I came home from work and a five mile run last night to find Mark in the backyard still in his work clothes, having just got home after a hellish commute of his own. His first words to me were "a hawk killed one of the chickens."
I hauled my bags in the house and came back out to find Ensign Rickey, one of our Black Australorps, dropped in one of our raised beds, her neck broken and feathers everywhere. (Ensign Rickey's name is a Star Trek reference - our affectionate name for a generic redshirt.) Ensign Rickey was our best layer - a champion, even through this brutal winter. We even joked that we should let her retire in style since she was so dependable and was largely responsible for us even having any eggnog at Christmas at all. She was always the first to pump her legs across our yard when we'd walk onto the porch and yell TREAT!
Even though we don't really look at the chickens as pets like we do our cats who live with us inside, the chickens are part of our family and we protect their lives and care for them like we do our pets. They are valuable to us and we make their lives as carefree and chicken-y as possible.
But the side effect of a free life outside of a cage is that sometimes predators show up. We'd actually never seen a hawk in Carnegie before, until Mark opened the back gate to find one sitting on the chicken coop, with Ensign Rickey on the ground and the others terrified and squacking behind our compost piles. If we lived in the country and could really have the chickens free range outside of a fenced in yard, we'd lose some to other ground predators. I know this. Animals die just like humans do, and thankfully we don't think Ensign Rickey suffered too much. Mark walked into the yard and startled the hawk before it could go after one of the other hens.
It was dusk by the time I got home in the first place, so we got out the boots and shovels and dug into the frozen ground as it was getting dark, to make a place for her. We even said the gralloch prayer over the spot, a prayer of thanks for life that gives sustenance to others, as Ensign Rickey gave us eggs faithfully for the almost 3 years that we had her.
It was a sad evening. When I first laid eyes on her body, I cried. My first thought was that I hope she didn't suffer. But it made me think that even if she did, the rest of her life was carefree and full of delicious scratch treats, digging for bugs in soft earth, chattering with her flock and pooping wherever she darn well pleased, with a warm and comfortable roost for cold evenings.
Allow me to step on a soapbox here. What about all the other chickens that we use for eggs in this country, housed in horrid conditions, smashed into cages with broken legs and clipped beaks, unable to move, wallowing in their own waste, sick and dying? Just so we can have cheap eggs? No one cries for those birds when they die, and most people prefer it that way - because to turn your face away from the suffering of those animals allows you to buy eggs for $1/dozen and not worry about it. And that's what it is - suffering. If you don't believe me, watch this.
Consider finding a farmer near you that sells eggs - many farm stands and farmers markets sell them. Or consider your own backyard chickens. But think the next time you buy eggs about what we as a society are giving those birds for the gift of their eggs, a staple of many diets. Torturing another species in order to take something from them, giving nothing in return - not even compassion - isn't right. Think about where you are sourcing your animal products. Not all eggs are the same. Ensign Rickey's sure weren't.