Farming reality slapped me in the face

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When you read my blog you probably sigh over the idyllic country life we have, and for most part it is true. There is always a “but” of course.

Beyond the times you have to walk out in the dark, in the rain, the cold, early in the morning when you’d rather sleep in, work in wet clothes, with cranky or stubborn animals, there are other downsides. Beyond the muck, the dirty sheds that need to be cleaned out, the fact that you become immune to the smell of animal poo, whether it is on your clothes, shoes or hands, or that you suddenly don’t have an issue with walking in in dirty wellies, dragging muck into the kitchen because you are gagging for a warm cup of tea, there are of course other things that really make the dream of an idyllic life on the farm wobble.

It is not a bad track record that out of 10 ewes, seven of them being first time mothers, we have only lost one lamb. But that this one little lamb died in my arms and it was a standard lesson of the reality of farming. My heart was on a thread when we almost lost our first calf, Goldie, earlier this spring (see Life or Death situation post), but having a living creature die while I held it in my arms was completely new to me.

The lamb was about a week old and was unfortunate enough to have a distracted mother. The two were put into the mothering pen for a couple of days, but while they bonded well once they got out, the ewe still easily walked away from her lamb while eating. The lamb did it’s best to follow, but did not get enough milk and I had to go looking for it a couple of times. The last day I found it sprawled out on the top field in the surprising heatwave we had this year in May. Poor little thing was dehydrated and very weak.

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Feeding the lamb milk with electolyte solution for intense hydration.

We did our best, hydrated it, milked the ewe, tube fed it, but that night it died in my arms. I had just fed it and as it seemed unresponsive I picked it up, trying to rub it and to give it warmth. I looked at Kevin and said “I think it is dead”. The worst part is that I wasn’t sure, it seemed to be moving, but it could be just me breathing. I put it down and we concluded that it had just died. I burst into tears, knowing very well that this is the reality of farming. But it was so heart-breaking, after having tried everything and it dies in my arms.

This lamb was born to one of my girl’s pet ewe, one they had hand-fed last year, so there were more tears in the morning. The reality of farming had slapped us in the face, and as my hardier husband explained to both myself and my girls in very simple terms “this happens, often, and is part of farming”. Knowing it and experiencing it are two different things, but know at least we have both.

We might give the ewe another chance. It is something my daughter must make a decision on, as it was bought as her pet and it is her choice whether we keep or sell the ewe. The one thing I am very decisive about is that our farm is not a pet farm. Animals we keep or plants we garden all need to have their use. If this ewe is a bad mother, then there is no point keeping her. If we think she will treat the next lamb the same way she needs to be sold.

It may sound callous, this cost benefit attitude towards farming, but when you have to put in so much time, commitment, physical effort and even emotional attachment, you will be less keen on wasting it. If the ewe is a bad mother, we will either end up losing the next lamb or having to hand rear them. Both options are situations any farmer will gladly avoid.

I have for years been mad about having one or two alpacas. While it might be an interesting project, the monetary return would be close to nothing. They are expensive animals to buy, and the price for one or two fleeces will not even cover their feed.  I’d rather put my effort into getting and keeping bees; not only do they provide honey and bees wax, but are also excellent pollinators for the garden.

We are not dependent on our farm, it is a choice to have it. While we probably just break even from a money point of view, our true return and payment comes in other forms, such as the learning, living, own produced milk, cheese, vegetables and meat, but most of all real life experiences for the whole family…that is unmeasurable. Still, no alpacas or bad mothers on this farm, as there are only so many hours in the day and we do more things than just farming.

 

 

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