We experienced our first animal death on our farm last Sunday. One of our chickens, LaRhea, died sometime in the night. Jershon found her dead in the coop that morning.
A few days before she died, we noticed that one of her eyes was swollen shut and she wasn’t acting normal. In my google research, it seems that she may have had coryza. … which is kind of like a cold, but it’s bacterial with chickens instead of viral like with humans. We didn’t take her to a vet or anything to get her officially diagnosed but according to google, her symptoms seem to match with coryza.
We didn’t know what to do for her. By a the next day, both of her eyes were swollen shut so she couldn’t see at all. I also think she was having some congestion and respiratory issues because she kept breathing with her mouth open. I don’t think she was eating or drinking much because of it.
For the next couple of days we tried feeding her some soaked food and water with a syringe. That was somewhat successful and we were able to get some in her but I guess not enough. That may have made a bigger difference for her if we had noticed that she was sick sooner (and had the syringe idea sooner).
On Saturday evening when Evelyn and I went out to the coop to feed her with the syringe again, she was laying down in the coop with her feet out to the side. She didn’t look good. This was the weakest I had seen her. I got some food and water in her with the syringe and then tried to help her to stand up. She stood up for several minutes but was wobbly. She took a few steps forward but not much. Eventually I picked her up and put her in one of the nesting boxes with hay in it so she could rest.
And that’s where Jershon found her on Sunday morning. She had died sometime in the night.
It was pretty sad.
We had been praying for her a lot over the past few days but I had a feeling on Saturday night that she may not make it through the night.
On Sunday afternoon, Jershon dug a deep hole in the pasture next to one of our cedar trees and we had a funeral for her. Jershon chiseled out her name on an old brick and then we colored it in with ashes to make it stand out more.
We had a mini program before the burial. We sang All Creatures of our God and King. As we were singing, one of our neighbor’s cows walked over next to the fence, relatively close to where we were (which is rare for us to see them up so close, they are usually in a different part) and just stood there while we sang. It was a sweet moment and made me think about how animals can be so in tune (not musically…haha… but with the Spirit).
After the song, Jershon gave a brief life sketch of LaRhea’s life (the whole 2 weeks that we were apart of).
Then I shared a few thoughts about animals and how God loves them and notices every time an animal dies.
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? (Luke 12:6)
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. (Psalm 50:10-11)
I also talked about how taking care of animals can teach us about kindness and compassion and can “tame” us and make us more like Heavenly Father.
Brigham Young said:
“Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the Spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace. … The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation will vanish away.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 203.)”
Of course this quote could be referring to animals when he says “the savage nature of the brute creation will vanish away.” But I also think that it could be referring to the savage nature (natural man) that exists within us as people as well and how compassionately taking care of animals (and people) can help to root those selfish and savage tendencies out of our hearts and natures.
I also briefly talked about how this experience with having an animal die can teach us to be even more diligent with paying special attention to each of our animals everyday to see how they are doing.
Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. (Proverbs 27:23)
I’m not naive enough to think that we can prevent everything from going wrong with our animals, even if we are super attentive and diligent. Sickness and death are part of life. But I do think that taking care of our animals can help us to develop skills of attention and compassion and those skills can and will be applied in our lives with the people around us as well.
When we were doing our Sheep Unit a couple summers ago, I loved reading an essay (The Lord is my Shepherd) by Donna B. Nielsen and a book (A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23) by W. Phillip Keller. Both this essay and book helped me to understand my relationship with Jesus Christ better and how He cares for me as my Shepherd.
As I was thinking about being a diligent steward over our animals, I was reminded of this part…
“When the shepherd [led] the flock back in the evening, they [were] not rushed into the fold, but the shepherd [stood] in the opening, holding the sheep back with his rod while he inspect[ed] them one by one as they [went] into the fold. After his inspection of each sheep he turn[ed] his body to let the sheep go through and [was] literally the door. John 19:9 says, ‘I am the Door.’ This explains how [the] Lord could be the Door and the Shepherd at the same time.
The shepherd examine[d] the sheep for briars in the ears, snags on the cheek, thorn wounds in the side, stone bruises on the knees, eyes inflamed by dust or sunshine, weariness and sickness. After his inspection he lift[ed] the rod and the sheep [passed] under the rod.’
When the shepherd [found] cuts or bruises he anoints the sheep with cedar tar. A good shepherd [was] a good doctor.
…Sheep are susceptible to sicknesses of many kinds, especially fevers. The shepherd [had] a pail, or a [large goat-skin bag], filled with fresh water… When he [found] one of his flock that [was] fevered, he [would] take the [feverish] sheep and plunge his head down into the cup, making the cup to run over.
Thus we have a picture of God’s care for His weary, worn, wounded, sick, and suffering sheep (Moyer 73-74, 76-77).”
After my mini “talk”, we had the burial. We put LaRhea’s body in the grave, sprinkled a little bit of chicken scratch on top of her (because she would have liked that), and then took turns shoveling the dirt back on top of her body to fill in the hole.
Then we placed her gravestone (the engraved brick) and an evergreen branch (from our Christmas tree) on top…which looked kind of like a chicken foot.
Before starting this farm life, I knew that we would have to deal with death of animals. It’s just part of having a farm. Some farm animal deaths are caused by illness, some by predators, some by butchering to use for their meat. I knew that we would have to face the deaths of many animals from some (if not all) of these sources. … I just didn’t anticipate having this experience so early on in our life on the farm.
We only had LaRhea for 2 weeks. And I’ll be honest, I felt a little ashamed that she didn’t survive very long on our farm. We tried to take care of her (and our other chickens and animals) the best we could but we are still learning so I’m sure we didn’t do everything perfectly. I guess it was just her time to go back to live in heaven.
On Sunday afternoon, the girls wanted to draw and color pictures of LaRhea.
I know that to people on the outside, al of this sounds a little bit silly…having a funeral for a chicken that we only had for 2 weeks. It sounds a little silly to me at times too. I mean, she’s a chicken…not a person.
But I want our farm to be a place where we develop relationships with our animals and we allow our stewardship over them to change us for the better. I believe that Heavenly Father put animals on the earth for many reasons, one of which is to teach us about Him and how to become like Him.
The kids (especially Roxanne) have walked over to the cedar tree cemetery to visit LaRhea’s grave nearly everyday since the little funeral. It’s pretty sweet…and it definitely helps that they already enjoyed going to cemeteries to visit our ancestors’ graves so they already had a fond view of cemeteries and respect for the deceased.
We have been watching the other chickens closely but so far the only symptom that we noticed for a couple days was some diarrhea… which we were able to cure by giving them some diluted apple cider vinegar in their water. We’re hopeful that the other 3 will be able to stay healthy.