Life is fragile.
I was going to call this post, “Farming Sucks!” but I did not want to undermine the importance of this post. Today we lost our livestock guardian dog Maggie. She died heroically in the line of duty, protecting her goats. All of her goats are alive and well. Her protege Sgt. Pepper is alive and well, but poor sweet Maggie lost her life. As far as we can tell a coyote or some other predator tried to break through the electric netting and get into the fence. We found her body laying across the edge of the fencing. It was clear that she had fought with something. It was clear that both creatures bled. We don’t know whether Maggie died from her wounds or from something like a heart attack, she was an older dog and only months from retirement. We just know that she died and it sucks. It sucks on multiple levels. Level 1: We love Maggie and no one wants to lose someone they love. Level 2: Maggie was an experienced LGD and was in the process of training Sgt. Pepper so that they could work together and she could one day retire. Level 3: LGD’s are not fully trained to guard until they are two years old. Sgt. Pepper is 14 months shy of that age (although he is already the size Maggie was and he has a very deep bark and a strong set of skills). Level 4: Over the past two weeks we have had multiple animals (dozens of chickens, a half-dozen guinea fowl) killed by something in spite of our best efforts and strategies to protect all of our animals Level 5: Geoff feels like he has failed our farm and Maggie even though there was nothing he could have done to prevent this other than what we have already tried.
Both Geoff and I have struggled a lot this year with feelings of failure. It is one thing to feel like a failure when you can’t figure out how to get your 10th graders to quit using racist and homophobic language or when you can’t figure out how to stop a blight in your strawberry patch. It is a totally different thing to feel like you’ve failed because you couldn’t keep your friend alive. Before we came out here we were told by everybody who heard what we were doing that farming was hard–the hardest work. But those people told us stories of laborious jobs, tedious tasks, sweat and frustration. Those people did not say that you would become good friends with dogs and turkeys and then they would be taken from your life in the most violent way possible. I know that the devil’s advocates among you will say, “But you eat animals, so what’s the difference?” The difference is that the animals we have on our farm are loved every day of their lives, given freedom to roam, and then when the appropriate time comes they are given a dignified, respectful death. We are not murderers and therefore it breaks our hearts when the animals in our care are destroyed in violent ways. So, as stewards and as business people we feel like failures today.
Regrettably, we discovered what had happened to Maggie just as we were giving our two new interns a tour of the farm. It was a rough welcome for them, although there is no more accurate indicator of the ups and downs of life on a farm than what they saw today with Maggie. The interns were appropriately concerned and compassionate and Geoff and I felt bad that their first taste of farm life was death. They are great kids, and I hope for them and for us that their internship only becomes more peaceful and prosperous from this point forward.
Life is so delicate and so beautiful. We came here to help things thrive–to foster life. Death is the harshest blow.
If we could all live out our life’s purpose with the joy and consistency that Maggie did, the world would be a much better place.