Life on the farm always meant lots of animals.
I remember one fall when my dad inadvertently killed a mama bunny with the combine when harvesting the corn. Somehow, he found the nest and brought all those baby bunnies home for me to raise and play with. What’s more fun than a box of baby bunnies?
I remember one spring when my dad and Alex (our hired man) found a den of baby foxes that had lost their mother on the busy road. Picture an older, overweight man trying to outrun a handful of baby foxes with lots of sliding and falling in the loose dirt in the field. I was old enough at this point to die laughing at the scene. We eventually called a nature conservancy who came and got them.
I remember brisk evenings, just after school started, spent cleaning out the dog kennels and remarking the puppy’s ears. My dad had hunting dogs and we sold a few litters when I was in high school. Puppies add a lot of chores to the mix, but they certainly are so cute and cuddly that you almost don’t mind.
But most of all, I remember summers – endless summers – with the barn cats and their kittens that seemed to proliferate our farm.
I’m a fan of names and I guess I always have been. As a little girl, my first cat was Custard (Strawberry Shortcake had a cat named Custard too) but in the years that followed I had Lucretia, Athena, Abby, Grant, Quincy, Callie, Percy, Otis, Rambo and Sambo. We even had Pancake and Fuzzy, though my grandma named those. And I’m sure a host of others that didn’t live long enough for me to remember.
Yes, I spent countless hours with each of those as kittens, petting, playing house, sometimes bottle feeding, and reading. I also spent days watching pregnant mama-cats waddle across the farm, anticipating the arrival of litters of kittens, and then, seeing that same Mama scrawny and droopy days later, spent hours searching for that litter of kittens to find what colors and patterns she’d delivered.
I loved every single one of those barn cats.
But there were so many kittens that died. So many that got up inside the motor of a vehicle that they shouldn’t have been in, so many that wandered too close to harvest and the whir of the combine, so many that were simply cast out by their mama-cats instead of being nursed and loved.
In this way, I learned early about life and death. Life is a gift to be anticipated and full of excitement, just like finding that litter of kittens. Death is inevitable; to be mourned and always expected, just like the runt that mama-cat turns away.
These days, there is a lot of talk about farmers not caring for their animals and treating them inhumanely. There is talk about meat eaters, killing animals for their dinner plates. There is talk about hunters who make sport out of harvesting animals from the countryside.
But I think the problem is that people have lost track of the circle of life. They’ve forgotten that death is inevitable and expected. Maybe they have come to view death as something to fear because of a lack of faith rather than something to rejoice.
As a child growing up on the farm, each death was mourned. And each death was expected. It wasn’t cruel or unusual, it just was.
I carry this understanding with me today as an adult and I believe it’s the perspective from this lifetime of farm pets that makes me question conventional thinking. Harvesting pigs or cattle isn’t something to be scared of, it just is. It’s not cruel or unusual and it is certainly not inhumane.
Death is as much as part of life as is the act of being born.
Maybe the point is that farmers and their families aren’t heartless. Yes, each farm kid has a painful lesson to learn when his prize winning steer, the calf he raised and halter broke and spent the summer with, turns into dinner, but it’s just a fact of life.
Animals are born. Animals die. Just like people. It is inevitable and expected. And never fun. It just is.
It is the circle of life.
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director