It’s been a tough week on the homestead. I’ve struggled with posting on this blog and exactly what I was going to write about. I still don’t know. But that’s never stopped me from posting before, so I guess we’re all going to figure it out together as I write this.
A week ago Monday I noticed one of my White Faced Black Spanish hens walking and running a little funny. I didn’t give it too much thought. She ran right up to me for her treats when I headed out in the afternoon, and even if she had an odd gait, she made it to me just fine and gobbled up her treats. But in the late evening, I spotted her laying down outside the coop – something that is very unusual for her. When I stepped outside to check on her, she tried to get up and come to me and kept rolling on her side. I helped her up and watched her a few minutes. She could not stay on her legs and kept falling over.
I brought her in the house and put her in a pen in the spare bathroom. I was hoping some rest and special attention would help heal what ever was wrong with her. Her appetite was great. She ate, drank, and pooped normally. She even laid two eggs during the week. She had no symptoms of illness – she just couldn’t stand on her legs. She didn’t act as though she was in pain – in fact she spent most of her time trying to figure out how to get out of the pen the first day. I finally had to leave her in the dark so she would stay off her legs.
As the week progressed, her legs seemed to become more and more useless and she became more and more restless. I gave her 1/4 aspirin each day in the hopes that it might help with any swelling or discomfort. Bernie scrambled her an egg each morning and I added yogurt and cheese to it. I hand fed her each meal on my lap and she seemed to love the attention. But she was getting no better and I knew it was unfair to keep her in a pen the rest of her life. I knew I was going to have to put her down, but I kept praying things would get better. Finally, by Sunday, I had no doubt what needed to be done. And I knew I was going to have to do it.
Bernie never really wanted to get chickens. He grew up working on farms and he never cared for chickens. He doesn’t even care to eat chicken. But he knew I wanted chickens, so he acquiesced – with one stipulation. These were going to be my chickens and I was going to take care of them.
So even though Bernie had worked on farms as a kid and was the “axe man” when it came time to cull chickens (and I thought my summer job working as my dad’s secretary was the worse job ever!), I knew I could not ask him to put my chicken down. I knew I was going to have to do this on my own.
So I didn’t say a word to Bernie. I took my beloved Black Spanish into my shed, where I had driven two nails in my work bench. I gently laid her down and slid her neck between the nails. She was amazingly calm. I grabbed her legs, stretched her out, held the cleaver above her neck, and then stood exactly in that position for a full five minutes. Is this cleaver sharp enough? Is my aim going to be good enough? What is that awful pounding noise? Oh, that’s my heart. I wonder how hard I have to come down with the cleaver? Why am I so light headed? Oh Lordy, I forgot to keep breathing. I wonder if I should even be using this cleaver? Maybe I should go ask Bernie if it’s sharp enough.
So I picked up my Black Spanish and cleaver and headed to the back yard to find Bernie. And as soon as I laid eyes on him, I burst into tears. Between sobs I asked him if my cleaver was sharp enough. I could tell by the look on his face that he was about to tell me he would take care of this issue, but for some utterly stupid reason I blurted out “I’m going to do it! I really am. I just need to know if that blade is sharp enough”.
Bernie went into his shed, got a hatchet, and sharpened it on his bench grinder. He walked to a tree stump in the back yard and hammered two nails in it for me. He asked if I was ok and I said yes. He handed me the hatchet and went back into his shed.
When he looked outside at me 10 minutes later and I was still standing there with the axe poised over my poor chicken’s neck, he walked over to us.
I looked up at him. “She’s asleep. I think she passed out from boredom.”
“I can see that”, he replied.
“I think if you will hold her legs, I can use both my arms and chop her head off.” I was trying to convince myself as much as him.
Bernie grabbed her legs and I grabbed the hatchet with both hands raised it above my head, and then began hyperventilating. After several minutes Bernie said “Penny, do you want me to do this?” I felt a rush of relief. “I’ll hold her legs” I quickly answered.
I grabbed my little hen’s legs and turned my head. And with one loud thud, it was over. My White Faced Black Spanish never felt a thing. I, on the other hand, felt everything. I was relieved that it was over. I was sad that this had to happen to my Black Spanish. I was happy that Bernie rescued me. I was disappointed that I didn’t see this thing through by myself. I burst into tears and Bernie held me as I sobbed my heart out.
Later Bernie said to me, “Well, we both learned something today.”
“Yea, we learned that I’m a wimp”
“No, I already knew that. I learned it was unfair of me to expect you to kill your pets. I’m sorry.”
We talked for a good long while about the whole experience. And we agreed that when it comes time to cull all the cockerels I ended up with from the hatches this year, he will be the “axe man”, and I will hold their legs. In the end we’ll have several chickens in the freezer, I won’t have a nervous break down, and Bernie won’t have to see me cry. Not a bad deal.