The End of an Era

The Gentle Giant died today. As with most deaths, though, it was a little more complicated than that.

The Gentle Giant got frostbitten every winter. This winter was colder and wetter, so it was worse. In January, his comb was frostbitten, which I expected, but then his foot swelled up, and he began limping around in the most pathetic fashion. Chickens are essentially cruel by nature, and everyone in the coop began to pick on him- literally. We have a little coop next door to the regular coop, for sick chickens and young chickens. So, I put him in the little hospital coop, expecting him to get better, if left alone.

When I carried him to the new coop, I examined him. His foot was swollen, but I couldn’t tell why. He was dirty. His comb was frostbitten and a little scabbed over.

Every day, I would visit him for a few minutes, and he would hobble around a little and eat and drink. Little Z went in and pet him and encouraged him to get better. Time passed.

Every time I saw him over the past few weeks, he was holding his bad foot up in his feathers, standing on one leg, eating, or he was just nestled in the hay I put down for him, relaxing. Something about him, though, was starting to seem really pathetic. He was not getting better.

I think I suggested a mercy killing about a week ago. But then, we were all thinking, what if it warms up and he just gets better?

We decided today. It was time.

I didn’t really know what was wrong with that foot. It could have been frostbitten or some sort of terrible, flesh eating fungus for all I knew, so I wore goggles, a face mask, and plastic gloves, as well as a washable rain coat over my wool sweater when I went out and got him. Normally, I hold chickens firmly by the feet, but I thought that would hurt him. I just hugged him gently. I did, however, look at “the foot”, but the foot was gone. He had only one foot. His other leg just ended in a little round nub. All those times I thought he had his foot up in his feathers, I was wrong. There was no foot.

And then I had no doubt. The Gentle Giant was not going to get better. There just is no place in this world for one footed roosters.

There was definitely some part of me, actually a huge part of me, that was terribly disturbed that someone – a chicken, but still – could just lose an entire foot within the space of two months! And I was suddenly really glad I was wearing all of that protection.

The march to the cone took quite a while. There I was, hugging my sick, favorite chicken, walking all around the sheep fence, because I accidentally partitioned it poorly, so that it was almost a quarter of a mile through deep snow to the killing tree. My goggles fogged up, and I staggered blindly up the hill, avoiding barbed wire and blackberry bushes. It was at this point that I thought of the book I’d read recently, The Endurance by Caroline Alexander. The book is about an expedition to discover the South Pole in 1916. The men on that expedition ended up stranded on an ice float for 17 months or so, eating penguins. So, when I was blindly staggering through the snow with my soon to be dead chicken, sharp knife tucked under my arm, I thought, at least I’m not stranded on an ice float, living on penguins. This really isn’t so bad.

The knife is one I inherited from Grandpa Al, who was a chef at Mel’s Diner in San Francisco. His name, “Al”, is carved into the handle. It is an excellent knife. I sharpened it this morning. And so, I can thankfully say, when we got to the killing tree, it was quick, it was clean, and the deed was done as well as it could be done. The Gentle Giant is, as they say, “in a better place” now. He was cremated, due to illness. His foot, though… I hope I don’t have another story about where his foot went.

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