Death on the Homestead

People constantly assume that death, for those who farm or keep livestock, is just another part of our daily lives. While this is true, especially for those animals who are destined to be food, I would like folks to understand that just because we planned on slaughtering some of our animals does not make their death some sort of light, easily handled endeavor.

Animals die. People die. Everything dies. That’s life. There can be NO life without death. Fact. Today’s society finds death particularly morbid and revolting, and therefore, talking about it can be taboo or uncomfortable. People like to think that because I kill my own animals for consumption, that this somehow makes me immune to the pain and sadness that surrounds death. This is simply not the case, nor should it ever be for any human being, regardless of being a farmer or not. Of course it saddens me to take a chicken from its pen, or a rabbit from its cage, knowing it won’t return. It saddens me knowing that I have nourished and cared for and loved these animals, often times from day one. Of course we go into it all knowing what end they will meet, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I feel the utmost respect and gratefulness for these animals, and it helps me knowing that they led a good, humane, healthful life. In their death, they provide sustenance for our family, and that too makes everything worth it.

There is other death too, however, on the homestead. The unexpected kind. Again, many people like to assume that we handle this kind of death like we would on slaughter day. This is simply not true. We (at least I) grieve. We may not grieve outwardly, but inwardly we reconsider everything that led up to the unexpected passing. What could I have done differently? Was there a way to save them? What signs did I miss? This sort of death, for me, is the most difficult. Slaughter animals, you know they will ultimately die, but an animal that is taken off by a predator, or worse, that I have to put down, is about the hardest thing I deal with.

We lost our rooster Merle this weekend. He and Pepper (head rooster) got into some sort of altercation, and we found him bloodied and limping on Saturday morning. I isolated him, cleaned his wounds, and gave him some scrambled eggs. He continued to rest. Unfortunately, while I did dress his wounds with SWAT, he succumbed to flies around his vent, and we had to put him down. It hurts me, thinking that I could and should have done something more for him. It hurt me, to take him from his cage, hold him, talk to him sweetly, and then take his life. We buried him, he has a headstone, and most importantly, he is no longer suffering.

I have dealt with many unplanned deaths, especially since I began homesteading. There was the pet rabbit ‘Creature,’ while I was still in SC, who ate English Ivy and I had to put out of her misery (bawled all night). There was Shirley Temple, one of my original 4 hens, who was badly attacked by my roommate’s dog. Blueberry, my first homebred Silver Fox who succumbed to heat stroke. Django our old rooster and his fly strike. The night that the possum killed all of our ducks. Death happens. Being a farmer doesn’t make it any easier.

The most important thing you can have to help you cope with death of any type is someone who supports you. Someone who can help you dig the hole, who will stand by you as you cry, and who will grieve along side of you. Death is not an easy encounter, it is best to have someone to lean on through the grief.

It is also important to remember that with death comes life. One cannot dwell on an unexpected death. Take time to grieve, and then move forward. There is no sense in regressing into a state of sadness for long periods, especially over something that can’t be changed.

3 thoughts on “Death on the Homestead”

  1. Dear Hannah, I love your philosophy about life and death with your animals. You have a way of expressing your self that is beautiful. I enjoy reading your blogs. Much love my dear!

  2. Well stated, Hannah. Sometimes I think I am getting a bit jaded with raising rabbits for meat. I am still amazed that I can process a rabbit without a tear, yet I will cry when they die on their own (or just get injured or ill). I think it has something to do with be prepared. When I am prepared for a death, I can accept it more readily. When I am not prepared…it just digs deeper and hurts more somehow.

  3. When we first kept chooks we kept rescue chooks knowing they were past the best of their laying time but wanting their last days to be spent dust bathing in the sunshine with lots of good things to eat for all their years of service & knowing their time with us would be short. The one death I really grieved, shortly after we got them, is the nut job who got so excited to see us return from a trip she ran under the wheels of the car. It just seemed so wrong that her delight in our presence should be her demise.

    I don’t eat meat so don’t have to deal with that aspect of livestock but I have learnt each & every animal has a distinct personality & every death a light gone out & worth the grieving.

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