Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Chicken or the Egg: Which to Kill First?

At dinner with my tween niece tonight, I was thrilled to hear her school has a bit of a farm-to-table project going: they're raising chickens and selling the eggs.

Unlike me, she's being raised as a city child (with the exception of horseback riding, which I don't count), and this seemed like a good development where she'll learn more about what food looks like on the hoof (or claw), as opposed to packaged up in the grocery store, or worse, as chicken McNuggets.

The plan's had a few glitches though. For the chicks they're supposed to be hatching in the classroom, somebody turned the incubator ten degrees too high one night, and then ten degrees too low the next night to compensate. Her mother and I were none too optimistic about the outcome, but she assured us "oh, there's movement."  And we felt worse.

"Those chicks might not be....ok," I explained. 

"Like, what do you mean," she asked. "Like they might have three heads? Because that would be awesome."

"Well they might," and I added, "It wouldn't be awesome. Because then you'd have to kill them."

"I'm not killing anything," she protested. (We'd already had a discussion over appetizers about how some of the dogs she knew from childhood aren't really "living on a farm in the country.")

Her mother clarified helpfully, "Not you personally." So I reassured her, "Right. Not you. 'One' will have to kill those chickens. You don't have to do it yourself, but yeah, they'll have to be destroyed."

"So you'd just kill anything that was deformed?" she asked, and I could see where this was headed.

"Emma," I said, "them's mean streets out there for a chicken with three heads." (It turns out she'd seen a stuffed two-headed calf at some point, and explained in great detail how the vet said the calf had died of suffocation because they were feeding the wrong head, and apparently it was the head it was using for breathing. It didn't exactly make sense to me from an animal husbandry perspective, but whatever. The taxidermied heads were, as one would imagine, "awesome.")

"What if it just has six toes?" she asked.

I allowed we could probably live with six-toed poultry... again, seeing where she was headed with this line of questioning.

"So where do you draw the line?" she asked.

"I don't know," was my answer. "That's an excellent discussion on moral relativism for another day."

She weighed this for a few seconds before responding, "So...an extra head is out of the question?"

"Yes, Emma. An extra head is out of the question."

I just hope I don't have to be the bitter Aunt who visits the school for Show and Tell and has to clobber a nest full of baby chicks. 

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