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How to get rid of a body?  RSS feed

 
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So my 7 year old daughter had her first experience with death this week.  One of our chickens (which we named and raised as pets) passed away, and my daughter has been nearly inconsolable.  I don't want the chicken to go to waste and so was planning on eating it, but she is opposed to this and I definitely do not want to be indelicate to her feelings.  I don't currently have the material to hot compost the body, so that option is out.  I am in the process of digging 2 foot deep holes in my garden in order to emplace some "in the garden" vermicompost systems that I built over the weekend.  I thought perhaps I could dig a little bit deeper on one of them and bury the body under the garden.  My concern is that this may cause the decomposition to be primarily anaerobic, and I am unsure if this would be a benefit or detriment to the garden (or possibly even unsafe).  Does anybody have experience with this, or have good theories on the matter?  If not, does anybody have alternative methods for respectfully (in the eyes of a young child) recycling a chicken?  Thanks!

p.s.

my apologies to anyone who was disappointed by the content of this post relative to its subject title.  
 
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If it were my daughter, I would consider this a great time to be indelicate to her feelings. I wouldn't force her to eat the chicken, but I would certainly eat it in her presence.

Two feet seems plenty deep for disposing of something as small as a chicken. I'm usually happy with a foot over top of a carcass.
 
pollinator
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I honestly think that if the parent has allowed the kid to keep the chicken as a pet, I would not then turn around and force them to watch it being eaten. How many of us would be okay with seeing our pet dogs or cats eaten? Although they are as edible as chicken, that is not the relationship we have with them. If the animal is to be food, my opinion is that should be taken into account from the beginning of the child’s relationship with the animal.

I have buried many chicken carcasses. Fresh carcass right under a new planting might not be great, but just general burial works fine, and critters will decompose it (or dig it up). You can also put it on an ant bed or leave it for the vultures if you have space.
 
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I wouldn't eat it. We buried our ducks under fruit trees, about 2 feet down. It nourished the trees and they did amazingly better after that. And, it was really good closure for my son, who was very distressed by the death of the duck. I'll see if I can find the thread about it. Gotta take care of my daughter now.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I found my old threads about animal death and burying beloved livestock/pets.  

HELP! Can I bury my duck by my fruit tree? How deep? Anything I should know?--Here's a great quote, and it's what I ended up doing with my duck, and the other ducks who died.

John Polk wrote:
I'd say about a foot of soil over it should be perfect.  The top soil critters in that region will make use of it, creating nutrition for your tree next year.  If you have neighbor's dogs, or other creatures that might dig it up, go deeper.



This thread (Death of Livestock/Pets--How do you cope? How do you help your children cope?) also had a lot of great advice for helping kids deal with the death of their livestock/pets,
 
Ken Mullan
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I found my old threads about animal death and burying beloved livestock/pets.  

HELP! Can I bury my duck by my fruit tree? How deep? Anything I should know?--Here's a great quote, and it's what I ended up doing with my duck, and the other ducks who died.

John Polk wrote:
I'd say about a foot of soil over it should be perfect.  The top soil critters in that region will make use of it, creating nutrition for your tree next year.  If you have neighbor's dogs, or other creatures that might dig it up, go deeper.



This thread (Death of Livestock/Pets--How do you cope? How do you help your children cope?) also had a lot of great advice for helping kids deal with the death of their livestock/pets,



Nicole, that post was exactly what I needed to make my mind up.  I think I will opt instead to go bury it by our fruit tree instead of veggie garden.  Thank you so much for responding!
 
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In the future, it might help to make sure the kids understand what's in store for the animals from the beginning. We made the names of our first pigs into a constant reminder. They were Ken Ham, Kevin Bacon and (eventually) Francis Bacon. Francis started life with a different name, chosen by my four year old, based on his understanding of the butchering process. Your daughter might find that name a bit insensative right now, so I'll withhold it for now.

Our kids had no problem under that system. They didn't even mind being asked to go get some Kevin from the freezer. On the other hand, maybe boys are easier in this regard.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Ken Mullan wrote:
Nicole, that post was exactly what I needed to make my mind up.  I think I will opt instead to go bury it by our fruit tree instead of veggie garden.  Thank you so much for responding!



You're welcome! I remember how rushed and hectic and emotional that time was when our duck died, and not knowing what to do and wanting to do the right thing quickly for my son to have closure. The mulberry tree we buried Pinkie Pie duck is doing immensely better--it had looked nearly dead and grew over 2 feet on its branches after we buried her there. And my son knows that's where the duck is buried. When the next duck died, he picked the tree to bury her by, and that really helped him (and me) cope.

Having them die is hard. It's hard for the kid, and hard for us knowing all that we put into the animal could go to waste. By putting it under a fruit tree, it nourishes something long-living, and we don't have to worry about potential problems from the meat decomposing in a vegetable garden.

I'm so sorry your daughters chicken died. It's so hard. I'm glad I could help.
 
T Melville
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
The mulberry tree we buried Pinkie Pie duck is doing immensely better--it had looked nearly dead and grew over 2 feet on its branches after we buried her there. And my son knows that's where the duck is buried. When the next duck died, he picked the tree to bury her by, and that really helped him (and me) cope.



Pinkie Pie nourishes mulberry tree, which nourishes living livestock, maybe Pinkie's friends / siblings. That continuity idea may be helpful for the kiddos, too.
 
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The tenor of this post is almost completely foreign to how I was raised.  Almost any unexplained death produced an autopsy.  The concern was preventing other deaths but it was always used as a chance to teach us as kids anatomy and other sciences to the limits of my parents knowledge.  As for eating pets every year a few chickens were characters that got names and became friends.  When their time came they were butchered just like any other chicken.  What changed is their name was written on the outside of the package.  Then during the meal eating them we basically held a wake for them.  I know many people consider this cruel and heartless but it produced a respect and understanding for life that while different I would say is more reverent of life.  

As for getting rid of the body we used almost all methods at times.  Small bodies were mostly simply left out for other predators to remove if they were not food animals.  Since we didn't want predators getting a taste for chicken or pork those bodies were buried, composted, frozen and used for pet food.  But burial, composting, bone yard and many other methods were used to dispose of the rest.  There again bone yards are another way to teach anatomy.

My question is are you missing a bet by not helping teach your children about life and death?


 
pollinator
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Ken Mullan wrote:So my 7 year old daughter had her first experience with death this week.  One of our chickens (which we named and raised as pets) passed away, and my daughter has been nearly inconsolable.  I don't want the chicken to go to waste and so was planning on eating it, but she is opposed to this and I definitely do not want to be indelicate to her feelings.



I think there is a big difference from a chicken a child has raised as a pet vs one they know is livestock and part of the cycle of farm life.

Even then a lot of children can have a difficult time when they experience the livestock's end of life. I feel parents should be flexible but firm in these situations. Firm in the sense of not bending to the child out of hand, but flexible enough to be aware not every child can handle such things at the same ages. What was fine for one child might need a couple extra years for another. Personalities are different and parents usually will know when one is less ready for something than others.

For pets it doesn't matter if it is a dog, chicken, fish, or cricket. Emotions can run high and a lot of latitude should be provided, within reason. The death of a pet is a way to learn about life and death, but it does not need to be (and likely should not be) a lesson in butchering and eating of livestock. Finding a way to respectfully treat and return the loved pet to the earth is an important lesson for the grieving child. Finding a long lived tree for the pet to feed, helps teach the same lesson as eating it does, but in a more respectful way to the child's feelings. The child will have that tree in her life for a long time to come. She will likely give that tree extra care, as an extension of the care and love she had for the chicken. In this way she will have an understanding of life continuing through new life coming from death. While not perfect, it helps soften the blow that death brings.

I applaud you Ken for respecting your daughter's feelings, grief for a pet can actually be harder than the death of a person. Due to the unconditional love pets often give.
 
pollinator
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Folks, this is a really good discussion! I appreciate it, we are getting in the "window" and this is great food for thought. Thank you all for your thoughtful contributions! Going to have the farm boss (wife) read this too!
 
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I would agree that everyone has made good points about a difficult subject.  I will add a couple more:
1. I consider it unwise to eat an animal that already died of unidentified natural causes - there's a reason we "bleed" food animals out, and there are some diseases not killed by heat. (think prions)
2. Children can be emotionally harmed if adults are too rigid, particularly if this is the first or near first time they've faced death. Learning to cope in a healthy ways to loss is a valuable skill that too many of our children aren't being taught (either being overprotected or simply the opportunity doesn't arise.) Exploring how the child feels about the situation is key, as we're all different and unique.
3. Not all children I know would be ready for the "autopsy" experience. If it were me and I knew from the farm perspective it was important, I'd wouldn't expect the child to participate until they were ready, but I would explain why it was important that we do this before burying the animal.
4. Even for my own sake, I have a policy of *not* naming animals that will be eaten. If a name is required to make management easier, they're named "Stew" or "Quackers" or similar.
5. I consider that anything natural that we bury for whatever reason, is a valid gift to what I call, "the compost gods". If the meat from the dead pet is not required to feed the family, I would focus on why it's a valuable gift to nature. It's different if the child/family knew up front that this was that animal's fate, but sometimes even then, so long as you teach the individual how to avoid falling into the emotional trap of attachment in the future, there's a difference between rubbing a person's nose into their mistake, and being flexible enough to choose alternatives.

6.For those having to plant animals at a *really* wet time of year, I recommend putting high carbon material (wood-chips, cardboard, straw for examples) under and around the animal. I've had issues with it saponifying at times, and the high carbon appears to help. Has anyone else noticed this?
 
pollinator
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Ken, you got me with the title.  When I read the title, I saw that it was in the Chicken forum and the first thought that popped into my head was "No, you're gonna want pigs for that".  But enough about my past...

I think you got some great advice on what to do with the body.  I think it's unfortunate that you also got advice on how to raise your daughter.  I know it was all meant well and the advice you've been given certainly resonates with me, but you didn't ask for, or invite, critiques of your parenting.  Nobody here has any idea what your daughter is like or what path got you guys to this point, so you're really the only one who knows how to handle it with your daughter.  It's a really good life lesson however you deal with it and I'm sure it'll just be a step on the path.  

I've known farm kids who didn't want to deal with death; we all deal with it in our own way.
 
T Melville
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Timothy Markus wrote:I think it's unfortunate that you also got advice on how to raise your daughter.  I know it was all meant well and the advice you've been given certainly resonates with me, but you didn't ask for, or invite, critiques of your parenting.


Sorry, looking back, I see I was guilty of that. It wasn't intentional.

To address your actual question, then. I think burial deep enough to prevent exhumation by predators or scavengers is probably fine. Even anaerobic decomposition would feed the soil organisms, and leave nutrients behind for the yard, garden or orchard. I'd personally feel better about the fruit tree idea, as any pathogens from the chicken would be quite far from the food. I really think that's over-caution on my part, though. While I wouldn't want to eat a root crop that grew in contact with the chicken, if she was well buried, any above ground produce is probably safe. As mentioned before, a tree or shrub (or other perennial?) makes an automatic monument.
 
Timothy Markus
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T Melville wrote:
Sorry, looking back, I see I was guilty of that. It wasn't intentional.



I don't think any of it was meant as criticism at all, but Ken's new here and I found it takes a while to adjust to a forum where everyone is NOT flaming everyone else.  I really enjoy that about this forum, not to mention the vast amount of knowledge and experience here.  

You guys are all alright by me!
 
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I definitely like the idea of burying a "pet" livestock animal under a fruit tree.  Have to keep that in mind. Unfortunately when Guardian died a few days after the coyote attack I had to just pick a spot to bury her.  We don't have fruit trees yet.

Thunder (my younger boy's Welsummer) got butchered while they were away.  She had a large gaping neck wound from the coyotes so I put her down.  That carcass went to the neighbors though.  They don't mind eating a hen, and it helps keep things on friendly terms.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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T Melville wrote:In the future, it might help to make sure the kids understand what's in store for the animals from the beginning. We made the names of our first pigs into a constant reminder. They were Ken Ham, Kevin Bacon and (eventually) Francis Bacon. Francis started life with a different name, chosen by my four year old, based on his understanding of the butchering process. Your daughter might find that name a bit insensative right now, so I'll withhold it for now.

Our kids had no problem under that system. They didn't even mind being asked to go get some Kevin from the freezer. On the other hand, maybe boys are easier in this regard.



I don't mind the kids naming animals that aren't primarily meant to become dinner.  Though they do need to be told that they're subject to becoming dinner if necessary, whether due to becoming a problem, suffering an injury we can't mend ourselves, or in the case of hens becoming too old to lay eggs anymore.

With animals meant to become food, like our broad-breasted turkey poults, I tried to keep them from naming them.  Unfortunately mom allowed it.  So now I make a point, when anyone asks if they names to call them Drum, Stick, Gravy, etc.  I want there be zero sentimentality with those turkeys.  

A college friend stayed with us for 6 months or so after his divorce when he got a job at the same place I worked at the time.  A family friend of his was raising 3 pigs so we went in on one of them.  That friend named the pigs Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  I think we wound up splitting Lunch between us.
 
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Devin Lavign wrote:

Ken Mullan wrote:So my 7 year old daughter had her first experience with death this week.  One of our chickens (which we named and raised as pets) passed away, and my daughter has been nearly inconsolable.  I don't want the chicken to go to waste and so was planning on eating it, but she is opposed to this and I definitely do not want to be indelicate to her feelings.



I think there is a big difference from a chicken a child has raised as a pet vs one they know is livestock and part of the cycle of farm life.

Even then a lot of children can have a difficult time when they experience the livestock's end of life. I feel parents should be flexible but firm in these situations. Firm in the sense of not bending to the child out of hand, but flexible enough to be aware not every child can handle such things at the same ages. What was fine for one child might need a couple extra years for another. Personalities are different and parents usually will know when one is less ready for something than others.

For pets it doesn't matter if it is a dog, chicken, fish, or cricket. Emotions can run high and a lot of latitude should be provided, within reason. The death of a pet is a way to learn about life and death, but it does not need to be (and likely should not be) a lesson in butchering and eating of livestock. Finding a way to respectfully treat and return the loved pet to the earth is an important lesson for the grieving child. Finding a long lived tree for the pet to feed, helps teach the same lesson as eating it does, but in a more respectful way to the child's feelings. The child will have that tree in her life for a long time to come. She will likely give that tree extra care, as an extension of the care and love she had for the chicken. In this way she will have an understanding of life continuing through new life coming from death. While not perfect, it helps soften the blow that death brings.

I applaud you Ken for respecting your daughter's feelings, grief for a pet can actually be harder than the death of a person. Due to the unconditional love pets often give.



What a great post Devin.  If you have a child that is "nearly inconsolable" over loss of a pet, to cut it up in front of them for an anatomy lesson seems unnecessarily cruel to me.  A pet is not livestock in my mind.  A pet is a friend, and in many cases a closer friend than most humans.  I would save the anatomy lesson for another time.  Children get to learn about death soon enough if you have animals.
 
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Hi Ken. Welcome to the forums.

I feel that if a child is going to have to eat an animal, as stated above, that has to be the understanding from the beginning, or at least that it's a possibility.

I would be concerned about the cause of death, and would probably do an autopsy myself, and tell the child that I have to do it and why, but that they don't have to witness it. Seven-year-olds are smart enough to understand that something unpleasant might have to be done to keep the rest of the flock safe.

Still, if the child hadn't been prepared for it from the beginning, I would be extremely cautious; the well-being of the child trumps any thoughts about using this misfortune as a teachable moment.

I know we all love function-stacking, but I don't think this is the place and time.

As to the actual question, I like about 18" of carbonaceous material around the body in the pit, which means I like to dig a hole 18" deeper than the body's resting height to accomodate wood chips on the bottom. I like to put at least six to eight inches of living soil atop it, and a mulch layer of more wood chips to keep the soil covered. My experience is with cats, a 15 lb. chihuahua, and a 100lb. golden retriever. I have never dug them out to see the results, as they were all beloved pets, but the raspberry bushes and sunflowers sure loved that action.

Let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
pollinator
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I vote for the tree monument.

My family has had a lot of cats, most of which lived outside just long enough for us to get very attached to them and then they would die.  Most of these cats were abandoned and we took them because 1) we are suckers for kittens and 2) they would have been euthanized otherwise.  At any rate, when they died we would bury them someplace on our property and plant a tree over the body that best represents the cat’s personality.  From death comes new life—a healthy tree.

Eric
 
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Like other have already said, if we have a chicken die we don't consider eating it because we don't know if it died because it was sick. We immediately try to figure out what caused the death (our most recent death was a mystery as one happy and healthy chicken was found dead in the run and one chicken was  missing.  We later found the other chicken who had most likely experienced an exuberant dog induced heart attack.  The second chicken most likely made it back to the run to die and the first chicken was sneakily hid in a hole dug by her agressor behind a plant.  The aggressor all but confessed.)

Our boys know that the chickens are for eggs, that one day we will eat them ecc.  This is an agreement made on day 1 though.
When kids don't finish all of their dinner, some people tell them that some people don't have food.  I tell them that this was a live animal that lost its life to give us dinner. That a lot of time, work and resources go into raising an animal who then loses their life and is then eaten. That we have to respect the life of the animal.

Contrarily when we got rabbits we explained that they would be eaten. The boys negotiated that they could each pick one that wouldn't be eaten but their babies would be.  My kids are 5 and 7.
 
Jay Angler
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I am currently reading the 2005 (3rd edition) of the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins and it has a significant section about composting including studies which suggest that simple is best. He highly recommends composting as the best way to deal with dead bodies. (Pages 62 to 64 in my library's copy). He expresses concern about burying them as he feels that can increase the risk of contaminating ground water, and *highly* recommends materials such as sawdust, straw etc that "provide carbon and bulk for air impregnation". He also recommends absorbent material under the body to absorb the moisture and anything else that we'd prefer stay where the micros can deal with it.

I don't think this info would stop me from "composting in a shallow hole with extra carbon and a shrub planted on top" if the animal is fairly small. I've never planted enough at a time or place that I'd worry about ground water, because I'm pretty sure the worms will have a party before a problem will develop. If any permies have information counter to that, I'd love to hear about it, since I try to follow that old medical adage - first do no harm!
 
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