Archive for February 14th, 2013



Random cheerful photo.

Yesterday in the comments on my post about Nutmeg’s littlest baby dying, the question was raised–what do you do with the body? I wasn’t sure I really wanted to answer that question. And maybe some people don’t want the answer, in which case STOP READING.


You had your chance.


Clover was a special case. I had her at the vet’s office at the time. She was cremated. Taking her ashes home wasn’t part of the deal, and I was okay with that. I was pretty emotional at the time and was just glad that she was being taken care of in a way that was better than I could have accomplished on my own. Not long after that, by the way, Cookie Doe also died unexpectedly, and I didn’t write about it because I was still so emotional about Clover. Nutmeg, Sprite, and Fanta are my only does at this time, other than my plans to keep Maia and the little white baby. I suspect Cookie Doe died for similar reasons as Clover, but I didn’t have her at the vet’s so I’m not sure.

I often look at BP and wonder what I will do when she dies. Cows are big. But I know…. I have discussed it with my hired man.

What happens when an animal dies depends on the circumstances and the size of the animal. Last summer I lost two sheep–MinnieBelle was dragged off, so that wasn’t an issue. But the young ram was in the field. I’ve had babies die, and I’ve had older sheep and older goats die. If you’re going to have livestock, you’re going to have deadstock, that is just a fact of life.

At home on the farm, there are a few options, and every decision is individual to the time and the animal and the situation and your abilities. This may sound strange, but as heartbreaking as it can be, this past year has been an empowering experience for me. Taking care of deadstock is a man’s job. If there’s a man on the farm, he usually handles “the problem” and the woman walks away. I didn’t so much as touch a dead chicken at Stringtown Rising. And I liked it that way, but it is a removal from reality that I’m no longer afforded. I don’t always have a man here to help me. I have to shoulder these events on my own, and handle them however I can. Taking responsibility from birth to death makes me feel stronger. Even though physically, I’m not. But I do what I can.

I don’t want to go into specifics according to any animal by name, but here are the various ways it can be handled. A large animal, such as a horse or a cow (which I haven’t had to deal with yet), would have to be moved with a tractor (and when that happens, I will call for help). A medium-sized animal might be carried, depending on the person’s strength, or placed in a wagon. A smaller animal can be tucked into a towel to be moved. A large or medium animal is probably not going to be moved very far, but would be moved to as remote a place on the farm as possible, depending on the size and where it can be moved. I keep agricultural lime in the barn, which speeds decomposition. For a smaller animal, a ravine a few miles away makes a good “burial” spot. Some people might dig a hole for small or medium animals, but I don’t have that ability. A hole needs to be deep. Or, if choosing the “ravine burial” method, it needs to be a few miles away. The worst thing that can happen is if parts come back to you on the porch because the hole wasn’t deep enough or the ravine wasn’t far enough away and the dogs found it.

How I handle a death is how I can. And when I come back to the house, in the middle of the sadness, I know I did it, by myself, and there is that sense of empowerment that comes with it. A farm is life and death, on any given day. I face it and I take responsibility for it. And whatever I do in a given situation, it often follows holding that animal as it dies–and then doing the unthinkable afterward.

I’m tougher than I used to be, and I’m proud of that.

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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