30th December 2020
Paulie Walnuts (white) and Silvio Dante (black) came to live with us in August this year. They were rejects, victims of a common mindset: buy chicks to use their eggs – chicks grow up to be male – decree male chicks must die as they are of “no use” to you. We had neither the room nor the set-up for two young boys but we made it happen, and it has been heart warming watching them grow and enjoy their lives.
What lively, explosive little individuals they turned out to be! So different in character, yet close and companionable with each other. Paulie has his morning face-off with Arthur through the fence every day, and Sil practises his parkour with glee around the logs in their run. Sil has a full-on, very high pitched and glorious crow, where Paulie has never quite got his right. Nevertheless they both start shouting at around 5am and pretty much do that all day! They have never taken to going to bed, preferring to roost outside, even in the rain, so every dusk sees me gently bringing them in to tuck them up safely. They have become such a huge feature of my life.
Yesterday morning I found Paulie on his back, alive but very much not really here, his head twitching and unable to right himself. He passed away just after I got him into the vet. He had eaten his breakfast, and had no other clinical signs on examination, so the conclusion is that he had a massive neurological incident, and that he did not suffer. That is no consolation for me, nor for poor Sil, who seems lost today and would not come out of bed. They had been together likely since hatching, and though only about 10 months old, they were each other's world.
The injustice of how chickens are viewed weighs like lead in my heart. The horrific and terrifying back story to losing Paulie yesterday is two-fold.
Firstly, upon realisation of his gender, he was instantly ruled to be worthless. He would have had his life taken and been thrown away with the rubbish because we have placed his kind and all other animals at the bottom of an imaginary scale of rights, where we have the right to do ANYTHING we see fit with their lives, and they have absolutely no right to that life which they treasure so much. The ease with which we let this sit in our collective conscience is quite numbing to my brain. Even if they had been female, then their “worth” would only have lasted as long as their prime egg-laying years, after which they would then have been cast aside.
Secondly, Paulie's tragic end could well have sounded a death-knell for all the other chickens in my care. In the UK we have an avian influenza epidemic, with farms all across the country finding 'bird flu' in their chickens and turkeys. This has meant that as of December 14th, all birds must be housed without access to the outside, by law, and if presented with a suspected case all vets must report this to the authorities. This is what happened yesterday with Paulie. I was not allowed to take his body home, and the vet had informed Defra before she even told me that Paulie was dead. Then ensued and agonising few hours while we waited for them to call back and let us know if a necropsy would be required, by law, to ascertain his cause of death. Even if only one bird in a commercial flock is found to have the disease, all must be “culled”, and hundreds of thousands of chickens, turkeys and ducks have been swiftly destroyed by Defra in the last few weeks. If the call stated that Paulie's symptoms were even slightly suspicious, and then results had been positive for avian flu, then Defra would have instantly been here at my home to murder any other chickens I have in my care. Even if they were all fine and healthy.
That was one of the worst days of my life since caring for chickens. Of course the over riding moral of the story is one I have written about often. That we should not be using other animals, that we need to stop recognising them as mere things to be used, thrown away. That they have a right, as we all do, to autonomy and to life.
I mourn every single day that chickens are viewed as one great homogenous species, and not as individuals within that species.
I am fortunate that at my little sanctuary I only have to mourn precious little Paulie today, and not all my other residents.