Thursday, April 5, 2012
The How-Tos of Burying a Chicken
How many remembrances of deceased animals can adorn your yard before it starts looking like Stephen King's Pet Sematary?
Last weekend, Jersey came down with Marek's disease. For someone who has never witnessed the effects of what is commonly known as "fowl paralysis", it's not a pretty sight. One moment, Jersey was hunting and pecking around the yard. Hours later, Jersey's a heap of feathers on the coop's floor, one wing splayed out. When I tried lifting her up and placing her back down, her legs gave way, collapsing beneath her.
I separated her from the other three hens because Marek's is highly contagious between poultry. I was assured by the feed store where she was purchased that she had been vaccinated as a newborn chick. But, vaccinations can sometimes go awry and new viral sub-strains can derive.
I tried every homeopathic remedy recommended on backyardchickens.com, to no avail. When her breath became so labored that I was sure she was going to die, I removed her from the cage and transferred her to a bed of clover. If she was going to die, I was determined to give her one day of acting like a healthy chicken. She nibbled a few leafs of clover. It was her last supper.
What do you do with a dead chicken?
The first thing I did was tell myself that my dreams for Jersey were no longer. I always joked that I was going to put a rhinestone bracelet around her neck and take her to the beach. "She'll be 'Jersey Shore'," I'd say and laugh.
The second thing I did was look for a remembrance of her, like a photo, but there weren't many. It's ironic because she was the prettiest of the flock with her iridescent feathers of aquatic blues and greens. She reminded me of an opal I used to wear. If I turned her toward the sunlight, I could watch her magical colors. But, there wasn't a good photo. Well, except for one--Jersey as a baby chick. It seemed to capture her personality as the leader of the pack.
Now another hen would need to assume the alpha role.
The third thing I decided to do was to call the feed store and ask them how to properly dispose of a chicken. Lucky for me I have land so I could give Jersey the proper burial. I asked what people do who live in very urban settings and the poultry expert and I agreed that we would rather not think about it.
He suggested that I bury Jersey near a tree so that her decomposing body would become fertilizer. "Dig a hole at least a foot deep and cover her body with some Dolomite Lime," he suggested. The lime helps decompose the body faster and cuts down the smell so that other animals won't be drawn to the gravesite. I knew already to put rocks on top after I buried her in the soil so that the raccoons wouldn't indulge in an evening snack.
I buried Jersey under the apricot tree just two nights ago, as the sun set across the hill. Earlier, while I was checking out of the home improvement store with the Dolomite lime, I did an impulse purchase of a little chicken planter to put at her gravesite. In my backyard amongst the lavendar and irises, a stone angel lays over the gravesite of my deceased cat. Now, a ceramic chicken resides near the apricot tree.
As I buried Jersey, I had the strange urge to begin to sing Ave Maria. Perhaps it's because the beautiful song has often filled the cathedrals during ceremonies for loved ones who have passed. Although I didn't sing, I did say a prayer of gratitude for Jersey's time with me and wished her a beautiful afterlife. And, then I planted a small rose quartz by her head.
Rose quartz is my thing. I plant it around the foundation of houses I move into. I give it away to friends. I have jars of it around the house. It's known as the love stone; it symbolizes the heart.
I know. I know. It's kind of a ridiculous ceremony for the burying of a chicken, isn't it?
But, a ritual, whether it be for a person, animal or even a place, is a wonderful way to begin to let go. I am solaced knowing that Jersey received the proper burial and that a beautiful chunk of rose quartz lies beside her head.
In a world where we're often too busy to stop and reflect on life's meaning, it's important to give death the opportunity to remind us.
Rest in peace, Jersey.
Posted by Chicken Woman at 11:02 PM