Monday, October 1, 2012

Homesteading...the ugly side

Caution: Graphic photo on this post.

Homesteading is very popular right now.
Everyone wants to grow their own food or at least buy food from a local farmer
Everyone wants to raise cute little critters for their fur or their sweet milk.
Everyone wants to wear a pair of teal colored coveralls from Rosies and call themselves a  homesteader. (Include me in that, I just bought a pair)
Everyone is speaking farmspeak, using words like sustainable, organic, and all natural even when 
talking about the basil plant they are growing on their penthouse deck.

But there is more to raising your own food then showing up at the farmers markets in a straw hat and a pitchfork and coloring your soap with real honey.

Hard work is involved. Tough decisions must be made.

Two years ago our Great Pyrenees and much beloved family friend, Chubs, stumbled home with large jagged gashes and bite marks all over his body. While protecting our farmstead he went head to snarling head with what we believed to be a hungry Bobcat.

Our vet was out on another emergency call and so for two hours I laid with Chubs in our front yard, waiting. As soon as the vet saw him he put him down with a lethal injection.  I swore then I would never allow another animal to suffer needlessly on our farm while I sat helpless, and I asked our oldest son to teach me to shoot a gun. Seems the law is against me having the meds I might need but via the magic of a FOID card I can own, and use, a gun.

A few days ago, I put this skill to use.

A young steer of ours was going downhill. Plagued with a parasitic infection that responded neither to our homeopathic treatments of powdered garlic and diatomaceous earth, nor to the traditional treatment of Ivermectin as recommended by the vet after taking stool samples, the  calf was steadily losing ground.  Some days he walked and drank and ate well but then the next day he was down and his weight loss became very evident this past week.  We decided it was time.

But very few homesteading conferences, to-do books or videos will instruct you on euthanizing your farm animal. Sure you can learn how to milk a goat, make your own yogurt or even if you are so possessed...create homemade soap, but the info about how to shoot a suffering calf between the eyes is fairly non-existent.

Until now. So for those of you who might have the need to know, please proceed. But be warned , this is not one of those humerous posts. This is real life homesteading.

     1. Position the animal towards you. Ensure the area behind you is open and free of humans, animals or solid objects that might ricochet a bullet.

     2. If the animal s laying down, do not get him up. His head will stay steadier if lying down.

     3. Draw a line with marker from each horn base to opposite corner of each eye. This will form a cross and where the lines intersect is where you will aim. Some sources suggested shooting from behind the ear towards the brain but I chose the frontal approach.

     4. Load your rifle following all the steps your conscientious son taught you.

     5. Stand about 3 feet away. A thrashing animal can hurt you. The end of your rifle should be approximately 2 foot from your target

     6. Pray. Aim and fire.

     7. Thank husband for doing the really hard work of removing body and burying it.

In my case the calf fell over immediately without a sound. There was blood from the nose and mouth , but very little from the head. Breathing ceased instantaneously but there was very minor involuntary trembling of limbs for about 60 seconds. His eyes were not focusing. I stayed and watched to make sure I did not need to shoot a second time.

Euthanasia successful.
Real homesteading is not always pretty.


  1. That was a hard job to do but thankfully you are a strong woman and did what you needed to do. Good job.

  2. You are a brave woman Donna. I couldn't have done it.

  3. Brave & heartfelt. So hard to do but you did it, however difficult!

  4. Some days you do what you have to do. You are right on the fact that books and magazines don't prepare you for real life on all the farm circumstances.

  5. Thanks for posting and reminding those that it's not all about fluffy chicks and bouncing calves. And no, it makes absolutely no sense that one can't purchase a medicinal "shot", but can use a lead "shot". Although technically, I don't know if the one through the vet is any better than the home rifle remedy. At least you didn't have to stress the calf by bringing it in to the vet, it died at home.

  6. I'm sorry for your loss. It is always hard to make the final call of deciding there is no hope and end suffering. Unfortuneately, we have a handgun that is for just this type of occasion. The other night it was put to another use. To end the life of a skunk in the chicken coop that had killed a chicken and was sucking an egg.

  7. Good job Donna showing all sides of your farm.

  8. we don't have a gun yet, but its on the list of things we need as our farm gets bigger. We have been nursing a couple of sick calves too, one died in the night, but the other is getting better. Its hard to know when is the right time to put them down, I really thought that the one that died was getting better too. I'm glad I read your post, its the kind of information I might need in a hurry one day! Thanks for your honesty, and sorry that you couldn't fix the calf.

  9. I can sympathise; it's a horrible job. I recently had to shoot a Badger and a Deer. Both were beyond saving and were suffering. I used a .22 handgun, which did the job perfectly.

  10. Sorry for You that You lost a calf. But it had to be done.

  11. You're a strong woman. We had to put one of our beloved dogs down 2 years ago and I just could not do it. I cried like a big baby the entire day. While I know it needs to be done, it is never easy.

  12. Oh, the gritty, seedy underworld of farming. It is a rewarding life; but it has its share of heartache and hardships. So much better to ease the poor things suffering; although a tough choice to make. Kudos to you for showing the flip side on your blog.

  13. Such a strong woman.
    Sorry for your losses.

  14. You are to be commended for being brave enough to take the responsibility for your animals. You are a good woman, Donna -- I am full of admiration...

  15. Good for you doing what needed to be done. No, homesteading isn't always pretty, I agree. I admire you for handling the non-pretty part so well.

    I am sorry about the loss of your calf.

  16. Horrible job for you but bravely and well done. Sobering indeed. You're a good woman Donna and that's exactly why I follow your blog. So sorry about your day. Hoping tomorrow will be much, much better.

  17. Thanks all for the best comments ever.

  18. Donna, the homesteading life has kept me so busy this last 2 weeks I haven't had time to read your blog posts. Real homesteading is not always pretty and it sure is a lot of work, but you two are up for the challenge. Sorry you lost the calf, but happy that you did the right thing and put it out of its misery. Not an easy task, but a useful one. Hugs to you sweet lady.

  19. I so understand.... I worked for 3 hours trying to deliver a goat kid.. Finally I could do no more Mom was giving up and kid was to big to get it out.. I had to do the deed.. Hardest thing ever.. I cried..
    I am sorry...

  20. Very well done. We have a small five hectare smallholding in SW France, and this morning killed and gutted our first pig. It was done humanely, and with dignity, but you are right, there is another side to the world of 'growing your own', and there are many who would not have the courage that you have, nor, I think, that we have. Lovely blog, and will visit with you again.

  21. Good on you for taking this on! I would be hopeless....