Such a waste

As a young 4-Her, I remember lamenting, with my brother and sister, the untimely death of our best club lamb. We had vaccinated for all the relevant sheep diseases, as suggested by our veterinarian, but the lamb was still dead and for no good or apparent reason. An elderly neighbor pointed out the only solution to raising animals and never having to deal with a dead one. It was quite simplistic actually – don’t raise animals. That is the only way you can be guaranteed never to lose one. As much as I hate dead ones, I can’t imagine a spring without baby calves frolicking across the pasture or the gangly legs of a newborn colt trying to stand to nurse.

Our girls have already had a good dose of having to deal with and learn about the cycle of life. But the cycle of life doesn’t always make a complete circle, if you know what I mean. Some animals just go before they really should and all we can do is learn about ways we might have prevented the death, understand possible causes and try not to let it sober us to the many positive things going on in our operations. But that doesn’t always take away the pain of a loss, even for those of us who deal with it on a regular basis. For the city folks who might have to face putting the family pet to sleep, we may seem a little hard hearted. It’s not that we aren’t upset about the deaths that occur, it’s just that we know it is inevitable.

We have encountered several losses during the severe winter cold and into the wet spring that we felt were simply just the waste of a potentially great animal. Like the perfect little filly we rescued from the chilling rain and wind. We warmed her in the bathtub for half a day, reunited her with her mother and two days later they were outside enjoying the sunshine. She was retrieved from the mud around the hay ring by our oldest daughter only to suffer a fatal kick to the head from a jealous mare in the pen. What kind of justice is that?

Or perhaps I should mention the first-calf heifer that prolapsed giving birth. The girls fell asleep in the pickup as the veterinarian, two fellow ranchers and I spent half of the night putting her back together. We spent several hours searching for the calf we knew she had given birth to but were unable to find until the sun came up the following day. It was then too that we discovered that our surgery was too little, too late. So now we have a bottle calf to feed twice a day.

We haven’t even considered the baby goats that were born in sub-zero temperatures this February. Even though they were in the barn, if there were more than one born to a nanny she couldn’t get them cleaned off and warmed up in time to keep them alive. So we carted them to the house, warmed them up, tried to pair them back up with nannies that could feed multiples. We still ended up with two bottle goats to feed and a few dead ones piled by the door of the barn until we could haul them off.

So, as farmers and ranchers, we do accept that death is a part of our business but that doesn’t make it a pleasant experience. In general, farmers and ranchers are a conservative lot. We don’t like to waste much of anything so these unwarranted deaths are a little harder for us to deal with. If an animal is harvested and goes on to provide food and by-products for humans or pets, it is a more reasonable and logical conclusion to their life. But when they die and have to be trucked off to nearest rendering plant, it is simply just a waste.

In that same vein, we have a problem with the notion that animals should be wasted rather than have a purposeful end to their life. Whether you are wasting an animal that could provide nutrients for another living being or you are wasting the resources necessary to keep this animal alive, either way you are harboring something that could be put to a better use. And what happens when we save all of the unwanted horses? Who will feed them? Taxpayers will not want to foot the bill for long and the activists against horse slaughter have saved all the horses their refuges can hold. Where will feed come from for these horses? Hay prices are at near record highs and pasture is in short supply due to the drought. And finally, when these horses do die a “natural death”, what will we do with all of the carcasses? Renderers are reluctant to accept them. Will landfills in New York City let us pile them there? Perhaps the Hollywood starlets who campaign to stop the harvest of horses will allow us to bury them on their rambling estates. Or not? Have they smelled many dead piles in the heat of the summer sun?

Death is death. If you don’t want to deal with it, get out of the business but by the same token it is not for someone else to demand that we make better use of our nation’s natural resources and then dictate policy that forces us to waste both feed and the potential products that could be generated by harvesting undesirable horses in this country. The double-edged sword is being used against us and it is just now slashing through the curtain that shields the world of agriculture. If we let it sweep forward, our entire industry is in jeopardy. And that would truly be a waste!