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Death in the Chicken Coop – Should I tell my Son?

Recently one of my chickens died. It was one of the older ISA Brown Chickens (Tinker), so it was likely related to old age.

I didn't tell my son about Tinker's death. He's only just turned 4 and being 1 of 7 Chickens, I knew he wouldn't notice.

But I wondered if that was the right thing to do?

These days, the realities of life and death are a lot more hidden than they used to be. I think one of the reasons for this is our disconnect from nature.

Life and death is part of the natural cycle

Everything that lives, eventually dies.

An ecosystem in nature is a balance between a community of animals and plants and its environment. This includes:

1. Decomposition: When something dies, it decomposes, providing energy and food (nutrients) for other plants and animals.

2. The food chain: The food chain, which shows the reliance of one animal or plant upon the death of others. When an animal eats something, it transfers energy from one animal or plant to another.

These are the laws of nature and the fundamentals of the system we live in.

For a hunter gatherer, the acts of gathering, hunting, growing and eating food create a connection with death as a part of everyday life.

Modern Society is shielded from death

With the industrialised food system, this connection has been lost. Most people live in cities and don't hunt, gather or grow food.

We are shielded from killing and blood. Meat is bought from the supermarket, packaged up as sausages, T-Bones and Mince. Which means we don't have to kill the animals we eat and deal with blood and guts.

Death is part of growing food

Even if we are not talking about hunting for deer or raising chickens, death is also a part of growing food. If you don't grow your own food, you don't have to deal with caterpillars' or rabbits eating your lettuce. And you don't have to think about the ecosystem of life and death that's essential for the nutrients in healthy organic soil.

Our disconnect with death is the cause of many problems with our food system

In modern western societies, death is hidden away (as much as possible) from everyday life. Which is why we have forgotten that death is part of life.

I think this is one of the root causes of many problems with our food system:

Wasting food

It's estimated almost half of all the food produced in the United States is wasted.

If everyone had to kill the animals they eat, I'm pretty sure there would be a lot less waste.

Mistreatment of animals

Factory farms are hidden away. Out of sight and out of mind. Again, if everyone had to kill the animals they eat, I know they would never get treated that way.

The important role of animals and insets in our food system

Because most people don't grow their own food, there is huge lack of understanding about the important role animals and insects play in healthy and natural food systems. Which is why Veganism and Lab Grown meat are being promoted as the ultimate solution to the worlds environmental issues.

This quote from Joel Salatin, in the documentary Sacred Cow sums it up nicely:

Modernity is getting as many people as possible into towns and cities and getting them as far away as possible from Soil, blood, killing and growing anything - this was progress. Nobody thought this thing through - what will people think about food if they never have any contact with it. And there are a lot of people that are just very confused. And they are trying to make really important moral and ethical decisions about what they should eat and how they should live, but it's quite hard....if you don't know very much. It's easy to fall for extreme simple answers."

Joel Salatin // Sacred Cow

Reconnecting with the Natural cycle of life and death

So what are some practical actions that you can take, to reconnect with nature and the realities of life and death:

1. Grow and raise your own food 

I may be biased here, but growing food and raising chickens is the easiest and best way to do this.

2. Go hunting or fishing

Find an opportunity to go hunting or fishing for your own food (in a sustainable way).

3. Spend time thinking about your life (and death)

It sounds a a little depressing, but I think it's important to remind ourselves that our time on this planet is finite. 

A tool I have found useful for doing this is the life calendar, from this blog post "your life in weeks". A life calendar lays out every week of your life on one sheet of paper. This is your life and these are all the weeks you've got:

I have started to create one of these calendars for me and one for each of my kids (to pass on when they are old enough).

I find it so useful for reflecting on the past, putting my life in perspective and kicking myself into action.

Should I tell my son?

All that being said, I'm still am not clear on the answer of when and how to explore the topic death with my kids. So far I've avoided it and treated the topic of killing and death as taboo.

I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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  • Wow, that was an eye opener. I was kind of aware of the implications of our food system, but when it comes down to the details of how do we communicate it to our children, that’s a tuff one.

    My gut says tell them early in life. May it become part of their understanding of the world. But, as I don’t have children myself, I feel slightly “emotionally un-qualified” to give you the right advice. I believe there is no harm in letting children believe in Father Christmas and the Easter-Bunny until they are a certain age, ready to understand. For some kids that is 4 or 5, for others it is 9. I think only you will know the answer to this. The fact that you are already thinking about it, shows your care and dedication to good parenting. Bravo.

    An incredible and awe inspiring article. Thank you

  • I lived my grandparents on their small farm for my first 4 to 5 years. My grandmother didn’t have anything to do with the outside since it involved reality. I was shielded from the bad things including death of the farm animals, whether natural, predator or food for the table. To this day I rarely have a pet or go to funerals because of my early trauma and influence of my grandmother. Therapy didn’t help and I almost drank myself to death when my cat died. My thoughts are be truthful, tactful and respectful of your children’s age in explaining the cycle of life should they ask.

    • So your trauma came from being shielded from death?

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