Living a Good Life and Dying a Good Death—Lessons from a Chicken

February 17, 2013 Christine McDonald Animal ConnectionsAnimals in transition

As I went out  to care for the chickens a few weeks ago, I noticed one of the chickens slowing down and withdrawing from the rest of the flock. The younger hens would run excitedly out to the grassy area to eat the day’s chicken scraps, but she would linger behind in the covered area near the hen house. She was an older black hen we had raised from a chick. She was a large hen and one of several hens of about the same age. I think they are about seven years old.

Baby chicks
Baby chicks

Seven years is relatively old in the world of chickens and it was her time to go. She was preparing for her death and a few weeks later, I found her out in the protected covered area lying on her side. I watched her as she just breathed with no struggle or strain. Just slow inhales and exhales as her black feathered breast movied in a rhythmic fashion. I knew she would not live much longer. Another one of the black hens was nearby watching over and I sensed her guardianship of her sister hen. At one time in my life I might have ended her struggle as she passed out of her body, but I knew that was not the right action. Just as I had honored and appreciated her life it seemed right to honor and appreciate her death.

I came back to find her the next day. There was no movement, no breath. She was dead. She had likely gone in the night. I sent her a blessing and somehow allowing she to pass out of her body on her own terms-no interference seemed right. I thought of how rare an event like this is. I thought of the millions of chickens living in confined areas and live less than a year. The first year being a rapid initiation into egg production in a confined cage with little room to move. None of those caged chickens will walk out in the sunlight, look for bugs to eat or take a dust-bath in the warm earth. Near the end of their first year, as egg production slows down; water and food is withheld as they put forth one more wave of egg production before they are slaughtered. I hope I never have to eat another egg from a facility that treats chickens in this manner.

This beautiful black hen was allowed to live out her life in comfort and respect for her needs. She had died, the same way she lived. She died a good death in the companionship of the flock. I buried her on our property sending her an invitation to come back and be a part of our family again in some future time. Honoring the circle of life and death seemed the perfect way to express my appreciation for her life.

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