My Sunday was solemn this week, as we discovered a predator had mauled one of our hens. She was dead in the middle of the run with only minimal evidence of the attacker.
In this case, the perpetrator was probably a hawk. A young hawk flew into our window recently while trying to swoop into the chicken run. They’re using the lift of the mountain air to travel south for the winter, and the chickens are easy targets along the way. Unfortunately, chickens are fast food for a lot of predators, and even the most experienced farmer has difficulty protecting their flock.
Death is an inevitable occurrence in farming, whether it’s a predator or the business model that’s committing the act.
I didn’t cry at the sight of her dead body, as I might have a couple of years ago. I’ve witnessed dozens of dead birds since I started this job. Some died by my hand and more by my instruction, but I still get that gut-wrenching feeling of sorrow and loss at the scene. I was recently chatting with another farmer about the feels involved with slaughtering our farm animals; he said he hopes it never becomes easy for him. That feeling of compassion is what makes us human, and reconciling that emotion with raising animals is a never-ending challenge.
Luckily, we farmers are reminded of the other side of the life cycle on a daily basis. We watch seeds germinate and send roots out into the soil. We get to see brand new calves nursing their mothers. We can watch baby chicks push out of their shell. The Sunchokes spread and the pear trees reliably produce new green growth each spring. Maybe it’s that balance that has given me the capacity to deal with the inevitability of death on the farm.
Now that the chickens have moved to their stable coop for the winter, I can watch them in their run from my bedroom window. I can be grateful and joyful for all of the birds that are still alive, including the two babies I hatched from eggs this summer. I can watch them catch flies and scratch for worms, and remember the never-ending cycle of life that continues without our acknowledgement. I can remember to bring more positivity to my life and the lives of those around me, because in the end, it’s really all we can do in the face of death.
Speaking of taxes, tomorrow is election day. See you at the polls!