Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Life and Death on the Farm ? On Changing Ground

Stormy in his baby picture. Hard to believe that this was less than a year ago. We loved him, and now we miss him.

The last few days on the farm have been a mix of highs and lows, animals dying, born, and slaughtered.? It all started Thursday morning when young ram Stormy was not interested in eating.? Amy was hesitant to call the vet, but as soon as she palpated his abdomen we knew he had to go.? Dr. Barton got us into the back door of Washington Family vet immediately.

I kept my hand on Stormy as he lay on the floor through tests and an ultrasound as Dr. Barton began to puzzle things out.? Amy contacted Lyle McNeal at Utah State University.? He formed the Navajo Sheep Project to restore the Navajo Churro Breed and knows more about Churro than anyone out there.? Although we momentarily doubted it, he delivered what would be the ultimate diagnosis, Urinary Calculi, stones preventing urination.? Waiting for the diagnosis, I looked into Stormy?s eyes as he lay there.? I knew at that moment that he was dying: he told me with nothing more than a look.? He died a few hours later in the back of the van, on the way home.? Amy simply turned around, and Dr. Barton performed a necropsy that confirmed Lyle?s suspicion.? As it turned out, Stormy?s bladder had burst.

On larger farms it is common for animals to simply die in a field.? It is sad to say, but it is true.? We pride ourselves on not letting that happen, so it was a severe blow to loose Stormy.? Only after he died did we discover that the loose mineral we had been feeding had an incorrect balance of calcium, even though it was sold as a sheep mineral.? We had been extremely careful to determine that the mineral did not contain things that the sheep should not have, but did not realize that it was missing something that it should.? So began our search for a proper mineral.? We have found some temporary substitutes, the best mineral can?t be had for less than an eight hour drive?Grand Junction CO, Gallup NM, or Bakersfield CA.? Even if we were willing to pay the shipping, the suppliers will not ship.? It really drove home for us how few people are in fact doing what we are doing.? The Navajo Churro Yahoo Group has been invaluable, both with support and information.?? Amy was consoled to some degree by the fact that this has happened to some of the most experienced people that she knows; she only wishes that it had not happened to us.

We had Stormy cremated.? It?s a bit unusual to do this with a farm animal, but neither of us wanted to dig a coyote proof hole.? More importantly, I wanted to bring his ashes to the sweat lodge, where I thanked him for his life and prayed for his spirit.? Stormy had the ?Mark of Palm?, a white spot on his head where the creator touched him.? A sheep with Mark of Palm is not supposed to be sold or slaughtered, he was to remain on our farm for his life, whether long or short.? I apologized to him, for not feeling his belly sooner, but somehow knew that it was alright.?? I saw him as I prayed, bigger than he had ever been, a midnight black sheep with full curled horns against a sky of stars.?? I will spread his ashes on the rocky hill that overlooks the pasture and paddock, a place where I have left prayers in the past, so that he can watch over us and his animal friends.

New members of the family

Saturday morning was not easy for me, as I tend to be emotional the morning after a sweat lodge.? Our day was brightened by the arrival of two chicks in one of the Silkie houses.? Winnie, our prize winning Silkie hen, had gone broody a few weeks back, so Amy left her some eggs.? Just as Amy was thinking that the eggs were duds, Winnie and grandma chicken Lady Gaga had managed to see them through.? One of the chicks is a splash (a mix of blue and black), and both have the correct number of toes.? These just may be next years show chickens.? After breakfast we checked the remaining sheep for stones.? This meant giving each of them a bikini trim.? After sharpening the tools, we did a hoof trim as well.? From there we simply got off the farm and searched for more appropriate minerals, and took a break from it all.? A late lunch of Sushi certainly helped.

I started Sunday by making aebleskiver.? I had long eyed the pans in the farm stores, and finally picked one up on Saturday.? It made for a festive Sunday breakfast, and got my culinary idea wheels rolling.? Even with the distraction of breakfast, my mind was elsewhere because I knew that Sunday was the day that I would have to slaughter the thanksgiving turkey.? I spent the morning preparing.? I sharpened the knife, and gathered my supplies, and got my head in order.? By noon I was ready, and I went and gathered one of our year old hens.? I have held them all so many times as we have shuffled them about that she was hardly bothered by me holding her.? That is, after I caught her.

The sheep watched as I walked her up the hill to the stone where I slaughter poultry.? They were absolutely still, watching the turkey.? The sheep knew.? I draped a cloth over her head and set her on the stone.? I ran the knife through her neck swiftly and her life was over.? Her head sat on the stone as her body drained into the bucket.? Things went so fast that there was hardly any blood on the knife or the stone.?? The plucking and cleaning was similarly smooth.?? Preparing the meat takes on a new meaning when you know the bird.? I feel in many ways that I am honoring the bird when I do it well.? I was not sad to have killed the turkey hen and Amy was not said either.? I might describe the feeling I had as a quiet joy or contentment.? Our hen completed her life.? We gave her the best life we could while she was alive and we honored her death.? She will nourish us as we nourished her.? It is why we have a farm, and it feels right.? Life and death, whether by accident, sickness or slaughter, is a fact of life on the farm.? The chickens ate the giblets we did not save, and by three o?clock, life seemed normal.

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Source: http://changingground.com/2012/11/19/life-and-death-on-the-farm/

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