It sometimes takes years to settle in, but eventually you and your place in the community eventually find each other. My place here has turned out to be the shy/hermit chicken lady with really bad German and person who, several times a year, makes online orders for tickets to tourist attractions in Hamburg for two senior citizens and one schoolkid for the neighbor across the street (with the occasionally visiting grandson) who operates on a cash-only basis (i.e., doesn’t have a credit card). Spouse’s is more in flux. He used to be the eco-dude oceanographer guy, but he has recently parted ways with his lying, cheating, betraying, Machiavellian psychopath of a boss (and therefore his scientific career). He’s now working with two other set-adrift souls on setting up a company to help people wean themselves off of fossil fuels (at least for heating) by setting them up with the solar panels, air-source heat pumps, and batteries that are best for them. He’s loving it, but these things take time to spin up. I think we’ll be lucky to see any money at all before the end of the year (by which I am really hoping Spouse meant December and not one year from now). But the first two customers are lining themselves up and the first quote will go out before the end of the week, so go Spouse!
Today, Spouse was away for several hours visiting potential customer #2. This is discussion number 4 or 5 at this point (don’t ask me why it’s so complicated) and Spouse got to play with his brand new laser measurement device to officially record the dimensions of the roof. This potential customer is retired and does things like adopt all the exhausted, featherless, no-longer peakly productive laying hens from his neighbor with the battery farm, nurse them back to health, and let them run free range on his property for the rest of their natural-hatched lives (actually, they almost certainly were incubated in incubators rather than under hens). (Yes, apparently, the hens do wear chicken sweaters until their feathers grow back in.) He has also taken somewhat of a shine to Spouse and wanted to tell him today about a fabulous way to make money via currency trading (that Spouse has not yet had the time to tell me how sketchy this was).
But, anyway, around 4 or 5pm, he was still not back and the sky got dark and the heavens poured forth. Within a couple of minutes, the alpacas next door no longer had a small run, so much as a lake and our rain gutters were so overwhelmed, it was like the house was surrounded on all sides by Niagara Falls. There was lightning! And thunder! Sometimes together! (Although, at least unlike on Sunday night, it didn’t HIT anywhere here.) (I have never heard a noise like that before in my life, not even the time a colleague and I got zapped by arcing from some charged object during a thunderstorm while we were stupidly standing looking down on Monaco’s marine lab from mountainside so lightning struck it was burning in multiple places.)
In the midst of all this clamor, I heard our chickens GO CRAZY. And when they make enough noise that you can hear them over rivers of rain and ground-booming thunder, it generally means only one thing: ATTACK!!!! And it’s goshawk chick feeding season and the goshawk has been flying over the chickens at least once a day lately (although so far its destination has clearly been the nests of the sparrows in our neighbor’s alpaca stalls). So I did what I had to do. I charged out into the downpour. And the chickens and Bertie Rooster were overjoyed to see me (seriously). Because I am the cavalry, apparently. (When goshawks attack, Bertie protects his hens by shouting for help very loudly and then running into the coop to hide.) But there were no goshawks attacking. And nobody had been struck by lightning. The problem was that runoff had scoured the dirt away from under one of the three legs of the the 300 liter tank of rainwater that stands next to the barn and the patio of the chicken coop. When it lurched vaguely over (it’s doing a leaning tower of Pisa at the moment), it let out a small tidal wave onto the chicken patio and SQUAWK! Were the chickens not impressed with that.
Then the rain backed off and the floodwaters began soaking into the ground and I realized the chicken coop really needed to be cleaned. And just as I was finishing that, Spouse came home and said I had to drop everything and come with him right now because there was something we had to decide how to deal with. And so I dropped the big bucket of chicken droppings and used rapeseed hay bedding (it’s so great! unlike the rye hay and wheat straw we’d been using, it doesn’t make me sneeze!) and followed him out to the front where, beside the car, was a cat carrier that wasn’t one of ours and inside of it was a hen who also wasn’t one of ours.
It was one of the adopted former battery hens that customer #2 had put kindly out to pasture. And she was a nice looking red hen, fully feathered, and bright and alert. You’d never know she was 8 years old, which is about as old as it gets for a laying hen, I guess. But it quickly became clear she was paralyzed from the waist down. The poor thing hadn’t been able to stand up or walk around for 2 days already. I ripped her up some dandelion leaves (chickens love that stuff), but she was more interested in the specks of dirt on them, pecking at them like they might be seeds or insects and like she was starving. So I brought her some chicken feed, and she pecked at that like she was starving, but she couldn’t quite manage to pick it up and swallow it. I hand fed her some water, which she licked at, but then lost interest in. And then I realized she smelled like a port-a-potty at the end of a late summer music festival. The poor chicken, unable to stand up or walk around, had been soiling herself for two days. Her entire undercarriage was a brown swamp of chicken shit.
Spouse, meanwhile, had set out the tree stump and was sharpening the axe. Because apparently this is what customer service is these days: saying okay when your kind-hearted customer has an elderly, paralyzed chicken that needs a swift end but can’t bear doing it himself. The man could have asked the battery chicken farmer, but…
So I guess Spouse is now the self-employed eco-dude executioner of chickens who’ve reached the end of their run.
I put the poor thing on the grass for a few minutes, since that seemed nicer than spending the last minutes of her life sitting on the hard plastic floor of the cat carrier. She pecked at a few insects, but, again, couldn’t quite complete the maneuver to get the down the hatch. Then Spouse came to take her away.
The whole thing hit me stupidly hard. It was clear, there was no more road in front of the hen and death was instant and 8 years is a magnificent run, especially compared to the 6 weeks of “life” in an overcrowded, sunless, stinking, shit-filled hell that is all your average broiler chicken gets these day. But, still, she seemed like a nice chicken and once life is over, it’s gone.
Now she’s feeding the worms and insects in the soil of the garden. Which I guess is fitting. They’re entitled to a bit of return on their brethren’s investment.