Monday, September 23, 2013

The Responsibilities of Humans Toward Animals - And Others

This is inspired by an article in The Wall Street Journal on how hard it is for the newly growing group of chicken and other livestock owners to find vets who know how to deal with their animals.  In specific, Kathy Shea Mormino, who runs the blog The Chicken Chick, who recently wrote a great deal about an odd infection her prized rooster Blaze had, and the struggles she had to find adequate medical care and expertise to care for the rooster properly.  Eventually, Blaze did get well, and it inspired this article by  Jon Camp - " Chicken Owners Scramble When Their Pet Feels Foul" . Please feel free to pause to moan about the puns. They missed the best one - fowl for foul, but that could be an editor's change.
The article is good, well researched, well written, objective, informative.  And then, as always on the internet, we come to the comments - from those who pull out the same old fallacies about chickens and being smelly and bad and all that, how we should leave chicken raising to farmers, how they don't belong in cities, and how a sick chicken should just be killed, to even all small flock chicken owners being called "insipid."

I had to respond - of course I did! -and here is my response:

Historically, chickens were kept in town, in the small yards of city houses. One of my favorite examples of this is Molly Brown's house - now a museum, the property is the same size it was in the 1880s, yet a large portion of the back and side yards was taken up with vegetable gardens and chickens. If you ever go to the museum, you will see that the lot size is much smaller than the average suburban home's yard.
This trend did not stop - urban chicken keeping was common and even encouraged heavily during WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. It was a main source of food for many families during trying times. This practice did not fall out of favor until the mid 1950s, and in some places, never fell out of favor. Now, chicken keeping for food purposes - mainly eggs - has taken an upturn.
A commercial or even large chicken farm is not the same thing as a back yard with a few chickens in it. Yes, for some people, these turn into pets. And as such, they deserve the same treatment any other pet would. I have a diabetic dog who is partly lame, mostly blind, and pretends deafness. Should I forgo her daily medical care of insulin shots and just "put her in the pot"? I doubt any of the readers here would say yes. I will admit to having gone to odd expenses for pets before - example; the $300 hysterectomy for a pet rat. Yes, you read that right - a pet rat, much beloved by my then young children, in a painful labor with too large a litter for any of them to survive. I was highly lucky to find a vet who specialized in such exotic pets. That rat went on to live a longer than normal lifespan, happily and healthily.
Even on commercial farms, they do not dismiss a sick animal as expendable. Many diseases and illnesses that a chicken can catch can spread to the rest of the flock within days; some illnesses within hours. Most of these illnesses can kill the entire flock. Would a large chicken farm risk their livelihood by slaughtering that one sick chicken? No, they would not. They would figure out the illness, treat that chicken, and treat the entire flock as well. It's only smart business sense. The difference between the commercial farm and us? The commercial farm has better access to a vet that understands chickens.
I am friends with a young lady who is training to be a vet. Her family owns a large farm; when I'm talking about my six new pullets in the spring, they are talking about their 150 new pullets. I turn to her when I need medical advice on the chickens; while she is young enough to be my child, she has more practical experience in animal raising and illnesses than I do. She will become a large animal vet, but she will be one who can also treat the poultry, thanks to her upbringing and education.
My flock is different than many of those mentioned in this article; we got them mainly to provide eggs and eventually, when their egg laying days are done, stewing meat. However, each of them does have their own names, their own personalities and they are distinctly intelligent animals. I have lost two to predators over the last two seasons, and while I did not mourn their loss as one would mourn the loss of pets, I am unhappy to have lost that many - much as any farmer would be about any loss of livestock. 
It is my duty, my responsibility, as a keeper of animals - whether they are pets or eventually food - to give them ALL the best care, shelter, food I can. ANY farmer knows this. Well cared for animals produce the most eggs, the better meat. It is also my duty as a human being to treat them kindly.
If the owning of a small flock of chickens to help feed and care for my family, to ensure the health of my family by giving them foods I raised myself, and in turn, taking the best care I can of that livestock is insipid, then by all means, I am insipid. As is every farmer - family farm or bordering on commercial enterprise - in the country.

Honestly, why are farm animals viewed as  different just because someday we will likely eat them, or we use the products of their body to feed us? Why should any animal be treated as of lesser value?

Yesterday early afternoon while the hens were in the front yard, there was a great squealing in the large pine tree, and something fell out - something rather large. I thought it was a large pinecone at first, until I went over and looked and saw on the ground and saw a small, young squirrel lying there, and then slowly crawling away. I tried to check if it was alright, but it got on the lower portion of an aspen and kept circling where I couldn't see it. So, of course, I went and got my husband, and with him sitting on one side, I was actually able to get quite close to the poor young thing, enough to ascertain that it was not bleeding from mouth or nose and did not appear to have any broken limbs.  But it didn't move much.

Our concern for another living thing led us to see if maybe we should set it higher in the pine to let it recover.  But a slight touch started it screaming - that scream baby squirrels make for their mommies. So we let it be.

Since we were working on the large coop, I was going back and forth to keep an eye on the chickens, and twice saw a rather large squirrel come down, only to be chased off by the chickens.  At one point, I saw a large group of chickens standing around something, and I heard that scream again - the baby had come down and was on the ground. I chased the chickens away.  I chased the chickens away several times, hoping the mother would come back.  And apparently she did, since an hour later the baby was gone.

We saw it as part of our duty as decent human beings to care for that squirrel. A squirrel that does nothing for us but eat our pinecones and whose parent tries to store said pinecones in the engine compartment of my car.

Being a decent human being is why we picked up a scared old dog out of the road a few years back; several people were trying to herd this dog in the middle of the highway - we pulled up and opened the side door of the van, and the dog got right in.  We brought him home ad cared for him for almost two days, while at the same time posting all over the local internet forums trying to find his owner. And we did. A ery happy and grateful owner to boot.

It is what led my dad to bring home a flipped over turtle he found on the road when I was a kid, and let it loose in the paddock in front of the barn.  That turtle happily lived there quite some time. And what caused him to pick up a raccoon that had been hit by a car and bring it home.  We put it in a stall in the barn and cared for it until it was well enough to climb out of the stall and leave the barn.

And it is what leads us to help other human beings.  Whether it is a donation to a food bank,  taking an extra sandwich with me when I go to the downtown library knowing there's many homeless down there who could use it, to giving my lunch to a guy with an "anything will help" sign on a day when my work is done early - it's what decent human beings do. Even talking to a kid in the grocery store who is throwing a tantrum and distracting them from the tantrum to give their mom - or dad - a break. It's all part of being part of the human community.

Not put the animal in a pot because it's sick, or tell people they are worthless wastes who should get jobs, or letting chickens peck at a helpless baby squirrel who accidentally fell out of the tree.

We are all responsible, in some small way, to and for each other.  It's what makes life better, helping a person out, helping an animal out - even if it is just holding a door open, a nice smile, or making sure the fox crosses the road safely in front of your car.

That's my two cents of the day.  Take it or leave it as you see fit.  I'll go back to talking about chickens, and canning and life on the mountainside now.

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