There are so many people today that want to live on a farm and raise their food and own livestock. We meet many of these eager people who want to know what we have learned. There are many things we can teach them, but there are many things we cannot.
Probably the hardest thing to teach is commitment to your livestock. Once you have them you can’t just leave for weeks on end—someone has to take care of them. And we can never really teach about loosing your beloved animals. It will happen, there is no other reality, and it will hurt. I have heard stories of crusty old farmers who have to go behind the barn and cry after they have to put an animal down. It should be difficult to do. If it becomes too easy for you then you are missing the connection to your livestock. We cry when we loose an animal—we do name them! But even the chicken which I do not name is grieved when lost to the grips of death.
So this week I have lost a beloved Elder and three goats. Death has come to the farm. One goat was a first time mom that was due to have babies in a couple of weeks. She went off her feed and so we had to induce labor early. Pregnancy toxemia was the culprit, but later we discovered that her gut was twisted. It was pretty sure a fatal end either way. She tried her best and on Eater Sunday she gave birth to two little bucklings. We managed to keep the little guys alive until I could get them to the vet Monday morning. I learned a lot about how to care for preemies. For one they can not regulate their own body temperature. So we needed to warm them up a good bit at the vets and then I had to learn how to tube feed them. In nine years of caring for goats I have never had to tube feed! So home we went and the first little guy passed within an hour or two. And then the every hour feeding for the other one started. He just wasn’t responding well and last night at 11pm he passed as well. I cried a lot yesterday. These are beautiful little creatures and someone should grieve for them!
There are some farmers that say it is not worth the expense to call the vet, or if they can not survive on their own, they are not worth keeping. Only the hardy survive. I get that—and I look for sturdy, hearty stock in our sustainability plan for the farm. But, we confine livestock whether with fences or barns and we choose what to feed them. Even if you could keep them on pasture, we choose what the mix is that grows there. We choose their water source and breeding schedule too. We manipulate their lives and because of that I feel we must intervene on their behalf no matter what the cost. They are not wild. They can not be wild as long as we fence them or stall them, so therefore we should care enough to intervene where hope is still possible. It is never easy, and it shouldn’t be.
When we loose an animal we pray over it, just as if we had killed it for food. When an animal is dying and there is nothing I can do for it, I sit with them and stroke them, tell them how wonderful they were and how grateful we are that they were in our lives. I have seen animals call out to me if I try to leave the barn. They do not want to be alone. If you think for one minute that the animals in a barn don’t know what is going on then you are not paying attention. You are thinking they are beneath you.
On Easter evening when my doe Fiona was in agony delivering her babies, the mama goats in the stalls around her were calling out to her. I have even heard the bucks calling out to their does and the does answering back when they are in labor. So as I finally wrapped up the two little boys in a towel and knew mom could not take care of them so I had to take them to the house, my head doe Sunshine, in the stall next to us, put her head up over the divider and called to me. I knew she wanted to see the kids. I held them up to her and she nuzzled and kissed both of them and then she kissed me. Nothing could have kept me from crying at that point. So if someone tells you they are just dumb animals that are a price tag for your future benefit, tell them differently. They know more than we do. We just don’t understand them. S now my little doe Fiona and her two little boys are running in greener fields—may they be happy!