The hard days of farming. It isn’t the rain or the snow. It isn’t necessarily the heat or drought of August. It’s not a low sale day at the market. Those days can be rough, for certain. But ask a livestock farmer what the worst day was for them. I’ve had animals escape. I’ve had structures destroyed by weather. The worst days weren’t those, as hard as they were. No, the hardest days were days when I lost an animal or a group of animals. Those days stick very firmly in my mind. Taking an animal to the butcher isn’t like losing an animal. You know that day is coming long before it comes. You separate that animal in your mind and begin removing the emotional attachment.
The days that break a farmer’s heart are those days; days when broilers die under the intense sun after weeks of cooler temperatures. Or when a young hog dies unexpectedly. Those days cause an ache in the chest. Even more so though, are the days when you’ve tried all you knew to try and it just wasn’t enough.
That was a day I experienced today. I knew that my two year old ewe, Yin, was struggling with her lambs. I didn’t know what was wrong. I threw all I had at her last night. I gave her calcium for milk fever. I gave her sugar for ketosis. I gave her antibiotics for infection. I spoke with the vet. I examined her. I walked with her. I sat with her. I prayed with her. And then I cried with her and hugged her tight before turning in for the night.
I hoped for something good this morning. But when I entered the pasture, I knew it wasn’t to be. I took care of everyone else’s needs first and then entered the barn where I had contained her for the night. I knew right away when I saw her that she had passed in the night. She would have had two big ram lambs had something not gone wrong. But she couldn’t tell me something was wrong. She wouldn’t say because she is a prey animal. Prey animals will hide their illness until they just can’t keep going. By the time I knew, it was already too late for her, and still I didn’t even know it.
Yin was just a sheep. But she was a great sheep. She was friendly. She was motherly. She was a beautiful sheep and had many excellent years left to live. But it wasn’t meant to be. Yin was more than just a sheep to me. Yin always wanted a back scratch, just like her mother. This is a hard day to be a farmer. These are the days we all hope to avoid. Nevertheless, we mourn, we accept our losses, we learn, and we move forward. We never forget the hard days though. They stick with us. It’s the sad part of farming, but a reality of life.