Saturday, October 25, 2008

Life and Death on the Farm

It was one of the earliest lessons we learned.

"Them as has, can lose." Clifford shook his head as we watched the backhoe dig a hole to bury Gyp, a big gray horse we'd had only a few months. During the night she'd opened the unsecured door to the upper part of the wooden floored tobacco barn, gone inside, and the floor had given way under her weight.

When we found her in the morning, she was, in the local vernacular, dead as a hammer. A broken neck.

"Now, a mule wouldn't of done that," said Clifford. "Mules have got sense."

After that, we had mules.

Over the years there have been more losses -- cattle, chickens, an early experiment with ducks, and, of course, some dogs and cats. Old age, vehicles, birthing, predators, illness -- all have taken their toll.

With the farm animals, you're forced to assess the animal's market value before calling for the vet. An unpleasant reality -- a five hundred dollar vet bill for a two hundred dollar cow is a quick way to go bankrupt. You learn to do some doctoring from books and experience and you learn to be patient.

So when Bubba (the calf that John bucket raised back in the spring) went down with a semi-paralysis of his hind legs and we suspected that it was due to buckeye (horse chestnut) poisoning, we didn't call a vet. We'd had this happen before -- and called a vet and the calf had died regardless. The woods are full of these trees and usually the cattle don't mess with the fallen nuts -- but now and then a foolish calf will.

Justin got Bubba propped up on his chest and offered him food and even resurrected the suck bucket. Bubba ate and pooped -- both very good signs -- and we were encouraged to hope that eventually the effects of the poison would pass off. And Bubba didn't seem to be in any pain -- just unable to stand.

Over the next few days, Justin tended to him. Bubba, seeming delighted to have his mama the blue bucket back, slowly improved and finally managed to stand. Hooray!!

He's back with the herd now, still a little wobbly, but on the comeback trail. John is referring to him as Lazarus now.

See, that ended better than you thought it would!

My second story involves a very small death. A few days ago Justin was in our living room when Miss Susie Hutchins came in with a dead mouse in her mouth. She dropped it at the foot of the stairs and began to meow urgently.

When Justin came to investigate, Hutchins ran up to the stair step where her bowl of cat food is kept out of reach of the dogs and stood staring at the bowl and meowing even louder. Justin looked into the bowl to discover that some distracted someone (and that would be me) had filled it with dog chow rather than cat chow.

We figure that Hutchins was pointing out that she was being forced to hunt her own food due to the lamentable inefficiency of her staff. Maybe this is why she's contemplating a move to San Francisco.
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Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

I remember the numerous times my father had to be vet for the farm animals. He had this purple medicine that he swore by--we simply called it the purple medicine, no fancy name. He poured it on all sorts of wounds and it usually worked. He pulled out calves in the middle of the night, brought some of them home when the cow had died, so that we could mix formula in a special bucket with a large nipple and get the little critter on its way to being a grown-up. We simply couldn't be calling the vet every time an animal got sick, not even our for our dogs. Haul out the purple medicine, or the worming pills, whatever was at hand. We made do. We had to. And yes, there were times when he pulled out his shotgun to stop an animal's suffering. Oh well---that's how it is on a functioning farm.
As always, great photos, Vicki. And writing.

Vicki Lane said...

I myself once shot a dog -- a very old Border Collie who fell off the porch and broke his back. He was screaming with pain; the vet was an hour away; I was home alone. I put one hand over the dog's eyes, put the muzzle of the very big revolver to his forehead and pulled the trigger.

I was happy to be able to end his suffering so quickly.

Susan M. Bell said...

Oh Vicki, you have more backbone than I would have in that situation. I don't know if I could have pulled that trigger, even though my head would tell me very loudly it was the right thing to do. I guess that's why I don't live on a farm.

And don't cats have such a great way of getting their message across.