One-Block Feast: Spring Garden Plan
(Page 5 of 14)
Alana got worse and worse. After about five days, she was nearly unable to stand, and kept her eyes closed most of the time. By this point in our chicken keeping, we had decided we would limit veterinary care. We didn’t want to be cruel to our chickens, but they were, after all, farm animals, and if they were in pain we would give them a quick, merciful end. Also, their diseases were often not treatable. That said, we did want to know whether Alana had something that could harm the rest of the flock.
So Elizabeth took Alana to an avian vet in nearby Mountain View. He was stumped, too, but he came up with many untreatable possibilities, from Marek’s disease (a deadly contagious virus) to botulism to heavy-metal poisoning. “Her prognosis doesn’t look good,” he told her. The choice was pretty clear. We decided to put her out of her misery and send her body to the state lab, to understand what had happened to her.
This was the first death in our one-block project. Okay, it was the first warm-blooded death—we’d had hundreds, if not thousands, of dead bees. After investing a lot of time and concern in one chicken, Elizabeth found the death difficult, not only because she was present for it but also because she had made a real effort not to get attached to any of the hens. Plus, she had always tried to keep in mind that she (like the rest of us on Team Chicken) enjoyed a good chicken curry and that our own chickens were perfectly edible. So her sadness took her by surprise.
We each ended up feeling differently about Alana’s end. Jim, an animal lover to his core, sensed even more acutely the innocence and vulnerability of animals that come under the care of humans. “It lays superiority and responsibility at your feet, even when you don’t want them,” he said. Elizabeth said it gave her some insight into empathy and how it should be directed. “The chickens are not pets. They’re animals that have a job to do. I had to ask myself, how sad do I feel about this? And I had to control my empathy, which was an eye-opening experience. I might not give them human names next time.”
Other people on staff (not on Team Chicken, however) had no qualms about killing one of our flock, whether to end suffering or to put meat on the table. As for me and where I stood on the detachment scale, well, probably near Elizabeth. Mostly, I felt gratitude for that chicken and her beautiful, delicious eggs, which she had so generously produced day after day.
Several weeks after Alana’s body went off to the lab, we got the results back. She didn’t die of anything infectious, but of kidney failure, and she had some inflammation around the heart. Also, a lot of internal fat. We were probably overfeeding the chickens. No more enchiladas, girls! We cut back on kitchen scraps and started giving them only greens, with a few other fruit and vegetable bits. And Johanna put together a movable garden enclosure for them out of chicken wire and rebar, so they could run around a little more and scarf up slugs at the same time. Unfortunately, we couldn’t give them free rein of the garden because they would also eat our vegetables, which we were coaxing toward maturity for our spring feast.
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