“How do you do it?” people ask. “Deal with the death you encounter on a farm?”
Before I answer that question, let me state that the death of farm animals isn’t easy for me. Watching my children grieve the loss of a farm animal is even harder. It would be callous to just tell them with a shrug, “That’s the circle of life, kid. Now, go get a shovel.” We do take the opportunity to talk about how nature works—some animals don’t make it; they get sick or injured or die of old age. We haven’t had more than the normal amount of death on our farm over the years. (Well, minus the time a fox got into the duck tractor, which was tragic.) But death is inevitable on a farm.
We just had chicks arrive in the mail yesterday. We celebrated that all of them made it through shipping before helping them nestle into the safe, warm, and clean living space we had for them. Sadly, this morning we woke to find that one of them had not made it through the night despite it being a calm evening and warm under their heat lamp. My son was distraught. It had been the one he selected to take care of out of the bunch. The highs and lows of farm life can seem extreme at times. After yesterday’s celebrating, here we were needing to bury yet another farm animal. I gave him a tight hug and my children took care to bury him near our beloved rooster’s grave.
Then a new blow. Another of the chicks likely has an intestinal infection or parasite. We immediately put it in quarantine to keep the other chicks safe. With the help of my children, I’ve been nursing the sick chick all day. Every hour or so, I use a medicine dropper to give her water and try to help her eat yogurt and starter food slush. She has revived several times but we fear the worst. As it goes, this one was the chick my youngest had latched on to.
This evening, my son ran in to tell me that another chick was face down in the wood chips. That’s right, folks! We have a second invalid to nurse. So—we’ll see and we’ll hope.
What I like to remember most are the farm animals we’ve cared for and even helped bring into the world. We have had baby goats kidded right here on our farm. We have had chickens secret eggs away until they have hatched while we watched in amazement as mama hen took care of them. We have brought many chicks to adulthood who now roam our fields (and mess up my garden). We saved two sets of Muscovy ducks at different times. The farm dog, Josie came as a puppy and is now helping to “train” the new puppy Lilly. So much life!
How do I deal with the death of farm animals? Well, first we try to avoid it. When it happens, we deal with it with compassion, with awe for God’s creation. That’s all we can do and that’s what I hope to instill in my children as they too experience the ups and downs of farm life—and death.