Most of our chickens don’t have a name because we can’t tell them apart anyway. The ones that Boy two likes are the exception. There was Tail-less, now there is Queenie and Obsidian. Spontaneously, I started calling our dying chicken on the porch, Frieda.
Frieda took so long to die that I began to think she would live. Why she died is still a question. Best available wisdom suggests a raccoon injury, cancer, or that she became egg bound. Last year, when paranoia about microbial invasions on the farm overwhelmed me, we had a post mortem done on a chicken. For $60, I learned that the alive but ailing chicken I delivered had a bad case of arthritis in her knees and would have suited the dinner table just fine. I calmed myself by pretending we were intentionally seeking education rather than paying money to contaminate our chicken so that we could no longer eat it. Whatever Frieda died of, I don’t think it was contagious, so no post mortem for her, and no pricey education for me.
Waiting for Frieda to die stressed me. She didn’t seem miserable. When I expected her dead in the morning, she woke up hungry. By that night though she wanted neither food or water. The smell of death and bowel dysfunction made the air a bit thicker than I like it. I put her out in the grass the next day to get rid of the smell, and because if I was going to die soon, a patch of lawn in the sunshine would be just about right.
There is a whole field of psychology devoted to the notion that the further we distance ourselves from nature, the more unhealthy we become. I know everybody can’t have a farm, or even a pet, but I do believe we innately crave connection with living things. That we need to be reminded of real things. I didn’t kill Frieda myself because I didn’t know if she was suffering and because head removal is our method of chicken dispensing. Although I’ve done it many times, every time it surprises me a bit what a physical act it is.
I like that my kids have seem things die. Not because I want them sad, but because I want them to know that nothing dies for free. I obviously take no issue with eating meat, but I care a lot about quality of life, basic consideration and avoiding needless loss.
As living things ourselves, the strand of spider’s web we hang by is fragile. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I guess I hope that a little kindness for a dying chicken teaches my kids a few things that don’t have to be spelled out. Like, be compassionate, even if someone really, really stinks. Do what you can to make them comfortable and say a few kind words. It might not change the world, but it might make us just a little bit more human.