What Does It Mean?

Chickens have tear ducts, but they do not cry. It’s not because they lack emotions like empathy and love. I want to believe they don’t cry because they hold onto hope so strongly.

Seeing Pearl care for Blanche while she was not well has convinced me even more that chickens have emotions. Have I ever told someone else, “Eat all you want, and when you’ve had all you want, then I’ll have some too”? Pearl did that every day for Blanche when she was sick.

This past weekend when I talked with a friend who had also raised chickens, he shared a suspicion I had only thought about but never voiced.

Blanche and Pearl are both Plymouth White Rocks, the breed you will often see raised for meat. To be economical, they must become ready for slaughter as soon as possible. They are bred to grow quickly to marketable size, not to be backyard pets with long and happy lives like I hope for Blanche and Pearl.

So I wonder if whatever is wrong with Blanche is a result of something unusual in her genes making her grow larger and faster than any of my other chickens including Pearl. Maybe she inherited extra “get big fast” genes.

She is also in a real home where she has already lived much longer than the majority of her kind. Elsewhere she would have never lived long enough for any genetic health problems to show. She would be gone, leaving Pearl to wonder where she was. Then Pearl would be gone too.

In the United States, the average slaughter age for a chicken is 47 days. In the European Union, the average slaughter age is 42 days, just six weeks. It’s more or less equal to the time period from New Year’s Day to Valentines Day, an incredibly short span to grow from a hatchling fluff of mostly feathers to a dinner-ready broiler.

Neither Blanche nor Pearl have ever realized their genetic instinct to eat “as if their lives depended on it” would have actually ended in their own deaths by being slaughtered in the poultry industry…if they hadn’t by random chance come to have a home in my backyard. (Their hatchling brothers never made it past their first day or two once it was determined they were males which are not used for meat.)

Blanche and Pearl both have had voracious appetites, far more than any of the others. I believe for both of them this has been genetic, just more so for Blanche. Even though there was ample food provided, it was necessary to separate the two of them from the others to save Emily’s life. Because she was the smallest, they would peck her head to make her back off from getting food so they could get more for themselves. This is how strong their desire to eat was.

Last winter, Blanche and Pearl were just a little over six months old, still maturing, and neither had laid their first egg. This winter, they are fully grown, and I think the cold has affected Blanche the most.

As the temperatures began to drop, so did her health. Likewise as the temperatures began to rise, so did her health. Many of her symptoms were ones I would have associated with old age: stiffness, slowness, lack of focus, unclear vision. These could be related to her body having been stressed and perhaps weakened internally by fast growth to such a large size, even when compared to Pearl.

The weekend Blanche was beginning to show positive signs was Super Bowl Weekend here in the United States. It was also when 1.25 billion chicken wings were served before, during, and after the big game. Many of those wings were from Plymouth White Rock chickens, like Blanche and Pearl. 1,250,000,000 is a huge number of chicken wings for just one day. Yet it is only a small part of the poultry industry.

And so I wondered, “Was this necessary? Was this needful?” These are questions I want to ask myself more often.

The previous Sunday, my church group served dinner to over forty homeless guests who spent the night with us as part of Shelter Week. Fried chicken was the main entree with sweet potatoes, collards, and a big honey-drizzled biscuit. Emily contributed eggs towards the chocolate and vanilla cakes I baked. For me, the questions “Was this necessary?” and “Was this needful?” were answered differently in this situation.

I’m not advocating a vegetarian diet, just a more humane diet. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for having a good time with friends and favorite foods. There are truly alarming facts and photographs I could share, but I know you can find those for yourself.

I just want to be a friendly voice for Blanche and for Pearl (who would be heartbroken without her), and for all of their sisters and cousins who will never know the simple pleasures of a sunny day and a patch of ground to call their own.

Maybe with our stories, Gracie and the others will encourage more people to begin asking, “Is this food choice necessary and needful? Is it causing harm and suffering?”

My Life With Gracie helped me to be a better friend to those who have no hope without us.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

28 thoughts on “What Does It Mean?

    1. Thanks, Ruth. I appreciate that. There are so many big questions here, and it’s a much bigger topic than can ever be covered in a short four to five minute read. But it is a start. I don’t have a lot of the answers myself. But I want to start asking myself the questions. It also didn’t seem right or fair not to share the questions I’m asking myself with my readers. The questions are of the story. Thanks again for pondering with me!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. In a world of rampant consumerism, we all should ask, “is this necessary or is this needful? for everything.” More often than not, the answer is usually no. Behind the scenes of our consumerism, there are almost always victims as a result. Humans have access to anything quickly with the click of a button on their computer or mobile device. Advertisements invade us from everywhere like swarms of flies. It’s no surprise that animals and nature suffer the consequences of our behavior and greed.

    Gentle hugs, from me to you and your feathered family. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much. I had quite an internal debate about whether or not to post this because it steps outside of the “warm and fluffy” and deals with some very uncomfortable truths. I even thought, “Well, I’m going to lose some readers over this!” But the way that this all unfolded, how could I not? And these are questions I never really asked myself before. So I can’t fault anyone. But as you say, consumerism and the desire to turn a corporate profit are at the root of so many of our inhumane choices. Thank you for your hugs and for being a voice for hope and change.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly. Those “uncomfortable truths” do exist. The suffering needs our voices to speak for them. Thank you for doing that!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was raised in the city and never pondered where my food came from. It was sort of my world taken for granted. In all honesty, I still don’t ponder… if it’s at the store, it’s available to me. One time I went to someone’s house, who lived in a ranch setting, and they had raised a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn’t imagine eating that meat, and still know that if I had to do the killing, cleaning, and butchering, there is no way I could enjoy that food. But, I also think it’s part of the natural design… to eat meat. I’m going to think about this more. 🙂 I’m just so glad Blanche is feeling better. And I’m so happy that she is with you… being loved and cared for. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Janet. And honestly, even though I grew up in the country where meats and vegetables were locally produced on small farms, these weren’t questions I ever considered myself…not even after moving to the city where big grocery store chains and mass production of meat and eggs go together. I can’t fault anyone when I’m guilty of being an unaware consumer. I do want to be more aware of my choices though, and as you say, I want to think about this some more. For me, I think “humane” is the key. Thanks again!


  3. I think about this often. That isn’t an easy question to answer. There’s so much killing in the world already, I wonder why we have to do it willingly for food. Of course, I have the luxury of living with a full stomach and a nearly infinite number of ways to fill my appetite whenever I want to–I don’t have to eat meat. It almost seems elitist, or whatever the appropriate term is, when I can ask why we have to kill animals for food when there are starving people all over the world who don’t have the luxury to ask that question. Maybe those like me should be vegetarians and spare animals to live a long life. I’m not sure I have the right to speak for those who are starving. If I think emotionally, then I know we should all be vegetarians. If I think logically, then I know we should minimize the killing of animals for food to that which is absolutely necessary. Chicken wings for the super bowl aren’t necessary to me, but I like to cook hamburgers on the grill. I felt sorry for the half of a steer being cooked over an open fire in a Western movie last night. I love my dogs with all my heart and don’t understand how some cultures can eat them as food. If God gave us dominion over the animals of the Earth does that mean we may always slaughter them for food? Or is there a point at which we can say it is no longer necessary?
    This is such a great post, John. You’ve really given us something to think about.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Will. I hope you know I truly value your opinion. This was not an easy post to write because I didn’t want to take a perspective of “let me convince you what you ought to be doing.” Who wants to read that!?! I’m just happy when I know people like you are asking questions about choices. I have to believe there is a humane way to have that occasional hamburger cooked on the grill! And maybe even a veggie burger that tastes good, satisfies the appetite, and is affordable! Thanks again, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that my Sunshine, a Buff Orpington who is a dual purpose bird, had a genetic problem which led to her death at 2 1/2 years old. She would have been slaughtered long before she reached this age if she had not landed in my backyard coop. The clincher for me, and I must admit that I am more sensitive than most, was in my first year of chicken keeping when Miss Henrietta took Miss Roo literally under her wing when she was being bullied by the others. I went out to the coop one night to find Roo nestled and sleeping peacefully under Henrietta’s wing. I have not eaten chicken since that night. (five years last October). I do not preach it. When I am at other’s homes for dinner I eat what is served quietly. I do not want to dispute the choices others make, but I do agree with you. I would like to encourage people to make more humane choices. When we were more of an agrarian society, people kept chickens and ate them for meat and that was honorable, I think. My grandpa was a chicken keeper and as a child when I ate at their house the whole bird was consumed. And it was usually a special dinner like Sunday dinner. But to consume chicken wings in the billions is an indication that we are divorced from the suffering that happens so we can enjoy a snack. I really don’t think that people think about where their food is coming from. I have learned some really hard lessons from my chicken girls. Thank you for what you are doing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Preach. It is hard to love animals and then justify eating them. Their contribution to our ecological survival is critical. Beginning with the eyes and heart of compassion will cause us to question many of the habits we have developed simply because we have always done them. Keep searching. Our destination is the same. There are many roads which lead us there. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree – great post. And I agree too that it’s not necessary to do away with eating meat altogether (though obviously that’s an option), but to cut down drastically so that we, the animals and the earth all get a better deal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, and you make a great point of adding “the earth.” Last night I read a very alarming article by National Geographic about how disposable plastics hare threatening our planet even more than global warming, and it’s something which we can much more easily address in our daily choices. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. One trend I’ve seen is people are eating way more chicken than they ever did because the price of beef has gone through the roof. About the chickens bred for certain purposes, I remember Big Mama, one of the Plymouth Rocks we had got huge and then after awhile she became lame. I never considered that crazed appetite as being spliced in there as well. I know there are things like heirloom seeds. Do you know if there are heirloom chickens, where their genes haven’t been tampered with? Sorry this is all over the place. Your post has generated a lot of thought, can you tell? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’m still catching up! Sorry about your Big Mama. (It’s very likely genetics had something to do with it, particularly if the fastest growing and biggest eaters are the only ones allowed to breed.)The first chickens I got were from Tractor Supply Company and were almost equally male and female. That is fine for the farmers in this area because unlike the poultry industry, they let the roosters grow, help increase their flocks, and have a good outdoor life before they become dinner. Pearl and Blanche came from a hatchery specializing in the sale of only female chicks. (Males never made it more than a day or two because neither the egg farms or meat farms want males.) But I didn’t know any of that at the time. In the future, I think I will get my next chickens from a local farm that participates in the Chicken Swaps held in our area. Thanks for the idea of looking for heirloom breeders! I’ve seen news stories about heirloom turkey breeders, so there have to be heirloom chicken breeders who care about their animals. Thanks again!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I love the idea of a chicken swap 🙂 I don’t know if you watch TV, netflix, or movies, but I watched one a few months back that I think you would LOVE. It’s called, “Chicken People”, made in 2016, about people who breed and compete with chickens to keep the breeds strong. I found it fascinating.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I hope Blanche is well again…

    I guess, it is all about moderation.
    Actually, healthy food – like bio-/healthy, natural risen chicken – is usually clearly more expensive than industrial produced food (vegetable & meat & diary etc.).
    In my view, food is much too cheap.
    Thus, many people consume too much, too fast (in particular processed fake food) and thoughtless without any appreciation, awareness & real pleasure.
    In order to be able to offer food at low prices, the industry has to utilize any dirty – in most cases also health damaging – trick to cut cost and increase repeated sales at the cost of the animals & environment.
    It is our excessive consumption & greed that fuels these negative developments.
    On the other hand, it is difficult to blame people who don`t possess the budget to live on healthy, organic food that is subject to fair trade (best case scenario).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, you’d never know anything was had ever been wrong with her, though she does stand and look at me somewhat differently than before, but in a good way.
      I think you are quite right about low cost being the driver for so many of the things that are destroying the world. I see photographs of the air pollution in China from the factories and can’t help but think how their environment (and eventually the global environment) is being ruined so that we can have inexpensive disposable plastic items that nobody really needs.
      I believe we devise a way for for everyone to have healthy organic food that is affordable, but the huge corporations would be against anything that would cut into their profits…and so maybe it just takes a lot of individuals planting their own gardens and raising their own food to make a difference…That’s what my chickens and I are trying to do on a small scale!
      Thanks for reading and providing your thoughtful comments!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ re right, John. I came to the same conclusion. The only thing we are able to control is our own behavior. Produce your own food if possible. Do not buy processed, convenient food, eat seasonal food and prefer local products. By the way, China is a nightmare in regard to environmental but also consumer protection (food, medicine, cars etc.). Did you know that you cannot purchase more than 3 packages of Baby milk powder at a time in most German shops? It is because of Chinese Dog purchase Milk Powder and others goods in huge volumes in Germany in order to resell it in their home country for 10-20 times of the original price after a huge milk powder scandal in China. The Chinese don’t buy their own goods…for very good reasons.

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  9. I grew up on a small, family farm in NC, so I’ve experienced all the realities of a life being close to the land and one’s food sources. I also witnessed the beginning of factory farming as it became profitable for the big corporations and my family had several neighbors who began working with (for) Perdue in the chicken ‘industry’ as it spread during the 1960s and ’70s. The conditions inside those huge growing barns were terrible–chickens so crammed into the space that you could barely walk through. During the summer heat and due to the overcrowding, thousands of the chickens would die and the neighbors would burn then in plies outside the barns. Talk about a foul stench that would waft through the air! Since then I’ve seen a LOT as I’ve lived and worked in states from the Atlantic to the Pacific and abroad on 4 continents over the past 15 years Everything I’ve witnessed has only cemented my view that factory farming of animals for food is inhumane and immoral, not to mention VERY unhealthy for the people eating the meat of these animals. Imagine the amount of antibiotics that must be pumped into animals in order to keep them alive in such crowded and unsanitary conditions. I’m not vegan, but I’ve been an unapologetic vegetarian since 1990, both based on my knowledge of the food industry as well as by listening to what my body truly wants and needs. I’m 65 years old and in absolutely amazing shape both physically and mentally (well the latter is true on my best days :-). Just my 2-cents worth. Love your blog!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Henry, thank you for sharing your first-hand experience. I hope and pray your voice and all of our voices together can make a difference. All of my girls thank you! Well, they will after I get them up in the morning and let them know they have a new friend! (All of them know they have an excellent retirement plan, even when they can’t lay anymore eggs. I’ve promised them they will never be “swimming with the dumplings,” if you know what I mean!) At almost 62, I can attest to how they have made me more conscious of my food choices and have given me so much delight! Thank you again for your kind words of support for the blog, and if your travels ever bring you to coastal Virginia, you are welcome to join my girls and me in a big salad of chopped kale, shredded carrots, and diced apples. If people were to eat more like chickens (instead of eating chickens) they would be so much better off! John

      Liked by 2 people

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