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Buzzards and Buses

May 24, 2011

One of Murphy’s laws of farming is that many times two different worlds collide at the same time.  Yesterday’s case started to unfold when I found a cow trying to deliver a dead calf.

Buzzard on a brace sunning himself.

Pulling up to the gate I noticed a buzzard on a fence brace.  Not a surprise, the buzzards appear to clean up the afterbirth within hours of a birth, or at least within twelve hours or so.


A hurried look at the cows revealed the babies already on the ground were safe with their moms, but a different cow was in labor.  A quick inspection revealed the calf was dead and she was delivering a stillborn.  Sigh.

This is where most of the population is insulated when they buy their food instead of providing for themselves.  Death happens.  To all of us.  Livestock farmers just see the angst up close and a little more personal than the rest of the population.  Death is natural.  I am somewhat of a natural farmer.  I know all the old sayings about livestock and deadstock.  I am the screener, (like the secretary shielding her boss)  as is my daughter who had to help me dispose of the calf.  Of course, as a home schooled farm kid she has had to drop everything and put on the gloves so to speak, and ask her dad to put down her first horse, or help me with those pesky little chores like taking this calf away from its mother to alleviate the predator pressure on the other cow’s calves.  It’s just a fact of farm life.  She gets it.  She knows that we waited for this calf for nine months, and we would raise it for two years before we sold it and got a paycheck.  We’re sad, the cow is sad, it’s tough.  She knows all of this.  She also knows you do what you gotta do.  It hurts our pocketbook and it hurts our heart.

One of the hard parts is when you pull out the gate and as your locking it, you hear the school bus coming up the road, and you got a dead, slippery calf chained (so it won’t fall out on the road) in the pickup box.  Groan.  Talk about a field trip.  Biology lesson, Outdoor School call it what you want.  Funny that, we were worried about assaulting some poor child’s senses (because the media tells us so) and as we looked up,  we noticed the kids on the bus all had their heads down and their iPods firmly in place.  No worries here, they didn’t see a thing.  And part of me is relieved and part of me is bothered.  They should see it.  In our modern techno world you can still live in a rural area and never see a dead animal, unless it is roadkill.  Our school buses the science class up to a 40 acre plot in the woods and studies nature.  That’s what they get, bark dusted, groomed trails and frogs and mushrooms.  To me nature is so much more than a walk in the Gorge looking at waterfalls and big trees, it is the ebb of flow of life.  A dead calf, a carrion eater with a 5 or 6 foot wing span or a dead gray digger that ate one too many Mizuna plants.  Macabre?  Not to me, my world is not sanitized and whitewashed or very protected.  Animals, and plants die, some of an old death, some from disease and some by my own hand.  It’s a full world, with good and bad and I am thankful for the chance to live it.

And speaking of living and dying, Jane is one today.   Daily I see a glimpse of her mom, and more and more I see Jane growing into the cow she will become.

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51 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2011 6:56 am

    So true, a very true and good post.

    A poem for you, if you like:

    We are that kind of town-bred country folk
    that say, when asked, oh yes, we do keep stock …

    then gently turn the subject to one side.
    Some will persist; they want to know the worst.

    “If you,” I tell them, “want to do this, understand:
    sometimes one has to steal the place of God.”

    … our Khaki Campbells and Anconas come by mail
    in lots of twenty, every second year.

    When small, they’re silken, breathing toys,
    and grow to be what could be called our friends …

    But half are drakes. In high summer, I
    don my most solemn face, and tie with care

    my long blue apron on. I wrestle to the barn
    our butcher’s block, and like some surgeon

    spread my glittering tools nearby. The axe
    is first, and as its blade ascends,

    I feel a panic rising in the eyes
    hidden beneath my unrelenting hand.

  2. May 24, 2011 7:03 am

    It is an important lesson isn’t it? I don’t think we should isolate children from that reality.
    We lost a chick the other day that we had been hand feeding (we are softies) and the children buried her after they wrapped her in a pretty piece of pink fabric. We thanked God for giving us the chance to take good care of her even though she only had a few days of life.
    I think that goes for our food supply as well. To know that the animals are cared for during their life time on earth is so important.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Warm wishes, Tonya

    • May 25, 2011 5:04 am

      Tonya, yes it is an important lesson and up to us as parents to teach it, even though it can be a difficult thing to do.

      Sorry about your chick, it’s not easy to lose any animal, no matter what the size or age is. 😦

  3. May 24, 2011 7:11 am

    So sorry for your calf 😦

    And, Happy Birthday to Jane…Rest In Peace Deliah!

  4. May 24, 2011 7:29 am

    Great post, and you’re right of course.

  5. May 24, 2011 7:39 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I have been working with my neighbor, a dairy farmer, for the past four years – helping out here and there in the barn, as my f/t job permits. No matter how hard you try to do things right, shineola happens. I’ve helped him pull a dead calf, watched as he worked like crazy to save a good milker who had the misfortune to deliver twins – both stillborn, days apart – and couldn’t. But it IS part of life. Like you said – it’s a full world and I wouldn’t trade in for anything else. Thank for putting it so well.

    • May 25, 2011 5:07 am

      Susan, it’s tough for sure, farming. And the more animals you have, the greater the potential for something to go wrong. I bet your neighbor appreciates your help and understanding. 🙂

  6. Chris permalink
    May 24, 2011 7:57 am

    I can’t add a thing to this post….you simply said it all perfectly! Beautiful photo of Jane!

  7. Marilyn permalink
    May 24, 2011 8:02 am

    Happy birthday, Jane 😉

    We lost a ewe as a result of shearing this year. Some folks are surprised that there are ranchers that weep when their “livestock” dies. But, yes, it’s good to be close to reality, away from the fictional world we have built in concrete and glass towers.

    • May 25, 2011 5:12 am

      Marilyn, Silly Jane doesn’t even know it’s a her birthday! I am just glad to have that year behind me, now I can really start worrying about her as she gets older 😉

      I think in the fictional world, death is just presented in such a false way. There is a huge difference between the death of a chicken for eating, or the loss of a chick, butcher steer or newborn calf. But these days many think it is all the same.

      Sorry about your ewe, that’s tough. 😦

  8. kristin permalink
    May 24, 2011 8:20 am

    I’ve never commented on your blog before, though I have happily lurked! We are located on the other (east) end of the Gorge (plus a bit into the wheat fields and orchards) from you. I just felt this post was so important, and your point so crucial — we are surrounded by fake violence and blood, but few people really have been exposed to death and dying.

    I teach a college writing class, and at the point where we are discussing media, etc., I always ask how many in the class (of 25, usually) have even been in the same room when someone died. There are never more than 3. Then I ask how many watch horror or action movies, play violent video games, etc. You can imagine the sorts of results. I remind them that 300 years ago every boy/man in the room would likely have been to war of some sort already; that my grandmother (born in 1897) had, by my age (36), washed and laid out several bodies (adult and child) for burial. We have an odd combination of thinking we’re “tough” and not knowing anything about it.

    We raise our own chickens and eat them. You wouldn’t believe how many people are horrified by that. Our children know that chicken breasts come from chickens that were alive and now are dead, to feed us. I think many of their friends think chicken breasts are made at the grocery. Oh, well, as John Seymour says, if the person horrified by you growing your own meat is a meat-eater him/herself, you know you can ignore their comments!

    Thanks for a lovely blog; sorry this comment turned into such a book. kristin

    • May 24, 2011 10:23 am

      Right on Kristin! What a wonderful perspective on the toughness of older generations.

    • May 25, 2011 5:19 am

      Kristin, no apologies, what a great comment! My mom (born in 1911) had the job too, of being the one called when accidents happened because her mom had been the one to help dress bodies in the neighborhood. A neighbors suicide or a logging accident – you just dealt with it. Now chores like that are passed off to others…

      • TBirdsmomma permalink
        May 29, 2011 7:41 pm

        When my dad died in a sudden accident two years ago I was horrified at how INHUMAN the whole thing was. We said goodbye to his body in the ICU and then were sent away. To have to leave him there in the hands of strangers seemed so, so viscerally WRONG. It was one of the most upsetting parts of an unspeakably upsetting few days. I felt such a physical, urgent need to be the one to take him, wash and dress him, and either burn or bury him myself. Ourselves.

        How have we become so detached from one of the most (if not the most) universal parts of life? It’s madness. I felt like being able to carry out that age-old ritual would have been so helpful to my own heart at that time.

        Interestingly, my dad had probably the healthiest attitude toward death of anyone I have known. He had great respect for death, but he didn’t romanticize it (in spite of being a very sentimental and romantic person), and he didn’t ever avoid the subject either. He always said his clear-eyed views on death came from spending his childhood summers on his grandmother’s farm.

        PS As someone who has an intimate relationship with death (we also lost my daughter’s father suddenly seven years ago), I’m always slightly annoyed when people use the phrase “passed away.” Barf. Come on, people. Say “died.” He died. She’s dead. Euphemisms don’t make it any less sad.

  9. Bev in CA permalink
    May 24, 2011 8:28 am

    Thank you for sharing what it is all about in raising animals. I have tried to say this to our family and friends. You have a wonderful way of saying what I want them to know. We are faced with just such a problem. Our 12 year old granddaughter lives in a town far from us. The conversation this past month was, “Don’t tell her where the chicken (CornishX) came from when we come to visit.” This from our daughter who grew up living the ranch life. For most people the food chain is like a book. They have most of the chapters with the middle section missing. How does the food get to the market? Husbandry, to provide excellent care for all of your animals.

    • May 25, 2011 5:21 am

      Bev, ooh that is a tough one. Kids are pretty tough, if allowed to process the procedure. I don’t envy that conversation (or lack of) about the chicken meal at your house!

  10. May 24, 2011 8:34 am

    All of this insulating, it’s maybe the reason most of us are so ill equipped to deal with death when it finally comes too closes to hide from.

    When people die they go to the funeral home. When the old horse across the street died our neighbor came with a backhoe. Do you mind if i ask what you do with a dead calf?

  11. May 24, 2011 8:58 am

    Great post, and I agree. I saw death on our ranch as a child. I searched fields to find a premature stillborn foal. I was there when one of our mares had a rather large foal get stuck during the birth and we lost both mom and baby. It wasn’t fun, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t important experiences for me as a child. A couple months ago, I had to dispatch a chick that our dog had badly injured. One of my coworkers was horrified by the story, and said she “would have just let it die on its own… couldn’t have killed it.” I’m glad that, likely in part due to my childhood, I was able to dispatch it instead of allowing it to suffer because I wasn’t able to deal.

    It’s not always pretty, but life is good all the same. I think it’s great that your daughter has had the opportunity to see all sides of it.

    • May 25, 2011 5:28 am

      Rae, yeah that’s how I pretty much grew up too, stuff happens when you have livestock, and it’s not as pretty as the storybooks (or now blogs) depict it. I agree the suffering if we don’t act is worse than a swift end.

  12. May 24, 2011 9:30 am

    I too worry about all the heads stuck in some electronic gadget. It isn’t really good.

    Sorry about your calf, I always hate to lose a animal.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

    • May 25, 2011 5:30 am

      Linda, I do too, you can’t go into a store now without seeing quite a few people talking on the phone constantly while shopping. Multi-tasking has went too far.

      The calf was a heifer too, out of a nice cow, not meant to be though 😦

  13. Lucy permalink
    May 24, 2011 9:53 am

    Happy birthday jane!

    Sorry about the calf loss. I know the hurt comes in many forms.

    Once, when we lost a horse to colic, my son (11 years old) and I moved it to the side of the road (the only place the renderer would pick up) and covered it with a weighted tarp. My neighbor’s son in law decided he wanted to see what was under the tarp and pulled it off. Oops. Then he got mad at ME because his kids, waiting in the car, saw that. I was a little amazed to see he was worried about teenagers seeing a dead animal! Or maybe he was embarrassed at having them see him puke? Anyway, I was speechless. I helped a vet with a fetotomy when I was 9!

  14. May 24, 2011 10:21 am

    Right on. I haven’t had to have our oldest help put down a pet yet, but that day will come. For now, she is learning how life works in simpler ways. From “This is where the food goes when the chicken eats it” all the way to “no don’t kill that slug, it’s no where near our garden”.

    Raising kids that are balanced enough to work in the world, and not be just a cog in the wheel.

    • May 25, 2011 5:34 am

      adalynfarm, good job. Kids understand a lot, and having control over how the information is presented is much more useful than letting the school or movies etc put a spin on a natural occurrence.

  15. May 24, 2011 10:27 am

    Good post. So true, and too much of the world is way, way too insulated from reality. Not just food reality either, although that in particular. Really sorry about the calf!

    • May 25, 2011 5:37 am

      TC, so true, today we have so many distractions that it’s sad really when you think about what we’re missing out on as a society. Not that I wanted a dead calf, but you can’t be paralyzed, you need to keep a level head and act.

  16. May 24, 2011 11:38 am

    We’ve had more than our fair share of death over here this year too. We’re learning from each and every one, whether it was preventable or not, but it doesn’t lessen the sting of it much. My girls are 11 and 8, and the 8-year-old in particular still takes it hard every time a critter dies.

    On the one hand, I feel glad that she is not hardened by the frequency and sadness of death, but on the other, seeing how hard it hits her every time, I feel somewhat guilty for bringing her into this way of living that involves so much of it.

    Most of her classmates have only ever had to flush a goldfish or bury a hamster. This past year alone we’ve had 20-something animals die from bird pox, stillbirth, predation and cold snaps. It has been a ROUGH first year farming for all of us, but I really do worry about whether these tragedies are making them stronger or just sapping their innocence. 😦

    • May 25, 2011 5:39 am

      Michelle, oh sorry to hear about your bad year. It can be rough, especially with something like poultry where you have the potential to lose numbers of animals at the same time.

      It will get better, and you will be stronger for it. 🙂

  17. Sheila Z permalink
    May 24, 2011 9:38 pm

    Will you milk the cow or just let her go dry and breed her back for early calving next spring? Or does this loss mean she is meat? How does the economics work for a beef cow?

    • May 25, 2011 6:34 am

      Sheila, I plan on rebreeding her, she will dry up fast. She is young and a good cow, so I will keep her, of course a lot can happen between now and the next calf too. If I had more cows I would possibly consider getting rid of her. But being down to so few makes keeping her (because I know her provenance) less of a gamble than buying a replacement.

      Old time culling rule of thumb: The three O’s, old, open or ornery. Works pretty good too.

  18. May 25, 2011 5:10 am

    I have always heard that the two greatest events in life are birth and death. While one brings great joy and the other brings great sadness. I see it as life in full circle. Just like your sweet Della and her beautiful Jane.

    Happy birthday to Jane. She is a fine girl.

  19. Mica permalink
    May 25, 2011 6:19 am

    This was an amazing post triggering the best comments and thought provoking.
    I hope your cow recovers well, sorry you lost a heifer.
    I lived for 10yr with a boy who I taught to climb a tree & that it was ok to get dirty,to follow tracks and touch a dead animal-all of which his parents denied him,wouldnt even let him ride his bike as a teen!. He was brought up complacent infront of a computer- a desk-jocky in training..
    Thanks to here I feel it is ok to tell that I have ended small animals suffering at my own hand and am mortified at those who selfishly don’t.
    I am glad you put the calf for others to feed.
    I wonder how are the deaths are different you said in above comment to Marilyn?

    • May 25, 2011 6:45 am

      Mica, great comment! Computers are great, but they sure make you see the world through different eyes. Cold, flat and impersonal.

      I meant that say for instance, my meat chickens will die on a predetermined day and my intention when I got them has not wavered, they are food and the hope (sustenance) they represented for my family will be wrought into many meals for us. Whereas this calf that never took a breath and represented a year of work already and could have went on to be a cow who would live a long life teaches another completely different lesson about life, death and hope. And of course the economy of it all plays a huge part.

  20. May 25, 2011 6:32 am

    I’ve always said that farm kids have a better handle on life and death than town kids, and I’m a town kid! You and the previous posters are so very right. Thanks for posting this.

    • May 25, 2011 6:48 am

      Mrs. Maker, thank you!

      My hubby is a town kid too, who never had a pet (too dirty said mom) until he was grown and moved to the country. He got an education in a hurry!! He never knew what he was missing.

  21. denise permalink
    May 25, 2011 12:49 pm

    Perfectly written, all the reasons why I want my children and friends to be close to the earth. I understand it and live it. Wonderful piece.

  22. May 25, 2011 3:26 pm

    Very well put. One of the great laments of our time. Having recently helped one of my does deliver a stillborn kid, the thoughts and emotions you speak of are still fresh in my mind. Still, life goes on.

    And Happy Birthday to Jane!

  23. May 26, 2011 10:25 am

    I don’t think it ever becomes easier, dealing with the death of livestock, but you just become more accustomed to the reality of it. I bawled my eyes out when we lost our first rooster. I was so sad as we buried his poor body in our vege patch.

    Then after dispatching a few chicks myself (that were suffering) and eating some roosters my husband dispatched, well you can’t always bring out the tears. Okay, I still cry on occasion but it’s not a big deal. I still feel for the animal but knew death was always going to be part of the equation.

    Supermarket food removes the ugliness of death from the consumer. That has certainly been my experience now I’ve seen the other side.

  24. Rick permalink
    May 26, 2011 10:27 am

    Love your blog! Life and death. It’s tough.

  25. blincoefarm permalink
    May 26, 2011 12:44 pm

    I also spend most of my time just lurking, I have been reading your blog for over a year now and have had the pleasure of learning of your life from Southern Utah, where we dream of being able to have pasture must less rotating them. Your Jane is beautiful!!! I look forward to reading your posts each week. Thank you

  26. Gloria Rueber-The Jersey Lady permalink
    May 27, 2011 6:55 am

    I hope it is OK that I Tweeted a link to this blog “Buzzards and Buses” to my farmy friends on Twitter. You can follow me there. I am jerseylady1

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