Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nature isn't cruel... just does what it does.

(Note: All opinions expressed within this post pertain only to my own ideas about animal husbandry, I do not judge anyone else's choices, save for actual cruelty to one's fellow creatures.)

Last night a mink got into our chicken coop and killed all of our three chickens. We had two Black Stars, Harriet Tubman, and a late addition to replace Chachakin last fall, Potpot, named so because she actually knew how to make that chicken noise, unlike the other two. My favorite chicken was a Red Star named Pippi. She was a pretty dumb chicken.
My Pippington.

I don't believe in anthropomorphizing animals, but when you live with any animal, you realise that they are different individuals and have distinct personalities. Harriet was aptly named due to her fearless nature and her yen for freedom. She was quite the escape artist. Pippi was good natured and liked to eat. She got lost from the pack easily. Potpot was smarter than the other two and very dignified and distrusting of humans.
I've always thought of animals as a "people" as well, not because I attribute them with human characteristics, but as fellow creatures with independent souls and niches in this world. People who claim that animals don't have equivalents of our souls, are in my humble opinion, less like people themselves.
A lot of people also seem to unconsciously (or perhaps even consciously) to have the opinion that their animal, is more of a person than some other animal. They would do anything for their cat or dog's well-being, but don't think twice about the suffering of production animals in factory farms, to the point where most pet owners feed their animals meat-products derived from the suffering of other sentient animals.
Furthermore, I believe that "owning" an animal puts you in its debt, in at least two ways: you are responsible for it's well being, for protecting it and taking care of it, something I feel we failed yesterday. Secondly I are responsible of letting it live out its life as much as possible in a way that is true to it's character.

I would not have cat because it would be in it's nature to hunt the beautiful birds that grace our park. Nor would I have a dog that I would have to keep chained for most of its life in spite the fact that it's a long distance running wolf on the inside. Don't get me wrong, I love cats and dogs and fully understand why people have them and love them. I just love the birds in the trees more.

I had my doubts about keeping chickens: Would we be able to provide a life for them equivalent to the contributions they made to us, or would we be holding them in miserable, unnatural serfdom for their short lives? The chicken, much like the domestic dog, cat, cow, pig and to a lesser extent, horse, as evolved alongside humans to the point where it is somewhat impossible to fully understand what is and is not natural to them.

Certainly if no one ordered them from the chick-factories, the breeds of chicken that we have created might slowly die out. Their wild ancestors would continue to scratch their way trough the forests of Sumatra.
I still am not sure what to think of the act of having chickens or any animals for that matter. What I fully believe is that if one is to consume products of animals, it is one's duty to try to get them as close to home as possible, and from a source that treats animals with the respect they deserve, regardless of cost or inconvenience.

I have nothing but respect in fact for our friends who are poultry farmers. They let their chickens lead a normal life, and protect them from predators, something I feel very angry at myself we failed to do.

I always knew they would die, perhaps violently, I just didn't know that it would be my fault. The mink just did what minks do, acted out its part in the great, complicated play of life. We failed to fullfil our second part of the agreement that one enters with animals, in spite our best intentions. The first part, I am confident we did well in.

Our chickens had a good life. They were useful, fun to be around of, brave and curious and they seemed to enjoy their lives.
We buried them in the garden, where they liked to root around and destroy things.


  1. I'm sorry for your chickens. I mean of course it's like you said, this is nature's way, but it's sad to see animals die when you cared for them before.
    There's so much truth in this whole post. About the animals' different characters and all. I experienced this myself several times, like e.g. with the cats of my boyfriends parents. They're all dead now because they were all pretty old, but we'll always remember their "personalities" :)
    Your blog and all the photos are lovely (btw Potpot is such a cute name for a chicken!). I'm your newest follower now :)

  2. Oh, jeez... that's terrible. I'm so sorry that had to happen. Like you said, the mink was just doing what minks do. Those gorgeous little hens...

    We have a problem with fox and weasels coming around and stealing hens from very close to the house. At night we close them up in a shed, and during the day we let them out of their open air coop for supervised picking. Otherwise, we'd lose every single one in less than a month. More than once we've had to chase a fox away from our little lovelies... we recently lost a strange rooster named Roger to a fox. He was something else.

    Again, I'm so very sorry. It's rough losing chicks, or any animal for that matter.

    Lots of love.

  3. i'm very fond of animals (esp. doggies)and agree that all animals do have their own personalities. i'm sorry to hear about your chickens. :(

  4. Oh Milla, I'm so sorry :(

    I was just holding our chicks not long before reading this, observing how different temperaments are already becoming evident, and thinking about names. You raise some important points and some difficult questions too, lots to mull over.

    Try not to be too hard on yourself though, you guys gave your chickens a beautiful home to enjoy while they lived and clearly had a deeper appreciation for them than most.

    Hugs to you sweetie, take care...

  5. I'm sorry to hear that. Like Missa says, though - it sounds like you gave them a great home.

    You've created a beautiful tribute to them here too.

  6. :(
    sorry to hear about your chickens. what a big time bummer!

  7. Aw man, that is such sad news. Poor chicks and poor Milla. Hope it is easier to feel happy as time inevitably goes by.

  8. Milla, I am so very sorry to hear about your chickens. :(

    I struggle with the idea of having cats sometimes. I know it is in their nature to be in the wild, but I almost have to think that the way our world works now (because of the nature of man) would deny their abilities to survive in the wild. Our cats are all rescued ones, and they'd probably be dead if it wasn't for us. I just don't know if they are any happier with their extended lives compared to the short, more "natural" ones they could have lived elsewhere. I guess all we can do is to honour their personalities and do the best we can to take good care of them and make sure they are at least content.

  9. oh, milla, i must say in my own experience this year, and those of my friends...nature is indeed cruel. i only can accept that it is also at once beautiful and chaotic and mysterious and the cruelty is unintentional by our "human" standards, thus not understandable or loathsome. i am so so sorry about your chickens. they were beautiful creatures and i am so happy that they had good content blissed out lives compared especially to so many other poor chickens.

    as for my own cat who has disappeared, i feel similarly to you. my job was to protect her, and i let her be out at night. it wrings my heart every day. she was over 13 years old though so my only consolation is that she too lived a good happy and beloved life. and she got to live beyond her life partner, our cat who died of illness in december. still, i have been down and out over it more than i care to admit.

    i get so attached to animals and i have to say i do indeed anthropomorphize them to the point in fact that i hardly even believe in the word. like you said, we're all "people," we all have qualities of personality, preferences , moods and joys. i see such spark in their eyes, the cats, the bluebird fledglings i loved watching grow and then die so young, the deer tiptoeing through the backyard, the squirrels precariously crossing the electric wires and sleeping in the cedars, the skunk dying in the road. even the hungry mink, and the hungry foxes or coyote or whatever it was that stole my poor kitty.

    indeed it is a sad and beautiful world. my spirit is with you today.
    my friend carolann from the farm i wrote about last week, she's with us too because the raccoons demolished her precious bird nest in the plum tree, stole all the ducks, and most of her baby turkeys died.

    my one piece of advice, if you haven't Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. in fact, do you need a copy? i think i could arrange that. much peace and love to your sweet heart.

  10. aww i am sad to hear about your lovely chicks :) and, i agree whole-heartedly on pretty much everything you said. 8 years ago when I went veg you would have thought I murdered someone the way many people reacted to my decision. It always surprises me (although I'm not sure why) how contradictory we are, and I think most people, if they really knew the way that animals are treated in factory farms & feedlots would agree its inhumane on many levels not only the emotional one. People want to believe their food animals are happy and living on a lovely farm, grazing and roaming about in the sunshine like your lovely chickerroos. You gave them a good life, one they were meant to have naturally and they would face the same dangers likely if they were wild too right? Maybe even have to put up with cars & busy roadways--which kills the majority of our wild turkeys in Florida.

  11. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I know how it feels. When I still lived with my parents, we raised ducks and turkeys. The turkeys were for our own consumption, while the ducks were for eggs and as my own personal pets of a sort, since we never planned on eating them.

    Anyway, one year a large rabise infested raccoon began going after our ducks. The ducks were fat and could not fly, and so were easy pickings. My father and I did our best to keep the raccoon out of the duck pen, but no matter what we did, that raccoon would be one step ahead.

    Eventually the raccoon brazenly attacked our ducks in broad daylight, and my father shot it. At the time, I was extremely angry at the raccoon, but now I realize it wasn't even in control of its own actions, what with having rabise.

    I still feel bad when I think back about those ducks and how they completely depended on us for safety, and we failed to keep them safe.

    Keeping animals is always a touchy business, but I think the fact that you feel so strongly about the loss of your chickens shows that - while you did not succeed in protecting them - you did not fail in knowing what your duty to them really was, or in knowing how important even the smallest life really is. *hug*

  12. Oh I am so sorry for the chickens. It's true it is nature, and nature isn't always kind, it's so hard to witness and experience this unkindness though. I understand the feelings of letting them down. I had a cat a few years ago, and I couldn't keep him. I had to bring him to an animal shelter. I still feel his missing presence to this day. I feel like I let him down, like I failed on such a deep and personal level. I never thought I could be that person who gave up an animal. But you can't forsee every circumstance. It's still very hard.
    Hugs & take care. I hope you find some healing over this summer solstice weekend.