Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Peter's Near Death Experience

I have a story for you which I was hesitant to share.  It shows life here in a dimmer light, and shows a mistake I made (or nearly made).  However, the truth is that farm life is not all light and baby ducks and happy bubbles.  Yes, there are very good things about it, but there are very bad things about it as well, and some of our own doing.  With this in my mind for the last few days, I stumbled upon a post by Ben Hewitt, who I read from time to time.  Though I don't think I'd ever write quite the same words, he definitely touched upon what's been going on here and it really struck a chord with the story I was trying to decide whether or not to tell.  It helped me decide, so here's the story.

Sunday was a day like any other.  It was nice outside, and I was working in the garden, prepping for planting.  The chickens were doing what they always do, walking around the yard and pooing and scratching and doing chicken things.  If you remember Peter the rooster, he's the one who is such a problem, attacking people and being obnoxious.  My son is the one who is bothered the most by Peter.  Peter sees him as the littlest, I guess, and goes after him constantly, so my son has taken to carrying a stick around with him at all times.  This is not something I want.  Peter has also taken to attacking me, and that's not something I will tolerate.  So truly, Peter has to go.  It's just been a matter of a time for him to do so. 

On Sunday, Peter attacked my son again, and pecked him pretty hard on the hand.  My son was very upset and wanted Peter gone NOW.  As I've not been thrilled with Peter's behavior lately either, I said ok and got ready to do the deed.  Peter was caught and separated from the flock.  I got the knife out and got my husband to hold him, and took Peter out into the woods a little ways, to put him head down on a dead tree.  My plan was to quickly and humanely slit his throat, let him bleed out, and then bury him---both my children were adamant that they WOULD NOT eat Peter.

It was great in theory--if you can call taking a life great, which I do not.  Necessary, yes, but not great.  So out we went into the woods, me with the knife and Peter, hanging down quietly from my hand.  We positioned him on the tree, my husband had his feet, I unsheathed the knife, apologized to Peter and made the two cuts exactly where I should.  Drip, drip, and no gush.  Having done this before, I didn't understand it, so I tried again.  This time, I cut feathers.  Again, no blood.  Long story short, the knife- -the brand new knife-- was dull.  Peter wound up with what amounts to a paper cut on his wattles and a couple of feathers missing and not a damn thing else.  His neck wasn't even cut.

Now we could have taken a hatchet at that point and been done with it, that I know.  But he'd been upside down for several minutes at that point and I'd been trying to kill him unsuccessfully for a little while, so we quit.  I may have to do this, but I will not torture the animal in the meantime.  Peter was pardoned for the day and brought back to his flock.

When we rounded the corner, my son came flying out of the door, tears streaming down his face, his blanket wrapped around his shoulders.  He ran up to me (Peter had been released at that point) and buried his face in my middle, saying "I think I made a mistake.  I think I made a mistake."  He had realized finally what I had been saying before I took Peter in to the woods -- I can't undo this action.  This is a permanent thing.  He told me that he would not like Peter to die.  He would just keep fighting him instead of (basically) having his death on his conscience.

Being the wise (heh) mother that I am, I thought this was a good time for a big lesson.  I took both my children aside and explained to them that decisions like this can't be redone.  The things we do here can be huge and life changing.  We decide sometimes to bring new life in, we decide sometimes to take life out.  This is no small thing.  It also led me to explain to them that every time we eat, it's a life.  Whether it's a carrot or a potato or a chicken, and whether it was wrapped all hygienically in plastic at the supermarket or was done bloodily in the backyard, it was a life somewhere at some point that we are taking in.  It is something to understand and acknowledge and most of all, be thankful for. 

It's a hard lesson to learn.  Even for adults.   But it is one that I think we can all learn together.  As for Peter, he's been much more contrite for the last couple of days.  Nearly dying will do that to a guy, I think.  He's got a pass for a while, but if his behavior goes back to being the way he was before, I will sharpen the knife and be done with it.  I won't be bullied by a chicken.  As for my son, I hope that this will cause him to think through things a bit more, and to see the consequences a bit more clearly.  I believe it will do that for me.  Will I say I am "Pro Death"?  No, I don't think so, but I don't think I can deny it comes with the job.  And I definitely cannot deny that if I wish to feed myself and my family that it is something I must embrace.  We take in life to be alive, that's the nature of our being.

My favorite paragraph from the above article?

Still, the core truth is slightly more complicated, because the notion that life and death are not interconnected and interdependent is a contrivance of human emotion. They each require the other, to the extent that they are not even two sides of the same coin: They are the same side of the same coin.

I couldn't have said it better, and in fact, I won't.  Thanks Ben.

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  1. Good job, Jocelyn. Too many kids today grow up thinking that chicken and steak are just magically created on styrofoam trays, the same way vegetables magically arrive at the store (I'm hearing "Eeewwwww, dirt on my food!" from a few city kids I know), and that their actions today do not affect their world tomorrow (IMHO). It's not easy being a farmer, and it's not easy being a parent, and I imagine it's doubly hard being both, but I think you handled this situation wonderfully.

    Thank you for doing your best to raise thoughtful, wise people.


  2. I understand why you hesitated to share this story. Recently we had to put a ewe down, and I thought, "Should I mention it? Will folks be turned off because it's not the typical lighthearted humor?" But just as the humor is part of farming, so is the sadness. Our children are learning the same lessons. And I fully believe they are better for it, no matter how many tears are shed at the time.

  3. What an excellent story and what an unbelievably lucky rooster! What I like most is that you didn't act out of anger. I have killed roosters out of anger before and have always regretted it. I still can't get over that rooster's karma.


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