Wednesday, 11 September 2013

RIP - soon to die Lizzie, the hen

Writing this as a bit of self-therapy. 

Way back at Easter we got new hens. After a couple of days with our old boss hen Vicky yelling death threats at them, we gave up on integrating them with her. It might have happened in weeks, but the whole time that meant keeping the two lots separate - no one was happy, not the new birds, not the old ones, not us.

So we had to say bye to Vicky. And you can't easily find a new home for a tame but basically cantankerous bully of an old Sussex, so she went in the pot. 

And that phrase, 'went in the pot' is one that chicken keepers often use. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? What it really means, first time you do it, is that you take an animal you've known, handled, cared for, and with a heart beating faster than you'd think sensible, with huge reservations and sadness, you break its neck. You stretch and twist to end its life in a heartbeat - you want to destroy its hind brain in an instant. 

And then you cry as you pluck the bird, and clean it out... And eat it. And it tastes good but for the sour irrational guilt you feel.

But then it gets easier. Or at least I hope it does. You see, later on today I've got to go outside and neck Lizzie.

Of the four hens we bought at Easter, one never settled in to laying. Most likely she had an infection before we got her, its damaged her ovaries, and she'll never lay. The others have been great (until recently one, Jane, has been a little ill - we'll have to see if she comes back to laying). Lizzie was, on the other hand, a dud. And we can't keep feeding her forever - thats not the point of her. She's not laying, but she's climbed up the pecking order even to challenge our oldest hen Bess - which isn't on, Bess is a superb alpha chicken. Lizzie is a tyrant - hand tame to me but she'll not miss an opportunity to peck a rival. So she's got to go. 

It gets easier, they say. Well, we'll see. I hope so. 

Truth is that keeping livestock means animals die. If you grow vegetables, depriving other creatures of the land, then animals die. If you turn the ground over with a space, animals die. Its just an inevitable part of living - the difference between producing your own food and not doing so is that you don't pass the task of depriving other animals of life on to someone else. Its easy to see why - living the reality can be painful.

But there's light at the end of the tunnel. Two more lovely young hens should, if all goes to plan, be coming to live with us from Saturday. Losing Lizzie (and possibly Mary, depending on whether she's going to lay again) gives a good life to two more. Its just the way of things, I guess.