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July 10th, 2013

A chicken's life.

Our girl Monster was euthanized yesterday morning. She was 4 years old. Over the past six months she had slowly but surely lost half her body weight. We'd tried antibiotics, deworming, extra treats of every variety to get her to feel better, and everything seemed to be working for a time, but then she just got very weak. The day before she died when we were busy tending to her, trying to feed her extra treats, Ian and I were both late to a birthday party, and when we told them why, I got the question "How can you tell that a chicken is sick?" You tell the same way you can tell any other living being is sick. They lose weight, don't look well, aren't bright and happy, her color was off and she was weak and wobbly. When I brought her in to see the vet I was hoping that we could give her some fluids, maybe start a different regimen of antibiotics that would make her feel better, etc. I didn't expect her doctor to say that x-rays showed she had a severe reproductive tract disease and that we couldn't make her even feel better really, much less save her life. The doctor gave her a sedative, I held her in my lap, kissed her head, whispered in her ear how much I loved her and how she was such a good girl while it took effect, and then the doctor found a vein in her neck and injected her with euthanasia solution that stopped her heart. It was a tiny, but beautiful heart that stopped yesterday.

I raised this little chick from her second day of life. She was so small and adorable when she came home.

Here's what they looked like:

I bought the first four chickens we owned including Monster from a farm store in Robbinsdale. This was before I understood what that meant. Later I would research and figure out that farm stores get all their chicks from hatcheries. Hatcheries that ship live chicks in the mail without food or water, that kill most of her brothers or literally use them as packing material to keep the more valuable girl chicks alive en-route with their body heat. Anyway, they were mine, and they were beautiful and I loved them. I bought chickens because I knew the egg industry sucked and I wanted to reduce my participation in that particular system that harmed and killed so many chickens. I had been vegetarian for many years but giving up eggs entirely sounded like too much for me to handle, so I thought we'd wade in by finding an "ethical" source of eggs that we could make at home.

These baby girls were the most amazing little things I'd ever seen. They lived in a rubbermaid bin in our upstairs hallway at first, and when they were old enough, we moved them outside.


From when they were very little, they were so CHICKENY. I had no idea what chickens were like before we brought them home. I thought they were kind of silly dumb birds. These kids were totally silly, but they were also sharp and bright and inquisitive and loved being alive so much! They surprised and enthralled me. I was madly in love.

This is what they looked like as little teen chickens. Monster is on the left, as always, so fluffy and dark and looking bigger than all the other girls.

I could easily tell her apart always, one, because of her physical appearance, and two, she had a very distinctive face and gaze! People often ask me how I told them apart. Are people confused if they have two black labs or golden retrievers? Honestly, after the initial confusion if you get them all at once, it's quite easy

The first winter of their lives, we went on vacation and when we got home, the chickens were sick, two moreso than others. Here's the entry where we were trying to figure out what was wrong with them/fix Taxi to the best of our ability: http://inclementine.livejournal.com/314925.html

We spent 3 days with Taxi, learned how to tube feed her, give her subcutaneous fluids, keep her warm and give her antibiotics. At the end of three days after we had tube fed her in the morning, she had a violent seizure and died in front of us. It was one of the most horribly sad things I'd ever seen. Very soon after, Number Four, another of the girls also died in the night. I woke up every day for a week crying after they died, and from when they died, I stopped buying/eating eggs and dairy products. My beautiful teachers say that intelligence is the ability to make connections. Well, I had made a connection. If one chicken dying was this painful for me, I had absolutely no excuses for continuing to participate in a system that kills and harms literally 8.39 billion chickens every year.

Half of all egg laying chickens don't live to see their second day of life. The cute chicks that we brought home from the farm store have male counterparts, and almost all of them are separated from the female chicks as soon as they are found to be male and then promptly ground up alive (what is considered the more humane method of dispatching them) or if they are unlucky, put into plastic garbage bags where they slowly suffocate under each others tiny bodies. If you've ever eaten eggs thinking that you were not harming any chickens in the process, you are mistaken, unfortunately. You are, in fact, participating in the death of over 200 million day old, adorable easter-egg-looking boy chicks a year.

If you're brave and honest with yourself, you can watch this video. It's not bloody, but it shows what most hatcheries are like, including the boys heading into the grinder. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/01/chicks-being-ground-up-al_n_273652.html

BEING A PART OF THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL IF YOU BUY AND EAT EGGS. It is just something that you have to know that you are creating with that choice. There is no getting around it with "cage free" eggs, or "free range" eggs or any of those weird lies that the industry tries to serve you up to convince you that you're being humane and ethical with your choices. Even without debating cage free or free range where the chickens that lay the eggs that you buy are sent to slaughter after a year, two years at most when their egg production slows, this mass baby slaughter is completely unavoidable in the purchase of any kind of eggs that you will find in a store. I am really sorry to have to tell you this. I slept easier before I knew it, and you likely did too. But knowledge is power and I wish for everyone to be powerful and knowledgeable in this life.

So...I quit. I did what I thought was "too much" for me. I stopped eating eggs in restaurants and buying eggs in stores. I stopped eating challah, traditional Jewish egg bread with my family on holidays. I stopped. I also quit dairy entirely, milk, cheese, butter, etc, because I knew that male dairy calves had similar fates to male chickens.
Dairy in the US kills about 2.7 million boy calves a year. They are either used for veal, a horrible fate, or raised for beef. If you don't eat animals because of "ethical reasons" eating animal products makes absolutely no sense, logically, since you are still participating in and financing the awful treatment and slaughter of so many. You're just not eating their dead bodies after you pay for them. Strange how I let that comfort me for years before I made the connection.

Here are Monster and Favorite, the two girls that survived the infection that year dustbathing after the snow melted that spring. Monster is in back at first and then moves into the front frame and stays there for the rest of the video. click the HD button to see it clearly.

Anyway, Monster was a good girl. One of the best things about chickens is how much they LOVE being alive. They love every moment of it. That's probably the hardest part for me when they die, is knowing how much they seem to appreciate every breath on this earth. They love to eat, they love to dust bathe and clean the oils from their feathers, they love to sun bathe, they lie down and stretch out one wing and one leg and flop out in the sun like they are packed with solar panels. They love to eat bugs and get pets and cackle and crow when they lay an egg. They love to run. They are hilarious when they run. So when Monster died, I wanted to tell you why you should care, and what to do if you care. If you care about her life, you can care about the lives of so many chickens by thinking about adopting a diet free of animal products. This is a GIFT of an option that you have in this first world country of ours, where you have easy access to every heathy, protein packed vegetable and grain grown or produced in this world, including lentils, beans, peas, quinoa, nuts, soy, and legumes. Nut milks and non-dairy "un-cheeses" can replace dairy in much of your cooking. Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from doing so, you can be healthier and happier without eating animal products. It takes some time to get used to the idea, so maybe you don't DO IT RIGHT NOW THIS SECOND. Please just think about it. Her life was meaningful. She was loved and tended to. She had ear kisses and treats and pets and ample space to move about and be herself. She could play in the dirt and lay in the sun. We didn't harm her or give her away when the infection that killed Taxi and Number Four took away her ability to lay eggs. We loved her. So many chickens don't get that chance. You don't have to be a part of that sadness. You can choose differently.

I will always love her and I will always miss her sweet face.