Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Circle of Life

The circle of life is complete at the Smith homestead. Yesterday Winnie the Wyandotte died. I first noticed Winnie was sick yesterday morning. I did my morning head count, and she was lying on the floor of the coop beneath the perch where the whole gang sleeps every night. I thought she had died on the perch and fallen to the floor. I went to pick her up, and she moved, but I could tell she was sick. So I put her in a warm box with some oat grass from the garden and went inside to do a little research about caring for sick chickens. What I read informed me that it would be a good idea to look after her nutrition and hydration, so I made up a concoction of Gatorade, water, boiled eggs, egg shells, oat grass, bread scraps, and dirt and blended it all up in the blender. Then I took a syringe and started injecting it into her mouth a little at a time. She was swallowing, so I took courage and started to give her a little more at a time. I put three squirts of the stuff into her mouth and waited for her to swallow in between each one. Even though I didn't see her swallow, I somehow didn't connect the fact that the stuff was still somewhere in her head or neck, so I just kept squirting it in. She started turning her head upside down and flapping her wings lightly like she had been doing earlier in the day as I was caring for her, so I didn't think anything of it at that time, but I think that was the first sign she was choking. After the third squirt, I got the idea I should slow down, but it was already too late. As I watched for her to swallow, I began to smell a bowel movement. I thought it was the poop that was caked in her feathers from lying under the perch, but I looked down to see a fresh BM running down the side of my legs as well as Winnie's legs stretched out backward as far as they could go--signs she was struggling to breathe. Her head and neck were relaxed in my left hand, and I knew she was dead. I had killed her.

My first moment of true sadness as a homesteader had come. It was not from the monetary loss of livestock--she cost $8 a couple months ago. It was not from the mere loss of life that I felt the sadness. It was from the knowledge that I had caused a poor animal to struggle, suffer, and die.

Since I work overnight, I went to sleep in the afternoon. When I woke up later in the evening, I went out to check on all the animals again, and what I heard lifted my spirits. First there was the BAAHHH! mmBAAH! of the yearlings. Then the mmaaaaaah! of the 2-month-old billies, and then the mmmaaaaaaaaah! of the new baby goats! Hilda had given birth to two boys and a girl, and they were so teeny and cute! They sounded like Chipmunk goats! There wasn't much to the birth from our perspective. I just went out there and there they were. We cleaned the umbilical cords and gave some extra feed to Hilda, and then I laid a pallet inside the goat house and covered it with carpet so they would have somewhere respectable to live in case it started raining. Hilda wasn't happy when I moved the babies from the middle of the forest into the house. She's a pushover, though. When we get near the babies, she approaches with one single step and looks very concerned, but if the babies are already near her, she will run away. I'm trying to make friends with her so she won't worry about us trying to hurt her babies--and because I want her milk in several weeks! But food is proving not to be the best way to this goat's heart. I just hope we can find out what is soon. I think rope works, but I don't want to have to go that route.

So the circle of life is complete here at the Smith homestead. We had a good time today installing a brand new tire swing with parts harvested from our forest!

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