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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Heebie Jeebies

I have had a variety of pets over my lifetime; my Elly, various cats, fish, mice(blech), hermit crabs, a snake, a gecko, fish...and now my chickens. It's mostly very entertaining and wonderful to love something that adores you back, much like your kids used to before they realized you are imperfect. One thing having pets provide you is grossness. I don't mean threw-up-on-the-floor gross. I raised two kids who are very prone to car sickness, puke is a breeze. I'm talking about having a dead bird brought in as a gift or trying to keep the dog from eating the chicken poop or (and this is my favorite) a cat that pees where She thinks is best, regularly, no matter what you do to convince her otherwise. Never would I have imagined that I would have to change my clothes (more than once, folks) because I realized I smelled of cat pee. 

Having chickens has escalated me into another realm entirely; taking care of dead pets. In my head, I knew this would happen more often with chickens as they can be tough and very fragile, at the same time. Their life spans tend to be shorter and if I'm going to hatch, I'm going to be dealing with babies with issues. I'm also not a vegetarian and had this idea that maybe getting chickens we would use as meat would be great. So, in my head, this was fine and I was going to take a deep breath and take care of business. I wasn't going to call my husband and ask him to handle all the dead things. 

I can do this! Roar!

Ok, so the first loss was Rufus, my sweet Jersey Giant cockerel, at about three months. I came home and he was obviously sick and keeping away from everyone. I climbed into the coop and sat with him, trying to figure things out. I isolated him and did some healthcare type things, but it was too late. 

So, the next morning, I go out to the coop to check on him and the very second I realized he was dead, my sweet Rufus that I carried around and adored, became a dead chicken. It was the heebie jeebies, big time. I'm sure many of you know what I'm talking about. That feeling that comes over you and you want to run in circles while desperately shaking your hands and the rest of you like something is attached to your skin and you are desperate to get it off. Just, get it off! Yeah, that was me. I wasn't feeling sad at that second, I felt grossed out, which immediately fed into the guilt I already had wondering how I had lost him. 

I ran inside and asked my 17-year-old son if he could help. He's been hunting with his dad and is a guy (yes, I unabashedly played the gender card here), so this should be a cinch. He said, "absolutely, mom" and got up and went outside. He's a good kid. But the second he stuck his head in the coop, it was the heebie jeebies for him too. We looked at each other and knew immediately we had to wait for my husband and he would have to take care of Rufus for me. He did this willingly and with ease, then we buried him (Rufus, not my husband) in the back of the yard with a sweet moment, while I stood back from the dead chicken.

I was kind of ashamed, but at the same time, we agreed that I would continue to take care of the puke and my husband would do dead things. 

At the same time we got Rufus, we also were given a chick that I thought was a white Plymouth Rock and we named her Amelia. Amelia turned out to be a meat bird, a Cornish X. By the time we realized it, we had named her and found her interesting, so when people asked why we had a 15 pound chicken waddling around, that was my excuse; we'd named her. Truthfully though, I just couldn't do it. I googled putting down chickens, read all the ways I could do this, but I truly just couldn't. She grew to seven months old and was in the summer heat when I realized that she wasn't just big, she was struggling to breath. I had given her a quality of life and she'd been a hoot to have around, but keeping her alive at this point was cruel. 

I once again turned to Google for ways I could put Amelia down myself, but I knew deep down there was no way it was happening. So I called a neighbor that I knew sometimes bought live chickens for dinner and gave her to them. I know she was killed quickly and used as dinner, that is a good thing. 

So, in between these moments, I have lost a few chicks as well. The first one I  
asked my husband to do something with and he did. The second one I cared for until it died with me and found I had no issues with it at all. I carried it's little body to a bag and was able to dispose of it. It was sad, but it was rescued from poor care, so I suspected there would be a couple of losses. 

We've lost a chick to hen pecking once (that was a super sad lesson for me on integrating chicks with chickens) and I was able to actually put this one down. It was injured in a permanent and bad way and I was able to do it quickly with a hatchet. I felt so horrible for the pain it had to be in that I didn't struggle, but that was as far as I could go. The second it was down, the heebie jeebies kicked in and I ran for it while calling my husband to take care of the dead baby.

And we get to today. I went home for my lunch break and found an older chick of
mine dead with it's insides not inside it anymore. We can't quite figure out what happened, but I suspect a couple of cats that wander my neighborhood. They haven't bothered the chickens before, but this pullet was a bantam, very small and with a small injury already. I was able to use the shovel and put it in a plastic tub that was then set in the trash. I was very proud of myself and I managed it with minimum grossed out feeling, but I was sad.

So, the point of all these little stories is to share a couple of theories I have about the heebie jeebies:
  1. There's nothing wrong with them. There are folks that don't have them and can pick up the dead whatever, scoop up the entrails and call it a day. That's fine for them, but I think Not being like that is a good thing. We're not yet in a zombie apocalypse, so until then, I choose acceptance over change.
  2. I think the heebie jeebies help me grieve. Losing an animal (even a chicken for those of you who've never had one) can be profoundly sad and heartbreaking. Having a moment in that grief to be grossed out gives me a little emotional break, which I appreciate.

For me, taking care of a creature is something I take seriously and I want to do it well. My husband and I name every creature we have, including most of the fish. We find them all unique and interesting and if we lose one, for whatever reason, it just sucks. Because of this, instead of fighting the heebie jeebies, as of today, I've decided to be okay with them. I'm not going to feel ashamed that my chicken I hatched and babied is now a dead thing and I'm feeling all 'ew'. I'm going to be glad that I'm feeling that instead of overwhelmed by sadness that another creature has left my home.