47 Chickens

Something killed two of the chickens this morning. It’s probably my fault — I mean, it was inevitable that something would get some of them sometime, but I might have let them out too early this morning in particular. The sun wasn’t quite up, but it was light, and I thought briefly about whether it might be hawk hunting time, but decided that it was light enough that the chickens could see what was coming.

Apparently that didn’t help.

There was no evidence of anyone digging under the fence, so either something scaled the fence and left the same way, or it was a bird. I’m thinking maybe a bird, because as the Canada geese have been flying over this morning, the chickens have been running back to huddle by the coop (which they’ve done other days too) and then have been crowding up the ramp to get back in. When I went to round up the few who remained outside, they were easier to catch than usual, too.

Of course, putting them back in the coop may or may not be necessary at this moment. Something about the barn door and the horse. But I think it’s sensible, since there’s blood and feathers about, and that plus awareness of the earlier commotion (I assume there was a commotion) could attract other predators today. One chicken was pretty torn up; the other I couldn’t even see why it died, though there was some blood on the ground by its head.

I’m sorry, chickens. The one that looked like it had been partly eaten was one of the five with golden or black heads and ruffs contrasting with their body feathers. Now there are only four. The other one was one of the reds — perhaps a Rhode Island Red, though I’m not sure, because of some pretty black feathers on the wings.

That one was harder to deal with, actually. The one with the feathers all over was clearly dead and couldn’t be put back together again. But the other one just looked like a chicken lying on the ground with its legs sticking out and its eyes closed. It looked like it should be able to wake up. I’ve experienced that, a very few times, when I have had the privilege of being in the presence of the body of someone who had died. The recently dead look a lot like the living. No wonder there are traditions of a person’s soul hanging around for a period of time, while the body they used to inhabit is recognizable.

But time works only one way. Death is final. That chicken, like the other, is not going to come back to life.

So how do you deal with a dead chicken? My first instinct, back when we had the chicks, was that of course you would somehow return them to the earth, to enrich the soil. That’s the ideal. In practice, that means burying farm animals. Because if you just toss them into the woods, what’s the chance that you’ll attract critters? Or that our dog will go and drag it out? You don’t put meat or meat products on a compost pile either, for the same reasons.
And we don’t have a burying place, and I’m not sure that I want to take the time to bury all the animals that might die here.

So you take a couple of recycled Price Chopper bags out to the chicken yard, and put on your work gloves, and gently lift the dead chickens and dead chicken parts into the bags, and take them to the trash.

The one that looked like it was sleeping gave me pause again. This chicken should be edible. In other families it might in fact have been tonight’s meal. But we’re not only Jewish, I’m a rabbi, and we keep kosher. And the origin of the word “trefe” (or trayf), meaning “unkosher,” is the Hebrew word treyfah: torn (by a beast).

Genesis 37:33, Jacob recognizing Joseph’s coat, torn and bloodied: “It is my son’s coat!” he cried. “A wild beast must have eaten him! Torn, torn to pieces is Joseph!” Genesis 37:33, ORT Navigating the Bible

Leviticus 17:15: “And any person who eats a creature that died on its own, or was torn…”

Lev. 17:15 in Hebrew from ORT, Navigating the Bible

So neither of these poor birds can go into our stewpot.

I’m sorry, chickens.

And yes, Happy First-night-of-Chanukah tonight.