I really struggled with writing this post. I am the person that takes an animal death way harder than a human one. I don’t know why, maybe it’s my job or that I have attachment issues. But when an animal dies, I am a sobbing mess. It hurts in ways that I can’t describe. If you are reading this post, you probably feel similar. While death is a normal part of life, there is no easy way to handle it. Dealing with death on the homestead for those of us that feel it deeper, it’s a lot harder.
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We have lost more than our share of animals on the homestead and it never gets easier. We have lost goats, chickens, our dogs, and today a duckling. To be honest, the duckling was up there with the goats. I have always wanted a duck and now that I finally have 20, it tears my heart to know that she died. But knowing why they died and how to prevent it really helps me heal from it.
Why the Why is so important
When you know why an animal died, not only does it help you from a practical stand point, it also helps you heal. I think that it’s because it can be a learning opportunity or simply because it absolves guilt. Either way I think it helps us heal while dealing with the death of our favorite animals.
Texas was my favorite goat. He was unbelievably vocal and would sing to me every time I came home from literally anywhere. Whether I was gone for a 24hr shift or a ride to the grocery store, it was always the same. He would bleat at me until I came to love on him. That was the best part of coming home.
He died because of polio. Goat polio is different from human polio but basically it is caused by thiamine deficiency or sulfur toxicity. My lack of knowledge and lack of medicines on hand did not help him and killed him. As unfortunate as it was, and as much as I beat myself up about it, there is a bright spot. No other goats will die because I didn’t know what I was doing.
Voldemort was our other goat that died. His was due to an extremely high parasite load. He had an unbelievable amount of barber pole worm, strongyle worms, and coccidia. It took us several days to realize that he was as sick as he was. When we got him to the vet, she told us that he was probably going to die. The worm load was just too high. If he didn’t die from the worm load, the internal bleeding of the worms suddenly being gone would kill him. We did everything we could but he still died.
With both goats, we poured over hundreds of articles, consulted with our vets and came up with a plan for future treatment. It will never bring back our babies, but at least now we know what to do, what to look for, and what to do to keep it from happening.
We have lost several chickens for several reasons; overcrowding, mareks, and predators. But we are learning how to raise our chickens in the best environment for them. They have plenty of access to open pasture. They are vaccinated from the hatchery for mareks. We keep an eye on their general condition to make sure that we catch potential injury or illness before it becomes a problem.
But today, we lost a duckling. It broke my heart. I tried everything I could think of but it was simply too late. Unfortunately, we don’t know why or how. We’ve got another one that is going down the same path but we are trying everything we can.
This is life though. Even more to the point, this is homestead life. Animals will die. Whether it’s because they are meat or because they are sick, hard labors, failed hatches, and more. It happens and it hurts.
My Advice For Dealing With Death On The Homestead
The best advice I can give you is don’t give up. Yes, it is hard and some days it doesn’t seem worth it. But I promise you it is. It’s worth the heartache for the good days. I would not give up a single second of owning goats because we lost Texas and Voldemort. I will always own dogs, despite having lost so many. The good out weighs the bad, every single time.
My second piece of advise is to honor their life. It doesn’t matter if they are meat animals or a beloved pet. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been with you for twenty years or twenty minutes, that life needs to be honored. If you can, have a cemetery for them. We have an old corral that we will never use and it is perfect. Baby bearded dragons, chicks, goats, and even toads that the dogs have killed go in there and get a flower seed planted with them. That is how I honor them.