Wendyl farewells a feathered friend
When one of Wendyl’s beloved chickens gets sick, there is only one thing to be done. But will she be able to go through with it?
“I don’t suppose you feel like killing your first chicken?” I asked Paul as he was settled comfortably in front of the fire reading a book. His look said it all. A definite “no”. But then I explained that one of our first batch of chickens – which I have said in previous columns were in an appalling state and very old when we rescued them – was not well.
Her name was Breasty, because she had a huge growth on her front, which when she walked had a mind of its own and would sway to and fro, sometimes steering Breasty quite off track. She was a delightful chicken, bossy, belligerent and always the first one to come up to me for treats.
But I knew that lump was not a good sign and that one day it would be the death of her. I treated her for impacted crop, then sour crop, but nothing seemed to make any difference, so the time had come. She wasn’t eating, she had diarrhoea, she could barely summon the energy to come out of the hen house, and when I offered her the most savoured treat of all – dried meal worms – she showed no interest. Breasty was dying and I knew that it would probably be kindest to put her out of her misery.
We had discussed this before, because when you keep chickens you know that one day you might have to put one out of its misery. But having discussed did not make it any easier.
Paul’s a nice man and soft of heart, so he reached for his laptop and googled “how to kill a chicken”.
Wringing the neck was a favourite suggestion, but it came with the proviso that you might do it wrong and unknowingly bury a very-alive-but-in-greatpain chicken.
We settled on using the sharpest knife we had to cut off her head. In silence we both went and got changed. Neither of us suggested it, but we just knew there would be blood.
I picked poor old Breasty up and realised how skinny she had become and how big her lump was. I held her upside down, which is how you basically put a hen to sleep – they go quite limp and do not resist.
We took her away from the other hens and I held her against a fence post and before I could change my mind Paul sliced through her neck, killing her instantly.
I can’t tell you what happened next because I was running away, doubled over, my head in my hands, groaning. I felt nauseous, faint and started crying as I ran.
Meanwhile, Paul bundled Breasty into a bucket and said quite proudly: “I could do that again.”
Which is great because I will never be in any state to do it again… ever.
I ran to the kitchen and put the jug on – I needed tea with sugar for the shock. I eyed the whisky bottle in the pantry for a moment but it was before midday and in the country it’s best not to start drinking that early, as I have learned to my peril.
While I waited for the jug to boil I watched through the kitchen window as Paul dug a hole in the vege patch and gently lay Breasty in the soil before covering her up. At that moment I couldn’t think of a time when I’ve loved him more, which made me a bit annoyed. Was this some kind of ancient emotion taking place in my brain? Was I succumbing to a feeling of gratitude for my husband being so damned manly?
Was I going to come over all weak and needy? “I’m a feminist and I can do anything,” I thought to myself before realising that actually I can’t do everything. I can’t, for instance, kill a chicken.
Paul came back into the house, having rinsed out the bucket and taken off his gumboots, to check on me.
“You okay?” he said. “It’s not that much different to killing a fish and you do that a lot. And you’re quite happy to take dead possums out of traps and bury them.”
“None of them were my pets,” I cried, burying myself in his chest, which suddenly felt a lot more manly.
After my tea I put on my rubber gloves and cleaned the chicken house from top to toe – worried that whatever got Breasty might be contagious – and then sat in the sun and played with my remaining nine chickens, hoping they’d be around for quite some
“Actually I can’t do everything. I can’t, for instance, kill a chicken.”