Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Enliven Your Chickens’ Winter Diet With Food Scraps

Girl feeding chickens

Living in a northern climate means we cannot have our chickens foraging outside year round. Come the blustery winter weather, the birds don’t even want to venture beyond the door of their enclosed outdoor run. At this time of year the majority of their diet is purchased feed. They also receive all of our kitchen scraps and some sunflower seeds and scratch. On rare occasions they get a handful of dried mealworms or some canned cat food when the weather is extra cold. But all that feed and the special extras are expensive and difficult to justify when the hens are in winter mode and laying fewer eggs. So what to do? Go collect food scraps to provide some variety to their diet and reduce your feed bills!

We devised a simple system of collecting food scraps from willing acquaintances. We gave each household a 3 gallon bucket with a lid and asked them to toss in any scraps they generated from their meal prep. Our aim was to collect compostable, “natural” food for our birds rather than the leftovers of highly processed food-like substances. Now, once a week we collect the filled buckets and exchange them with clean ones.

What started as a solution for lack of fresh food in the winter became a year-round supply of food, cutting our feed costs and diverting valuable food waste from the landfill. When our birds are on pasture, the majority of their food is obtained by foraging, with commercial feed and food scraps taking on a supplemental role rather than being the main source of their nourishment. In winter, however, when commercial feed is their main source of food, the food scraps provide a welcome relief from the monotony of feed pellets.

In the cooler weather we store the full buckets in our barn until we are ready to feed them to the flock, but come the warmth of spring and the heat of summer, that doesn’t work anymore. Fortunately, we have an external temperature controller attached to a chest freezer that allows us to set it at fridge temperature and keep the buckets cool until we are ready to feed them to the chickens. Speaking of which, our laying flock of 100 hens makes quick work of their daily ration of food scraps. We actually keep the hens in two separate flocks, so it’s about a bucket per flock each day.

We do our best to spread out the food scraps to ensure each bird has access to the tasty morsels. In winter, we pour the food scraps into rubber feed bowls placed in the outdoor run. The next day, we tip over the buckets and whatever the hens chose not to eat is dumped into the bedding carpeting their outdoor run and, over time, gets churned into compost with the rest of the bedding and manure. We aren’t too picky about not giving specific food scraps to our birds; in our experience, they have enough sense to pass over what could be detrimental to them. Given a choice, they’ll select the best and leave the mediocre and potentially harmful. When the weather warms up, and the hens are out in mobile coops on pasture, we still pour the contents into the feed bowls. Whatever they leave behind we rake up and toss onto a compost pile.

Collecting Food Scraps

The food scrap collection has several points in its favour that make it a worthwhile scheme. For one, it keeps food waste out of the landfill and in the ecological system. Rather than rotting among discarded plastic, wood or metal, the food waste continues to nourish life. It feeds our chickens and, when they are done with it, their manure returns the nutrients to the earth for the next plants to absorb and use. Other benefits are the reduced feed costs and the worry about “what exactly is in this bag of feed”? Another benefit is that our children are able to feed the scraps, and therefore, contribute to our homestead. And lastly, if we needed to, all those food scraps can be diverted from the chickens and added to a compost heap or vermicomposting system. Abundant Permaculture even outlines an ingenious method of using four compost piles on a rotating basis to feed a flock of chickens.

Our food scraps for chickens system does have two big cons against it, however, which we are trying to minimize. The first is the process of collecting the buckets. Yes, we do have to drive to collect our food scraps, but we go into town at least once a week as it is and make our bucket collection part of one of those trips. Secondly, having food left out does attract some nocturnal predators, such as raccoon, skunk or possum, but after several years, these varmints have not broken into our mobile roosts. For these predators the chickens are the real draw and any leftover food scraps are a bonus. In essence, they will show up regardless of the food scraps. So, we do our best to remain vigilant about keeping the chickens safe at night and removing the feed bowls. But during the day, the chickens enjoy transforming one person’s waste into another person’s treasure: eggs!

Photo credit photo from pexels.com. Francesco Ungaro.

Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram. Read all of Rebecca’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Learning the Hard Way

Hair loss and dandruff 

How It All Began

While goats can suffer from many different mineral and vitamin deficiencies, Zinc is the one that we have been dealing with here on our farm. Can you love your goats too much? Can you feed them so well you are hurting them? The answer is yes! This is exactly what we found out we were doing. While loose mineral is always available to our goats it was not enough to stop a Zinc deficiency storm from running through our herd. It all started when we got our first boys last fall. The buck, Harry, looked a bit rough and his coat was dull, straggly, and even appeared bleached out. After doing some research and with the advice of our vet we treated him with a copper bolus. After a few months, we noticed his coat began to soften and appeared darker in color so with thought we had the problem licked. Then the second boy, Mikey, began to look “off”, diarrhea shortly followed. Weeks of diarrhea! We treated for everything under the sun and little to no improvement was seen. I contacted his original owner and she said to give him a quarter cup of black oiled sunflower seeds a day. Ok? Desperate to help I followed her plan of action. He began to slowly get better, thank god! But why did sunflower seeds help?

The Girls

Then suddenly two of our dry girls, Ginger and Zoey, began losing their fur by the handful and had horrible dandruff. The older of the two seemed depressed and tired, she had recently suffered a miscarriage as well. Her joints were stiff and sore throughout the winter but we thought arthritis due to her age. The young doeling seemed perfectly fine, except her fur and flaky skin looked awful. Then Harry began to lose the hair on his scrotum? What is going on over here? Feeling defeated I began to research possible causes and solutions. When I ran into a few articles that hit on all the problems we were having.

 Zoey when zinc was low

The Fix

In these articles, I began to read how dry does and males who eat too much alfalfa can become zinc deficient. The high levels of calcium in alfalfa can deplete zinc from their systems. Rutro…..we not only feed hay that was high in alfalfa we added alfalfa pellets to their grain rations. The milk-producing goats were having none of the same problems with good reason, their bodies use the extra calcium to produce milk. Two separate diets for milking and non-milking does is needed…oops. So, we quickly made the needed feed adjustments as well as adding kelp, black oil sunflower seeds (see why Mikey got better first?), and Manna Pro Goat Balancer to their diets for added zinc while they heal. For the extremely deficient goats, we added five days of zinc supplement as well.

 Ginger was cold due to loss of hair

Healing

Only a few weeks out from this catastrophe, it is a little early to say what the long-term effects will be. However, Ginger's coat appears a bit better, her joints no longer stiff, and her mood seems joyful. Zoey’s little baby hairs are all filling in and her happy bouncy self seems all but perfect. Mikey’s diarrhea has improved and Harry seems more active and his coat looks amazing!

What have we learned? Goat’s dietary needs are extremely complicated and many things need to be taken into consideration. We now have three different diets; one for the males, one for the dry girls, and one for those in milk. Commercial goat feeds and goat minerals all have adequate amounts of zinc in them, so most goats consume enough. However, most zinc deficiency is secondary caused by excess calcium in the diet. Milking and pregnant does have a high need for calcium to grow babies and make milk, that is why they are unaffected.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Website, and Twitter. Grit Magazine, Mother Earth News Magazine, Community Chickens Blog, Homestead Hustle Blog, Chickens Magazine, Hobby Farms Magazine, and The New Pioneer Magazine.


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Resilience for Land & Livestock

T. Grandin & G. Brown Land and Livestock flyer 

Grazing Conference – Resilience for Land & Livestock– May 27-28, 2019

Resilience for Land and Livestock is a livestock grazing conference scheduled for March 27-28, 2019 at the Pendleton Convention Center in Pendleton, Oregon. It features two nationally known speakers, Temple Grandin and Gabe Brown.

Gabe Brown, a leader in soil health and grazing management, is the keynote speaker on Thursday, March 27th. Brown grows cover and companion crops, which are grazed by his livestock. He practices no-till farming with a diverse cropping strategy and relies on natural fertilizer on his North Dakota farm. Brown’s management has improved his farm’s soil health, increased production and profit and made for a better quality of life for his family.

A panel will discuss individual experiences on grazing cover crops in the Pacific Northwest. The Panel members include Stephen Machado, Doug Poole, Dan Cavadini, Leslie Michel and Drew Leitch.

Chad Krueger, Director of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources, will speak on regenerative agriculture.

Dr. Temple Grandin, the keynote speaker on Thursday, March 28th, is a designer of livestock handling facilities and promoter of low stress livestock handling. She is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and has designed facilities that are being used for livestock operations around the world. Grandin is widely known for her writings on the animal’s flight zone and other principles of grazing animal behavior that help people reduce stress when handling their livestock. Grandin’s life story was the subject of a popular HBO movie.

A live demonstration on low stress livestock handling will be conducted by Chris Schachtschneider, OSU Extension Livestock and Rangeland Specialist. Dr. Grandin will provide comments on the principles involved in the demonstration.

Roots of Resilience (ROR) is coordinating the conference. ROR is a non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing grasslands.

Pre-registration is necessary. Early registration, by February 15, is $299 for two days and covers the cost of lunch and refreshments both days. Additional attendees from the same family, ranch or organization can register for $199, each. High school and college students can also register for $199, each.

Those staying overnight in Pendleton can take advantage of the special rate offered by Oxford Suites. The Pendleton Oxford Suites is within walking distance of the Convention Center. To contact Oxford Suites call (541) 276-6000.

For more information and to register for the conference go to ROR’s website rootsofresilience.org or call (509) 629-1671.


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Smile! You're on 'Kidding Camera': Using Livestock Monitoring Cameras with Goats

Baby Goat Kid In Barrel

It really is the most wonderful time of the year: a barn full of babies. Last weekend, we had successful deliveries of three sets of Boer goat kid twins, four bucklings and two doelings. While I’m loving having these little ones to cuddle, I’m doing my very best to not become attached (I’m feeling verklempt right about now). There will be no naming these goats, as they are destined to be sold or exhibited in the Morrow County Fair in August.

And for those of you considering adding Boer goats to your homestead, there are tons of articles online giving advice on preparing for kidding season. All of this information is extremely valuable, and you can’t research it enough.

There are two things, however, that I’d like to share with you that have made an impact on our kidding season: a camera and a DIY warming barrel.

Utilizing Cameras for Livestock Monitoring

While it may make you feel a little like you’re watching a livestock version of “Big Brother” (and let’s face it, that’s probably way, way more entertaining), having a live-feed camera in the barn is extremely beneficial. It enables you to maintain constant visual contact with your animals, allowing you to watch for early signs of labor.

And, because we had all of our pregnant does in one pen, it was easy to keep an eye on all of them with just one camera. If one of the mamas is becoming restless, “pawing” at the ground, or “talking” to her belly, we know it’s time to chill the celebratory champagne and hunker down for some goat-cam viewing until we see active labor (OK, I’m joking a little bit on the champagne part).

What’s more, having a camera saves my husband from having to suit up in his overalls and walk outside in the frigid temperatures we’re experiencing right now for middle-of-the-night barn checks, both before and after birth. He simply turns on the television, and bah-bam!, he can see the mamas and all six of the babies frolicking, feeding, and sleeping.

And with WiFi cameras in virtually everything, there are so many options and price points for which cameras you can use in the barn. There are so many cool cameras nowadays that can connect to your computer or smartphone. Heck, you could use a live-feed game camera sold at those mega outdoorsy stores and view the stream on your computer, or whatever you tech-savvy homesteaders do.

Unfortunately, we are too rural (right now, anyway) for WiFi, so we have a basic security camera that is connected to our television with old-school RCA audio and video jacks. Matt bought a $30 weatherproof camera with infrared LEDs and night vision (which is vital for midnight checks). Also, the built-in microphone is important, as we can listen for distress from the off-camera goats.

Goat Cam Livestock Video Monitor

DIY Goat Kid Warming Barrels

I like big barrels and I cannot lie (whip crack). A lot of homesteaders buy food-grade 55-gallon plastic barrels for rain collection or container gardening, but there is another reason to snag a few more: kid warming barrels. Actually, I asked Matt when he called me this morning about it, and he said, “I’m a big believer in the barrels. It saved that one kid we had.” And it’s true. One of the wet, cold, and weak bucklings would not have survived if it weren’t for the warming barrel in the kidding pen. The other option is to haul kids into the house, and that’s just not practical for us.

So many old-timey farmers are leery of using heat lamps because of the possibility of a barn fire. And rightly so: There should be concern with heat contacting straw or hay, and that’s why containing your heat lamp in a plastic barrel helps reduce the chance for a fire.

But like just about everything used in agriculture, heat lamps’ design and materials have improved. Many are made of durable polypropylene flexible sides, reducing the possibility of damage and bulb breakage. There is no guarantee, however, that the lamps won’t break, and that there isn’t the possibility of a fire, but using heat lamps may help save a cold, weak newborn.

Matt simply flipped over the barrel and drilled a hole for the heat lamp wire. He then cut an opening big enough for the kids, but too small for the mamas, to get into the barrel. Securing the heat lamp wire through the hole and into the outlet, as well as anchoring the barrel with a good ol’ bungee cord to prevent tip-over, should be enough to make using a heat lamp safer. And voila!, the barrel retains much of the heat, keeping about four kids per barrel warm and dry.

If you have been thinking of adding Boer goats to your homestead, with the intent of breeding your does, I hope you’ll consider these tips to help make the kidding season a breeze. If you make a DIY warming barrel like the one you read in this article, message me a picture on my farm Facebook page. I’d love to see it.

Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page. Read all of Corinne's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Goat Kid Care

 

I recently bought three young goat kids that had been rejected by their mothers.  Two of them were twin boys that were about 3 days old, the other was a doe kid that was about a week old.  The three of them were absolutely adorable and little did I know, required frequent care.  Not that I minded, they're too cute to not spend time with!

Feeding Goat Kids

Goat kids that are on the bottle (or nursing from mom) will start trying to nibble on feed pretty early.  It's ok for them to try some if they want to.  Their new ruminant stomachs require time to build up the bacteria that they need to digest their food once they are older.  This is probably why goat kids start experimenting with feed from an early age.

If you've got goat kids that you are bottle feeding, then you'll need a bottle and a lamb/kid nipple attachment.  You can purchase these at feed stores (I found all of my goat kid needs easily at my local Tractor Supply Company store.) or order them online.  If they aren't nursing from mom, then they will need goat kid milk replacer and possibly colostrum.  If they didn't nurse from mom at all, they definitely need colostrum.  Colostrum is the first milk that the mother produces.  It's loaded with antibodies and probiotics that get the kid's immune system and digestive system up and going.  Both replacer and colostrum can be found in feed stores.

Make sure that you're buying goat kid milk replacer and colostrum if you can.  It's formulated for goats and has the nutrition that goat kids need.  In a pinch, a multi-species replacer or colostrum could be used until goat kid supplies can be bought.

Goat Kid Supplements

Occasionally you'll experience a weak goat kid.  Some veterinarians or farmers will lovingly refer to these as 'dummy' goat kids.  These weak kids will act uninterested in nursing.  If this continues, eventually they will starve to death.  This weak condition is due to a lack of thiamine, AKA vitamin B12.  You can purchase a thiamine injection from your local veterinarian.  It's a prescription and can't be bought over the counter.  If you have a weak kid that looks pretty rough, I'd recommend the injection.

You can purchase a vitamin B blend and probiotic paste over the counter.  It's a good idea to give this to your goat kids as a precaution.  It won't hurt them and it's hard to overdose goats with vitamin B, as they just urinate out the excess.  It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

Make sure that you always have loose goat minerals available for all of your goats.  Goats easily suffer from copper and selenium deficiencies.  These deficiencies can be prevented easily with loose minerals.  Make sure that you buy goat minerals, not goat and sheep minerals.  Sheep don't need the same minerals that goats do, so the amounts of minerals needed by goats isn't met in the goat and sheep minerals.

Disbudding

If your goat kids are born with horns and you don't want them to have horns, you can quickly and easily prevent their horns from growing.  Goat kids will have small buds where their horns will grow from.  A dehorning/disbudding iron is used around these buds and cauterizes the tissue, preventing horn growth. 

The disbudding process should take place early, before the kid is 2 weeks old.  This makes the process easier on the goats and you.  If you wait much longer, it's likely that you'll have to repeat the process to make sure the buds are truly cauterized.  Not fun for you or the goat kids.

Place the goat kid in a disbudding box to hold him/her still so that you can cauterize without them moving around.  If you don't have a disbuddig box, its easy to build one.  Simply put, it's a wooden box that has a hinged top. The goat's body goes into the box.  A platform is built up under their stomach to prevent them from squatting down in the box. There is a hole in the front of the box that their head sticks out of.  Put them in the box and close the top. 

Love on them!

Goat kids are super soft and sweet.  They grow up fast, so love on them while they are little.  Getting them acquainted to you while they are small will make it easier on you when they are bigger.

Have fun with those babies!

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on Farminence.com or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Homescratch Homestead, Step 1: Creating a Treasure Map

 Finding the treasure

In the summer of 2017 my husband and I started looking for a home to invest in. With a 25% increase in our local housing market over the last couple of years, the initial idea of buying a house to flip was no longer a realistic possibility. The increase in the housing market had not quite reached land values so we turned our attention to finding a piece of property where we could create a small homestead. To afford the land and build a cabin would require us to take on the full process of the build from the design to the finished product. Although new construction required a bigger undertaking than remodeling, we were ready to take on the challenge. This would be Jordan’s biggest ground-up project as a licensed contractor. 

If you have ever sifted through real estate listings, you can relate to the overwhelming amount of opportunities available. Eliminating listings for houses honed in our search. Now that we were just looking at properties, there was another level of sorting to be done—raw land or land with infrastructure. While prices of raw land is enticing, infrastructure can be incredibly expensive. Digging a well can cost up to $100/foot and there are anecdotal tales in our area of digging over 300 feet and not even striking water. That’s an expensive guess. Septic has a lot of red tape with wetlands and installing an electrical transformer costs ~$5,000 plus extra fees to hook up any extensions. Due to these factors, we refined our search parameters to exclude raw land. Another cycle of elimination. 

As we were deciphering the factors that were important for us, a close friend advised us to create a map on a piece of paper, writing “treasure” in the center and extending lines to each important value that we wanted in the property. Other non-financial priorities included being close to our community, developing our property into a bigger site that included a future woodworking shop, establishing a small hobby farm, privacy, southern exposure with lots of sunlight, good views of the mountains and a place that we could happily live in temporarily or permanently. By mapping it out, he insisted that we would be creating a living guide to direct us to our future homestead. 

The treasure map for our future homestead.

Within a month of creating the treasure map, we were signing the closing documents as the new owners of a 2.5 acre level plat, bordered by a grove of aspens.

Some infrastructure was already in place, including a shared well, driveway and electric transformer. The commute to town is 17 minutes. The back field receives sunshine most of the day and there are two spots on the property with killer views. Not one of the listed priorities are convincing selling points on their own, but the culmination of the factors fit the scope of our search. I’m not sure if we would have been able to make the connection without the guidance of the treasure map. The map kept us on track and gave us accountability for the full scope of our desires. Once we had an actual tool to compare each new listing, the process of elimination was easy. When we discovered our property, each category was checked off and we knew this was the right place for us. The treasure map is a powerful and effective tool and I do recommend it if you are in the process of buying a house or property.

Lyndsay Dawson Mynatt is a dedicated forager, outdoor enthusiast, and blogger for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Her published articles include: Build a DIY Cider Press in the 2015 September/October issue of GRIT and 5-Minute, 5-Ingredient Mayonnaise in the 2015 Best of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Follow her adventures at A Faithful Journey, and read all of Lyndsay's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Reflecting on Life and Death on a Family Farm

White Wooly Sheep And Lamb 

It’s noon on a rainy, cold day in February and my son and daughter-in-law have brought in a newly born buckling goat. He’s having some issues: difficulty latching on to nurse, some fluid in the lungs, possibly something going on with his front legs. But I already know not to get attached, not to take cute little photos of him and post them on social media with excited captions, “Look at the new baby!” Because death is still too close by, waiting for a shot at him.

That has been one of the hardest things about moving from my previous life to the small family farm in rural Maine, where we live today. I had to learn that death is always happy to grab what it can, every chance it gets. I had to learn the reality of that old expression, “If you’re gonna have livestock, you’re gonna have dead stock.”

Fortunately, my daughter-in-law was a vet tech, attended vet school for some time, and she quickly passed a feeding tube, made appropriate assessments and has handed off a well-fed, but possibly hypothermic little buckling to be wrapped up and warmed inside my house robe for the day, while I write.

I have been a human heater for piglets, turkeys, baby chicks, lambs, and goats thus far. I’ve worn injured chickens in my sweatshirt and baby turkeys in my bra. I’ve carried lambs in a hurriedly rigged baby sling. I have held those babies for hours, willing them to life. Sometimes I win, sometimes death wins.

But it’s a fact of farming if your farm includes animals.

I had horses in my previous life. We had four acres outside Los Angeles, and I saw death from time to time due to colic, trailer accidents, age and so on. I had owned dogs, cats, birds — even mice, when I was a child. I thought I was equal parts compassionate and pragmatic about dying animals. But it still didn’t prepare me for what felt like the onslaught of death in the first few years on the farm.

Piglets were crushed by their mothers, lambs were suffocated in the night by a concerned but first-time mother, a dozen baby ducks, waddling in line behind their mother one day, carried off by a bald eagle the next. And turkeys just being turkeys, who knows why they died. We were told it was a “bad batch”. I knew my heart had hardened quite a bit when I found a tiny piece of fleecy white lamb skin in one of the fields after a new lamb had gone missing. Well, the wildlife was getting fed was all I could think.

That's what happens: baby animals die, aged animals die. They get sick; they get injured and must be put out of pain. Other animals eat them, or it's time to slaughter and butcher them.

We raise turkeys, chickens and pigs for meat. When it’s time for them to go to freezer camp (yes, you develop some dark humor on the farm), I watch as the turkeys and chickens I fed and tended go to slaughter. I'm not yet able to handle the killing, or evisceration (or even plucking, really), but my son assures me that I'll learn to process chickens at some point. I remain doubtful and unenthusiastic.

Rescued Young Chicken In Towel

But let me stress, you can’t get away with being like me, if you're going to raise animals.  You need to have someone willing to do the killing. Because if there are animals, there will be a need for killing for a variety of reasons.

In the past, I've had to wait hours for a vet to come put down an injured horse. In one case, it was a horrible injury to a neighbor’s horse, compounded by the horse's frantic reaction to the pain; and I had to watch the worst two hours of suffering as I tried, helplessly, to keep the poor animal calm.

It made me wish I had the emotional strength and knowledge to handle a gun myself. My daughter-in-law’s veterinary knowledge allows us to save every life that can be saved here. But it is my son’s compassion for animals that extends all the way to helping them quickly end their time when there is suffering (Lucy, the pig, gratefully drank a couple of beers prior to leaving this world, and was happily soused). 

You could get really bummed seeing all that death. Except the Universe keeps offering up replacements. New life keeps blooming and bursting around us. Soon after we lost a goat and two sheep, we got a new bull calf. As the turkeys and ducks died, we had new chickens and ducklings hatch. A fabulous new kitty, Maynard, was brought home to replace a dearly beloved hit by a car. More piglets were born, squealing and adorable. One of our sheep lambed a perfect little ewe lamb, Fiona. Life keeps offering itself up.

In those first years, it seemed that the universe was, perhaps, preparing me, because amidst all of the farm life-and-death, a human life ended. The father of my children and husband of 29 years was diagnosed with brain cancer and died very quickly back in California. Although we were divorced several years, I had spent half my life with him. It was shocking and sudden and sad. But the Universe had just given us an offering — a new life — my grandson, Oran (named after my amazing stepfather, who also died of brain cancer). Not a replacement, certainly, but a message of the eternal circle of life and death.

A combat veteran told me that many of today's soldiers are coming home with PTSD in part because they are more often from the city than from a farm. They have not experienced life and death and life and death and death and death and death like you do on a farm. They see death and don't know for certain, like farmers do, that life keeps offering itself up; life keeps coming back for another go at it. It's the knowing that for certain that makes the difference. 

After these few years here as a farmer, I now know for certain: Death takes us all. And Life goes on.

Author’s Note: In the time it took for me to write, proof and post this, the little goat died, and twin black lambs were born. On and on.

Norma Vela is a television writer in Maine with a fixation for land, horses and gardening. She owns a rope basket-making business, Tether Made, with her son-in-law and daughter and is learning surface pattern design, illustration, watercolor and digital art. Connect with Norma at Dovetail Family Farm.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.






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