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.


  1. justdeborah2002 says:

    A difficult, but strong post.
    Thank you.

  2. zshawn says:

    You do what you can, that is the farmers mantra. For some who have never lived on a farm or in a rural location this may seem harsh. The reality of farm life often has lows that “city folk” can’t imagine. You have my heartfelt sympathy for all your losses this week. Stay strong!

  3. rebinva says:

    The fact of being tougher than one used to be is something to be proud of. I am proud of my ability to do what needs to be done as well, through my tears.

  4. rurification says:

    Amen. Farm reality is just like that. My husband does the dispatching and disposal [Bless him!] but digging a hole in our clay when it’s 95 degrees and baked to a brick is not easy or even possible all the time. We do what we can and pray we don’t see parts. I hate the random parts showing up.

  5. DancesInGarden says:

    Well written, and thank you! Not everything has to be pleasant, and as we all know, often is not. Now go hug a baby goat for me!

  6. outbackfarm says:

    Suzanne, I know what you are talking about. I have to do most of it all myself. But when one of my ewes died last summer, I called a friend with a tractor and he came and dug a really deep hole out in the garden and we buried her there. A few years back, I had a 3 day old calf that died. I loaded her up in the big yellow wagon and took the body way out back of the farm. I figured some wild animals would benefit. It’s just a fact of life. Don’t ever apologize for it. I know a lot of people just don’t understand and never will. It’s their problem, not yours. You do what you can at the time and that’s it. Sorry to hear about Cookie Dough. And the little kid. We all get stronger as time goes by. I don’t think we ever really get used to it, we just deal with it better. Because we have to.

  7. shirley T says:

    I don’t understand why that question would even come up. What else could you do except to bury them somewhere~~~and you do have hired help~~~men cousins and even Morgan’s boyfriend may be willing to give you a hand. Good luck with the rest of the babies. Happy Valentines Day!!

  8. gingergoat says:

    I wonder if there is someone in your area that hauls dead livestock. My cousin in Kansas made extra money (he was a wheat farmer) by hauling dead livestock to a nearby city to a facility. He had a big truck with an air-conditioned cab. When he wasn’t using it he parked it far far away from the house. In his trips through the towns along the way he was required to take certain routes through the various towns because of the strong odor. Death is a fact of life on a farm. You are to be commended for handling the bad as well as you do the good. I don’t know, but I would be willing to bet that your “good” out-weighs the “bad.”

  9. SpinnersEndFarm says:

    Good post. Animal deaths on a farm are always traumatic. We haven’t yet had anything larger than a dog die and there are many sad depressions in the woods containing chickens and rabbits and other beloved pets. We bury them avout 3-4 feet deep and. Avent had any digging up issues. Knowing that a llama or alpaca could have to be disposed of in winter is a sobering thought. We plan on having a neighbor dig a large hole on our property as a contingency plan we hope not to have to use anytime soon. Leaving a carcass to decompose on the surface is not a good option here with wolves and coyotes…many farmers that do so regularly, have had issues with depredations on live animals which we definitely do not want.

  10. chickema says:

    I’m so glad I read this post because I always felt guilty about the process of dead animals/pets and never talked about it. I thought I was being cruel but its the best I can do. I’m surprised tho how I am able to handle the emotional loss better each time, as you said being on a farm with animals is working with life and death.

  11. ibpallets (Sharon B.) says:

    You are spot on, Suzanne, this is the reality of farming.

  12. LisaAJB says:

    You’re very strong and responsible!

  13. dklenke says:

    Before I took on this farm, whenever I had a pet that died, I had someone else take over. I had worked on a hunting ranch and we had a pit we threw the remains in and lots of vultures in the area. They made quick clean-up of the area.

    My first larger farm animal to die, a Nigerian Dwarf wether named BamBam, left me to drag him to a spot that I wanted him to be buried and my neighbor kindly used his backhoe to dig a 5 ft deep hole (county regulations 4 ft of dirt on top of the animal)and fill it in, while I was at work. I have a wonderful neighbor. The other goats mourned his loss for several days. I have yet to lose a baby goat but I am sure, as the cycle of life continues on this farm, it will happen. I am sure that I will handle it but with great sadness. Suzanne, you often give me courage and the knowledge that I can run this farm on my own with a little help from my friends.

  14. kdubbs says:

    We have yet to lose anything really large (like a horse or pony), but if we do, we’ll be calling a neighbor with a backhoe. Other critters of the chicken-through-sheep size range get buried in the manure/compost pile and recycled into fertilizer. That’s just the way it goes!

  15. NancyL says:

    A very educational and, as others have said, strong post, Suzanne. I’m an apartment dweller and have always left cats with the vet for the necessary arrangements. But this brought back memories of my daughter’s pet cemetery (NOT spelled as in the Stephen King book!) behind the house we lived in at the time. It was at the very back of the backyard, and contained deceased pet mice, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits. Oh, and even some bantam chickens that a neighborhood dog dispatched. You are an amazing woman and you continue to grow!!!

    Nancy in Iowa

  16. IowaCowgirl says:

    Does your area have a rendering service or truck? We sometimes use Darling International and they have a WV location i believe. We never use them for anything but larger-than-calf-size animals; we dispose of the smaller ones ourselves. We dig a hole and sometimes end up throwing burnable trash in and igniting. Fortunately we don’t have herd members die very often, but during calving the reality (good title you had there!) is that some will die or not survive birth.

    It is illegal to send sheep to the renderer because of scabies and sheep can get pretty good sized…so it’s either dig a deep hole or compost ’em. Another thing that is illegal is for a vet to euthanize an animal, then have the rendering truck pick her up for use at a rendering plant – big no-no due to the barbituate used in killing her. – just an fyi –

    In my lifetime I’ve had some horses die of old age (and one shot by a hunter – grrrr.) Renderers charge $400 for these, but I wouldn’t use one anyway for a horse. Horses are quite a bit different in my book and require a backhoe and decent burial here on the farm (butt to the wind always).

    Death is just a part of life….no need for people to get squeamish or overly sentimental (well, it’s OK on that last one 8-)) I know a cattleman in the neighboring county who composts his dead animals. It really looks disgusting, but isn’t a bad way to do it theoretically…the suburban people really freak out though and I too am turned off by the sight of it…bottom line is “keep ’em all alive” (I wish!!)

  17. lesliedgray says:

    As well you should be! Farming is not for sissies and you SHOULD feel proud that you have handled the good as well as the losses.. i am sorry to hear about Cookie Doe also… I hope this year is a better one for us all…

  18. Cheryl LeMay says:

    I know there are companies that take downed and dead cows for the rendering plants. I don’t know about other animals. Some people burn them but I’ve never had much success with that and end up burying them anyway. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t had any larger livestock. I can deal with dead poultry myself. We also have a pet cemetary along a fenceline in our orchard.I know it’s a hard subject to talk about.

  19. Anita says:

    Thank you for this post. I wondered this very thing, but didn’t want to ask you here. Heartbreaking as it is, it makes me love ya that much more to see you growing stronger and more self-sufficient.

  20. FreedomValleyFarm says:

    My first horse died a few years ago. I was crushed and worried about how to bury him(and get him to the spot). I hired a guy to come out with a big backhoe and dig a hole. He must have had experience with this sort of thing, he just put some chains on his back legs and drug him to the hole. I didn’t watch all of it, but what I saw wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. He charged $125. So, I’ve kept his number and I keep the cost in mind since I have 5 other horses. Just in case.We have had to bury many other animals, dogs, cats, chickens, baby goats. I like them to go in the ground if at all possible. I’m sorry about Cookie Doe 😥

  21. MousE says:

    I think you are very strong. I’m sorry to hear about Cookie Doe. What a year of mixed blessings! Take care Suzanne. Farming life is often far more real than city life, because in the city someone else takes care of everything and you don’t experience the cycle of life.

    All the best to you and fingers crossed no more losses this year.

  22. MissPat says:

    Thank you for posting this, and for your honesty. Life isn’t always easy, but it’s always REAL.

  23. cabynfevr says:

    The reality of farming I dislike the most. My daughters pony is buried in the field but the goats were always picked up by a company that specializd in that. Fortunately, we now have two companies in state that will cremate for us. One specializes in horses and has the most humane, owner friendly service I have ever seen.

  24. Luv2Quilt says:

    What an appropiate title. I love your explanation and your candor on this subject. You can feel the love and the pain in your words but you stated the reality so eloquently.
    I love the saying “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Seems to apply in this case. Your growth and strength are amazing. I applaud you for taking on the subject and once again sharing your “real” life with us.


  25. aidenwsmom says:

    I used to work for a Landfill in Idaho, and people who lost animals n their farms would bring them, and we had set prices for small animals, medium animals, and large animals. What I always hated was when the vet had to put down a horse, because they came in live, he took them out to the pit, and put them down there. Pigs were the worst though, they stank to high heavens, no matter how fresh.

    Sorry you had to deal with all the death lately.

  26. beforethedawn says:

    I don’t think that is harsh or cruel. I think it is respectful of the animal. Much nicer than the thinking in my last comment for sure. I was raised in a rural environment with animals and we always buried them under the big berry tree. When my pony died of cancer, he was taken away. I never saw that part, but I was with him when he died.

  27. Grouchymama says:

    I was so sad when Clover died but I am sure it was a comfort to her that you were with her when she passed A couple of weeks ago we had a little pygmy get sick and couldn’t move. My huband used the bucket of the tractor to lift him up and put him in the barn while I called our vet. We ended up taking him to the vet. He examined him and said he had goat polio (different from human polio) which is caused from a Thiamine deficiency. He said he would give him a shot but it might be too late. As he turned away, little Lucky gave a nod with his head, and tried to get up, then he took his last breath. Very sad but I was glad we were with him, too.

  28. Pat says:

    Suzanne, you are most certainly an official farmer at this point. Just the other day in my community college class, I showed a youtube clip that included a section of a woman on a farm wringing chickens’ necks so she could cook them. Some students (all adults, mind you) were horrified. I looked at them and said, “Get a life. What do you THINK happens before that chicken meat shows up at the grocery store?” You have written a sensitive, honest post about farm life. Perhaps the topic of life cycle should be a part of your NEXT book. I’m so sorry about Cookie Doe. Your animals have all been fortunate to have been in your care.
    Pat in Eastern NC

  29. PaulaA says:

    When I give an animal’s body back to the land, it gives me some peace about their passing. For small ones that I am able to bury, I like to plant something on top. I just noticed yesterday that Ethel the cat’s tulips are popping up for about the tenth year. Tulips don’t usually last that long, but I think Ethel has given them some good nutrients.
    I think if I had to opt for a surface grave at my place, I might have to put a hedgerow in the line of sight, I wouldn’t want to accidentally glimpse the process. I think tossing a body in the untraveled woods is a fine option, providing food and nutrients for other animals and plants.

    I’ve looked a little bit into green burial for me. Don’t want to pollute with the crematory, don’t want to be locked into a vault. There are a couple of cemeteries in Washington that bury you in a shroud, and the family can plant native plants on you.
    Taking care of our dead is something modern life has taken out of many of us, and learning how to do it in a way that works for our land and our hearts is a powerful thing.
    RIP little goat, wherever you rest.

  30. GA_in_GA says:

    Yes, you do what you can.

    I have found I actually can dig a hole deep enough by using a post hole digger and letting water ‘stand’ in a shallow indentation to soften the ground beneath.

    Still never easy to lose our animals.

  31. melonhead says:

    You are the REAL Pioneer Woman.

  32. silentgoddess says:

    I don’t have anything of real substance to add that hasn’t already been said. I couldn’t agree with melonhead more. You are one strong lady and you handle farm adversity with such grace and compassion. I know it must be a hard path to take but also an amazingly rewarding one. Keep sharing the good and the bad. After all, that is what life is.

  33. yvonnem says:

    I have to say I wondered about this too. I know digging a hole is not one of my abilities either. This was an excellent and honest post. I hope you don’t have to deal with any more animal deaths for a very long time.

  34. leneskate says:

    :sheep: I am a city born girl and I think you are spot on!! Good job, for a tough job.

  35. gardnerh says:

    It is a hard subject to discuss publicly. One of the thing we’ve done at our place is add a plant to the burial site – perhaps something that reminds us of them. It’s nice to see something alive and growing to keeps our fond memories alive.

  36. Mandys says:

    Aw I’m sorry to hear about Cookie Doe. Animal deaths are hard to deal with no matter how you deal with the body. 🙁

  37. farmershae says:

    Thanks for talking about this Suzanne. Death is rough but you are dealing with it like a farmer. “Gittin-r-dun” I appreciate you letting us see all sides of your life.

  38. Taryn says:

    I’m so sorry about your losses. I have horses, llamas, a cow, nubian goats, pygmy goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and, for many years, a pack of wolf hybrids. And no man to help. As they have died, for various reasons over the 16 years I have lived here, I have had to bury beloved animals or call tallow for the largest ones, too big for me to handle. You do what you can with the empty body; the spirit of the animal remains with you.

    Peace and love to you in your sadness!

  39. VAfarmer says:

    First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about Cookie Doe, and your precious little one. Your statement “if you have livestock, you have deadstock” is spot on. I try to minimize that, as we all do, but it is a fact of life. It’s never easy to lose an animal you care for, and, in my opinion, if you ever think it is (easy), you’re not doing it right. Every loss makes me question myself, and rightly so, because the life lost should be a lesson to help prevent future losses. We do what we have to do, and we move on, knowing that the precious life was not lost in vain, but rather will help us be better farmers.

    On the ‘cleanup’ note: I’ve heard that LGDs are usually very efficient at helping clean up. I don’t have personal experience, and I’m not sure I would recommend that method (especially not for a large animal), but for all of the readers here, it’s just a thought. I do know they will clean up afterbirth and offal from slaughter if you leave it around. They do it out of instinct because they know it will attract predators, and their job is to keep those predators away.

    Personally, we have a spot in the woods where we take our deceased critters. I have learned over time to detach my feelings from the physical body which is no longer occupied, and to leave what is left for nature to take care of. We go back later and collect and bury any bones left around. Mostly because it makes us feel better, really. I’ve taken a horse to a render-er, and it is an awful place. Better if they come pick them up, but still a hard experience. We are fortunate to have a lab nearby that will do a necropsy and dispose of the rest, all for less than the cost to have the render-er come pick up the body. I had to do that once (with a horse) as well, and it was easier and less traumatic.

    Thanks for being a strong woman farmer, and for sharing your hard times and triumphs with us! You have sparked an important conversation here, and hopefully some folks will find your post, and the comments, helpful in easing the pain (and difficulty) of a loss and subsequent disposal.

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