Lessons of Life and Death


animal farm quote

Farming is a way of life. It is a passion; it takes time, devotion, compassion and understanding. It takes love and kindness to flourish and bloom. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always beautiful, but it’s these circumstances that make you stop to appreciate life and all it has to offer.

When we decided to start our venture into the chicken world this past summer, it wasn’t my first run at the farm life. While it was the first time they would be my very own animals, I have worked on a variety of different farms throughout my lifetime. In high school my then boyfriend lived on a broiler farm. On weekends we would get up before breakfast, venture out to the barns, and collect eggs from the hens. I remember well my first run in with the rooster. He was bound and determined to protect his hens and I didn’t think such a small bird could be so nasty. Needless to say, I came out from collecting eggs crying. His dad went in, came out a couple minutes later and told me to try again. That rooster came no where near me this time.

My next venture was a part time job I had in the evenings milking cows. My favourite part was bottle feeding the calves after all the milking and feeding chores were done. This led me to do a co-op in high school with my local vet clinic, in which I had the opportunity to travel to farms and assist in surgeries such as twisted stomachs and c-sections. It was beautiful to assist in bringing a living creature into the world. It wasn’t always glamorous, and there was death, but the beauty of a new baby calf made it so worth it.

The summer before I went off to college I took a job at a farrowing barn. My first week there I wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. By the time summer finished, I was the lead farrower in a barn of 1200 sows, and I now had a new favourite animal. Pigs are truly amazing animals. The job was not glamorous. This was my first lesson in dealing personally with the death of an animal. With any farming, sometimes there are weak or injured animals, and the humane thing to do is to simply put them to rest. When I first started at the barn I had wanted no part in this. But that is not how farming works. And so, I dealt with it and I did what was right for the animals I was working with. The man who trained me left me with words that still ring true in my head- “What is done at the barn is barn things, and when you go home at the end of the day, you leave the barn things at the barn.”  I had to repeat this to myself on many occasions working at the pig barn, but I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences there. I worked there for two years. I was able to assist many sows in the birthing process; there is nothing quite like pulling a small little piglet out of a mother and watching it take its first breath of life. I worked with the piglets, processing and castrating, watching them as they grew. I knew when I left, that someday I would have pigs in my life again.

Today I am writing all of this because we had our first run in with death in our flock. What I had first thought to be simply moulting in my hens, turned out to be an over-breeding rooster who was being rough with my ladies. I noticed it in our little bantam hens first, especially my poor little black hen, who has totally stole my heart. I of course went right to my chicken ladies on Facebook and was told that my rooster needed to go.

We had three roosters left in the coop, I was able to find a home for our Mr. Shitty and he was relocated just after the new year. I knew that Albert was gentle with the ladies, he has always been a gentleman. Pea was another story. He was always kicking up the dirt and trying to come at me in the coop, and I had watched him on several occasions being nasty with the ladies. I have to watch out for my girls, they are my providers.

So today, while on a road trip with Dan’s dad, Dan took care of our problem. I know, I know. I didn’t help with the deed. Even though he was a nasty little rooster, I was slightly attached as I had gotten him at just over a week old.  He needed to go, but I didn’t want to be the one to do it. I will learn in time, and as more animals make their way into our lives I will get better with it. I had put it out of mind until I returned home and saw him in the sink marinating for dinner. I shed a couple tears, we had a laugh about it all, and I can smell chicken roasting in the oven as I write this. I feel no remorse in eating him, we put the time and energy into feeding him and letting him grow, and I expect he will taste even better as he was raised and killed with love.

Death comes with life, and it comes hand in hand with farming. Today was a lesson that I will carry with me now as we move forward in our farming adventure together. I will grow stronger, and I will continue to love and respect all my animals.

So here’s to Pea. May my poor hens get their feathers back, may you taste as yummy as you look, and may you fly forever in little chicken heaven, or wherever it is you ended up.

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