The other day I killed one of our hens. She had been ill for some time with 'compacted crop’ and her gullet had swollen with sour undigested grain. We read all the books and we tried to make her better but we couldn’t, and we had agreed that we’d never take a chicken to the vet. So I killed her.
I always thought that emotionally it would be easy to kill a chicken, but it wasn’t. I’ve killed lots of animals before – rabbits, pigeons, pheasants, squirrels, and the like – and never enjoyed the process as such, but been satisfied in the knowledge that it was pest control, or that the victim of my trigger-pulling would be eaten. But the chicken wasn’t a pest, and we weren’t going to eat her. I wasn’t even sure if I was putting her out of her misery, as she didn’t seem particularly miserable.
I thought that I should wring her neck, as that’s how good poultrymen are supposed to do it. Hold her upside down, head between the fingers and give it a good yank. Easy. But I couldn’t do it. I wimped out. I didn’t want to pull too hard and take the head off, but more so I didn’t want to be too gentle and end up with a live chicken with a compacted crop and a sore neck. So I shot her. I shot her in the back of her tiny little head with a .22 air rifle. I held her between my feet and placed the barrel against her head and I pulled the trigger, and when I picked up the flapping twitching corpse by its feet, my hands were shaking and I had a small but discernable lump in my throat.