One day I realized it. My chickens were cannibals. They started eating each other ALIVE. My gorgeous, red, full feathered, healthy flock became ugly, scruffy, and bald within days. Nothing I did seemed to completely stop it. We tried all recommended cures. It abated slightly in the summer but never fully stopped. Winter was heading in and several of the hens were pre-plucked. If you are a bird, and if you intend to survive a North Idaho winter, feathers are not optional.
Culling, it’s what separates the men from the mice, the profit from the loss, the real farmer from the pet owner. Being a modern girl, 9/10 pet owner type, decisions of a life and death magnitude require forced objectivity. This wee bit of an imaginary farm is barely hanging on to our few acres, thus I wish to cling to every little creature belonging to it, for fear that it will be culled out of existence. Sustainability, in regards to a particular limited green resource, requires otherwise. The day came when the egg laying just wasn’t paying for the feed. My repressed inner farmer recognizes the hypocrisy of feeding useless animals in the barn, while at the same time being responsible for the deaths of at least a hundred factory farmed chickens a year.
“Hmm… we need to cull chickens. ” This is the fifth Saturday in a row that I have made this observation. “You keep saying that” my husband replies. “Yeah, I know, but I keep hoping they’ll grow back their feathers.” The picture in my mind vacillates between the horror of going out to the chicken house and discovering dead frozen chicken bodies, and an odd vision of chickens running around with little polar fleece coats over their bare backs. ” I don’t like killing things” I say. “What do you mean YOU don’t like killing things?” My husband teases. ” I get stuck with all your executions.” They call me Lady Macbeth for a reason. The failure of not being a real North Idaho girl comes home to me- again. I know I should kill my own chickens, but I nurtured these babies from cute fluffy chicks. They love me… sort of… They follow me around and come running to me. The thought that they’d eat me if the roles were reversed somewhat comforts me, but I am sure to botch the deft swift stroke which is required in the act of actually killing chickens. No, I am not a real North Idaho girl. A real North Idaho girl can kill it, gut it, and eat the liver… raw.
“Let’s just get it done.” I finally have made the firm decision. We will butcher them, I will make them into stock, I will not cry.
The decision being made I wander out the pen to select the victims. Three are obvious, they’ll never survive the winter. One bird, who starts eating another, is subsequently given her one way ticket to the clothes line. We catch the culls, hang them up and my husband slits their throats, it is over pretty quickly, but I know that he doesn’t care for killing things any more than I do. Unlike me however, he’s man enough to do it.
I wonder if Lady Macbeth felt more guilt about the murder of Duncan, or about making the reluctant Macbeth do the fell deed. “Out damned spot.”