As I write this, we are being hit by an April ice storm...
You know what's hard? Living off of the farm. Not being 100% involved in the day to day decisions isn't easy for this girl. I get there as often as time allows, which lately seems to be a little less than I would like. However, keeping up things at home, being a mommy to Felicity, and being back to work 3 days a week in the hog barns tends to limit my time I am able to spend at the home farm. So I try to do my best to do things remotely if I can. So what does that look like for me? Dealing with the website, the Facebook page, and trying to advertise our farm. When I can’t be at the farm I get text messages or phone calls instead to let me know what’s going on. Sometimes those calls/texts aren’t the easiest to stomach... especially when they are to inform you that despite our efforts we have lost a calf. That was last night. A hard pill to swallow for me.
Expected loss in my mind is easier. I often get the question, "how are you able to eat/sell the animals that you have raised from little babies?" Well, it was something that was instilled in me since I was able to comprehend the idea. The same with my brothers. We raise animals. We give them the best life that we possibly can. However, being semi self sufficient means we raise these animals for meat. Yes. Animals that we have born and raised on our farm. Yes, they were once cute little babies running around the pasture and barn. However, each animal has a plot in life. Some are breeding stock and some fulfill our freezer beef, pork, and lamb demands.
When I was just starting out in 4H competitively as an 8 year old I raised and sold a dairy feeder calf at the county fair. I had been taking care of this calf since he was a little bottle baby. He was just a few days old when I bought him and then I sold him at about 600lbs, 7 months later. My parents made sure I knew from the beginning how the project would go. I raise and sell. His end goal would be for meat. And at the end of the fair week, all the animals were loaded up on trailers and left for their final destinations. The first couple years, my parents wouldn't even wake me up on Saturday morning when my steer would leave. It was probably better that way. Did I cry a little when woke up and saw he was gone? Yes. However, I would just have to remind myself that this was the plan. This is the way of things. It was his destiny to enter the food chain. As a steer, there isn't a whole lot more that he is "useful" for in the grand scheme of things.
So, its not that I have no heart. Its not that I am cold hearted (yes, I have heard that one in the past). It is just how I choose to live. I choose to raise livestock. I choose to raise calves, lambs, goats, and hogs to eventually be sold for meat.
On the other hand, unexpected loss. Now that's something that I continue to struggle with. Both because of the time and energy I have put into raising these critter, but also because I do try and do my absolute best to keep everyone healthy. Sometimes though things can go south even with all the effort. For instance, I have raised dairy goats since I was 4 years old. I have built up my herd. I have put significant time and energy into every doe or buck that comes onto the farm. All of the does that I have are of my own breeding. The ones that I keep, they stick around for the duration of their lives. My very first Oberhasli doe, Nutmeg, was a hard loss. I bought her as a kid. She was the base of my Oberhasli herd. She was special.
We kept her around even long after she was able to be bred. Even after I was married, she was still a special goat in my life. Last winter the poor girl died peacefully on a Saturday morning when I happened to be at the farm. While, I knew it would happen eventually, since she was 14 years old, I wasn't ready. I was definitely NOT ready for that at all. Uncontrollable sobbing ensued. That was a wound that took some time to heal. Since then, losing a goat has been the hardest. I lost another aged doe last year right before her pregnancy was full term. She choked on some food. It was heartbreaking again. Nothing to be done.
The nothing to be done situations are so difficult. So hard to stomach. I cry nearly every time. Doesn't matter.
Why would farmers not put their heart and soul into what they do? These animals, the land, the dream... it's their livelihood. It's their life. I don't ever understand it when people complain about farmers not taking care of their livestock. If they don't take care of their animals they won't produce. I don't know if you know how much it is to have a vet out to your farm is but the bills can be daunting. So to combat that, we try and care for them as best as we possibly can.
We do everything within our power to do the right things. If we can't handle the situation ourselves, that is when we call in the big guns but sometimes the veterinarians aren't able to help either.
Farmers have to wear so many different hats to be successful. We are more than just animal caretakers. We are nutritionists, land conservationists, veterinarians, meteorologists, biologists, breeding technicians, mechanics, microbiologists, and businessmen. This is the way of the world, and we are just trying to keep our place relevant.
The upper-midwest is taking a hit straight to the gut right now. Most cattlemen are calving right now in the adverse conditions that this storm has brought with it. Snow, ice, sleet wind are not easy for new calves to survive in. We are not alone in our venture. We all are in the same boat, trying to achieve the same goals. Do everything in our power to try and save these calves. However, sometimes despite our best efforts we still lose.
Dealing with loss is part of it. All are hard in their own way- expected or not.