Farming is full of failure. Half of my life is spent building castles in air, and the other half is spent sifting through the ashes to see what can be salvaged of my farm hopes and dreams. It’s why so many people give up just a few years in to farm life. Being broke and frustrated just isn’t the idyllic picture that so many farms and homesteads put forth on their Instagram accounts and Facebook pages.
I can live with the garden that dries up and blows away due to a freak drought. I can muddle through the barn that leaks heavily over the chicken area that I can’t convince any contractors to fix. I can shiver and curse when hauling water buckets out to the barn in -20F. What I absolutely can’t cope with? Loosing an animal.
I get it – I have a good amount of livestock, and sometimes they die. But it hurts. I take it very personally. Every animal I loose feels like a failure – each one comes with self-doubt and guilt, and the never ending questions of what I could have done better. I like to think we’ve pulled a lot more animals through things than we’ve lost, but every loss feels like it brings the roof right down on my head.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine took in a very sick baby goat. The goat’s owner had let it become very ill, and their husband was going to shoot it rather than call the vet. My fellow giant hearted goat friend agreed to take the baby goat in and call her vet to see what could be done. The vet determined it was Polio, and the baby was put on a regimen of Thiamine, Penicillin and Banamine. But she wasn’t eating. She was standing for hours, hunched up, not laying down. When my friend needed to go to a goat show for the weekend, I agreed to care for the baby goat and see what I could do.
Even though Polio is not contagious, we kept the baby goat in the house, and I cared for her exclusively, with no visits from me out to the barn, to ensure no cross contamination to our own goats. I spent 48 hours swaddling this baby and holding her on my lap while I coaxed her to take a bottle and to rest. I listened as she ground her teeth and wracked my brain for ways to keep her comfortable. By the end of the weekend she was eating hay, drinking and even laying on her own. She had no name, so I called her Gemma. I have a weird personal superstition that all animals need some kind of strong name to hang on to when their fighting to live. I was convinced she was going to pull through and brought her back to my friend when she returned from the weekend.
In another 48 hours, I received a text from my friend letting me know that little Gemma had passed away. Even though I had only cared for her for two short days, my heart was ripped open. I blamed myself. Heavily. I shed tears. I mourned. I carried it with me. Another failure. It really brought me down, hard.
The following week, I was struggling to stay awake in order to pick up my son from a marching band competition. It was a Saturday night, and it was raining, and I was half asleep and generally upset about being amongst the living. I picked up my son, who was tired, hungry, and also generally upset about being amongst the living in the middle of the night. I tossed a burger and fries at him to calm the rumbling and headed home.
We had just about made it home, and was traveling down a small winding back road while I fought to keep my eyes open and see through the rain drops. And then I spotted something in the road. It looked like a plastic bag, and I just wanted to get home and go to bed. But something compelled me stop. I pulled into a driveway while my son asked me what the heck I was doing and insisting we were going to get shot for being in someone’s driveway in the middle of the night. I told him there was something in the road and I needed to check it out.
I got out of the car and turned on the light on my phone. It was silent and pitch black and the rain had me quickly doubting my sanity as I slowly made my way across the road. When I got within about 2 feet of what I was looking for, it took my brain a few seconds to processes what I was seeing – it was an owl. It was an owl, and it was staring at me with giant dark eyes that assessed me as I inched closer. It flapped it wings weakly, but stayed on the road, wet and puffed up and helpless.
I sprinted back to the car, my brain repeating “Holy shit!” like a mantra. I opened the trunk, and grabbed a think furniture pad that I had lining the back of the SUV (a good thing to have when you transport livestock and hay in your trunk regularly). “It’s an owl!” I shouted at my confused looking son in way of an explanation.
I crept back to the owl, and stood in front of it with the furniture pad outstretched, and tossed it over the soggy owl. I could hear a car in the distance, so I crouched down and scooped up the owl as a bundle and hustled back to my vehicle while trying not to pee my pants as I envisioned talons tearing my face off (holyshitholyshitholyshit). I put the bundled up owl in the trunk. For good measure I put a blue tarp (also usually found in my trunk) over it, praying I wasn’t smothering the poor thing.
“Keep an eye on it!” I instructed my now shell shocked son in the back seat. “Make sure it doesn’t start freaking out!”
“What am I supposed to do if it starts freaking out?”
“Um, just let me know and I’ll figure it out.” Hands shaking from the insane amount of adrenaline pumping through my system, I dialed my husband and let him know to get a crate prepped for an owl. Yes, I said an owl.
When I reached home, I scooped up the owl again from the trunk. A wing hung down, but it didn’t struggle. I jogged it into the barn, praying I hadn’t smothered it. I carefully unwrapped it about halfway and gave it a gentle shove into the crate that had been prepared for it.
The owl looked back at us calmly from the crate. It didn’t flail, and it didn’t make a sound. I was in awe as I looked at. I’d never seen anything so majestic so close up. I put a bowl of water in the crate, and it didn’t make any moved to attack me. It just watched. After looking it over through the crate, we saw that it appeared to have some intestinal prolapse. My husband suggested we should just put it down. Tears of frustration leaked from my eyes. All of that just to fail again. It wasn’t fair. I told him we needed to give it the night. If it was still alive then, then we could figure out what to do.
In the morning I went straight out to the barn, anxious at what I would find. When I got to the crate, I saw that our Pyrenees, Nimbus, was laying close to it, watching it intently. When I peeked in, the owl was looking back at me, alert, and very much alive. I was excited. I started reaching out to area wildlife rescues, hoping someone would answer me on an early Sunday morning. My husband warned me he would probably be put down. I said I didn’t care as long as he got an assessment by a professional, and was put down humanly. In the meantime, I gave the owl a name – Errol. It’s the name of a clumsy brown owl from Harry Potter. I thought it was perfect. A good name to hold on to.
Eventually, I got a response from Spark’s Ark, a well known wildlife rescue in our area run by the Sparks family. They said I could bring Errol over to their facility which was right down the road from us. I threw on clothes, loaded Errol into the SUV, and headed over.
I had never been to the Sparks’ residence before. All I can say, is it was inspiring. Pens of fallow deer co-mingling with goats, and birds enclosures were everywhere. It was lush and beautiful, and so peaceful. I felt good about delivering Errol there. Mrs. Sparks greeted me at the door in her bathrobe, and directed me where to leave Errol. I placed his crate in an old chicken coop and said my good-byes.
Even though I had asked for an update, I wasn’t really expecting one very soon, so I was surprised when I received a FB message a few hours later. I was even more surprised when they told me they expected Errol to make a full recovery. I was so happy I was in tears. I will admit, I did a bit of an “in your face” to my husband. I’m pretty sure he still wasn’t convinced Errol was going to make it. I think he assumed they were just telling me this so I’d feel better about my little rescue. But I believed. And I felt great. I had finally won one.
Two weeks later, I was still thinking about Errol, wondering. But I was afraid to follow up. What if he didn’t make it after all? What if my husband was right? And then I got an update. Errol had just been released back into the wild. And I got this lovely photo.
And I did cry. Happy tears. Because this time, I didn’t fail, for sure. I like to think that now I can look up at the night sky and know that there’s always a reason to try, always a reason to hope. Sometimes, I succeed.