Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Decimation

I lost a couple chickens and a lamb over the past few days. The chickens were lost in a night of raccoon feasting, which thwarted the electric fences and tractor I had built to protect them. The lamb was (I thought) recovering from being weakened by worms. When I found him laying down a week ago I carried him inside, wormed him, medicated him against tetanus, and kept an eye on him closely since. He seemed to be doing far and on the way to a full recovery. He was always thinner than the other two lambs he was brought here with, but well. This morning while doing chores I found him dead. The same lamb that was out grazing the night before. I was crushed. I buried him near Sal, a sheep who was with me nearly ten years. This lamb wasn’t even with me ten weeks. It’s frustrating and it’s sad when this happens. I felt like a failure.

And make no mistake it was a failure. The lamb was in my care and it died. It died because what I did wasn’t enough. And it is important to know that, and feel that, and understand it.

But it is also important to look up at the rest of the farm around you. It’s important that I see two healthy horses with well-trimmed hooves and shining coats pass me by below swelling apples trees at a full canter. It’s important to know the goats bleating in the background are full of grain and relieved from their daily milking. It’s important to see the majority of the chickens, geese, and ducks all well and safe from a night without threats. It’s important to know the piglets and sows are thriving, the dogs and cats are happy, and that I was able to run an easy four miles this morning and still have a few days in the month to earn the money for the bills owed.

It’s important to see the other 90% if the sheep up and healthy as to not confuse decimation (one in ten dead) with annihilation (all dead). One sheep in my care passed away. The other nine are strong. That's still an A- and I'll take an A- in farming any day.

So feel bad about failure. But never let failure stop you from farming or any pursuit of your heart and head. Especially when the evidence of other success is all around you. There are eggs in my fridge, ten pounds of goat cheese in my freezer, and sales made of lamb and pork for future customers. There is soap made from those goats all over North America and more being made and shipped out every week. This is a small, one-woman farm yet it manages to stay afloat through words and art while so many farms and businesses are failing and that is a small miracle. One I am grateful for every single day.

Death is inevitable when your work is the raising and rearing of living things. It comes from disease, harvest for food, or old age. The hope is to pick when it happens and to feed and care for the people in your lives as you do so. It’s always a balance between a curse and a dance, farming. You only keep doing it because you learned thrive between those two outcomes and walk the line.

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