Cross-posted from my blog at Backyard Poultry Magazine!
My husband and I have an agreement: When culling or butchering, he does the initial step. I do the rest. If I had to, I would do it all. If my husband was out of town on business and one of my chickens was suffering, I would take that step. But for other times, our agreement works best.
The uncomfortable subject of culling eventually comes up to all chicken owners. “Culling” really means that you’re getting that animal out of your flock, whether by selling, giving away or by ending its life. Because the reason for culling is one that probably won’t change, such as egg eating, illness or deformity, “culling” often refers to the humane ending of the animal’s life.
The first time we had to cull a chicken, we knew it was the most humane choice. My adorable wheaten ameraucana was so ill that she couldn’t breathe. With a swollen face, watery feces, and the inability to raise her head, she was miserable. I debated. When it’s your first time, you debate for a long time. But I grew up on a farm, so I knew that the most humane solution is often to just let them go. My husband had a hard time doing it, but he also knew it had to be done. Within a few seconds, my bird was out of her misery.
We’ve had to cull a few more sick chickens. When my husband’s dog proved that he could not be trusted with the hens, we took a couple severely injured chickens and ended their suffering.
“I don’t like doing it,” my husband said.
“If you did,” I replied, “I’d really worry about you.”
Through my social network of chicken owners, friends learned that we were willing to cull. A few came to me, asking for help. They were owners who loved their animals, and could no longer stand to see them suffer. And though they knew what they had to do, they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
One friend brought two chicks, purchased from an ill-reputed hatchery. One was blind and could not walk straight, and had to be hand-fed. The other, with a tumor wrapping around its neck, was 6 weeks old and still the size of a 1-week-old chick. The owner knew they would eventually suffer and die, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do the task. She told her children that the chicks had gone to live at our farm, and my husband quietly helped the poor animals on their way.
To thank us, the friend also brought a crate of beautiful nectarines for my canning project.
I rarely talk about culling, except to other chicken owners. People who have never owned livestock tend to condemn others for culling. They haven’t seen the suffering, haven’t cared for the animal, haven’t tried all possible solutions. I’ve glued chickens together, administered antibiotics. I even took one chicken to the vet. Culling is a last resort. We never enjoy doing it, but we’re relieved when it’s done.
And I’m relieved that I have a partner who is willing to take the burden from me if he can.
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