Death on the Farm (And Hope for the Future)

It is important that our relationship with farm animals is reciprocal. We owe animals a decent life and a painless death. I have observed that people who are completely out of touch with nature are the most afraid of death.

Temple Grandin

We’ve been truly blessed in our experience with animals here on the homestead. We’d not yet suffered a loss.

Until last week.

Last week we received two new flocks of birds. One a group of boilers. The other, a group of turkeys.

The same excitement preceded each group reaching our homestead. We picked them up from the post office shortly after receiving the call that they had arrived. The drive home included the excited chips and chirps from not one, but two boxes of newly arrived birds.

But when we opened the box of turkeys and introduced them to their new brooder, we saw that one was silent and still. A strenuous journey, one that started nearly immediately upon his hatching, had been just too much for the young bird. He didn’t make it.

We stared blankly at his still form; unsure what to do at first. We had not experienced such a loss before in our homesteading journey.

We wondered for a moment what to do. What is the appropriate way to dispose of a day old turkey? Sure, you flush a goldfish… but how do you respectfully dispose of a bird you never saw alive?

Ultimately, we decided that placing him back amid the straw packaging and using the box in which the turkeys shipped as a coffin would suffice. The makeshift coffin was placed gently into the rubbish bin.

That seemed a suitable ceremony for a bird we had never seen alive.

Later in the day, however, we would note that one of the newly arrived broilers lay still in its brooder as well. All these birds seemed fine upon their arrival. All had been introduced to water and food immediately upon their receipt and introduction to the brooder. But now, one lies unnaturally still.

He too had passed. But this time, under our care. The turkey was dead upon receipt. This chick had been alive, but now had perished. Was it the stress of the journey or had we done something wrong?

These are the questions that can plague you with loss on the farm. Ultimately we see that all of the other birds are thriving. Odds are this bird too could simply not survive the stress of the journey to our homestead.

We placed him with the perished turkey. Because no one wants to cross over to the other side cold and alone.

We didn’t tell the kids about these two losses. In fact, I was careful to cover them up in the rubbish bin so that they would not be found unexpectedly. I ddin’t want them to mourn this loss.

That last part strikes me as odd though.

Because, you see, in just over a week we’re going to process our first round of meat birds here on the farm.

Broilers on Pasture

The twenty plus broilers we have currently on pasture will be slaughtered and processed, by our hands, here on the farm to go into our freezers. And this is a process that our children are well aware of and have been from the time before we recieved these birds.

So why the dilemma between the two deaths? Why hide one and embrace the other?

I honestly don’t know the answer.

I know the fate of our broilers.

And we see the value in being more closely connected to where our food comes from. Especially in the modern world where we may forget that food does not come from the freezer section of the supermarket. There’s a value in knowing where our food comes from, from knowing how it was raised, and knowing that it was respected. That’s a lesson we think is worthy of teaching.

But the unexpected loss of the turkey and broiler, I struggle to interpret for our younger children. They’ll experience enough loss in their lives soon enough. So for now I’ll shelter them from that which they don’t yet need to suffer.

Instead, let’s focus on life on the farm.

While we may have lost two birds this week, nature balances the loss and shows us her beauty in our witnessing a trio of young American robins fledging from their nests on our homestead this week.

A Trio of American Robin Fledglings

In fact, we don’t ever need to look far to find life flourishing all over our farm.

Gray Tree Frog in the Herb Garden

I guess my struggle with the death of our first turkey and broiler comes from not having the opportunity to provide these animals with a decent life and a humane death. We never got that chance.

But that was beyond our control.

So instead of dwelling on that unfortunate loss we’ll celebrate life on the farm. We’ll give ourselves and our animals the most decent lives we can, foster our relationship with nature, and enjoy the good to be found all around us as much as possible everyday.

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