Hard Things...

Sometime in my journey to becoming a farmgal, I had an illusion that this kind of life was "sugar and spice and everything nice".  I had these ideal visions of me and my animals running through fields, throwing clover,  and living in bliss (kind of...maybe not throwing clover...).  I think that every farmer, rancher, or grower deals with these crazy ideas that life is all going to work out and "the neighboring ranch has problems but not mine" kind of attitude.

Will at 10 months with his first flock
Along with a heavy work load and lots of sore muscles and complete exhaustion comes the less than ideal reality.  Sometimes karma scoops up a big handful of poop and tosses it your way!  I have watched this build over the last few months and knew that today was coming.  Our chicken flock is comprised of chickens that we have kept over the last ten years.  We actually have chickens that are eight years old.  Hard to believe, seeing as not many chickens live past six.  Aging chickens are usually accompanied by a host of problems, sometimes things as horrible as respiratory infections, pox and parasite infestations.  We haven't had any of these problems, we keep our coop very clean and we are a little fanatical about it.  The problems that we were running into were more psychotic issues that often accompany birds.  Our older girls were self mutilating and pecking the younger chickens horribly.  Cannibalism is a condition that is found among birds, we weren't to that point, but you could see how it happens, it was in our future if not controlled.  In general, birds can be plagued with a host of psychotic behaviors.  I thought about a little couch to lay them on while they bore their chicken souls, talking through all the coop issues, but it just wasn't practical.  The nasty truth facing me was that we were going to have to thin the flock.

Queenie, one of our oldest girls. 
I have always been an advocate of letting the chickens live out their lives.  Despite my grandpa's voice in the back of my head, chanting about rotating the flock, that chickens serve a greater purpose than just eggs, and that the flock stays healthy when the two to three year-old birds are used for meat, I have continued to keep the chickens.  I now see great wisdom in the things he said to me.  Old birds develop nasty habits, get sick, and can bring down the whole flock.  They also are very draining on resources seeing as they don't lay but eat just as much food as the laying chickens.  The ideal thing to do is to use them as food around three years of age, when they stop laying.  This is so much healthier for the flock, I see this now.  Yeah Grandpa...I know...you were right...again...

Will, 4, and Ian, 1, holding "Buzz" and "Woody"
My husband and I made a simple killing cone (there are easy to follow instructions all over the internet), after deciding that this was the most humane way to kill the chickens.  This method inverts the chicken bringing the blood flow to the head and calms the chicken to an almost trance-like state.  Then their necks are cut and the blood drains out into a bucket below.  There is no running around the yard headless and all of that other nasty stuff, it is very calm and respectful.  I said thank you to each chicken that had to go.  I killed the first three between sobs and then almost fainted (I am an orthopaedic O.R. nurse in my other life...I don't do amputations well either...go figure).  Husband to the rescue, he finished the hard part for me.  I am still nauseated, and we ate all veggies for dinner, for some reason, I just couldn't cook meat.  (We did not use these birds for meat, they were far too old...)

My chubby little baby Will with "Rhett" our very old Bantam Rooster.
The bottom line is that this is the cycle of life.  Life ends for some to sustain life for others.  I am so grateful for all of the beautiful eggs that those girls have given to my family and friends over the years, and I look back on them with fondness.  My son held these chickens when he was just a baby, he grew up with them.  Our intentions for the flock have changed.  Each group of chickens will be banded so we know how old they are and when their time for the stock pot has come.  This is reality, this is best for the flock, even though it is extremely hard for me.  Sometimes we have to do hard things.  I found out today that I can do this, provided someone is there to catch me when I faint.

I am so very captivated by the beauty of the eggs the girls have given.  
There is a certain reverence that one gains for food having seen it's entire life cycle, meat and vegetables included.  You know the sacrifice that was made, the energy that was expended and the beauty that each bite of food holds in it's memory.


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