One of the most painful lessons I’ve learned since becoming a farmer is that life ends. The worst endings are the unexpected. It may seem strange to hear that a person who raises Angus cattle for beef would mourn the loss of an animal, but I have.
Some deaths, though sudden, haven’t affected me as much. A perfect example of this is when two of my chickens escaped their coop early in my chicken-mama career. Our Husky, Ricky, has free access to the backyard and saw those two loose birds on the other side of his fence. Once he saw that, the game was afoot!
He dug his little heart out until he could crawl under the barrier. Once he was free of the enclosure, the chickens became the best toys ever. Those birds never had a chance. Honestly, though, I was more upset at the dog getting loose and getting the taste for free-range chicken than I was about the dead chickens. I guess that makes me a little hard-hearted.
Another incident occurred when a calf was born prematurely. He was the cutest little bull I’d ever seen. Calves are so small compared to their mamas, but this little guy was beyond tiny. He did great, though. Within days, he was up and running around with the other babies, jumping and having fun. It’s so relaxing to watch them play.
Then one day, we checked on him, and he was not with his mama. He wasn’t with any of the herd members. They were all down by the woods, chilling, but he lay in the pasture on the hill by himself. This behavior was a little unusual for his age. When we got out to check on him, he ran back down to be with the rest of the cattle. So, we figured his mama had hidden him and not called for him yet. Yes, mama cows will hide their calves when they are little.
The next day, we checked on him, and he was up by himself again. This conduct wasn’t normal, for sure. Not after he’d already shown he could play with the other babies. So, we decided we needed to hand-feed this little fella to ensure he was getting fed properly. Off I went to the store to pick up the formula and supplies to make him a bottle. Never having hand-fed one before, I had to ask several questions and do a bit of research to ensure I had all the required supplies. When I returned to the farm, I went in search of the little nipper.
I searched and searched and searched the entire field. He was tiny and could have been hiding anywhere. When I found him, my heart broke. He was lying dead at the top of the hill, all by himself. My tears and sobs of sorrow flowed out in torrents. It devastated me. It was as if I’d failed the poor little fellow when I should have ensured his well-being. Mama had probably abandoned him, knowing he had some medical problem, and I hadn’t recognized what she’d done.
It was days before I stopped hurting over that little bull’s death. It terrified me another one would die on me if I didn’t watch them with the same intensity that Ricky devoted to looking for more chickens to get loose. Later that same season, we had another small calf born, and his mama wouldn’t nurse him. I immediately jumped into action and got the formula prepared. It wasn’t easy to learn how to get him to nurse on a bottle, but we did it. We only fed him four times before his mama got mad at us for feeding her baby and took over feeding him herself. New mamas can figure it out with time.
Lessons learned? You never know what to expect in life. Surprises occur daily. Some of those surprises are losses that kick you in the gut. It happens, and we don’t always see it coming. But there is life after loss. Supporting each other through these difficult times is a crucial ingredient to getting past them. I was grateful to have family and friends to support me while I struggled.
I also learned that just because you failed once doesn’t mean you are a failure. It means you had something to figure out so you could do it right the next time. As a new farmer, I feel as though I’m learning lessons every day. But that’s what makes life sweet—always moving forward.
Have thoughts to add to this? I’d love to hear from you.