Sunday, June 6, 2010
RIP Dale "Supersize" McNugget 4/14/09-6/6/10
Dale McNugget passed away peacefully and rather suddenly in the sunny barnyard, surrounded by her flockmates, this afternoon.
The proximal cause of death was pulmonary failure. This was secondary to what I would have called morbid obesity -- except, on necropsy, she really had very little body fat. She was just one enormous chicken.
Hybrid broiler birds are not designed by artificial selection to live long, healthy lives. Had Dale been a conventional cornish cross hen, she would have been unlikely to live four months, much less fourteen. Because she was a "freedom ranger," she was a little better equipped to live in the world. But she was still too heavy to flutter up to the roost with the other hens, spending her nights on the coop floor with the ducks and the two auxiliary Dales -- hens who escaped capture on processing day last July. She laid eggs under the nest boxes* after she became too large to fit inside one -- or rather, too large to get out once she had squeezed in. Later I installed a large covered cat litter box as a floor-level nest box for the former McNuggets.
I started limiting the plus-sized girls' access to feed a few months ago, gating them out of the coop during the day by installing a creep on the pop door that the smaller chickens could slip through, but kept the three big girls outside to forage on pasture rather than hog down layer feed. It didn't seem to make a lot of difference in their weights, but they did become more active.
Of course I'm ambivalent about the very existence of hybrid broiler chickens, let alone the lives they usually lead. That those will be short is a given; knowing this and feeling a bit guilty about it, we endeavor to eliminate nasty and brutish from the list of options. There are currently fifteen Cartmans living in a chicken tractor in the pasture; they'd have grown just fine in a stall in the barn, but a chicken should breath fresh air and eat bugs and grass. They'd also be fairly content confined to the tractor, but I open it up during the day so they can shuffle around a bit, and sack out in the tall grass along the old fenceline when they want to, and dustbathe. To the extent their genetics allows, they get to be chickens during their very short span on this earth.
There are 76 new McNuggets growing feathers in preparation for their own move out to pasture, where they'll live behind electronet at night, range free for much of the day, and have even more chicken-like and slightly longer lives.
But their genetics dictate, always, that those lives will be short. Not even an internet rabble with money in their teeth will convince me to hold back any meat birds from this years' flocks. I do not believe it is kind.
I think of the short lives of giant breed dogs, and how their hearts so often give out. The incredibly plastic canine genome can produce 200 pound dog bodies, but not the hearts to run them.
One of the two auxiliary Dales died a month or so ago; her heart was at least four times normal size.
I didn't weigh Dale after my mom found her still-warm body this afternoon. But a necropsy on a chicken is another way of saying "dressed out," with a little more haruspicy. She makes at least a dozen dog meals -- feeding five English shepherds and one hollow-legged German shepherd -- in other words, you could easily feed an English shepherd for a week on one chicken. She must have been at least sixteen pounds alive.
I took her skin, head, and intestines out to the Fox Stump at the far end of the south pasture, where we leave offerings to the vulpine neighbors in exchange for respect for our living flock. Think of it as a sky burial.
* She had no fewer than eight eggs at various stages of growth queued up in her oviduct.