You hear it again and again in homesteading circles…
Loss is inevitable.
And that makes caring for any living thing emotionally challenging.
Even though we try hard to avoid it, it's hard to not to become attached to the animals we care for.
You've nurtured them, and they've looked to you for sustenance and support. If one dies, it's difficult not to grieve.
When we first began to raise chickens, I knew that I needed to be prepared to lose a few. For those first few years however, we had pretty good success. All our chicks survived their infancy and went on to become healthy laying hens.
We continued to add to our flock and were blessed with more healthy chickens. Then, this past summer things took a turn for the worse. Over the course of just a few months, we lost six beloved chickens to one thing or another.
At first, these losses were somewhat easy to bear.
During the nightly routine of locking up the coop and taking a head count we’d notice we were one short. It was sad, but to be expected.
Then two became ill. When it was clear they weren't going to recover, they had to be euthanized. Another sad loss, but again to be expected. We took comfort in the fact we had done the best we could to keep them comfortable right up to the very end.
But then, we lost our favorite mother hen. I wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong with her. She seemed to be suffering from a very minor leg injury. I could tell she was uncomfortable, but she was still eating and drinking so I was confident she’d recover.
I gathered her and her two offspring together and placed her in a separate pen where she could recuperate. I watched her carefully and although she seemed tired, she continued to eat and drink just fine. One afternoon, though, she collapsed suddenly and was gone just like that — leaving behind her two sweet chicks.
I don’t normally show emotion over the loss of a bird, but this time I cried.
One month later, I still feel a pang when I think of her. She had such a sweet spirit and was such a devoted, protective mother.
For the next few weeks after her death I reflected on her short life, the tiny lives of those chicks that she gave us, and her sudden passing.
I began to make a mental note of lessons that can be learned from losses like these, and here they are… 5 lessons from loss on the homestead:
1. Loss on the homestead helps us recognize that any life is precious regardless of how little or seemingly insignificant.
Be it a chicken or a small seedling, we should take the time to appreciate these tiny gifts of life and enjoy the moments they give us.
I had an evening ritual of telling my mother hen what a good job she was doing and how much we appreciated her. I know she had no idea what I was saying, but it made me take a moment to appreciate her and her contribution to our homestead.
2. Loss on the homestead provides us with a learning experience as we evaluate anything we could have done differently.
Were there signs of illness we somehow missed until it was too late? Is my first aid kit lacking? If we lost our livestock to predators, do we need more secure fencing or housing?
3. Loss on the homestead teaches us to honor the circle of life.
Life moves in a cycle of birth, living, and death. While we should do all we can to keep those in our charge safe, the inevitable pattern of life and death means that we will experience loss. Keeping this cycle constantly in focus, we can more easily reflect on our own mortality and treasure the time we have with those we love.
4. Loss on the homestead gives us the opportunity to practice perseverance.
As tempting as it is to quit, it is so important to keep going, to learn from our experiences, and begin again. We can't give up in the face of disappointments.
5. Loss on the homestead presents the opportunity for new beginnings.
Within days of losing our sweet mama hen, another two hens decided to go broody. Three weeks later they successfully rewarded us with six healthy chicks. The new life felt all too sweet after going through the prior losses!
What losses have you experienced and what lessons have you learned from them?
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