Note: this post was written in September of 2014!
Loss on the farm is unavoidable. It's probably one of the hardest parts of farm life. It's an ever present threat looming on the horizon. The worst aspect is that this loss usually happens unexpectedly. The loss isn't always death, it can also be rain that doesn't come, and crops that wither in never ending heat. A swarm of insects intent on consuming seeds, and leaves. Or, ironically enough, rain that won't stop, or a string of bad luck that causes tires to go flat, animals to get sick, and dreams to shake and waver.
Lucky enough for me, I haven't experienced a lot of farm losses yet. I don't depend on the garden for food, so any losses there have been easier to accept. Last summer we lost our rooster, and 8 hens. That was a more expected loss, chickens get taken by predators often, and eventually we got their coop secure enough the remaining three hens were safe. Last fall, Berta got sick, and I thought losing her would be unbearable, but she made it. A few weeks ago we had our first unexpectedly, harder hitting losses. We had bought 6 meat turkeys, two had to be culled due to leg problems, and the remaining four were taken to the farm so they could start "free" ranging in the hoop coop. They did well for a week, but I found two dead during evening chores. The remaining two were injured and in shock, but made it.
Yesterday (9/23/14) I experienced our first loss that hit me hard. I'd cleaned the coop, and removed the young chicks brooder. I put out fresh hay, while all the chicks scratched, and explored the new coop. I called all the dogs to me, and headed down to take care of the goats. On my way back I heard squaking, and chickens crying out. As I neared I realized my mom and dads chihuahua mix, not even a year old, and under 8 pounds killing chickens. I yelled at him, he stopped, and I banished him from the pen. Three chickens were dead, three flopped around. I was hoping the floppers were just in shock, but a part of me knew that was their final throws, not something they would recover from. I realized the two poor turkeys who had endured an attack of a different kind were injured. One quite badly. I sat in the coop and cried.
I am not someone who cries easily, or often. I understand that life is about death as much as it is about life. I realize that there is a time and a season for all things. I just wasn't expecting this, the thought hadn't even crossed my mind that I would face such devastation...today. I cried. Ironically, all the chickens killed, were my favorites. A timid rooster, a partridge cochin, two that I'm nearly positive were easter eggers, and two white skiddish sultans. I felt so many things in that moment. I felt grief for losing favorites, the impact of knowing I've spent so much money raising them only for all of that to be for naught. But most of all? I felt guilty.
I take this farm life seriously, especially raising animals. One of the largest reasons I'm raising animals for meat, eggs, and milk (that's the goats of course!), is because I want to give them the life they deserve, and the life God intended for them. I want them to free range, to hunt insects, raise their own young, to have the best life they can, whether they are on earth days, weeks, months or years. I failed these chickens. Or at least that's how I felt. I feel especially guilty for the poor turkeys. I want the animals I raise and eat to only have one bad day. Usually that would be butchering day, these poor turkeys have already experienced two bad days, and I'm scared there are more on the horizon.
Farm life is hard. Especially when you feel it in your soul. These losses are heartbreaking, and change the way I view things. They make me falter, and hurt, and question myself. "Is this really what I want? Do I really want to constantly be surrounded by death? By unexpected losses of life, along with those lives taken by my own hands for food?"
The answer, at least for now, is yes. This is what I want. And although it doesn't seem like it, it's not all about death. There is so much birth, and rebirth on a farm it's awe inspiring. But like everything else, there is a season to all things. You just have to remind yourself of the rainbow after the rain.
Note: Unfortunately about a week or so later we had another dog attack. The turkeys were also attacked again, and we chose to end their suffering instead of trying to treat their injuries. After this happened, we took steps to keep the chickens and dogs permanently separated. We've only had one more additional loss, but it was due to an unknown predator. I plan to add a pair of "attack" geese next year to better help deter the dogs. The two roosters have also really matured and are starting to intimidate the dogs as well!
My name is Monica, I'm passionate about farming, food, and the humane treatment of livestock.