After I wrote my post about Agnes the rooster getting killed, my Dad asked that I not post anymore sad stories. That’s a hard request to honor. As much as beauty, wonder, and magic are part of the farm, so is death, dying, and killing. Every day, and I mean EVERY SINGLE DAY, I am in total and complete awe of something. We don’t have to STOP to smell the roses, we can enjoy them every day, all day. Whether it’s the wild violet popping up to announce spring, the snow clinging to the trees like a white shadow, the lightning bugs continuing the starry night into the trees and pastures, or walking the fence line enjoying the silence…there are so many things to soak in and appreciate. But for every good, there must be a bad.
Something we hear a lot from people is, “I would love to raise my own food, but I couldn’t kill an animal”. My answer is always that it is one of the hardest parts of what we do. The hardest part would be finding an animal dead or having to euthanize it. Yes, death is death. But there is something about an animal that doesn’t get to fulfill its purpose that makes me very sad. We’ve had chicks that just die. We had a calf, Caroline, that was lame and when we couldn’t get her to stand, we had to euthanize her. Then there are the cases where being a responsible owner mean you make the choice that is best for the animal. Fred’s horse, Honey, was very old and sick and we couldn’t stand to see her suffer through the summer heat, so we put her down. We butchered 200+ chickens last season and every one was hard. With each one, we say, “I am sorry”. The night before, Fred and I always have knots in our stomachs. One reason our business stays small is that we do all the butchering here on the farm. There is a place about an hour away that we could take them to be processed, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do that. Part of why we do what we do is so we know how the animal is treated. After caring for them, singing to them, giving them a good life, I can’t see us piling them into a trailer and driving them to their death. This May, we send two steer to be butchered. If we were set up better, we would do the slaughter on the farm and take them in to be only processed. I feel like if anyone is going to do the killing, it should be us, not a stranger.
I heard a story about a woman who asked a person who raised their chickens to eat, why they couldn’t just get their chicken from the store like everyone else. Let that soak in for a minute. I think most people are just as out of touch with where their food comes from as what it means to raise your own food. Yes, I have killed chickens. To eat and to stop their suffering. It’s not easy. But I think one of the ways I am able to do this is because I have raised them. I see chicken and beef in a store, and I think, “no one loved that animal”, “no one tossed and turned at night wondering if they were ok”. Seems odd to think that caring for them enables me to kill them. But knowing how they lived, and the compassion given at their death, does make it bearable.
The other day I came across a rabbit nest while we were putting up the pig pen. One of the small dogs was in the pen, and I noticed she had something in her mouth. I looked closer and thought it was a vole. Then, I noticed 4 little rabbits in a nest. My heart jumped. I checked them and they were all dead. I am afraid that when we came into that part of the pasture, it scared the mother off, and they died because of us. It was hard to see them all dead. Part of me had hoped I could have raised them…had my own litter of bunnies. In the end, they would have had the same fate, but at least if I had raised them, they would have been safe and lived a good life.
It’s the circle of life, the way it goes, and we all have our place in the food chain. But I think it’s how we face death and what we do before it that makes the difference. With people and with animals. So we try to make our life and our animals life the best it can be.