February 28, 2020

Contemplation on the Struggle of Life and Death

We lost Miracle's little doeling (see "Triplets for Miracle"). She had a very rough start as it was and still struggled for her first few days. Yesterday, I went out to the barn about 4:30 a.m. and found her very still and barely breathing. She was cold, so I knew I needed to get her warmed up as quickly as possible. I brought her into the house and submerged her body in the kitchen sink filled with warm water.

Dan and I took turns holding her head up and keeping the water warm to raise her body temperature (roughly 102° to 104°F for goats). We didn't know if we could save her, but we knew we had to try.

The having to try is part of the responsibility we took on when we got animals. I call this stewardship, i.e. doing everything necessary for the animal to be and do what it was created to be and do. Emotions are irrelevant. We don't see our chickens and goats as part of our family, but that doesn't mean that we treat them with disregard. I didn't feel like getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, but I did it because Miracle's kids needed to be checked on again. I set myself aside as part of my responsibility toward my goats.

Now, I was cradling Baby Girl's head in my hand and watching changes in her breathing as she drifted in and out of consciousness. She had struggled to enter life, was she struggling now to enter death?

Always in my mind when I face problems with our critters is, what else can I do? I'm not talking about life at any cost. People who see all their animals as pets will go that route, but on a homestead like ours, that isn't realistic. I do what I can, the best that I can, and then accept the outcome. Sometimes that means death.

Baby Girl finally stopped breathing and that was that. I know that I did what I could and that there is no place for blame. Miracle still has her two boys, and since goats apparently can't count, she's blissfully unaware of the loss.


And life goes on.

30 comments:

  1. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." 1 Corinthians 15:26

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  2. It's always upsetting to lose an animal. Sorry to hear about it.

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  3. I am partial to all baby animals, but especially goats as I bottle fed and raised many when I was growing up on the farm. I was rooting for her,she had a rough start. Thank you for doing what you could for her.

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  4. Michelle, do you think that applies to animals too? Not that I want to wade out into deep theology, but another thing I wanted to say but couldn't get the words right is that I think animals perceive death differently than humans because they aren't part of the spiritual battle humans face. They do what they were created to do while we humans shake our fist at God, determined to be masters of our own lives. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that we humans have choices to make and consequences to face that animals don't.

    Gorges, thanks. We do our best and try our best to take the results in stride, but it's always more satisfying when they pull through and make it.

    Jean, there was no other option. I honestly think that she was somewhat oxygen deprived during birth. I don't know what I could have done differently about that. Especially with multiples, somethings things get a bit tangled in there as well as on the way out. Fortunately, it usually goes well. It's still always sad when it doesn't.

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  5. The animals I've known seen to be at peace with death when theirs comes. It seems they can deal with whatever length of life they get. It's people who struggle with it.

    You're a good steward.

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  6. Boud, I agree with that. I wanted to say that in this post, but just couldn't get the words down right. Sometimes my brain doesn't function the way I want! LOL

    Animals definitely have the instinct to survive, but they also seem to know when to accept the end of life. The only exception I've seen to that is when a mother loses her young. But then, the maternal bond is part of that survival as well.

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  7. Definitely part of stewardship. I spent many a late night/early morning warming up chilled pigs and trying to get some colostrum into their bellies.

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  8. I get so frustrated when vegans or animal rights people say people who raise animals for food are cruel and unfeeling. You have got to care a lot if your going to be responsible for them. However, balanced with the love you have to be realistic and honest...they die. Your effort is the key...you care and make every effort to save them. Its all we can do. God keep you safe.

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  9. I came here to say almost exactly what Boud above said before me. We, as humans, cannot help but let our emotions enter into the picture. In the case of our animals, I've always found it hard to convince myself that "this is the way it was supposed to be." Yes, you are a good steward.

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  10. The important thing is, as you said, taking stewardship - responsibility - to do the best you can for those beings in your (our) care. You and Dan do that in spades. I really do think, Leigh, that your post is the best response to this never-ending question we face.

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  11. Was going to email later to ask but read this first.

    Stewardship. It is a code of land and animal husbandry. When I knew my move was actually going to happen I had several folks inquire if I was taking the animals. Some asked only in application to the “livestock” others included all.

    I was raised that being responsible for something was the rule not the exception. And since with the exception of only one doe all of the others were on this earth for the fact that I choose to breed them. And because I made the choice to bring them into this world I am responsible for making the correct choice for their lives. For me that meant you are all coming. Especially since some of these critters were aged and a smooth transition to another was not only unlikely (not too many folks take on aged livestock) but tenuous at best .

    Do animals mourn? Yes do they do. Do they do it for the same reasons as humans? I am unsure. In Miracles case since it was her first freshening she has no norm to associate to. Would her reaction have been different if she was a seasoned doe perhaps.

    A good example of what I am trying to explain is one of my Nubians when I was bottle raising kids pitched a fit each year. She would “mourn “ vocally when her kids were separated from her and would also go off her feed. And she would eventually come out of it. I had other does who couldn’t wait for me to remove their kids with a hearty “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”.

    I firmly believe that we don’t know enough about animal behavior to say exactly why. And do they mourn emotionally or is it a physiological reaction.

    What I do know is if we are to have creatures in our lives from the family dog to food animals we need to treat them with respect, appropriate housing, food and kindness. We need to be mindful of at slaughter.

    I would say we need to be humane. And humble and grateful for what we glean from them. But since human is the the root word of humane. Perhaps we need to come up with a better term.

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  12. The poor Baby Girl's struggles are at an end. So sorry Leigh. But you are right in all respects. It is part of homesteading and good stewardship. Last year we had a rash of deaths on our homestead. The sting does not get any easier. With good stewardship, there is the caring and attachment to each animal on your homestead which is why Mel can't butcher animals. You give the animals every chance at the best possible life while they are your responsibility. Even though Miracle's doeling was just a few days old, she garnered a place in your heart (as with all the new kids). Well done Leigh and Dan!

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  13. Leigh, I completely agree with your response to my comment, but yes, emphatically YES, I believe that death is the enemy, or more fully, a result of the enemy's work in this world. God created a perfect world in which death had no part until sin entered, and will re-create a perfect world in which death has no part again (which is why at the beginning and the end of the Good Book all creatures are described as vegans!). That doesn't mean all creatures are vegans in the interim, but since the Bible says God notices even the fall of a sparrow, I think the death of anything that has the "breath of life" (Genesis 7:15) in it brings a certain sorrow to the Creator who gave it life.

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  14. Sometimes, I think rather than not being able to count, it's that the mama knows when the baby isn't going to make it and 'gives all' to the ones that will. It's never easy to loose a critter, but as you said, you did what you could. Sometimes they live which is as rewarding as loosing one is sorrowful.

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  15. Leigh,

    Sorry to hear that Miracle's baby doeling died. It's so sad to see any creature die so soon after being born. You did what you could.

    City Creek Country Road

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  16. Ed, and somehow, when things turn out well, it's the most rewarding feeling in the world. Makes it all worth it.

    Fiona, yeah, there's a real disconnect in our society concerning the reality of animals, especially farm livestock. Unfortunately, that does a lot more harm to livestock than good. It's a sense of responsibility with effort, isn't it?

    Mama Pea, it's very hard to not assign human thoughts and feelings to animals! It's also hard not to think we can control all outcomes. Hard lessons to learn for most of us.

    Susan, thank you. I don't know if it's actually a satisfying answer, because the question comes up every time we're faced with this! Still, it's the answer I keep coming up with and the only one that helps me accept.

    Goatldi, interesting observations. I really like that you equate stewardship as a code! We are stewards because that is our job. We are connected to the land and our livestock, not as overlords or even as equals, but because we all have a part to play in a healthy ecosystem. It's part of a balance that I doubt anyone can truly understand.

    Jo, thank you. Any time we invest ourselves in something we seem to develop some form of attachment. For most of us it's emotional, but I think there are other bonds as well. Every death changes the dynamics of the place. Somehow we have to not see that as good or bad, it just is.

    Michelle, one thing I know is that there are animals in heaven! In Revelation, Jesus rides from heaven with His armies on horseback. The only ones in hell are the angels and humans who choose to go. Animals aren't faced with having to make that choice.

    Lady Locust, I agree. I think they have a sense of life and death that we can't fathom. For me as a steward, there is always a question of doing my best. And that helps me go the extra mile. If the outcome is death, I don't want to think back with "if only I had..."

    City Creek Country Road, thank you. Sometimes, that's just the way things are.

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  17. Leigh, it is a hard thing. Oddly enough, the greater disconnection with the land means that on the whole, most people are more removed from this.

    The reality is that if we completely eliminated ourselves, wildlife would repopulate - and then eat and destroy each other as they always have. "Old B*tch Nature", Gene Logsdon called it. There is no utopia this side of Heaven.

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  18. TB, the sad thing is, they have no idea of how disconnected they are.

    One of my most startling observations when we first started homesteading, is how cruel nature really is. Ruthlessly cruel.

    Another was how quickly "fragile" nature will reclaim and dominate any small piece of earth we humans try to carve out for home and garden. I realized that the "have dominion" that the clueless folks bristle at is actually telling us that it's going to take hard diligent work to stay ahead of the weeds long enough to get a harvest!

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  19. I think you have exactly the right attitude. I would be sad and probably cry as it seems the older I get the more I cry? What a woos I've turned into. But it is life and I am always amazed at people who are so religious and yet are so scared of dying. It is a fact of life for every living creature on this planet.....no one gets out alive! LOL! The only thing I don't like to see is unnecessary suffering. Sometimes death is a kinder option.

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  20. Sam, "no one gets out alive" LOL Very true! And I agree that sometimes death is kinder than prolonged suffering. We had to make that choice when our Rascal had feline lymphoma. We were willing to put him through the first round of chemotherapy, and it put him in remission for years rather than months. After that it seemed cruel to put him through multiple vet visits each week, especially since he hated riding in the car. He hung around for a longer time than we thought, enjoying the things he enjoyed. When he started having trouble breathing I took him back to the vet to end his suffering. Still, those are hard choices to make for everyone who cares about their critters.

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  21. Hello Leigh. Very sad to hear about your baby. It is part of the bond we share with our lifestyle, and the blessings we celebrate. From my childhood on the ranch, we were faced daily with the sorrow, and the wonderful blessings... which is life. Nature does have a way of humbling us to the responsibility of stewardship, for sure. Sending a hug.

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  22. I'm big on quality of life, not "life at any cost," regardless of whether it's an animal that lives in the barn or the house, on four feet or two.
    I'm sorry you lost her, but if I was in your shoes, I'd be glad I was able to make her passing comfortable. The one that haunts me is the kid I'll never know if I could have saved because I had left the barn shortly before it arrived and when I saw it a very short time later it was already dead. It may have been born dead, but I'll never know.

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  23. Wyomingheart, thank you! Those that thrive make the blessings all the sweeter. :)

    Quinn, I think most of us have a similar experience or two under our belts. But that's what motivates me to do my best. The trick is not second guessing afterward, although that's never easy either.

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  24. And still...life goes on. We are blessed to be able to live life the way we do, Leigh. Not everyone can or has the inclination to.

    Blessings, Fern

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  25. Fern, I so agree. I have such a profound sense, now, of belonging and having purpose while I'm here on earth. I can make a positive impact through my lifestyle. That's such a gift.

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  26. I am one of those who would make a pet out of anything that I cared for ... and as a result would be a very poor farmer. I would mourn that little creature like it had lived for years. I mourn it now and I never met it. You guys are great stewards. You gave her a chance. God took her back anyway. At least she was surrounded by warmth and caring as she died.

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  27. RT, there seem to be different kinds of emotions that go along with the loss of an animal. We didn't have time to become emotionally attached, but her brief appearance brought with it some expectation of her being healthy and growing to adulthood. Then there's the investing of self through time and energy to help her make it. The loss is keenly felt on many levels.

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  28. I have read that Martin Luther was emphatic about animals in heaven, and there was a story about him, talking to his little dog and telling her there would be a future there. Theology aside, it is a little bit reassuring to me to think about that, but whether we accept that or not, I'm glad you gave the doeling a fighting chance. Phil

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  29. Phil, I didn't know that about Martin Luther, interesting! I think it's a reassuring idea to all of us who love and care for critters.

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  30. Amen to what Michelle said in the first comment!

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