And I don't mean sex, you perverts! I popped my killing cherry today and let's just say that there was a lot more crying with this one. More like hysterics, but that's beside the point.
Last night I came to the conclusion that Pearl was not just suffering from an upper respiratory infection, as she had become completely paralysed in the legs over the last few days. I searched and searched the web for illnesses that included both cold symptoms and paralysis and came up with nothing. I had thought she might have Coryza because her breath and boogers smelled like a strong cheese, but when I brought Pearl into the barn, I mean garage, she didn't stink up the whole place with the putrid scent of rotting meat. Apparently, that's how you know for sure your bird's got Coryza. I used some VetRx to help with the upper respiratory crud, which helped her to breathe through her nostrils, but she was quickly losing her ability to stand on her legs. When I pressed against her feet, she had no reflex response. Pearl was not great at roosting, having never been able to quite grasp that bar with her claws. But I chalked that up to her being a bit runty. And though she was a feather legged Cuckoo Maran, she was scant in leg feathers. These 2 things were a sign of something much more hideous and insidious than Coryza. This was the dreaded Marek's. Prior to the introduction of a vaccine in the 1970s, Marek's, which is a herpes virus and a cancer, caused huge economic losses for the poultry industry because of its high mortality rate and the fact that once infected, a bird is a carrier for life. In the 80s and 90s, super virulent strains of this disease began to sweep across the U.S. and Europe, and is so widespread today that the title of an article I recently read sums it up entirely, "If Your Chickens Breath, They've Been Exposed to Marek's". I believe Pearl probably came from a hatchery in Iowa that purposely doesn't vaccinate in order to breed for resistance. In theory, I agree with this method, though it did put me in a bit of a pickle.
Some birds recover from Marek's. I was hoping that Pearl would be one of them. But last night when I checked on her before I went to bed, I knew this wouldn't be the case. She was laying on her side, gaping her mouth wide whenever she drew a breath. This was a problem. You see, my DDF was not in town. Having hunted with his father when he was a kid, he's like a professional compared to me when it comes to killing stuff. But he had taken our daughter to Fresno; she is staying the week with her grandparents. I prayed that Pearl would pass in the night. It's a funny thing for an atheist to do, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I knew I couldn't keep her alive like this, but I was also too chicken to do the deed (pun totally intended). But I told myself that if she was still with us in the morning, I would have to put her out of her misery.
Well if there is a god, he clearly doesn't hear the prayers of atheists. For a split second, when I first checked the box after my morning chores, I thought Pearl had gone. She lay on her side stiff as a board. But when I looked at her face, she was still breathing. I began to cry. I couldn't get out of it now. I promised myself I wouldn't let her suffer one more day like this. I picked her up and held her. Told her in a sobbing voice how much I loved her and that she was a good chicken. My sobs turned to hysterics when I began my litany of apologies for what I was about to do. I asked for her forgiveness and that I hoped I could do this as painlessly as possible.
I wasn't exactly sure how to kill a chicken without any blood shed, but remembered the self-explanatory sign language description that my father-in-law performed for me at last week's 4th of July family gathering. This entailed a quick whipping of the chicken over one's head like a cowboy throwing a frantic lasso from which I read, twist neck fast and hard. I held one hand on Pearl's head and the other at the base of her neck, readying myself to do the wringing, but by this time my crying had reached a feverish pitch interjected by pathetic pleas of "I don't want to do this. Please don't make me do this." But I knew I had to. I couldn't let Pearl go on like this until the DDF returned later in the evening. I jostled her to see if she would suddenly open her eyes and stand on her own feet again, as if my shaking had some potent magical powers. Sadly, I have no such powers. I tried again, hands in position, but failed to complete the act when I had suddenly awoken to the fact that I was going to kill my daughter's pet with my bare hands. I once again drifted back to pathetic pleading. I didn't allow myself to go on for too long. I drew a deep breath, counted to 3 and twisted. I heard the disturbing crackle of breaking bones and began to relax thinking that my job was done. Like I'm that lucky. Pearl was still breathing. How could that be possible? So I quickly twisted again in a panicked effort to put an end to this. Her neck wobbled and she oozed a thick liquid from her mouth, but she was STILL FUCKING BREATHING! At this point I found myself screeching "Die Pearl. Please die!" Obviously I hold no juju in the life and death arena. I couldn't think of what to do next. I couldn't bear the fact that I was drawing out her pain. Should I get a shovel and smack her over the head? Way too violent. I settled on covering her nostrils with my fingers whilst holding her beak closed. She continued to make efforts to breathe, flapped her wings, then released a foul smelling fluid from her vent and went limp. It took at least a minute. I don't have to tell you that this was the longest minute of my life. But I had to do it, right?
I cried like I've never cried before, howling near the door of the garage. It was the only place I could think to do the killing where the other animals wouldn't see what I was doing. The goats are already distrustful. No need to add any fuel to that fire. I walked out the back door to look for a box in the yard. I was trembling from head to toe. The goats stopped their goaty games and eyed me suspiciously. I went back to clean up the residuals of Pearl's death throws, placed her in the box, and brought her to the far corner of the backyard where we will bury her under the cement retaining wall that is being built this week. I wretched for a solid five minutes. Good thing I hadn't eaten breakfast.
I'm sure you all are wondering why I gave such a gruesomely detailed description of "the deed" without even a warning. Frankly, I think all of you pussies divorced from the reality of growing food should have to take a good hard look at how that food gets to your table. There's a lot of killing that goes on out there, even when it comes to eggs, which I'm sure a lot of you have assumed involves no killing at all. Wrong. Go read Michael Pollan's The Omnivores Dilemma. It's a real eye opener in regards to the egg industry. And all you vegans out there sitting on your high horses thinking you have no blood on your hands, think again. Growing vegetables, even on a small scale, involves a great deal of death. And I'm not talking about bugs. Gophers, moles, voles, rats, mice, birds: they all want those vegetables. They'll do what they have to do to get those juicy treats. And the farmer will do what she has to in order to prevent excessive crop loss. Chew on that the next time you're crunching on a carrot with your pompous "I don't eat meat" swagger.
R.I.P. Pearl. I'm truly sorry.
P.S. I'm sorry I called you pussies. I don't mean to take it out on you, but it's been a rough day. I need a hug.