The hardest part of being responsible for another’s life is not death. It is burial. It is digging a hole, laying in a body, and covering it with shovels full of dirt. It is the finality of loss enacted through putting someone underground. We live with rescued chickens, and our constant affection for them all is inextricably linked to a wariness and worry over their well-being. Coriander came to us in the spring of 2014, with her “sister,” Beatrice, and several other hens. She was an Easter chick who, like many others, quickly wore out her welcome and was abandoned. She was a beautiful being, whose bond with Beatrice was a joy to behold.
We also experienced unfading moments with her, such as when she would plant herself firmly in the middle of a plate of treats in order to block her flockmates with her body. Bonds are always flexible, of course…
The victimization of hens begins before they are born and is carried in their bodies until death. All for the sake of human consumption of eggs, these wonderful beings have been manipulated to lay at such frightening rates that their bodies are virtually ticking time bombs. (The wild ancestors of modern chickens lay 12-15 eggs per year, solely for reproduction. The hens whose eggs we steal lay between 250-300 annually, and typically live for only a few years before they die.)
Whether a hen is in a battery cage, on a “free-range” farm, or in a backyard flock, the biology is the same…the exploitation is unchanged.
We understood this quickly after starting to rescue chickens. The knowledge of impending death does not ameliorate the experience of it, of course–especially when those who die are innocent victims of human greed, no more and no less.
We brought Coriander inside to care for her and keep her warm when she started showing signs of discomfort. Despite constant care and attention, her body could not handle whatever she was struggling with.
I have been carrying a great deal of rage around since losing Coriander. Since burying Coriander, honestly. It is a non-specific rage–there is no particular target, though there are some very clear causes behind her death–which makes it all the more frustrating.
What I constantly circle around, though, is how hard it is for me to see veganism, animal rights, and the totality of oppression outside of the impacts human society has on individual bodies. In caring for, losing, grieving over a tiny fraction of these bodies, it becomes utterly impossible not to telescope one hen’s short life and devastating death. I cannot but replay her burial and try not to choke on the absolute repugnance I feel towards human privilege, mentalities of domination, and a convenient apathy that keeps our hands bathed in blood.
There is no solace in knowing that Coriander had a better life (and death) than many of her species. Our sanctuary is not a bucolic place of joy where no one suffers or where death, when it happens, is a quiet nodding off to sleep.
Our joys are like clay-footed gods, always.