Back before the cold weather hit, I noticed our almost 3 year old leghorn acting off. She wasn’t foraging like normal, was puffed up, and lethargic. She had some yucky poo, and I figured worms were probably the culprit. She hadn’t laid eggs in a while, but I chalked that up shorter days and molting. I decided to worm all the chickens, hoping that would help, and then it was just a waiting game. Not long after she seemed more spunky and alert. She still wasn’t laying, but she was foraging well, and seemed to be headed back to normal.
This winter has been harsh, somewhat warm days followed by brutal single digits. In the past week or so I noticed she was started to look a bit off again. Puffed up, and more inactive. She seemed to still be eating alright, I assumed this cold weather probably wasn’t helping her feel well. I had the thought that maybe she should be culled. I hated the thought of culling her. I was really hoping the weather would warm, and she would bounce back.
Last Thursday morning I found her stretched out on the ground, alive but fading. It was only 5 degrees, so I’m sure it was just too much for her to handle. When I first saw her I (selfishly) hoped she was already dead, but she wasn’t. I knew that it was my duty to put her out of her suffering. I think that is the last gift we can give a suffering animal. I was ill prepared and didn’t have a knife handy. (Lesson learned, I will be buying a very sharp knife to carry from now on) I ended up finding a box cutter in the shop. I thanked her, cradled her, slit her throat, and held her as she died. Although I am not particularly close to the chickens, she was one of my first, and although she was flighty, she was such a good chicken. I will miss her, even as silly as that sounds.
I was grateful I was able to handle this situation with little panic or stress. Having already butchered chickens came in handy as I knew what to do and what to expect. I believe it makes it much easier on the animal if you are calm. I also wondered if I could have done anything else to lessen her suffering. I am a firm believer in having livestock live happy, healthy, humane lives. I would hate to have an animal suffer under my care. With that being said, I do wonder if I should have culled her when I saw her under the weather again. It would have been harder on me to cull her while there was still a chance of her recovering. On the other hand, as a farmer perhaps it would have been the most humane thing for me to do. At the end of the day, it seems there are always tough choices to be made. I can only hope and pray to learn from my mistakes, and make better decisions tomorrow.
My name is Monica, I'm passionate about farming, food, and the humane treatment of livestock.