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Monday, August 12, 2013

The emotional exhaustion of the farming life

I’ve been asked before, how I deal with sick lambs, lambs that die at birth, coyotes taking my lambs and other farm-centred heartbreak. The truth is I don’t deal with it very well. I try not to spend an inordinate amount of time with the farm animals because I will get attached to them. The animals that have been around for years tend to endear themselves to you: Sheila the barncat-turned-housecat; Cody the wonderdog; Mocha the apple-addicted cow, Big Betty the Hereford who runs like a dog, Ginger the Suspicious, Donkey and Misty (the Belgian horse who is afraid of everything). Every once in a while, though, there’s a little guy who works his way into your heart in just a matter of days.

My little bottle-fed lamb, Chicken Milkface, died this week. He was weaned off the bottle a few weeks ago and seemed to be doing quite well, following the rest of the herd down to the meadow to eat hay. I thought he was getting a little thinner but assumed it was because he was losing the bloat that he had from the milk replacer. In hindsight, it was more likely parasites. This time of year, the sheep nibble the grass down so short they end up eating some of the little creatures that do them harm.

I just don’t want to do this anymore. I understand we don’t really make money sheep farming; we pretty much break even. So getting rid of the sheep isn’t going to pinch us financially. We won’t even notice. The Farmer farms because it gives him something to do. He’s a do-er. I’m more of a write-er. I never get bored. I’m happy with nothing to do because it gives me time to read and write. If we didn’t have a sheep farm, I might even get my book finished. Imagine that.

The Farmer is open to the suggestion of getting rid of the sheep. He would simply shift his attention to the cows – who don’t really need much attention at all. On a typical weekend, he could keep himself busy repairing fences, fortifying the barn and pushing around piles of manure. I’m sure I would worry about the cows from time to time, but other than calving season, the only time they have ever really given me cause for concern was when I noticed Ginger and Betty’s collars were getting too tight and I couldn’t figure out how to get them off. Betty eventually let us cut hers off but it took us a few weeks of trying to corral Ginger and put her in a head gate before we could release her from her choker necklace.

We’ve been lucky raising beef cattle so far. Occasionally we have a calf born without the urge to suckle, and we have to inject selenium. It’s much easier to do this with a calf than a lamb, however. Less chance of crippling them with the needle in their skinny little legs. I have raised a calf on milk replacer, and he is still thriving, out there in the meadow with the rest of his gang. I like the cows, for the most part. We only have one mean one, and Ginger is more suspicious than hostile. She just needs her space. This is only a problem when you come between her and her calf.

The problem is, if we get rid of the sheep so that we can concentrate on the cattle, we really don’t need a donkey anymore. Cows aren’t bothered by coyotes, really. I don’t want to give up my donkey. Despite his biting, his sheep-dragging, and his mischief-making, I love him. And then we come to the horse again. If we increase our cattle herd, it makes more sense to feed silage all winter. It lasts longer and there is less waste. But I can’t let the horse in where the silage is being fed. It’s not good for her. She needs dry hay, and it has to be good quality for her finicky stomach. I know it doesn’t make good financial farm-sense to keep her. She has no real practical purpose, except to just be a horse. But I told The Farmer this week that we are keeping her. And he agreed. So there.


1 comment:

Lovin Honey said...

This is what scares me about the dream of the farm life, all the heart break.

Glad you decided to keep the horse :)