a few years ago but never got posted, so I pulled it out, dusted it off, and here it is:

bantam hen with chick
People eat chicken. And in order to eat one, someone has to kill one. I just don't want to be that person and I can't see that ever changing. (Please ignore the moldy walls. They are clean now.)

I know I'm being hypocritical because I eat chicken. Lots of it, though I prefer boneless breasts because that smooth slab of meat doesn't remind me quite so much of my pets as a raw whole chicken does. I've recognized the similarity when I pick up one of my pet chickens. Hmm, here's the thigh, here's the wing, and, yes, that neck feels just like the one that comes in a plastic bag in the frozen chicken's gut.

baby bantam chicks
I was just never around a farm or farm animals, ever. All my animals were furry and fuzzy or feathery and had names. They had funerals when they died, not recipes. I have given excess roosters to people who I know plan to eat them. I just try not to think about it. I don't feel toooo guilty because I know that those people need the food.

While I was showing El Jefe old-wives' tale methods of determining the sex of baby chicks, I realized how pointless that was, except out of curiosity. What was I going to do if they were all roosters? Wring their necks? Hah! That would be the day. I would just try to find homes for them.

bantam jungle fowl rooster
I've also nursed chickens that probably should have been put down. I just couldn't do it so I did what I could to make the hen comfortable. There was Pancho who lived in a laundry basket in our closet for a couple of weeks until he could walk again. In one case, I keep a hen in a cardboard box in my studio for seven months.

She became weak, was falling over, and couldn't stand up. I researched her symptoms and decided that she had Marek's, a very common disease among chickens. There is no treatment for it. Chickens usually either develop a natural immunity or die from it or. I had to feed her by hand for a couple of weeks and eventually she got stronger. She could stand and walk again, though not as strongly as a normal bird. But she was also blinded by the disease.

Blind chickens don't fare too well in food hunting so I continued to keep her and feed and water her in the box. I had to teach her how to find her food bowls. I hoped that as she recovered more fully, her vision would come back, but it was not to be. After a few weeks, I began to put her outside the studio window where she would spend her days. She would get around a little and peck a little bit. She seemed content to be outside, though occasionally the dogs would give her a hard time and I'd have to go out to rescue her. The other chickens ignored her and didn't bother her as sometimes happens with a weak animal.

bantam hen with chicks
I'd bring her in late every afternoon to spend the night safely in her box. If I was late, she would cluck to remind me when it was time to come inside. A couple of times, I forgot completely until after dark and had to enlist Chloe the Rottweiler's help in tracking her down in the dark. Chloe was an amazing chicken tracker.

Except for being blind and more dependent upon me than most chickens are, she seemed content with her life. She ate with gusto and let me know when she wanted more or was irritated by anything else.

Thankfully, El Jefe understood my feelings, though it was kind of embarrassing to explain to visitors who noticed a chicken in a box in the studio. Gringos would understand. Hondureños, not so much. Finally after about seven months, Carmen started to decline and lost interest in eating. A few days later, Carmen flew up to chicken heaven.

I suppose it was silly and pointless to continue to care for her so long. There just wasn't anything else I could do. If she had seemed to be in pain or lacked interest in food or life, I still couldn't have killed her myself but I might have asked someone else to do it. I think she was satisfied to be a house chicken for her last months.

bantam hen and rooster
Don't get the wrong idea: I have full respect for people who raise animals for food. They are probably a lot smarter than me because who knows what sorts of unhealthy 'additives' I'm getting in my store-bought, unidentifiable chicken breasts. I'm just a wuss and could no more eat one of my chickens than I could eat one of my chihuahuas.


For more chicken stories and lots of chicken videos, see the Chicken topic.

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