Sometimes, for various reasons, you have to kill things.
Yesterday we came home to find more of our meat chickens dead inside their moveable cage. We have been hit hard by Coccidiosis, a deadly disease exacerbated by damp conditions. The birds contract Coccidiosis and then their weakened systems become susceptible to respiratory infections. Some end up suffocating to death. (Aside, to those of you who buy meat from us: This disease does not infect humans and all our birds our inspected at the abattoir. The ones who make it to the abattoir are the ones that haven't gotten sick).
Up until yesterday, if we found a dying bird we would just let it pass away on its own. Even if it was clearly suffering. Even though leaving a sick bird with the healthy ones puts the healthy ones at risk.
Yesterday, I had had enough. Five birds had died during the workday, while both of us were away from home. Three more were acting strange. They were suffocating. One had the pattern of symptoms we've come to recognize: pale, no energy to stand, head wilting forward, panting hard. The other two had good colour but their heads were whipping around, they could not stand and they were also breathing much too hard- sucking in great, wheezing gasps.
DH stormed off in anger, kicking the ground. He yelled, “I'm not dealing with this anymore.”
I thought, “Fine, if he's out, that means I'm in and I'm dealing with this my way.” I knew the sick birds should be killed rather than allowed to suffocate to death, for their own good and the good of the flock. Knowing did not make it any easier.
I swallowed hard, looking down at a young rooster. The rooster stared wildly, trying to hang on to life. It was terribly hot to the touch. I wrapped my hands around his neck, visualized what I would do, braced myself, then wrenched his neck in two different directions.
It didn't work. The chicken, it's head at a crooked angle to its body, continued to pant. Sickness overtook me and I burst into tears. I felt unbelievable guilt.
DH came to my rescue with the chopping block and an axe. He tried to comfort me and reassure me that I had done the right thing. We despatched them quickly, me chopping and DH holding.
Once finished, we carried on with the chores- bringing food and water to the various animals. You can't stop just because you feel frustrated, tired, or like a failure or like a monster. You have to keep going because if you don't, animals will suffer and die.
DH's mom sometimes mentions that her mother would drown kittens. My mom has told me that when city folks came and dropped of a dog at their farm, my grandfather would have to take the dog out behind the barn and shoot it, right between it's big brown eyes.
I don't know if we did the right thing. In retrospect, the chickens with good colouring may have been suffering from heatstroke and there is a chance their conditions might have been reversible. I doubt it, but they may have been. What I know with conviction is that I acted as my conscience dictated. Despite the emotional discomfort, I was clear about what I had to do and I did it.
I want to take that degree of coherence and apply it to the rest of my life.