The Land of Life and Death

Have you ever had a moment in life where you felt you were holding onto the veil between life and death? Anthony and I have come across this stomach-turning issue many times since buying our farm. From trying to diagnose a dying alpaca, to hatchlings making it almost out of their eggs only to perish a few moments later. The emotional roller coaster really starts to wear on you fairly quick. Many of you may or may not know I (Chad) went to mortuary school and for about five years worked in the funeral/death care industry. I have always said farming was similar… I mean, I went from planting people to planting vegetables! Though I guess I wasn’t really prepared for all the death…

The sun rises and it is a beautiful day. The smell of coffee is in the air (thanks to my early rising husband) and the rooster is crowing. What could this gorgeous day hold…. What could go wrong? I reach for my phone and see Priscilla our mini-pig on the camera. To my surprise there are tiny piglets jumping around and fighting for momma’s nipples. Quickly I jump out of bed and throw on whatever clothes I could find. Stumbling to her pen I first set my eyes on these piglets that are healthy and happy. Scanning across the pen I see one struggling to escape from its amniotic sack. I rush over to rip it open and free the piglet from inevitable suffocation. As I sat with mom I realized she wasn’t finished giving birth. After two more healthy births, another was born stuck in its amniotic sack. I instinctively free the little guy. I felt so relieved that I was there to save the babies, but was I playing too close to God?

A few weeks went by and Anthony started to see signs that the piglets I saved were not developing the same way as the others. A couple more days went along and we realized that the ones I saved - from what I had thought was a painful and premature death - were not fully-developed, lacking rectums and quite possibly other digestive organs. Again, we asked ourselves…. Did we play God when we shouldn’t have? We often struggle with animals on the farm that are sick and dying and with what to do next. We always seek veterinary care and do as much as feasibly possible; and sometimes even that is not enough. Sometimes we find ourselves standing with one of our beloved animals at the threshold of death. What do we do? Do we allow them to die a natural death? Or do we utilize euthanasia?

In any death, there is a great battle the individual or animal partakes. Whether by will or instinct life fights death. Aided by human interventions sometimes life wins, and other times these interventions draw out the inevitable end to life. It is a grueling process filled with triumphs, tribulations, hopes, uncertainty and tears. Every experience is different from a large alpaca to a new born chick. However, every time after a battle there is a sense of peace and calm that washes over those left holding the remains of what used to be. The once-uncertain is now certain and we continue our lives in a grey space. We inventory our feelings trying to find a new normal and sometimes trying to find the meaning of life. I oftentimes find the irony in that… We try to find the meaning of life in death. Yet maybe that is the point? We are all born fighting to survive…. Fighting to not die.

So there we are with two piglets taking on the greatest battle of their little lives. The smallest one was really struggling so I had decided it would be best to euthanize him. I pick him up and he looks at me. I had only one thought… who am I to play God?

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