> jumping into life.

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Here is the truth about farm animals: they die.

It is the truth about all animals, of course, and all life. But it is one of the strings in the long, strange chord of husbandry that the animals you care for will die, sometimes when you choose them to but often before, and you will be faced with the task of calculating the value of their lives.

I love my chickens more than they warrant, but when one fell sick, we did not rush her to the bird specialist in Shelburne. I coddle and cuddle my chickens, feed them from my fingers and tuck them into their coop at night, but they are not pets. They are livestock. We are runnning a farm.

We consulted with the state veterniarian, on whose advice we gave her Pedialyte out of an eyedropper every hour, and enticed her with cornbread mush. Twice a day I cleaned the fly-infested shit off of her back feathers. I moved her convalescent milk-crate nest around the yard to keep her in the shade and in sight of the rest of the flock -- a chicken alone can die of loneliness. At night we put her in a pet carrier on the porch to protect her from marauding weasels, skunks, and foxes, and to keep her from circling the electric fence, trying to find a way into the roost.

But she was not a pet. She cost us $12 and produced five eggs a week; at $3 a dozen she had just about paid herself off when she stopped laying last Friday. A visit to the vet costs as much as a visit to the doctor, and to take her in would have wiped out all our egg money and then some. Besides which -- or actually, because of which -- chicken diagnostics are almost entirely based on necropsy. People run blood tests on cows and sheep, because individually they're expensive and valuable. Chickens are cheap -- we bought full-grown pullets, but chicks are only a dollar or two -- and the loss of five eggs a week minor in comparison to a vet bill. Cheaper and easier to whack whichever one is the sickest and ship her off to the extension service to be examined there.

But still I love them. So I sat in the buggy dusk with the eyedropper of Pedialyte and baby asprin, and I smashed whole colonies of fly eggs stuck to her feathers. She was my third-favorite chicken.

I still haven't come fully to peace with this husbandry thing, the deal we make with our livestock -- I will care for you, raise you, clean up your shit and feed you good food, and I will take your eggs/milk/fleece/meat for myself, and in the end you will die. The deal we make with ourselves, because they of course do not and cannot agree to it. I think my chickens are happy. All the evidence of my senses and my knowledge of animal behavior leads me to think they are happy. Sometimes they want to keep their eggs, even though we have no rooster, and I take them anyway. I don't know how long we'll keep these hens. Their egg production will drop off after a year or so, and most commercial hens get the axe around then. We got dual purpose breeds -- eggs and meat -- on purpose.

I don't know. I know that they're all going to die whether I do anything about it or not. I know that my body demands that I eat meat, and that raising some part of it myself seems the best and most responsible course of action. I know that my chickens come running in a ridiculous stampede when I approach and then follow me around the yard, and that I love them, and that their eggs are the most delicious I've ever had. Is it fair to them? It seems fair to me, on the shit-shoveling and fence-moving side, but they can't tell me what they think. And we didn't take our sick chicken to the vet, and she did die. Was that fair? I don't know. What do you think?

I definitely think it was fair.

To an extent the veterinary industry is an illusion, in so much as the health care system is also one. Some problems don't require a doctor to solve them, or shouldn't be solved based on the expense of the solution or just letting nature take its course.

You are not a bad person, parent, or animal hubandrier for eschewing expensive medical intervention for your $12 chicken. It doesn't mean you didn't love her.

Everything in context. In a perfect world you'd take her to the vet, I guess, and lovingly move the fly eggs to where the flies could grow up happy and content instead of smashing them.

But in a world of factory farming -- you know, this is pretty damn good. And life for wild birds is no picnic either. That's the context of this chicken life here. I think you've made a lovely haven, and that what you're doing is beautiful. Choosing my words carefully there: not excusable, or justified. Beautiful. Exactly that.

The chicken was quite likely more disturbed by the hourly pedilyte feedings with an eye dropper, and extra cleaning and tending than the described decine to death.

You provide protection from predators and a steady source of nutrition, eggs are a fair trade off.

I doubt chicken experience lots of cognitive consideration beyond, "oh good the food has arrived."

It was a reasonable decision and fair, but coming from a home where pets were treated as family and no expense was spared, I am sure it was very difficult for you. In a time when many people cannot obtain health care for themselves, you should not beat yourself up over the decision not to take your limited resources and spend them on your chicken...even your third favorite chicken. You did seek medical advice, you did give your time and energy and you gave her the best care that you could, protecting her from further injury and distress...she might have lived and then it would have been a great decision indeed. It is very common for farmers, ranchers and horse owners to treat animals with vet advice, as you did, as opposed to a vet visit, as the visit can be quite expensive. I have done this myself many times with my horse. As you grapple with the difference between your farm animals and pets, the ethics at the heart of your decisions will always to provide kind, respectful and appropriate care...and you did that. Sleep well Caitlin.

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