its always been one of the more disappointing human traits of mine, loving animals more than my compatriots. i have always cared so terribly fully for each and every animal we had in my childhood and little changed as i grew older. .
until we turned from being pet owners to farmers. during my first several weeks on the farm in north carolina i was frantically covering the 500 acres and as many animals straining for any signs of need, of sickness, of distress.
that's how i came upon van gogh. a bloodied two pounds of piglet that was put by a farmhand in a 5-gallon bucket in the back of the mule the morning he was found as the sole survivor of a vulture attack.
that's how i came upon oscar. the limping, scarred three-day-old pig, whose right scapula had been shattered by his 700 pound mama-sow.
it's how we came upon bella. and squirt. and donovan. the two wild bunnies. john henry. billy-cat. peggy. and pascal & florence. i have had a fair amount of animals in the past years that i have saved from the realities of farm life. one may assume from my farm memoirs that i am regularly devoted to my job as farm-nurse. but the truth is that the ark-like smattering of animals nick and i have taken on is such a small percentage of the animals i see every day that could use the helping hand of a Human.
one of the issues nick and i have argued endlessly about is the level of intervention we partake in on the farm. there is a side of farming that implores the farmers to Take Care of the animals. to keep them alive, and with dignity. to help them get better when they are sick. but the farmer's job isn't to create a sanctuary for the sick and elderly and meek. its to make food with or of the animals.
and most often it isn't in the farmer's or the farm's best of interest to spend 4 morning hours giving a runty piglet a hot bath, a warm bottle, and motherly-love. or to carry a baby turkey that seemed depressed in the farmer's shirt pocket while gardening so that it could be fed every 30 minutes.
sometimes farmers make very sound --but arguably cold-- decisions to let nature take its way with the weak, the injured, the infirm.
i learned this quickly one early week in north carolina while i was caring for the one hundred baby turkeys in our little office brooder. one became sickly, sad, depressed, and i so i kept her in my pocket all afternoon while i continued my day's work in the garden. she died, warm, but alone, in my pocket several hours later. i cried like the ridiculous woman i am. i dug the tiniest of graves. said a simple selection of words, most of which were greatly exaggerated as i did not know the turkey chick well. i recounted the events to nick. horrified at the brief and cruel theme of this world.
...and then another turkey chick got sick and sad and droopy. and the same events repeated themselves.
...and another. until nearly forty chicks met the same fate as the first in just a handful of days. (an illness previously contracted at the breeder's farm we later discovered).
i hate to expose myself as a heartless witch here but it is a time for honestly. i buried the first three. the rest, i started a mass grave for behind the compost pile in the southern woods. the sheer scale of their tradgedy desensitized me to the horror. they stopped appearing to me as these individual needy beings and i began to see them as livestock.
i started farming then. not to say that farmers don't have the capacity for empathy or even sympathy with regards to their flock. but farmers can't have the capacity to empahize with Each and Every One.
i don't know how i quite feel about this change in perspective for me.
i haven't gone out in search of a sickly or needy animal since oscar. nick found bella, and peggy, he even brought me rose. i've spent the last year hiding from imploring eyes. trying to focus on what's best for the whole farm.
but i met this little thumbelina 2 days ago. she stuck her sad little head down in the chick brooder. one eye shut closed like a pirate. inaudibly cheeping. terrifically under weight. i hadn't been able to single out one bird from the flock yet. they are but a week old. still look one and the same. still have the intellect of an ant. but something of my former pet owner self wants thumbelina to live.
we're afraid she may have something badly contagious. so she's in quarantine. we cannot let her get every other chick sick. it could destroy our whole egg laying program. i want her to survive so badly though. i don't want us to have to kill her for the good of the flock. that would be purely horrific.
i have her set up in the warmest room in the barn. blasted with the space heater. i feed her molasses water. i clean out her bad eye twice a day. i hold her on her back and tickle her belly. i've learned she likes her right leg stretched. that she get's frightened when she is able to open both eyes. that she prefers to stand in her water. that she likes the dark better than the light. that she is completely comfortable perching in the cup of my hand.
we always need balance in every aspect of our lives. and here, in my cold blooded farmer's heart i too need the balance of little furry balls of love so i don't become ever wizened and crooked and grumpy.
Posted by kate at 2:02 PM