Learning To Let Go…

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.

Megan with Snickers when she was a kitten…

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.”

Although she is no longer with us, this little cat received nothing but love during her time at the Feed Yard Foodie house…

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.

He is grown for the express purpose of providing food, but his life is still meaningful and it is my responsibility to provide good care to him…

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.

For me to be successful, every single one of my animals must thrive on my farm…

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.

Good care starts on the ranch. For the animal to thrive high quality and consistent care must be provided from the first day that the calf is born…

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.

The continuation of good care at the feed yard ensures good health and high quality beef.

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.

I am personally responsible for each one of my animals…

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.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

10 responses to “Learning To Let Go…

  1. cowdoc lana

    I believe that the animals we raise for food, like our companion animals, should have a life worth living. In each case they are providing us with something and it is our duty as care takers and stock people to strive every day to do better. I am always upset and sad when a calf dies or is born dead – they all get a necropsy, I wonder what I missed, what I could have done better. For me, shipping an old cow always makes me sad – unlike the feed yard, where calves come and go, those of us with cows may have them for years, sometimes into the double digits – you get to know them. I will also admit, that like some of my favorite farmers, there may be an old cow in my pasture who never leaves

    • Doc,

      Animals play such a unique and diverse role in our society. I feel truly blessed to be able to spend the bulk of each day surrounded by them. I think that I grow as a person having so many different interactions with them—from caring for the animals at my house that are pets, to caring to my bovines at the feed yard—I get smarter with every day that passes.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  2. Joanne Atwood

    Great post. Totally from the heart of an animal lover. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Joanne, for your support and feed back. This was a hard post to write, but I think that it came together well. It sounds like it resonated with you and I am thankful for that.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.


  3. Kathy Woelk

    I know how you feel. We don’t have a large herd and have only lost 2 head in the past 5 years but you always wonder what you could have done differently. We too have buried numerous dogs, cats (yes wrapped in old t-shirts or towels) and yes even 5 horses on our property and held funeral services for each them. Even going so far as to rent a backhoe each time for the horses because they were so much a part of our lives. Thanks for sharing your stories.

    • Kathy,

      I am so glad that my post resonated with you. Animals play such a diverse role in our lives, and I know that I am a better person for spending my days interacting with them.

      I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. It is always good to hear that my writings are meaningful to others.


  4. Betsy

    Lovely post, and a great job of framing the concept of some animals being intended for food, yet deserving of our respect and care. I’d not known quite how to think of it; thanks for giving me a way to do so and the right words to share with others!

    • Betsy,

      I am so glad that I was able to help you! Caring for “food animals” is a complicated relationship, but our role as caregiver is critical to both their welfare and the ultimate quality of the food that they produce.

      Good luck sharing with others—that is so vitally necessary! Thank you for doing that.


  5. This is a great post – and I think sometimes a hard thing to talk about. Although you and I know the difference between losing an animal and raising an animal for food, I don’t think most people can make the distinction. I feel scared to talk about this because I feel like people will say “well, they are going to die eventually anyways, how can you feel bad when they die on your farm when you are sending them off to slaughter anyways”. I’ll admit though I do let myself get a lot more attached to our mama cows who we keep around for 10+ years than the yearlings that we raise for food.

    • J,

      It is most definitely a hard topic to talk about—not just with folks that do not live on a farm but also with those that do. Death is never an easy thing to deal with, and it is natural to shy away from talking about it.

      This was a hard post to write, but I needed to do it—both to start a conversation about it and also to clarify my thoughts and feelings for personal development.

      For me, unnecessary death is different from purposeful death when you are talking about an animal that is raised expressly to provide food and nourishment. There is a core difference in my mind and that helps me to “navigate those waters” that sometimes get murky.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I enjoy your perspective.


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