Thursday, May 2, 2013

A difficult day on the farm

If you don't like sad stories then you probably don't want to read any further but this is part of life on the farm and the "making of a farmer" as well. I've been procrastinating for a whole week trying to finish this post but apparently I needed to do some soul searching first.

The tale begins with the weather which was exceptionally nice last week.  My son and I were cleaning up fallen branches from the previous weeks ice storm and checking trees for damage.  Once that was done - we were on a roll.  We decided since we had all the tools out that we could cut down some shrubs so we can widen the driveway.  No problem - they came down without too much trouble but that's when the real trouble began.  

I thought - HEY free food for the sheep and donkey.  They are looking hard for green food at this time of the year.  I threw a branch over the fence to judge their reaction and they didn't seem overly interested but munched somewhat on one of the branches.  I had a niggling I pulled the branch out thinking it would probably be wise to check it out on google before I gave them any more.  We got busy cleaning up and I forgot to check. 

Hicks Yew
The next morning my best ewe Bonnie was dead.

I knew immediately what had happened - it was the shrub.  It's all well and good to tell yourself that "everyone makes mistakes" but that wasn't helping at that moment.  I was responsible.  I had killed her.  In my mind it became a wail - I killlllllled her.  I was heartbroken. I spent some time kicking myself and crying - ok - sobbing.  The wave of guilt was not a pretty sight.  If Bonnie had died of anything else maybe I wouldn't have felt so bad - or so responsible - or so stupid.  Ack.  

My soul searching began when I recognized that if one of the kids had made this mistake I would have been much more forgiving.  Hmmm... why was that?  I could hear the words in my mind that I would have used to comfort them and realised they were NOT the same words I was telling myself.  This was the beginning of wisdom - with more to come.

I didn't have much time for a pity party because I had to decide what to do.  I had only given token thought to this inevitable outcome in our farming career so I didn't have a concrete plan.  After checking Google-that-never-fails and sending a panicked text message to a sheep farmer friend I figured out the best course of action.  I needed to bury her.  That would have been a terrible enough task if the weather had been sunny and bright but it was cold and pouring rain.  At least it suited my mood.  Have I ever mentioned that we don't own a tractor?

I learned more than one lesson that day.  First off when you dig a hole in the pouring rain in the corner of our field you hit clay at the three foot mark. If you mix clay and rain water you end up with boots that weigh 50 pounds each and it gets really slippery really fast.  If I believed in penance I think I would have been paid up by the time I was done.

The shrub we were cutting down was a yew.  It's a very common landscaping plant in the city and as far as I know we only had one of them.  It's now been burned in the fire pit so there is no possibility of repeating this specific tragedy. Google told me that it would take only 1 ounce of yew to kill a 150 lb animal and that it was a common spring time event because animals are extra hungry for green food at that time of year. 

Yesterday a farming friend quoted a common farming maxim - "if you have livestock - you will have dead stock".  That's life on the farm.  

We are human so we make mistakes. That's where forgiveness comes in.  It would have been easy for me to forgive one of the kids - it was much harder to forgive myself.  I wondered why.  I got to thinking that maybe it was because I'm a Mom.  I've spent my life taking care of other people. I feel it's my RESPONSIBILITY to prevent bad things from happening. More than anything I work HARD to prevent problems.  I'm the one who sees the danger in swinging from the ropes in the barn - you could break your leg or fall through the floor in some spots!  I'm the one who sees the danger in using an axe as a weight to throw a rope over a tree to hang the tire swing.  I'm the one who says - be careful on the hammock to the kids when they get kind of wild - just before it breaks.  Isn't it a mothers JOB to make sure everyone in her charge - and the occasional random stranger - stays SAFE?  It's what I do and that day I felt like I'd failed in the animal momma department.

That's life - isn't it. Despite all my warnings (or maybe because of them) no one fell through the barn floor, no one got hit in the head with the axe and the injuries from the hammock incident were minimal but some days no matter how hard I try things don't go right with life or kids or animals.  Oh yeah - maybe I'm not the one really in charge.  Maybe it's not ALL my responsibility.  That's a thought.

I went to bed that night feeling somewhat better having processed some of these thoughts but I woke up with just a touch of dread.  I went out to the barn early - just make sure all was well - that's code for see-if-anyone-else-had-died.  I felt a bit sick.

God knew the exact remedy I needed because what I found was not what I was expecting.  There in a little patch of sunlight was a new baby ewe lamb.  Little Bonnie is doing well (and so is her friend Clyde who was born three days later.)  Death and life on the farm in less than 24 hours.  I didn't even know the momma's were pregnant for sure!

I'm glad I'm not in charge of everything.  I am glad that there is grace for me when I make mistakes. I am delighted to have a front row seat to the miracle of life on the farm but I'm beginning to recognise that being a steward of life means having to deal with death too.  That's a lot harder but part of becoming a farmer - because as I've often said:  Being a farmer is hard on your heart.

Without LIFE there would be no death but without DEATH there would be no life.  I choose LIFE.  I choose to engage in LIFE. To snuggle baby lambs and baby kittens, to scratch Ben the Ram under his chin, to hug Maybe the donkey, to pet Levi the dog, to hug my kids and my husband and my family and my friends and tell them I love them.  To LIVE because that's the kind of living that makes LIFE worthwhile.


  1. Anita, I was very sorry to hear of your loss. The Lord was so good to give you a replacement lamb to lift your spirits. I guess to be a "real farmer" will involve the pain of death and the blessing of new life. We have to keep going in the face of death and remind ourselves why we are living this kind of life. Hugs to you...

  2. How sad! But thank you for sharing. I totally agree with you: Death is part of life. It is hard to face, but shielding our children from it does not prepare them for the future. Unless we die young, we will all face death of a friend or loved one at some point. As we get older, it is more often. The baby lambs were a great reminder of God's love for you, and that life goes on. :)

  3. Oh dear, that's sad news. I didn't know about the Yew, but now I do. Thanks for that.

  4. Bless your heart. Our critters have been subject to our learning curve too. Your intentions were good. It was just Bonnie's time to move on to the greenest pastures ever...and just think of the life you gave her with personal attention from someone who really knew her and cared about her. Hope you feel better soon...

  5. Thank you all for your kind words. The lessons that matter most are the hardest to process I think. Your word hugs helped :)

  6. thank you for the balanced reminder. blessings~a


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