Today we had to do something that I thought I would never do. This means that my dad has been right about everything to date except for one. We trimmed a chicken’s beak (Josephina).
Who would have thought this red ball of fluff would turn into such a bully?
Trimming the beak is a pretty controversial practice. In conventional factories the beak is removed nearly entirely as a matter of course to prevent pecking in unnaturally close quarters. It is not always necessary when chickens have enough room. However, pecking is a self-rewarding behavior so once it starts it is difficult to stop. Our chickens have approximately 27 cubic feet which is much more than is considered humane. It is a balancing act to have enough space for the birds, while maintaining a small enough space for their body heat and the manure pack to heat.
We had tried many solutions including red-kote (which induced more pecking because of the color. Also it made it look like we were running a slaughter house), blu-coat (applied on top of the red-kote turned the chickens purple and didn’t work), sequestering the chickens, and changing their diet. Nothing worked and the other girls are suffering quite a bit. The other day I gave her some treats out of my hand and she pecked at them so hard she nearly drew blood on me, I can’t imagine how much it hurt the other girls who already had open wounds. Also, she looked more and more sad each day living alone in the basement (shades of Blackfish basically). There were no other solutions that didn’t end with her being eaten by someone.
So, we did the deed. John wrapped her up in a towel and I snipped with a dog nail clippers. I think it was most traumatic for me and I made several approaches before I was able to wrap my head around what I was doing. In the end I clipped approximately 1/8 of an inch off the tip on the top only. She may experience some pain and difficulty eating, foraging, or protecting herself. Some of the sites I read suggested she may experience phantom beak like a phantom limb, although I REALLY QUESTION how the chicken was able to communicate that concept to a researcher.
So, this was a real trade off and one I am still not 100% sure I made the right decision on. I’m sure some would argue that the right choice is not to have chickens at all. While I see the merits of that perspective, I really love animals and want to be around them, although as I am learning that seems to go hand in hand with some more questionable practices. A book I am reading, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, as well as many legal scholars, argue that I don’t have the privilege of saying that I want to be around domestic animals. To do so is not to recognize them as an entity free from entanglement with humans. The author also argues that chickens (and dairy cows) are a form of feminized protein, as the food system creates food product from the fruits of a female animals reproductive system.
However, I have also been swayed by the arguments of Joel Salatin from Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice who states that not raising animals contributes to till agriculture. Till agriculture (basically the repeated growth of annual plants such as soy beans and corn) results in monocultures, loss of topsoil, and the necessity of adding more pesticides. These actions eventually lead to the death of wild animals, in the place of those that otherwise would have been cultivated for food. Domestic animals; however, aerate the soil, fertilize it, and create topsoil over time when sustainably managed for food.
So, while I am not about to start eating animals, I think that in the long run 1/8th of an inch of beak may be the lesser of two evils.
I am open to your thoughts! Have you even encountered this problem (by which I mean chickens pecking NOT the inability to handle basic daily tasks without having to basically create a thesis around the morality of doing them. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who struggles with that.)