After we had our chicks a couple weeks or so, I woke one morning to find one in bad shape. Initially I though she was dead, but when I picked her up to remove her I discovered she was still breathing. Unsure what to do I put her in a separate box and tried to give her a little water with a syringe. She struggled for a couple days, barely moving and only taking in the water I hand fed her. I felt sure each time I checked her next she would be dead, but she just kept going. I debated about whether to go ahead and kill her to spare her suffering or just let nature take its course. Finally, mercifully, she died. Now reflecting on the incident, I am afraid I did the wrong thing with good intentions and prolonged her suffering by keeping her hydrated.
Earlier this week we had our first litter of pigs born. Although there were five, I could tell right away one looked much smaller and weaker. The next day I watched the piglets closely. The runt made little effort to nurse and kept burying itself under the straw. After consulting with Bones, we decided to bring him inside to try to hand feed him. He barely ingested any milk preferring to nestle into our arms for warmth.
Not knowing much about caring for a runt , our options seemed limited – keep him inside under a heat lamp and continue trying to hand feed him or put him back with mama to take his chances. Remembering the bird, I was hesitant to prolong the suffering of another creature who clearly had little will to live. So we put him back with mama pig. The next morning he was dead.
It is possible that he might have lived longer if we kept him inside, but I don’t believe he would have survived long term. Something more was wrong with him than just being little.
I want to be compassionate in my care of our animals, but I also want to be realistic. Although we will do the best we can to prevent unnecessary or unexpected death, death will come again. We will lose animals to disease and predators. We will kill some ourselves to put meat on our table. And sometimes we will bid death to come to relieve the suffering of an animal.
My years of work as a chaplain gave me a certain comfort with death. I do not fear death as many do. I have seen people run from death with great fear and I have seen others welcome death as a friend. The latter were surely more at peace when death finally came, as it does for us all. I know it sounds cliche, but death truly is just a part of the cycle of life.
Perhaps I am finding that the transition from chaplain to farmer is not as much of a stretch as it might seem at first glance.