Compassionate Chickens

Content warning: an animal death, discussion of animal rights/the ethics of eating animals

This morning I was part of something heartbreaking but also beautiful. It was life-changing. Our chickens live in a shed, divided into two parts for the egg layers (who we call “Brownies”) and the meat-chickens (who we lovingly call “Fatties.”) There are about 50 Brownies and 17 Fatties. 

Now the Fatties are the sweetest animals in the world and I bonded with them instantly, despite myself. I knew this would happen. We decided we couldn’t have them as meat. They are the most ridiculously huge, lovable birds. Funny and sweethearts. I really, really love them. So much personality.

This morning when we went to let the chickens out, Joey found that the barrier between the two areas had been ripped apart. It appears to have been done by the Fatties, believe it or not. Our best theory is that they were trying to get to the rooster in order to mate. We really don’t know why they did it.

Anyway, one of them had a badly broken leg and was clearly in pain, and we both knew she had to be put down. Joey and I were very sad. We raised these chickens from the day they were born. We care for them everyday and they make us laugh and smile. We have a lot of love for them. I don’t think either of us was quite expecting it to feel like this. Joey had chickens in the past and wasn’t this attached. He was able to be kind but utilitarian about it. I knew I would be attached, as I am with all animals, but didn’t realize how much I would love these chickens, pretty much like I do my cats. 

I was a vegetarian for about 15 years, since I was old enough to really understand. I can’t say exactly why I stopped. Nothing changed for me. Meat was just around. My family was eating it. It looked good, I was too lazy to cook for myself….I just sort of fell back into eating it. I never would have thought that would happen. It’s a weird subject for me. I care about animal rights a great deal, and I think about this subject a great deal. I’ve had to stop myself, because it becomes too painful. I think very often about becoming a vegetarian again. 

I feel like my thoughts on all this are too complex to put into words right now. Yesterday I started a post on my identity and also abandoned it. I’m not going to abandon this one, though I do know getting into it all too deeply would be very upsetting for me. Suffice to say, I’ve given these things a lot of thought….And I don’t believe that the eating of animals is unethical in it of itself. I know there are problems with all the things we consume. Anyway. It’s a spiraling rabbit hole of thoughts and I’d rather not get into it. 

I am glad that my family will be eating this chicken. I’m glad she won’t go to waste. I’m not sure what I will do. A part of me, spiritually, wants to take part. I can see how that works for someone like Joey. I’ve found a lot of sense to his way of thinking, of respecting and loving the creature/nature. I told the chicken when she was in pain that she would be OK, no matter what happened. I also thanked her for her meat, and assured her she would continue on as energy in other beings. It just sort of…came out of my mouth, before I even knew what we were going to do with her body.

I’m really glad she was able to die well. I love my partner beyond words. He was worried I’d see him as a monster, but even if it had been just me, I knew she had to be put down. If it weren’t for him, I would have found a way to do it, in order to be okay with myself. It was what had to be done, and it was the kind thing to do. 

What I most want to emphasize in this post is the life changing experience of being witness to the other chickens. First, there were her close sisters. I didn’t know before that chickens are very social creatures. They bond with each other, and form smaller groups and pairs. This one chicken was obviously very bonded to the injured chicken. She sat down beside her and didn’t leave her side. She leaned gently against her and made soft, comforting noises. She welcomed me when I sat down with them, and let me gently stroke them both. She kept looking me in my eyes, with her orange gold ones, and she seemed so aware of everything. It was kind of eerie and very moving.

Another one came into the enclosed area to join them, and sat on her other side. The rest of the flock lined up nearby with some distance, on the other side of the enclosure, watching, quiet and respectful. It was barely sunrise. I was completely moved to tears.

Chickens are very compassionate creatures. People say they aren’t intelligent, but I can say for sure that in their own way, they are. And they have big (metaphorical) hearts. I feel so blessed to share my life with them.

I wanted to add pictures to this post but can’t figure out how to resize them. Anyway, please see them at my Instagram page: