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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No spur of the moment decisions, but another loss!

The cougar did come back yesterday morning and was trapped and dispatched. We were allowed to keep the body, so Steve skinned and prepared the pelt and froze it and what meat was on the carcass is hanging to try some cougar jerky.  We found out what caused her to attack our flock. She was missing a large part of her back leg from a previous injury. While not a new injury, it was still not fully healed. The trapper said that it could have been from a trap and she broke free or something as simple as getting her foot caught in a fence as she jumped over it. She was emaciated.  I stroked her gently as she lie there, no longer suffering.  I apologized that we had to take her life in such an unfair manner.  I felt relief that our flock would be safe. I felt pain for taking such a strong spirit!

This morning, Steve went out to feed the calf and sheep (who had all been relocated after the attack to a small field on the other side of the orchard). Soon after he had left, he yelled for me to get grain and move them back to the field with the lean-to.  I though it was because of the rain and wind, but was surprised when the whole flock pretty much bolted past me through the open gate.  Normally, when I have grain, I become the focus of attention.  When Steve told me we needed to call the trapper again, that another lamb was dead, I was pissed off and sick to my stomach at the same time.  Yes, Lyndsey's second choice market wether was dead. The neck was broken, but nothing had been eaten yet.  The body was still warm. I texted my daughter, mom, sister and neighbor to tell them. We both had to go to work, so we left before the trapper arrived.  I called him soon after I got to work to ask him for details.  As he answered the phone, I could tell he was winded.  His hounds had already treed the cat and he was hiking our rather steep hillside to reach him. I didn't stay on the line. Shortly after that my mom called to let me know she'd heard a shot.  It was another young cat, probably the male sibling to the female.  He was also extremely thin.  I wish I knew their stories.  Did their mother die, leaving them not knowing how to hunt, forced to take easy prey (we've had a very mild winter and lots of deer are around)?  Were they forced out of their home territory as they neared adulthood, unable to find food in unfamiliar areas?  How did the female lose so much of her back leg? Did her brother try to help her?  It saddens me!

I am also angry because humans have pushed Mother Nature to the point of breaking, civilizing areas so that her children (the animals) can no longer find the food they need to survive, tipping the already shaky balance that is the wilderness. I treasure the wild animals, they are a needed part of our world, and I live in the woods, where the animals live.  My family has lived on this property for decades, going back to my great-grandparents.  They respected the animals and so do we.  Yes, I am an advocate for all the animals, even the predators.  Am I happy we killed (yes, killed) two beautiful, amazing hunters.  NO!! However, my livestock are under my protection.  They depend on me to keep them fed, sheltered and safe.  Because of changes and laws that have forced predator's to look for easy meals, we had to make a choice.  It was not an easy choice.  However, if one of you went and found one of your pets with it's belly cut open and it's head removed, knowing that the next night another pet could be taken the same way, with no way of escaping or defending itself, what would you do?  You might say "Well, a sheep isn't a pet"! Nope, it's not, however, we love our flock (and our pigs and our steers and our chickens).  The older sheep know their names, come to be petted and scratched and fed treats and love us.  The lambs are raised with love and care and good nutrition, to become either breeding animals or a market animal to feed you and your family healthy, nutritious protein.  Losing two lambs in 3 days has affected us emotionally.  I hear the momma sheep baa'ing for their babies (the weaning process causes baa'ing, but for different reasons). The flock saw these babies killed, smelled the scent of a predator and could not run, because the fences we built for their protection kept them trapped and unprotected.  I see the fear in their eyes, as the dogs they have known for years walk past the fence, unsure what might happen.  I feel the pain in my heart, soul and mind, knowing that I failed them.

This affects our farm financially.  The goal of raising low-cost, but healthy market lambs will not be met this year. In 2 months we've lost 4 of our animals, (the old ewe, the goat, and two lambs).  The farm took a hit this year. The lambs were each worth at least $300 each and Lyndsey would have gotten $800 on one of them as an auction animal.  We still have two lambs left, not as good of quality, but she will auction one anyway.  The 2 lambs would have paid for a large portion of our years hay, and Lyndsey's market hog.  

I'm tired, sad and well, to be frank, worried.  Do I find more ways to tighten the belt and keep the flock going? Do I just give it up?  There isn't much more to cut, we aren't like the government who keeps "finding" money. Out of 15 plus years of livestock, these are the first losses to a predator, but I don't know if I have the heart to wait for the next attack.  Being a farmer isn't easy, and I knew that coming into it, but the last few weeks have really pulled me apart!  


  1. No, you can't regain your financial loss or easily dismiss the emotional distress, Ruth, but bless you and your family for doing all the hard work that benefits the rest of us. It's really difficult to maintain a good balance with the wild creatures when we have encroached upon their homeland. We have a bobcat and/or lynx wreaking havoc in our area right now, but haven't suffered the same kind of loss you have. Wish I could do more than send a huge hug to you during this time.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your farm losses. And I thank you for putting into words what had happened and the emotions you felt regarding having to take the life of another beautiful predator. I love cats, big and small, but would have done the same you did. One year I had to take a bobcat that had found our chickens easy pickings. I cried when I shot him, but knew it had to be done.
    I hope you do not give up, but understand that finances have such a tight grip on us all that sometimes hard decisions have to be made. Praying that you find the path best for your family & farm.

  3. I am catching up on blogs that I follow - first of all CONGRATS on that little grandson! And Wow the last couple of weeks you have had are definitely not easy. Thank you for sharing quite interesting about the cougar but also raises questions of "why" - I grew up as a 4-H'er and so did my kids and I know that investment all the way to the finish product (auction) is very important (so sorry to hear that it was 4-H lambs) ~ best wishes and hopes for a better spring.

  4. My eyes are leaking; there are no easy answers. I feel for you, for your livestock, for the predators….

  5. Oh Ruth, what a post. I can't tell you how much I agree. Humans are so short sighted and selfish. We are incapable of seeing beyond our own desires as well as thinking through the consequences. It's always the little guys on the bottom that get the brunt of it, particularly farmers and ranchers. We suffer the losses while all the tiers of middle men get fat. We aren't like the government in that we can't dip our hands into the taxpayers' pockets anytime we need ice cream money. At least those cougars are no longer suffering hunger and want. A big cyber hug to you.

  6. Such a poignant and honest post, Ruth. There is not much easy about farming, and it's not the lifestyle of choice for the weak-hearted. You made the choice you had to - such a shame that we cannot all live on this beautiful Earth in peace, with respect for both human and animal kind. I hope that you are able to live through your losses this year and carry on to the next. My heart goes out to you.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story Ruth. I hope you can find a way past these losses and continue with your farming.
    Take care.