When I was little I wanted to be a vet. Spending my days surrounded by puppies and kittens and bunnies sounded like the best job in the world. When I realized part of a vet’s job was to put down old and sick animals, I quickly decided it wasn’t for me as I would never have the stomach for such a task.
These days I play a role in the deaths of several cattle and pigs and dozens of chickens every week. It doesn’t phase me. The animals have been raised in a humane environment that respects their natural inclinations, but their ultimate purpose has always been to become food for humans. If I want to eat meat, animals must die. I’d rather know how they lived and died than be kept in the dark by a large corporation who stocks the grocery store shelves with boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
People often ask how I do it. I just do. It doesn’t phase me. Someone has to do it, right? Had I gone the law route, I’d probably be getting the same question, especially if I’d ended up in the public defender’s office. My best friend is an oncology nurse. Another friend’s dad is a mortician. I wonder how they do what they do. No matter what your job is, there is always someone wondering how you do it day in and day out, right?
Despite all the death I deal with, I haven’t become desensitized to the preciousness of life. Any time we lose an animal to illness or accident, I find myself mourning. When we had to take 306 in or when little piglet no. 21 passed away, these things make me sad and a little angry. It always feels like senseless waste when an animal isn’t able to live out its life and serve its purpose.
Last Thursday we got 200 new pullets – young laying hens. Hens don’t start laying until they are about 20 weeks old, but no one wants to raise them that long so you buy them as pullets between 14 and 16 weeks. They have a few weeks to adjust to their new home and soon start providing you with eggs. Whenever you get new chickens, you want to lock them in the coop for a bit so they learn to recognize it as home base. They figure out that food and water are in the coop and will come back to roost every night.
The pullets came Thursday evening and we locked them in the house with the hens. We couldn’t lock the hens out because their food and water was in the house so instead we locked everyone in. On Friday I went up to let them out and collect eggs only to find the older hens had basically massacred the pullets. At first I only saw a few dead pullets which was hard, but manageable. As I walked to the back of the coop I saw the pile. The hens had bullied the pullets into a corner where they had climbed on top of each other and the pullets on the bottom had suffocated. There were dead birds everywhere. It was the saddest thing I’ve seen since I started working here.
Then I called Ryan because I just couldn’t deal with it on my own. He came and together we removed all the dead birds. There were 36. It still upsets me thinking about it.
I share this story not to upset anyone, but because I want to give an accurate portrayal of farm life. It isn’t always pretty sunrises and baby lambs. It’s hard. Physically and emotionally at times.
Has anyone else tried introducing younger hens to an established flock? If so, how did you do it? Was it successful?