Life and Death on the Farm

| 11/13/2015 10:12:00 AM

Tags: home dairying, dairy cattle, raising livestock, modern homesteading, farm life, Steve Judge, Vermont,


Life and death on a farm is a delicate subject but it is one that really needs to be considered if you are exploring owning and managing livestock hands-on. Farm animals often get injured or sick and they die.

One of my earliest memories is of me, as a four-year-old little boy back in 1955, watching my father and a several other strong and thin men hand digging a grave for our neighbor's horse that had died. Unfortunately the grave filled with water as soon as it was dug. When they flopped the horse over into the hole it floated and the men all scratched their heads. Eventually they successfully weighted the horse’s body down with stones so it would stay submerged as they hurriedly filled the grave back in by hand.

Back in the 70s I went through an old barn at my neighbor's farm with another older farmer who lived near-by.  He was probably 70 at the time so his memories went way back. He told the story of the farmer who had lived there many years ago. His draft horse was sick and down in its stall. He asked a bunch of neighbors to come help him get his beloved horse back on its feet. A half dozen men worked for hours to get the horse up with ropes and a block and tackle, despite the fact they all knew the horse was already dead. No one had the heart to tell the old man so they continued to struggle.

When I had a large dairy farm and milked 70 cows and had 250 head altogether, it wasn't uncommon for one of my cows to get injured or die. I had a heifer pasture to the west of my dairy barn and I could monitor my group of bred heifers every day when I milked my cows. I fed the heifers on a hill in the pasture on the other side of our farm pond. One day I noticed a heifer lying down sleeping near the feeder. She was still there the next day and in the same position. Concerned I decided to go check her. When I got to her she lying there as cows normally sleep, looking completely peaceful, but dead. I'll never know why or from what. She just died in her sleep. 

I also had a dry cow pasture, at that same farm, down below the barn where I could keep my eyes on my cows that were due to calve. It was a good shady pasture with a stream running through the far side of it. One summer's day I was talking to a salesman who had stopped by the farm. As we chatted I noticed a cow frantically walking back and forth along the bank of the stream  I bolted over the fence and ran down the hill to the stream, which was pretty deep. The water was very clear and I looked down in and saw, to my disbelief, a newborn calf completely submerged in the stream standing up facing the current. I jumped in and grabbed the calf hoping the cold water may have saved it.  I held it upside down to drain it and then attempted mouth-to-mouth recitation (which is a challenge with a calf) but to no avail. Her pupils fogged up and she was dead.

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