When I started this website, one of my first blog posts was on Death, Dying, and Killing. Reading it now, it all still holds true, but so much has happened since then.
I befriended two of our meat birds, Herman and Izzy. This was not a smart thing to do and Fred reminded me of this repeatedly. After I lost Pee-Wee, my heart was broken. Then Herman came along. So small. So loving. What else could I do but let him snuggle up against me and follow me everywhere? Herman got in the layer area with Maxie and she held him down and tore his skin in a bad spot. Instead of risking an infection, I decided to put him down. We had another bird that was cut in the same way and the infection that set in after was not what I wanted to happen to him.
Then there was Izzy. Izzy was getting picked on relentlessly by the others. Our niece first noticed her when visiting. We took Izzy out of the coop and she followed our niece around much to her delight. I kept her in the house a day or so and put her back with the others. Every time I walk by she would run to the front of the coop trying to get to me. The others were still picking on her, so into the old rabbit tractor she went. Like Herman, she would follow me around, sit on my lap as I worked, and come when I called. I took her to a few events since she would sit on my arm or on top of a cage and people watch. One day as she ran towards me, she stumbled and had a heart attack. My heart broke.
When Gertie had a litter of 14, I was stunned. She had two runts that died within the first 2 days. A third one died and we never found the body. When a piglet dies, the mother will either take it away from the nest or eat it to keep predators away.
I try to be at every farrowing in case a piglet is in distress. I’ve pressed my lips to many a newborn piglet’s snout in hopes of reviving it. Even though I’ve never succeeded, I still try.
A few years back, Momma had a calf die during birth. It was horrible. We hadn’t found her in time and the calf was breached hanging halfway out. While Fred went to call the vet, I stayed with her and tried to keep her calm. She was trying her best to push him out and I was trying my best to pull. She finally got down on the ground and started to roll and that worked. A very big bull finally came out. Momma got up and went to lick the calf. Nothing. She looked at me and mooed the saddest moo ever. I started to cry and told her I was sorry. Two steers were in the next paddock and gave her a low somber moo. They knew. She knew. We were all sad the bull wasn’t moving.
It takes time for a momma cow to accept their baby is gone. You can’t just take the calf, you have to let her mourn. You have to let her see the calf isn’t getting up and never will. She stayed with him overnight and by morning joined the rest of the herd. Again, my heart was broken.
Right now, Spring is coming and in the next few months, piglets and calves will be born. It’s bittersweet anticipation. In one of my favorite books, The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen, the main character Eldon says his teacher talks of Spring as a time of birth. Being a farm boy, he knows it’s also a time of death. That’s what raising livestock has also taught me.
I let my heart fill with joy with each beautiful birth and maintain it there through each death that may come. To hope everyone makes it is a fool’s folly. To never stop caring and trying and standing in awe of all the wonder I get to witness and participate in, is what I strive for.