Recently I said my final good-byes to a tough little bird. Quasimodo (or Quasi for short), was a Barred Plymouth Rock pullet. She arrived by mail, day-old, with 15 “sisters” – an event I’ve looked forward to almost every other year since 1985. All of the chicks were as normal as chicks can be; active, investigative, eating, drinking and determinedly establishing the hierarchy of the group – otherwise known as the ‘pecking order’.
All was going well until Day Six. I never could establish what actually happened. Two granddaughters had visited that day, and as usual, made a bee line for the chick brooder in the barn. No unusual event was reported, but when I went out to the barn later in the day, to check on the chicks, there lay a twisted and seemingly lifeless chick on the brooder floor. As I sadly reached for the hapless creature, it became immediately apparent that the little Barred Rock pullet was indeed still alive.
Now this was not my first ’rodeo’ as the saying goes. I have raised livestock – large and small, of various types since I was 12 years old. You quickly learn that death is a reality and is an integral part of the cycle of life. Now there are some who abhor the thought of slaughtering animals for food. Agreed, it never is (or shouldn’t be) a pleasure to dispatch an animal, but the facts are that the majority of humans do eat meat; whether it be poultry, pork, beef, lamb, etc. In order to procure this type of protein, somebody has to do ‘the deed’.
Another reality is the fact that sometimes, we who work with animals will be faced with a situation where we are called upon to dispatch an animal for humane reasons; i.e. in cases of sickness or injury – sometimes when the animal is newly born or just a few days old. One would think that over time (in my case 30 years) it would become easier to do what is necessary, but for me at least, if anything, time has made me softer in that department.
So here I have in my hand a living chick who had an injury of some sort – specifically to her cervical vertebrae. The poor chick was alert, but unable to walk or stand without toppling over and seizing. A few years earlier I would have humanely euthanized such an animal. This time, however, I made the decision to do what I could to help this little chick. A few times a day, I began bringing the chick in the house and hand feeding her mashed hardboiled egg yolk and dipping her beak in water spiked with apple cider vinegar. All the while I was prepared to put the chick ‘out of her misery’ if things started going south, but amazingly she gained strength and over the next week she was able to stand on her own feet and get to her feed and water. I made the decision from Day 1 to keep the chick in the brooder with the others. This is my ‘Sink or Swim’ philosophy. While I try to remain pragmatic, I find that I easily have affection for certain members of the flock, but I do not (or try very hard not to), anthropomorphize my feathered friends.
Quality of life can be measured in so many ways. With chickens, quality is defined by the chicken’s ability to be ‘Chicken’. Quasimodo was a chicken through and through. She was an accepted member of her flock and surprisingly was not the lowest chicken in the pecking order. Quasi was dubbed so because her neck remained grossly twisted. She patrolled the chicken house in a manner reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. She ate, chased bugs, and bedded down each night by jumping up on the roost with the rest of the flock. Her flock mates didn’t seem to mind in the least that Quasi was ‘different’ from the rest. Quasi had 3 months and 8 days of a quality life.
One afternoon upon one of my frequent visits to the ‘girls’, I found Quasi laying prone on the ground. Her feet were curled in a way which prevented her from standing. I could get her to eat and drink if I brought the food and water to her, but it was very clear that this time was different. The flock reacted differently too. With Quasi on the ground, other pullets would come and peck and scratch at her. Yes, I could have brought her in the house and created a ‘nursing home’ atmosphere, but that would be the end of her experiencing her life as being ‘Chicken’. Regretfully I made the difficult decision to humanely end Quasi’s life. I won’t go into the details here, but if there is a ‘Chicken Heaven’, I imagine she is there - whole, proudly holding her head high, with no physical disability. I like to think so anyway…
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