The vast majority of the world’s chickens spend their entire lives in a cage. That’s what I told myself as we put Queenie in what is supposed to be the cure for her broodiness. The impossibility of nesting in a cage is supposed to break the hormonal cycle, and should turn Queenie back into an ordinary, free-ranging, bug-hunting, grass-eating, egg-laying, night-roosting, dirt-scratching, shoelace-pecking bird.
She’s been broody – sitting on imaginary eggs, not moving unless we bodily remove her from the nest box – for five weeks now. When this first started, we decided to see if her raging hormones would run their course in the three weeks that’s the gestation period for an egg, but they haven’t.
It was Kevin who decided it was time for drastic measures. This may surprise those of you who follow this space and understand Kevin’s attachment to the chickens, but it’s entirely consistent with his problem-solving philosophy.
Best we can tell, a broody chicken is not a happy chicken. When we take her out to make sure she eats and drinks, she turns into Henzilla, Monster of the Coop. She fluffs herself up, sticks out her wings, and runs around clucking. She attacks the other chickens. She tries to nest on any available surface. It’s no fun being a victim of your hormones. Just imagine five weeks of PMS.
A caged chicken is even less happy than a broody chicken. But the caging should be a three-day affair, and the broodiness could go on for the entire summer. While Kevin and I agree that three days of being very miserable is better than three months of being pretty miserable, Kevin’s the one who can take the long view and actually put the chicken in the cage. I have a tendency to take it a day at a time. Today, she’ll be less miserable if we don’t put her in the cage, and who knows what tomorrow might bring?
Kevin’s right, of course. Caging is both in Queenie’s best interest and in ours. She’ll go back to being a happy chicken, and we’ll start getting eggs from her again. It’s clearly the best solution.
Real farmers have to make hard decisions daily. Livestock, even the best-treated livestock, are subjected to unpleasant procedures all the time. Animals that are sick, or a drain on resources, or a threat to people or other animals, have to be put down. You commit to giving your animals the best life you reasonably can, and then you do what you have to do.
Just yesterday, I went out to Long Pasture Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon preserve, to talk with its director, Ian Ives, about working on a project together. As he was giving me a tour, one of the property’s many rabbits hopped across our path. My first thought – the very first – was what a nice dinner it might make.
Later in the tour, I saw a little boy, about six or seven, tip-toeing up to one of the rabbits – could have been the same one – trying to get as close as he could to the nice bunny. I felt like a barbarian. What has this life done to me, that I see a nice bunny and I think guns and stewpots?
In a way, it was reassuring to feel something very much like distress at seeing one of our chickens in a cage. Maybe I’m not a barbarian after all.