I felt gut-punched yesterday, sunk in gloom. It is hard for me to bear accidents that result in the death of any creatures in my care.
I imagine I have cared for a thousand animals over the years — a thousand little beating hearts and bright pairs of eyes. The photo above shows chick brooder boxes in the corner of our kitchen in 2003.
Animals die. I’m always sad, but when it’s my fault I never forget it. The baby rabbits, when I was eighteen and didn’t know any better than to allow them to nurse as much as they wanted from a bottle, that died of bloat. The baby skunks of the same era that became wet in an overnight rain and died of hypothermia. More recently a newborn calf, Jif, who because I didn’t double-lock a gate, jiggled the single latch loose and wandered into Moxie’s stall where he was rammed, incurring internal injuries. In the same week Cider’s first lamb, tiny and perfect…
… died of simple starvation. I knew Cider was an inexperienced mother, I thought she was not being attentive enough. However I was exhausted by a relentless virus that had swept through my four calves, triggering potentially deadly scouring that had me driving to the barn around the clock to feed each calf bottles of warm electrolytes, and to wash and coat their bottoms with Vaseline to protect them from the vicious diarrhea that burned their hides. I was so tired. I told myself Cider would manage. She did not. The lamb died. My dear Allen died that day, too. Jif died the next day.
It’s easier to focus on the lives I save. Here’s one of the calves a week later, finally back on his feet after the terrible scouring. Within a month all the hair grew in again and you’d never know I’d had to fight through so many sleepless nights to keep him alive.
I never forget the lives I lose through ignorance or accident. I never shake it off. I know I will feel low for days. But farming (and life) means you have to carry on.