Homesteading is anything but what you'd expect. While the picturesque images of glowing, clean farms atop a meadowy hilltop are certainly wonderful, truth is, that's not reality. Yes, there are moments of picturesque beauty – don't get me wrong. And often times as I'm squeezing the first drops of the day's milk into an empty bucket, peering over my shoulder at the sunrise, I feel as if I'm living in that perfect farm beauty that so many of us long for deep in our soul.
Yes, there are those moments.
And then there are the other moments. The moments that cause a farmer to take a step back and contemplate what it is they're trying to do and frankly, if it's worth the emotional and physical effort.
There comes the moment when all farmers must begin dealing with death on the homestead.
Allow me to start at the beginning.
A few months back, Stuart and I decided that we'd like to raise even more meat on our homestead. The chickens and pigs have been wonderful additions to the farm, no doubt, but we still desired to grow and invest in animals that could help us manage the virgin landscape and supplement our meat supply even further. We were fortunate to run across a blogger friend of mine that just so happened to be transitioning from raising meat sheep to a dairy operation. They had a ewe and buck for sale from their registered Katahdin line and we prayerfully made the decision to bring them onto Beatha Fonn Farm to live with us as the very first of our breeding livestock (exception of our dairy cow, Sal).
As many smallholders know, making a decision to invest in breeding livestock is anything but an easy decision. There is the future to think about. And goals. And feed costs. And monetary investment into quality genetic lines.
After making the decision to bring Cincy (the ram) and Conky (whom we renamed Gladys) onto the farm, we anxiously awaited their arrival. Conky was bred and we were happy (albeight excited!) to let her finish out her pregnancy on her current farm. We were to bring her home after she lambed.
I sent many an email to our friend. “How's our girl doing?” “Any babies yet?” “Can't wait to get her here!”
Four months of waiting!
Like an anxious mother, I anticipated her arrival and the arrival of her lambs. The pasture was fenced and shelter was built. The water trough in place. The hay beginning to stack up in the barn.
And then, two days ago, I received notice that Gladys had given birth to twins! And then, further notice, that Gladys hadn't survived the birth.
My heart ached. For her current farm and for the future of ours. I know the farm that Gladys called home and you'd be hard pressed to find farmers who love their animals more than them. I know she was well cared for. I know she was loved. I know that her death caused pain.
The death of a breeding animal is never easy.
You see, it's different for us homesteaders. Certain animals are raised with the intention of food – and though it sounds odd, the connection with these animals is real, but quite different than that of a connection with a breeding animal. Meat animals are cared for and appreciated for their time on the farm. Breeding animals are loved.
And loosing an animal that is loved is never an easy thing. Even for the homesteader who can easily slaughter their meat animals.
After we reeled with the reality of Gladys' death, we began to play over the variety of options available to us. Should we still do sheep or was this some sort of divine sign that we needed to rethink the idea? Should we still bring Cincy to the farm? What about Gladys' lambs? And what about that delicious red meat we were hoping to harvest for the freezer this fall?
Again, we spent time in prayer and in conversation. Many a homesteading problem can be solved by prayer, a strong cup of coffee, and good conversation. And that's a fact, Jack.
The plan, as of now, is to bring Cincy (the ram) to the farm. We will also be bringing a pair of twins, a ewe and a ram, onto the farm that were born at the end of February (from a different mother). The ewe will be raised for new breeding stock. The ram will be raised for meat, to be harvested in the fall. Lastly, we decided to bring Gladys' ewe lamb (just a few days old) onto the farm as well.
The new lamb will require to be bottle fed for about 8 weeks – a huge time and emotional commitment on our part. And yet, for some reason, part of us feels like it's just appropriate to bring Gladys' daughter onto the farm – to carry on what her sweet mother could not. This ewe lamb will also be raised for breeding stock and her and the other ewe (yet unnamed) will be the future of our Beatha Fonn Katahdin sheep.
As the good Lord would have it, we have a dairy cow that is more than happy to share her milk with an orphaned lamb.
And Stuart has the summer off from teaching, which allows him more free time to devote to helping me feed, raise, and train this new lamb.
As with all of our animals, I don't anticipate this learning curve will be easy. But I do anticipate it will be worth it. Livestock require an incredible amount of energy and commitment from their owners – especially when milking and feeding is involved. Yet, of all the things we do on the homestead, I find the relationships we get to build with our “here to stay” animals the most rewarding of all our endeavors.
Loosing an animal is never easy. And yet, the homesteader presses on.
We learn. We adapt. We pray. We weep. And then we keep on truckin'.