Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Giving Up

August 26, I lost my beautiful furry friend, Gucci. The day before, the kids and I showed up to do the chores and discovered that my oldest son had forgotten to lock the chicken feed the last time we were out. We estimate that Gucci ate well over 100 pounds of grain and pelleted poultry feed. She seemed well enough, perky and content. But she did not get up. In fact, she couldn’t get up. I immediately gave her baking soda to help counter balance the effects of the grain and to help ease the bloating grain inevitably causes in a cow’s rumen.

We called two vet clinics here and left several messages for vets that the larger clinic referred us to as they had no one available to come out to treat a large animal. Their on-call emergency vet was a horse vet and would not work on a cow. It even says that on his receipt: Practice Limited to Horses.

My neighbor came over with his big ATV and we tried to pull Gucci up to stand with people on both sides and behind her trying to help. But she just would not budge. The rope actually broke. We gave her a dose of activated charcoal gel from the feed store across the street, which was indicated as a curative for grain overload. Later that evening I gave her vegetable oil as well.

But, as I stayed up all night by her side, and the more articles I read online about the outcome of severe grain overload, the more I realized that my cow was not going to have a happy ending. I brought her water every so often and sat in a chair, patting her bloated rumen with my bare feet to help her pass the painful gas in her body. By six in the morning, she was exhausted and in pain. You see, grain overload causes lactic acidosis and her blood was being poisoned by the grains fermenting in her stomach. She didn’t deserve to suffer. I called the horse vet and this time he actually answered his cell, and I asked him as best I could while crying, to come put her down.

I am told that everything in life happens for a reason, meaning that the reason is always something deeper than the obvious. The obvious is my cow ate a vast quantity of grain and it was slowly killing her. The other deeper meanings? I can’t even pretend to know. I have never felt so helpless in my life, unable to do anything to make her better. Certainly this could have been prevented by simply locking the bin, or by me double checking that the bin was locked instead of trusting a child to do it. There has not been a day that goes by since that morning that I haven’t broken down and cried and blamed myself.

It was sometime that night while sitting beside her and patting on her that I really wanted to give up. I wanted my old life back in which I worked an 8-5 job, had normal health insurance, so much less stress, and so many less responsibilities. Sure, I thought I was happy then. And maybe I was. But when you don’t know the great joy living the way in which you’ve always dreamed gives you, I suppose that ignorance was bliss. Back then I would never have dreamed of helping a baby goat come into the world by pulling its slimy legs when it was stuck. I never would have been able to give vaccines to an animal with an actual syringe. I would not have known the serene peace of milking a goat or a cow. Or the taste of sugar snap peas fresh from the plant…or those garden ripe tomatoes and eggs with orange yolks like they’re supposed to be instead of that pale yellow they have when store bought.

When I was five and I wrote down that I wanted to be a farmer and an artist, I admittedly didn’t know what that entailed. Being a farmer is hard, backbreaking work. It’s not for the faint of heart. It makes a person stronger, more resilient, and it takes the kind of person who presses on and refuses to give up. That’s not the kind of person I was before I bought four goats, but it seems to be the person I’m becoming.

The following day, my neighbor’s mother passed away. He had been the one to bury my cow for me near where she had died. We talked a lot before he left to go take care of the arrangements for his mother, and the one thing he said to me that sticks in my head is: “Well, you can’t just give up.” I’m not even sure why he said that. It was out of context after all.

I recently read a book about how to simplify your life and one piece of advice was that it is okay to give up on things that aren’t easy. That we’ve all been brainwashed to keep doing something until it works, but that’s not really the best thing to do. I don’t know. I’m torn. I love the farm and the animals. I love the garden and the peace of being outside in the sunshine and fresh air. But certainly this year, a lot of it is just not working the way I would have hoped.

After Gucci passed, I spent some time rubbing on her calf, Karma, and on Saturday, September 1, discovered a hard bony lump on her lower left jaw. After what happened to Gucci, I panicked and began searching online for what it could be. I believe it’s bony lump jaw, a common bacterial infection which occurs in young calves. It’s caused when they eat something sharp and it punctures their jaw. Bacteria gets in there and infects the bone. It can be treated, if caught early, with sodium iodide. Again, I called the vet, this time, the vet who had been helpful to me when Gucci had an abscess.

She returned my call and said she needs to see if she can order the sodium iodide and will schedule a day to come out and treat Karma. Yesterday I finished building a head gate for the calf so she can be safely restrained while the vet tends to her. I started feeding her in there to get her used to the idea. It’s going as well as can be expected so far. She’s not too keen on the idea and she’s very strong, so sometimes I have to get behind her butt and push until she goes into the stall. Karma wears a miniature donky size harness. She's not halter trained yet, even though I've had to lead her with one in the past when I had to seperate her from her mother for milk sessions.

Hopefully the medicine is available as the vet indicated it may not be, and if it is, hopefully the treatment will go well for her. It’s a slow spreading disease, taking a year or more to affect a cow enough to cause problems if untreated.

I can only keep my fingers crossed and try not to give up...and hope the sodium iodide does the trick.  There's really not much else I can do. Some things are beyond my control.


  1. Man, you've really had quite a time of it. I'm so sorry your cow died and your calf is having issues. Sometimes life just really doesn't go merrily along like we'd like.

    However. Sometimes life's obstacles are put there to make us see that life really is good, and they're there to make us feel deeper and stronger. Think of it this way: if you hadn't gotten Gucci you wouldn't have Karma. If you didn't have Karma, you wouldn't know what it's like to love a cow as fiercely as you do.

    Life on a farm is tough. You work with your hands and as a result, you reap the good things with your hands. It's tangible. You can see it. You can touch it. But adversity also means you get to feel it. And know the struggle is ultimately worth it and it outweighs the dark parts.

    The incident with the feed was just an accident. It happens. Chances are if the feed hadn't gotten your cow, something else would have. That's the circle of life. Everything only has so many moments. The key is to enjoy people/animals/plants in the time you have with them.

    I know the words won't discount your hurt, and they're not intended to. Just trying to put it all in perspective.

    Sometimes I think the saying "don't give up" sounds trite after awhile because no one can tell us why we shouldn't or what will happen if we do or what else is coming if we just hang on in there long enough.

    But, I can tell you this. If farming is what you deep down love to do, and you get up in the morning with the farm and its inhabitants as the first thing on your mind, well, you're a farmer at heart. :-)

    Life is all around us. It leaves its imprint on our soul which, in turn, reflects in our creativity. It makes us whole and better able to cope with everything else.

    Did any of this rambling help you? Don't know. I hope it did :-) In the end, only you can decide where you want to go next.

    1. Thanks Sandi. I agree. Everything only has so many moments and we never know how many or when they'll end. You are right about so many points you made in your comments. I really appreciate your thoughts. Very helpful to me. So far, farming is one of the things I love dearly. It brings me a lot of inner peace when everything around me is in turmoil. It's a strange sort of therapy, planting seeds hoping they'll grow and become something to eat, raising animals and seeing the cycle of life repeated in them. And thank you for the cookie. It made my day a little bit better!

  2. Sorry to hear about Gucci and now Karma. As far as "Giving Up" you are the only that can and should make that decision. Don't know if you know who I am but we met a couple of years ago. I think you had just gotten the goats and were excited about possibly getting chickens. I found the blog shortly after that and have continued to follow you here.
    Back to the topic, maybe you need to re-evaluate the farm. What was your goal when you started? has that goal changed? is it still important? You have done so much and from the blog you seem to enjoy this life. Just because something doesn't work out as planned doesn't mean anything really. You have tried, worked very hard and succeeded, where most people would still be making excuses about why they can't. There are many bumps in life's path and sometimes they are just bumps. We have to pick up the pieces and continue on. If nothing else of my rambling is useful, at least you know you have lurkers that are thinking of you.

    1. Hi Jesse,

      Thank you for following the blog. I never know who might be reading, so it's kind of you to let me know you're here. I started this really for myself to keep track of things and never thought the farm would really be a farm. But it is now.

      Thank you for your encouragement. Also, I agree that I need to keep evaluating where things are going out there, what works, what doesn't, and I need to keep culling out the methods and things that really aren't working. It's a long, tedious process.

      The goal when I started was to have four goats to eat the weeds and maybe give us milk. We have very few weeds left and have to keep the animals off the land and in their pen from time to time so the weeds get a chance to grow in.

      I don't feel that's the goal now. It's since changed to providing food for us and our restaurants. I want to do that in a way that's sustainable but also realistic. And I want to live there. I've always believed good things come to those who wait and that hard work will pay off in the end. So I will keep plugging along and try to be patient.

      Losing Gucci was a tough bump for me. Totally unexpected and a reminder that I am not capable of fixing everything. It's a rough lesson as I tend to be an overly optomisitc person. It's a great way to be when the people around you need encouragement and inspiration, but no one person can know all things or do all things. It takes more than one person to do all the things that need to be handled out there. I recognize my limits most of the time. This was just one of those (unfortunate) times.