The Picture of Death

On #farm365 I keep hearing vegan activists cry “You only show happy calves and cows!  You never show death! Stop hiding the truth! Show us everything!”

I don’t have “death pictures” to share on request because I see death regularly and it is hard emotionally.   I don’t need pictures to remind me.  I can recall the exact details of many a death on our farm.  I don’t need photographic reminders. I remember checking the herd and every one is happy and healthy then you go out the next morning and your favourite cow is dead.  I remember finding a sick calf, spending days trying to care and treat it, doing everything in your power to get it healthy only to watch it die.  I remember birthing unresponsive calves.  I remember a calf dying because its mother cleaned it’s back-end first, leaving placenta over its nose so it suffocated.  If I was only there it would have lived. I was in the pen when an adult cow stepped square on the head of a calf who was only a few days old (that one survived miraculously but I remember the horror at seeing it’s little limp body not moving).  I carry all of these images with me.

About 4 years back we had a calf late in the calving season off a bred commercial cow we purchased.  He was a little runt and we noticed early on he wasn’t quite as lively and bright as the other calves.  We knew he would be a special case we needed to keep an eye on.  Weeks went by and we kept an eye on him.  It was time for the cow herd and their calves to go to pasture.  He and his mother and a handful of other cows stayed home.  We knew he wasn’t ready to go to pasture.  He needed to stay close to home for us to keep an eye on. One day I picked up supper after work in the city to drop off to Iain as he was cutting hay.  After an 8 hour work day and a 45 minute commute home I was looking at an additional 20 minutes past my house to the hay field just to deliver supper.  It was a long day and I was starving. All I wanted was to eat, lay on the couch and relax.  On my drive by our field to drop off supper I noticed 3 crows standing on a pile of dirt.  A few seconds later I realized the pile of dirt was in fact a calf.  I pulled the car over and climbed through the fence to check things out.  As I approached what I assumed was a dead calf I noticed it wasn’t dead.  It was the runt and he was at the end of his life.  The herd and his mother had left him and he was too weak to stop the crows pecking at him.  This is Mother Nature in all her beauty.  A calf that never got a good start in life.  A calf that we did everything we could for.  Abandoned and alone in a field with crows pecking at him.  Did his mother stand over him and protect him from pain until he passed away? No.  She had cared for him for weeks but recognized he was done and moved on to focus on her survival and her next baby.  Did the crows show any empathy or compassion for the calf?  Acknowledge that pecking away at him while alive was cruel and painful? No.  They only cared for a meal.  Did Mother Nature look down on her creation, her miracle of life and heal the calf? No.  The only living being in that entire field who cared for that calf and showed it any empathy or compassion was me.  Me. The cruel farmer with the heart of stone.  The rancher that only sees commodities and dollar signs when they see an animal.  The cattle person who must have no understanding of pain. I was the one who kept the crows away.  I was the one who sat in the middle of a field and talked to the calf in its last moments.  I was the only thing in that field that cared even the slightest about that calf in those last moments.  I cried when I got back in the car.  I still tear up when I think about that poor calf.  Next time you try to label me as a monster think of me sitting in a field keeping crows off a dying calf.  I knew there was no saving him.  I wasn’t going to make any money off of him. Sitting there was, in all honesty, a waste of my time. I could have driven right by, had my supper and said “meh, such is life.” But I didn’t.  I couldn’t just leave that poor little bugger.

This year I will see more death.  I will see Nature at her most cruelest.  But I will also see Nature at her best.  I will see the birth of life. I will see calves run around in the sunshine and play king of the hill.  I’ll hear cows moo their soft, low bonding sound.  I will see those calves grow.  None of them would exist and have lives to enjoy and frolick in the sun and enjoy fresh grass if it wasn’t for people like me.  Yes, I will see them go to new farms.  Yes, some will die and become food. Their lives will go to support the lives of many individuals through food, medicine and critical products and materials.  Families will gather around a table to celebrate life.  They will do it around a roast that I cared for in life and raised.   It is a noble end to a life I have the utmost respect for. Eventually I will die.  I will become the grass that feeds the next generations of cows.  We are all connected and a part of each other.