Fair warning: Something dies by the end of this. Someone turns out to be a terrible farmer. Possibly, someone cries.
On Friday morning, I began my morning routine. I poured a cup of coffee, sweetened with a little condensed milk. I grabbed a bowl out of the cupboard to carry to the chicken coop to collect the morning eggs. I put the cup of coffee on the long table in the backyard where I like to sit for a few moments before the day begins, enjoying the movement of bees in and out of the beehives as the rising sun shines through the leaves of the old oak trees. And I went into the garage to grab some mealworms as a treat for the chickens, a shovel and a muck bucket.
That’s when I heard a loud cluck, the flapping of feathers and a thud. What happened, I don’t know, because I didn’t think anything of it. The birds fight each other off the perches now and again.
I threw out some snacks and collected the eggs and counted only five of my six chickens gathered to eat. It wasn’t until I wandered over to refill the water container, that I saw a chicken flat on the ground. It was twisted against the wall and its legs were outstretched. When I reached for it, it shuddered and I saw that it could not move but it was still breathing.
My first response was to look at the other chickens for answers, which did no good. My second response was to pace around the coop, thinking the bird would jump back to life if I just turned my back. I’m not good at this part of it – the messy part.
So, I did what any modern human being does in the face of crisis. I pulled out my phone and I Googled it. Sad, little backyard chicken keepers filled the Internet with panicked descriptions of sick birds, responding to each other with bad advice and emojis. It did not help me. And when I put my phone away, the chicken was still there, breathing but not moving.
I called a friend and busied myself with the work of putting a blanket inside a plastic tote in case the solution just involved chicken bed rest.
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I know that chickens are livestock. I know that you should not get attached. I do not name them, except as a joke to amuse children. But these chickens have become a fun focal point of my part of the neighborhood. They are visited by grandchildren. They get leftover lettuce and strawberries and apples cut into pieces. They get overripe tomatoes from the garden and grass clippings as bedding that several people leave out for them now. It’s not a bad life for these chickens and we’ve all started to like them and the couple dozen eggs they produce each week.
When my friend arrived, I was sitting on the wooden ladder I have in the coop as a makeshift perch for the birds. He picked up the chicken by the legs and put it in the tote. When my friend arrived, I was sitting on the wooden ladder I have in the coop as a makeshift perch for the birds. He picked up the chicken by the legs and put it in the tote. He said, “You have two options. You can take it to the vet and try to figure out what’s wrong with it. Or, I can help you take care of it. What is not an option is leaving it like this – to suffer.” That’s when I started to cry.
He said, “This is what farmers deal with all the time.”
“I don’t want to be a farmer today,” I said.
He euthanized the bird and we put it in a cardboard box, taped closed with white masking tape. I called a Davenport veterinarian office that specializes in birds just to check that I shouldn’t save the body for any post-mortem reason. When the patient woman on the other line said it was fine to throw it out, I carried it to the back of my truck for later disposal. I could still feel the warmth from the body through the cardboard and I slid my hand away so I wouldn’t anymore.
I left for work and the coffee still sat untouched, waiting for me on the backyard table.