Last Friday night, my daughter’s cat “Snickerdoodle” was hit by a car and killed on the road in front of our house. I wondered why she had not come running the night before, as she usually does, when I called for her at bedtime.
Snickers was an adorable gray and white cat that brought our family a tremendous amount of joy. We buried her on the edge of our horse pasture wrapped in an old t-shirt that Megan had decorated with the message: “I love you Snickers. You always made me smile and gave such wonderful kisses. I miss you. Have fun in heaven.”
In the last 15 years, our family has lost two dogs, three cats, and one horse. We held a funeral for each of the animals, and all but the horse are buried in the pasture. Every time that we are faced with this I find myself saying, the only thing worse than losing a beloved pet would be never having had them to love and enrich your life. Somehow, that does not seem to make saying goodbye any easier.
Holding a funeral for our lost pets allows my girls to learn to let go. From the creation of personal prayers, to reminiscing about the lost pet, to singing Amazing Grace as we tearfully end the service, this ritual gives us the opportunity to grieve and acknowledge the loss. It also provides hope and reaffirms our belief that God will welcome the lost animal into his spiritual oasis.
Although I view my cattle at the feed yard in a much different light than our family’s pets, I still feel a sense of loss and disappointment when one of them dies. It is as though I have failed in my job as caregiver. I am supposed to care for and raise these animals with the goal of keeping them healthy and creating safe and wholesome beef—when one of them dies, it is like a personal failure.
We benchmark and track the percentage of cattle that die during their stay at the feed yard. My goal is 0%. I never seem to quite be able to achieve that, but it is not for a lack of trying. Severe weather plays a large factor in determining how many animals I lose, but other factors also play a role. The bottom line is that whenever an animal is stressed, he is more likely to get sick and/or die.
Over the past 15 years, our death loss percentage at the feed yard has decreased significantly. I believe that this is due to my focus on reducing total stress on each one of my animals. It starts with how my rancher partners care for their animals early in their lives, continues with limiting shipment stress, and culminates with ensuring an easy transition and consistent comfort at the feed yard.
I tell my children, no matter how good you are—you can always get better and these words are forefront in my mind as I work to improve animal care and hone in on the elusive 0% death loss. Today, my death loss rate is less than 0.5%. Somehow, that does not ease the guilt that I feel when we discover a dead animal in one of our pens.
Although they are food animals, not pets, I believe that each bovine’s life holds value and a small part of my heart weeps every time that I lose one. Living on a farm has made me a realist. With that metamorphic transition comes the necessity to let go when one of my animals dies. But, each time that I am forced to let go, I form a greater resolve to work harder to achieve that 0% goal.
All animals, whether they are pets or food animals, hold intrinsic value to our society. It is all of our jobs to provide the best possible welfare so that each one has the greatest chance of living a productive life—whether it is a beef animal that is grown to provide high quality protein for human nurishment, or the beloved pet that our family said good bye to last weekend.