The Facts of Life

Maybe it’s bad luck or just a numbers game, the odds being that where life swarms the way it does on a farm – so does death.  Whatever it is, the odds or luck have not worked in our favor over the past year.  And again, yesterday, I returned home from a day in the office (the blasted office), to discover that little Leo the lion, Betty’s pup we were going to keep – was dying.  In the morning before work I did my usual rounds, fed the goats, fed the dogs, and patted each puppy head before leaving.  Leo was nursing and playing like the others.  When I came home he was lethargic, short of breath, and unsteady.  The nearest vet stayed open for me, and I threw him into the car, speeding 7 miles into our little town.  Although weak when I came home, he was awake and walking.  15 minutes later when I arrived at the vet, he was gasping for air, barely conscious.  Immediately, they gave him oxygen and told me he could not be saved as he was showing signs of internal bleeding.  We decided to have him euthanized and conduct an autopsy, which showed bruising and bleeding from a liver that looked poorly formed to begin with.  Did he play too rough with a sibling yesterday and sustain an injury his already weak liver couldn’t handle?  We don’t know.  The vet told me it is quite common for one animal in a litter to have a defect, one that presents itself early or later.  And the fact that he was always the calmest and quietest of the pups was probably an early sign of the weak organ.  I don’t know.  Maybe it was just his personality.  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

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Last night I spent a good long time wandering between the pastures feeling for lumps and bumps on the cows, on the goats, picked up each puppy and inspected it carefully.  Hugged all of the adult dogs before kicking a few rocks down the driveway.  I did not take this one gracefully, not because I was so attached to little Leo, but because all of the loss builds over time until it’s necessary to slump over the steering wheel in a veterinary parking lot for a five minute sob.  Helpful?  Not really.  Cathartic?  A little.

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Last night Jer listened to me wail about the fact that all this death is unnatural, and it’s probably my fault.  Even the two elderly dogs who died of old age.  It’s not as if I can reverse the effects of aging, he reminded me.  But self-doubt usually clouds reason and last night, every single loss was because of me.  If only I had been here the day Willy was stolen…if only I had paced the pasture the night Atlas was killed…if only I had chased after LuLu when the neighbor’s gunshots sent her flying down the road in panic…if only I’d been home yesterday to catch Leo if he did, in fact, fall.

I know none of that’s true.  I also know there is much, much more of this coming.  So I have to ask myself, are you in or are you out? 

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The goats curled up in the barn last night, groaning up at me and rolling their eyes, annoyed with the weather which is – in their opinion – always my fault.  I sat down next to Pearl and Jolene who barely tolerated excessive ear scratches, tried to imagine this place empty of irritated goats, empty of the cackling, prancing chickens, empty of the barn cat Simon who prowls for mice, empty of growling dogs that fight over a mysterious bone found deep in the woods, empty of the cows who stare from the fence with liquid doe-eyes mooing for hay, despite the bale resting beside them.  From that perspective, the answer is obvious.  An emptiness without them is harder to bear then a fear of losing them.  Period.  I’m in.

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Barnyard, Motivation


  • Kim

    January 12, 20145:56 pm

    I am so so sorry to hear about Leo!

    Since we’ve started this, we’ve lost several chickens (all of whom I lost with the same “if only I had” and 3 rabbits.) But that’s the only livestock we have so far. And yes, you tell yourself that it’s part of life and it’s not your fault but even as you’re telling yourself that, you’re not believing it.

    But it does give you even more reason to keep going, if only for the knowledge that even your worst (even if something WAS really your fault) is better than a lot of people’s best. That your animals were always well cared for and always will be.


  • Jenny Depa

    January 11, 20146:03 am

    So, so sorry for your loss! It’s not your fault! Stay in the game (of life); stay even closer to all your furry friends! Give the barnyard menagerie lots of hugs and kisses… we know not what tomorrow brings! Revel in all the joy they bring! Take care.

  • Denise LoSchiavo, Blackland Reporter

    January 10, 20147:37 pm

    I too wish I could say it gets easier. However, in my heart, I hope it never gets easier and my heart never becomes calloused. I am sorry for your loss.

    We lost Giana on Monday. She was the first sheep we ever had. Brought to us by neighbors because her mother wouldn’t take her. Bottle fed and probably slept in my daughter’s bed. She became a wonderful mother. Gave us gallons of milk. Loads of lambs. She would come when you called her name and take walks with us. Dubbed “The BiGianna of Death” by my grandson after she came up behind us while walking in the pasture and flipped him over backwards. Gianna had lamb Sunday, was doing fine by all accounts, dead the next morning. Had a pretty hard time with it. Like you said, walking around kicking rocks.

    Then I remember…She had a pretty good life. And made a difference. Because of Giana I realized my old folks were interested in taking care of something. The ladies would rock those babies. Make sure they were covered up with blankets. Some ladies even kept them in their rooms at night “In case they needed something”. I’m sure this is against several state laws to let folks in a Nursing Home keep livestock in their bedrooms. Shhhh…

    Know we do everything we can, every day. We do our best.

  • Kim Alvarez – aunt

    January 10, 20146:00 pm

    So sorry about the loss of the baby boy. It’s hard to say or think something positive, but you’re right about the cycle of life and death. I still grieve for my Delilah and Sampson, but you do the best you can and that’s all you can do. Celebrate life and accept the grief. And tomorrow is a new day………it really is.

    • jennakl

      January 11, 20149:48 am

      Thank you all – so much – for the incredibly sweet notes and sentiments. Denise – you killed me with that line: “I hope it never gets easier and my heart never becomes calloused.” I agree with you absolutely. Absolutely. I hope it never stops hurting, I just hope I can face it a little more gracefully. I am deeply sorry for the loss of your Giana. What a wonderful story and incredible impact she clearly made on so many lives. I can’t believe you brought lambs into a nursing home – I love it!!!! I know we do the best we can every day, like you said. That is all we can do, and that is the best we can do.

  • Eight Pond Farm

    January 10, 20143:40 pm

    I am so sorry to hear about Leo. I wish I could tell you it will get easier. While I cannot say that exactly, I can tell you for me it got “different”. I no longer break down in tears when each animal passes. But sometimes, often when I am not expecting it, there is a much larger sadness than would ever be possible for any one creature. It starts sometimes when I am poking at paperwork or at a spot on the ground or who knows what. It stays for a little while, then it moves off somewhere. Like you, I try to imagine life without all the sheep, horses and cattle, dogs and cats — but there is no way. I have come to believe that occasional sadness is an important remembrance part of the full time joy. It is much less painful now than in the beginning.

  • Erin @ Blue Yurt Farms

    January 10, 201412:49 pm

    This post gave me goosebumps. I’ve so been there. We lost a very special puppy in a very similar way. I reacted the same way…seeing illness in every sneeze, cough or sluggish attitude. Life on a farm, it’s truly connected to life and death in an ever spinning cycle.

    Hugs. I’m glad you got to have him for his very short and special life. xoxo

    • jennakl

      January 10, 201412:59 pm

      Thank you Erin…I’m so sorry you had to go through this too. Everything you said is too – I appreciate the last statement more than you know :)