a familiarity with dying
It has been awhile since I have had to deal with death on the farm. Nobody died today. Nothing to worry about. But while we were in North Carolina last month I walked into the presence of death immediately. Such a presence is unavoidable on such a big farm as the one down there. When we first arrived and were going pen to pen to say hi to all our old (animal) friends we came across a dead Pickle. Pickle had been one of the sows we worked with for many a litter of piglets during our tenure. Her death had been natural and by the looks of it, quite peaceful. We found her cold, lying amongst a bed of leaves, her big pigged brethren nearby. It was sad, but it wasn't shocking. I have found too many dead livestock in my days to count. And when you are raising several hundred hogs and several hundred cows as they do at Cane Creek, its going to happen...often.
Dead I can do well. Dying, I can't handle as gracefully. I cannot do anything for the dead animal, but with the dying animal there is hope, there is opportunity to save and to love.
The above calf was found, dying, in the pasture, on one of our recent mornings in North Carolina. He looked to have been abandoned by his mom. Elizabeth called Nick and I to say that she was going to intubate a calf and if we wanted to learn how, now was our chance. We scuttled to the far side of the farm where Elizabeth was with the calf, milk replacement and tube. We lay his wondrously heavy body down on my lap and Elizabeth showed Nick how to slide the tube down gently through his throat so we could get some milk replacer into his dying body in hopes of reviving him.
Milk replacer isn't realistically going to do squat if the calf hasn't had any colostrum. Elizabeth told me not to get attached (she knows me very very well). But I sat there in the sun and massaged his throat and kissed his head and tried to cure him with sheer will. I had Elizabeth's warning floating somewhere in the back of my brain but nonetheless logistics buzzed quickly through...We were headed to New York the next day and I wondered if Ayana could have cows in her apartment building even if dogs weren't allowed. I thought about the 10 hour drive ahead and how many times we'd need to stop to let him out for pee breaks. I wondered if calves were as good driving companions as piglets. I wondered if they could be house broken and if we would keep him in the living room or bedroom when we got home and that maybe Rudy would give him one of his dog beds.
He died quickly. Before I had the chance to name him and cancel our city plans and convince Nick that we needed to put all this love into an animal we would then need to slaughter for beef a couple years later.
I still haven't found a comfortable place on the farm between loving the animals and distancing myself with their deaths. Our farm will grow bigger this year when our cows calve this spring. It will grow bigger still the following year with more calves and then lambs. It is not sustainable for our farm or my well being that I allow myself to be so attached. I do think it is vital that farmers shepherd their flock with a conscience and with love but we can't be stop-and-drop-everything-animal lovers for every being. There isn't enough time in the working day. I need to pick my favorites and my battles and distance myself from emotionality of it before it consumes me and I can no longer farm. I am working on it, even if by appearances of this blog you would doubt it.
Posted by kate at 10:02 AM