Friday, June 5, 2009

On Culling

The children scream down the hall, "MOM! THE CHICK IS DYING!" I rush to help.

A chick lays stretched out, a long twist of intestine protruding. He will die. Nothing I do can save him. Probably nothing anyone can do could save him. I cradle him in my palm and stroke him softly. He chirps an anxious dirge and arches against his agony. I stroke him back to a neutral position.

Poor baby. I should end his suffering, but I can't. Ways to kill him painlessly flit through my mind; I do nothing but stroke him softly. He arches again. My children's keening in the hall hurts my heart, so ask them to stop so their wailing is not the last sound the chick hears. The children weep their goodbyes.

Silence. Except for the heartless happy chirping of his brooder mates. A last arching. A final chirp. Death.

Oh crap.

What could I have done? Was it contagious? My online search reveals nothing. It's likely a birth injury or some kind of deformity. I should have culled him before his suffering became acute.

Monday morning, two more birds are drooping, their legs splayed in unhealthy directions. They will die. I should cull them.

Oh crap.

I'm not a farmer. I'm not a vet. I'm a mother, a doula: I cannot take life! They lay in my palm—again, sweet and helpless, dying. I must help them. I must. I prepare a small box, cuddle them together on the cloth and place them in the freezer.

Minutes later, I open the freezer door, whispering words, petting the doomed gently. I close it again. Then open it. I can feel their downy heads cooling, their breath slowing. I am doing the right thing. I am killing them. To reassure myself, I mentally replay the chick's death from the day before as I pet and soothe these two through their death. I am doing the right thing. Culling them. Saving them agony. I am doing the right thing.

That afternoon as my ten year old son lays gasping, awaiting an emergency appendectomy, I think of our dead chicks, of the one who suffered, of the two who chilled to death peacefully. I think of my son who would have been hours from death save for the surgeon. My mind wraps around the preciousness of his being, the beauty of him. I ponder the skill and technology being unleashed to save him. In a different era, he would have died. 

The irony digs at me. In the past two days, three lives have ended in the hands that now stroke my baby's head. This child will die too, but not today, not tomorrow. God willing, not within my lifetime.

When we return home again, we trade six of our Barred Rock chicks for six Buff Orpington chicks. It's a bad trade. One bird dies sometime in his first night within our home. Two more will die soon. I can see them fading, slowing, refusing to eat or drink. Steeling myself, I place the dying birds in a small box in the freezer and close the door. It is the merciful thing to do.

The miracle of my son's life in the face of death flashes in my memory as one of the birds peeps. I remove them from the freezer. They will not die by my hand. I'll not play God today. Today, I'll simply stand vigil, a witness to their suffering, powerless. Today, I will simply accept God's will.

15 comments:

N-girl said...

Not so good. :(

Annette Lyon said...

Oh, wow. So beautifully, achingly written.

Wendy said...

You were right...sad.I've learned I'm not up for raising chickens. My hat is off to you. Tough enough to deal with on your own, but with all those little people watching...ugh!

Melanie J said...

Man....this is...

I just don't have words.

Poignant, I guess. And excellent writing.

April said...

That's rough to do with the children around. Great poise.

Banteringblonde said...

wow ... nicely written

SWIRL said...

sooo sorry for your tramatic losses...

on a very off-topic switch
there is a summer on-line book club starting up in June at bookclubs4kids.com

thought you might be interested.

Thora said...

This made me cry (which is saying something for me - I am not a cryer). I definitely think watching someone else suffer, and not being able to stop it is about the hardest think in the world. I have nothing profound to say, besides meaningful platitudes. But I did want to say that I am grateful that unlike chicks, that so many medical things are savable now for people. When I look at everyone I know, and think of how many of them (myself included - I had appendicitis as a teenager) who would not be alive if not for modern medicine, I am truly grateful for the day I live in, even if I never got to be a pioneer.

The Crash Test Dummy said...

That was soooooooo beautifully written. So powerful. And profound. WOW, girl! You go! I got chicken skin. Pun intended.

No wonder I LY so much!

Jo said...

That was an incredibly beautiful post. So sad and so true.

Heather of the EO said...

My fingers are here on the keyboard, but I still can't think of something to say that would do justice to this post.

Amazing.

Beautiful.

I understand it in a way that I can't articulate...because of my Asher, the knowledge I have that he would be gone if it weren't for surgeons, and the way that God's will plays into all of that.

So profound.

See? I can't make sense....

Shellie said...

I loved this post! I felt like I was right there! poor things!

A Slice of Pratt Life said...

Beautifully written!

Sarah said...

J-
What an awesome blog. Your writing is so beautiful, even about death.

Ref said...

that was beautiful, Donovan's bird I smashed in the window as I was closing it one day. As it fell to the floor and struggled, the only thoughts as I covered it with my hands to frieghtened to move the poor thing feeling it would cause more damage. I said a prayer and asked Father to take him quickly if there was nothing I could do to help him. As I said Amen there was peace under my hands and I knew he was home.