death and the equinox

Today is the first day of spring. And I will mark its occasion by respecting the rules of Capitalization for the day. For kicks. But I'm afraid what follows is decidedly winter in it's thoughts, for this is what plagues me on this fine spring day.

We have had a group of a half dozen chickens, mainly araucanas that we have affectionately dubbed the sicklies. For, that is what they were.  Their growth had been stunted, probably through a combination of cold and malnutrition.  And, most likely through my own neglect.  In a defense it is quite hard to bring two hundred chicks through winter without the use of mother hens. With artificial light and warmth it is neither natural, nor is it something I ever intend to do again.  But circumstances insisted,  and we obliged.

A smattering of chicks were found dead, on various somber mornings throughout Winter . Most lived. And then these six sicklies; stuck somewhere between life and death.  They were suffering --very clearly-- and so I began to intervene. I began to try to save them and then I began to care for them and then I became consumed by them.

Because...I can't not intervene when I see a sick or injured animal.  I'm a farming masochist. I attract the dying. Or rather, they attract me.  I do what no self-respecting farmer does. I humanize them. I see them grunt and hop to me in the coop and it breaks my heart into five thousand unreasoning pieces. And sometimes these sick and injured turn that proverbial corner and become the Health I've wished and worked for.  Like Vangogh and Bella and Rose. They are all animals we could have easily ignored in the field and left to a certain death. And we didn't and you all know how much those three light my life so I needn't justify that here.  And sometimes you rescue them and they don't live, like Oscar, but you comfort yourself in knowing that life was better because of that sweet soul and that you wouldn't have been paid a million dollars to not have taken him in from the field...that bloodied mess.

And then there are times like now where you find you are running more hospice than hospital. And then you are faced with questions from your loving partner about What Next To Do.  Questions of unnecessary suffering. Questions of the sustainability of care given. Questions of who will take the post as chicken-nurse once we leave (as these sicklies are the farm's chickens and not our own). All this questioning while gently skirting the god complex I had created around the chickens. Now it was Up To Me; whether they live or die. And if they were to die; whether that be gradual through deliberate neglect or sudden through execution. At first I thought I had a choice between the former but I realized with a cold heart it was a choice between the latter. Death this way or that.

Nick offered to kill them. Which, sounds perverse but is one of the kindest things he could do for me. I knew I couldn't break their little necks. I saved one of them, she was the healthiest, which is, of course, all relative being one of the sicklies. But we've named her Spanky.

This sounds cold and cruel, and I thought in writing this I would elicit the emotional response I have come to expect of myself with such things. But a truly new and rather unsettling me is emerging. Surely, I blubbered and stumbled and asked Nick to find me another solution. But at their death I was able to keep in check and not allow myself to think about their little faces and their little souls. I write this, not with pride, nor with peace, just with a vaguely deadened realization that I cannot save every creature that comes to me. That I don't have the space, in my heart nor in my body to help them all. And I, quite honestly, hate that. I am not at peace with this. Yet, I know I need be. I know my past actions cannot be sustained on our future farms. I know I will need to pick the battles more wisely.

So, that sucks. And, that is about as eloquently as I can put it on this beautifully sunny first day of spring.


  1. It totally sucks. And it's something that (on a much smaller scale) I struggle with, too. Everything is more real and raw on a farm - both life and death.

  2. It is good to talk and blog and discuss these issues and feelings.
    I've become, over time, more active with pet rescue, even though it is a battle for me not to want to keep them all. (Thankful for a hubby who keeps me at a legal limit of pets, or who knows if you'd be seeing me on some kind of hoarder tv show.) Anyway, one thing I've found is by hearing other people's views on issues like this is that you can find out more about your own views. You hear 20 opinions, and you agree with 10, take part of 5 and incorporate that into your thinking, and find that the rest are just people who think completely differently from you. But still a value in sharing and growing in your views of life, and death, too. It is hard to know that some will die, I totally agree with you, but then it also grows your appreciation for the life you have left to live :)

    I enjoy your blog.

  3. spring brings life and change. take comfort in the fact that you did your best~love to Spanky

  4. I don't think anyone would know what to do in such a situation until they are faced with it (anyone who claims to know is freakin fooling themselves). You did not come to this final decision lightly, and from your words I can see how it almost tortured you. But as you said, these chicks were in your care. And what you did, in my opinion, was an act of mercy. And that is a truly noble thing.

  5. I appreciate that you speak of the truth of farming and the struggles that you feel. It makes the reality of farming so much more raw and real than just strolling the fields in a cotton dress collecting eggs like most people think farming is. :)
    by the way, the last picture, one of my faves for sure!

  6. You put it very eloquently and honestly.

  7. i just cried reading this, and linking back to your posts about oscar (which were written before i found your blog). such hard decisions you have faced. i dream of having a small farm some day, one which i would love to have animals along with all my veggies, but don't know what (or how) i would deal with all the hard stuff. i greatly appreciate you sharing your experiences- the good and the bad. thanks.

  8. i don't have the words to put you at ease, it's a hard situation... but you do your best, and that has to count

  9. it's horrible. The whole situation. I grew up on a farm-of-sorts and it seemed every sickly animal in the area knew that our house was filled with people who cared about animals like they were another child, but unfortunately, they don't all survive, and like you said, that sucks. And even though it's impossible to be at peace with having to help the process along, I do believe it is better when you know they will just suffer if you don't and that, in itself, shows how much you care!

  10. I know that many people see such a big heart as a weakness on a farm, but I think it's wonderful, and I know that I will be the same way when our land is filled with animals who need love. <3


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