Monday, June 8, 2009

Chicken mortality

Well, we lost a chick. We don't know why, so obviously we were more than a little worried about disease and so on, but so far two more days have passed without incident and I'm feeling hopeful. Certainly there's nothing particularly unusual about one out of 27 chicks dying. It was one of the phoenixes, though, and they are a very beautiful bird, so that's too bad. On the up side, I was pleased to note that while I was worried and a little upset by the loss, I wasn't at all what you'd call sad about it. No "oh, the poor little baby!" It was alive, and now it is not, and the other chicks clearly don't give a damn, so that's pretty much that. Which is obviously reassuring if you're in the process of raising birds for meat.

I think that this is actually a pretty big advantage of just diving right in and getting a lot of chicks like we did. It would be difficult, to say the least, to make pets out of 27 chickens. I know that another woman who got six female chicks just for laying at the same time as we got our chicks has already named them and clearly regards them as pets. I'm not saying there's a dang thing wrong with that, but it was not our intention at all, and so far we're obviously on track. Killing them--that I expect to be difficult to do, emotionally. The actual killing, I mean. But I don't expect to have any lingering emotional trouble afterwards, and no guilt unless we botch it and one suffers.

I know that a vegetarian would doubt me on this, but I have thought about this a great deal, and I'm quite confident in my decisions on this point. I intend to let me chickens live as their nature suggests, as safe and "happy" as a chicken can be, and then to kill them in such a way that they won't ever know what hit them. I have read many reports that it is entirely possible to do so. The other chickens won't miss the goners (the dead chick, in fact, was trampled into the litter by its fellows, who regarded it much as they would any rock in their path), and frankly, I just don't see the advantage to growing old for a chicken. Chickens don't make plans for the future and they don't dream of raising a family (indeed, most modern chickens are not broody and would never "raise a family" given all the time and opportunity in the world). They have a choice between living a while and then dying quickly and painlessly, or living longer and dying of disease or injury. They live day to day, and I really can't grok how it could matter to them how many days they live.

Actually, I have to say that most vegan comments on chicken and egg eating just seem poorly informed to me. That is, they're well-versed in the horrors of factory farming, but apparently haven't gotten past that. A lot of them don't seem to grasp, for example, that cows readily make more milk than their calves need, and that being milked is not inherently unpleasant at all (a fact I can personally testify to, having been milked mere minutes ago). They're not clear on whether chickens lay eggs without fertilization or other outside encouragement (they do). They attribute emotions to animals that, in most cases, are simply not there. They don't seem to understand that well-managed livestock can perfectly well be content and provide useful product at the same time. The honey bee is a great example--beekeeping, ideally, consists pretty much entirely of giving the honey bees a dream setup, protecting them from negative outside influences, and, with a little careful management, harvesting the plentiful surplus they create. The bees are of course completely incapable of emotion, but properly managed, they are unstressed and free to live as their nature dictates. Personally, I think that this sort of livestock management is completely ethical and that animal products are a valuable part of a health diet and a sustainable society.

I don't eat factory farmed foods--I'm quite in agreement with the vegetarians and vegans on that. But I really think that the leap from "no factory farming" to "no animal products" is usually logically immature and/or ignorant, and when it's well-thought-out, it's just based on basic premises about the rights and nature of livestock animals that I just plain don't agree with. For example, the oft-heard complaint about the "exploitation" of animals just really goes over my head. For one thing, we created chickens. They are what they are because of literally millenia of human tinkering. Same goes for the modern dairy cow, the sheep, etc. Some animals are closer to their wild roots than others, but the livestock animal that could successfully revert to the wild is a rare beast. If we stop raising them, they will stop existing. That's not hypothetical--it's already happened to a lot of breeds. Frankly, I don't think the chickens care either way, but I, for one, think that would be a great pity. I also don't think that the chickens care or indeed even know whether we benefit from their lives. For another thing, I think it's pretty self-evident that human beings have evolved to consume animal protein, and I believe that it makes us healthier to do so, although obviously opinion varies on this subject. Healthier or no, people have been consuming animal products since before we were "people", as far as anyone can tell, so whether you think god or nature made us the way we are, I'd think that should carry some weight.

I personally feel that by eating only ethically-raised meat, I'm delivering a double-whammy to the factory farms--not only am I depriving them of revenue directly by not buying from them, but I'm supporting and encouraging their competition. or, in the case of chickens, I guess I actually am their competition. So much the better.

I do feel that it's important that people face these issues head-on, each person for themselves, and make decisions based on complete information. If I thought I couldn't kill a chicken, I'd have to stop eating them--it would definitely be unethical to just pass my moral burden to someone else out of sight. So far, though, I think that my theorizing is correct, and I'm happy to recieve confirmation, however small, in the form of my unfortunate dead chick. Put another way, I love squirrels--they're a totem of sorts for me, and I call myself Squrrl online sometimes. But I have sat right next to a hawk messily devouring a dead squirrel and had a conversation, and had no problems with it--both hawk and squirrel were living (so to speak) in accordance with their natures. I think all animals have the right to do so, including humans.

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