Sunday night I sat rocking a chicken on the swinging bench after a busy day and a busy week, feeling guilty. Edward had found her squatting on the run floor that morning, and when we came to remove her from the rest of the flock that night it was obvious that she was on her way out. So I just sat on the swinging bench and looked at the beautiful gardens and the evening sky and rocked her and thought about her life. Then I set her still wrapped in an old towel into the earth, to give her body to improve the soil and nourish a tree.
This chicken had the kind of life that makes a vegan and vegetarians cry. She was no real breed – a “sex-link” created for high productivity. Her face had been snipped when she was a chick, so she has a funny snubby thing instead of a beak. This meant she was at a disadvantage for keeping herself groomed for vermin, and for pecking up bugs out of the soil. Chickens are de-beaked regularly as a way of stopping them from pecking (injuring, killing) each other when great numbers are confined together. When I bought this batch of young hens from the local Feed Store I was shocked. This happens all the time, but we humans never see it. I complained to the store manager, and of course she never sells any of those now – but there are chickens being snipped every day of the week, and sold somewhere else.
Further trauma was in store for Snubby and the others in her group of six as they adapted to their new home and tried to find their places in the pecking order with my other hens. Then during July and August raccoons found a way into our chicken run, killing chickens night after night before Edward, assisted by Trumbull the dog, discovered their sneaky access point. (Trum is still always on the lookout, every night…hoping…)
For a while then Snubby the chicken had relative peace. New young hens were added to the flock, and acclimated. She got lice (probably) and got dusted with the flock to relieve her of them. But when she got the yeast imbalance “vent gleet” this winter as most of the flock did, when everybody else overcame the yeast overgrowth, she never did. Her butt was all dirty feathers. She looked more and more poorly lately, and I wasn’t sure what it meant – but I was too busy with spring garden prep, and spring’s craziness to do more than worry and feed and pasture her well. And that wasn’t enough. She lived just one year.
For animals (or humans) to have good resistance to disease, they have to be bred for that. So much of who gets what is in the genes of any animal system, and there is plenty of sloppy breeding, or breeding for productivity, fast over every other trait. But still plenty is in the feeding, and the animal’s life. Stress is a huge factor. The nutrition to useless carbs ratio in their food. Exercise. Animals will be healthiest eating a diet as close to what they would eat in nature as possible, and having the opportunity to scratch, or wallow or run depending on what their species loves to do. I am sure these words will sound foolish to some. However, if you are eating animals, or eating and drinking what animals generate, the food can only be as good as the level of care those animals receive. Think about that.
Do you eat eggs? Do you eat chicken? Hamburgers? Most of the animal products you find come from creatures that have been raised in unnatural or cruel situations, in cages, away from the sun, unable to scratch and peck, unable to stretch out, unable to forage in the grass or wallow in the mud — sometimes unable to move. Mother pigs caged for their whole lives lest they become violent, chickens in caged one on top of another but still producing daily eggs, steer standing in pools of manure, fed corn that causes them stomach pain and sickness, chickens raised in barns so crowded that they cannot move and trample or attack each other, piglets so bored that they bite each other’s tails off in frustration. Essentially, eating those eggs, that pork, that roast chicken, you are eating poison. It is only a matter of time before you or your offspring develop cancers or digestive issues or auto immune illnesses or you name it.
A toxic setting produces toxic products. This should be so obvious to anyone who reflects on production costs: you can never, ever get something good for nothing. But we make ourselves blind, we think only about the dollars we are saving, buying the “sale meat.” We feel in fact virtuous when we save a few dollars. A few cents. We pay many, many dollars for expensive drugs, for expensive surgeries, for vitamins, for medical care of all kinds to repair the damage when it’s too late — but we don’t make the correlation. Human health = farm animal health. This is not an issue for the wealthy, a shee-shee fruity goofball issue, nor a political attack point. It is basic science, and basic business, and practical fact. You get out what you put in.
So to you, dear sad ugly funny faced chicken, thanks for opening my eyes to see in the flesh what I had been told was true. Thanks for the eggs you laid for us. Maybe someday the government will stop giving tax dollars away to fatten the pockets of wealthy big corporations, and instead support the small farmers who are doing things right. How can we make better food available to more people? And this is as true for vegetables as it is for meat products – toxic growth processes produce toxic plants. It’s just that vegetables can’t feel pain and misery while waiting for us to figure it out.