Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Life and Death

Let me tell you, starting your morning with a mercy killing is a real joy killer.

I love most everything about farming and the aspects I don't care for (ie., carrying water in the winter, moving the sheep fencing AGAIN, agonizing over vetting decisions) aren't really all that bad in the scheme of things. But the one thing I hate about farming, though I think it's helped me grow up a little, is dealing with death. Because if there's one thing farm animals aren't it's hardy.

Take our chickens for example. A couple nights ago it was a raccoon trying to carry one off. Yesterday it was a Cooper hawk that almost got one of the babies and then was trying for a hen. The other day one died out of the blue. No reason. Just dropped dead. (I was worried about that until I talked to other chicken people and they confirmed. Yep, sometimes for no reason whatsoever they just drop dead. Of course, she was my favorite.)

This morning it was a chipmunk. Not strictly speaking, a farm animal, per se, but it was lying in the doorway of a stall this morning when my daughter and I were doing our twice weekly horse chores feeding 20 plus horses. I think he was a victim of Oscar, the barn cat, who, catlike, didn't bother to finish him off. Thanks to the good people on the angora list I had several options to humanely euthanize it having had the gumption to ask about that in relation to my rabbits should the need ever arise. I wondered at the time if I would be brave enough to actually do it, but when you are faced with letting an animal die a slow agonizing death or ending its suffering you put on your big girl panties and do what needs to be done. And to do that you forget, for a moment, all the cute human characteristics that you give animals making them like little, adorable people who even when they are grumpy are incredibly lovable.

Which is why I say I think having to deal with the starkness of sickness and death have made me grow up a little and accept some of the more gruesome facts of life. Like animals die sometimes and if you get worked up about each and every little one you're wasting a lot of energy. Mother Nature can be cruel and sometimes life just sucks that way. That's when I try to remember that even Beatrix Potter was realistic about such things and she was just as prone to anthropomorphize animals as I am. After purchasing one of her first farms, Hilltop, she came out one day to observe the first litter of piglets that had been born on her farm. She asked the farmer if he'd named them yet. He replied, "We don't generally name them. Makes it hard come butchering time." You can bet that didn't stop her from eating them.

Still, losing that naivete kinda takes the bloom off life somehow. Makes you feel so gall-darned grown-up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Carnage in the Coop

I'm pretty sure that a chicken squawking woke me up at 2:30 this morning. But I wasn't positive. So I risked my husband's wrath (he doesn't take kindly to being woken up but claims he's not responsible for his actions when he's half asleep) and shook him awake to make sure he'd put the chickens up last night. He said he had so I went back to sleep . . . after a loooooooooong time. Before I actually fell asleep I could hear a pack of coyotes howling like the hounds of hell.

I figure I had just drifted off . . . finally . . . when there was an almighty commotion. Rachel was yelling, Rob was running, and somewhere something was screaming and it went on and on. I was so out of it my biggest impressions are of following Rob outside to check the coop and doing a lot of whimpering. He wanted to know how many chickens we have (7, 2 chicks, and 1 rooster) and thought at first that they were all there, but then realized one was missing. She must not have gone into the coop with the others when it got dark and he didn't notice when he closed them in. We were about to go looking for her when she tottered out of the woods looking a bit dazed and headed straight for the light streaming out of the coop. No blood, no cuts, no nothing. Some ruffled feathers, that was all.

Our best guess is that it was the raccoon we've been having trouble with. Rob yelling as he ran out of the house probably saved the chicken's life scaring away the coon. I'm wondering if we might not have to live trap that beastie and relocate him somewhere far, far away. We haven't had coons around in something like 25 years. The foxes and coyotes are enough trouble.