Life And Death On The Farm

Aug 15, 2017

Commentator Aurora Rainette says one of the things she loves about working on farms is watching life take hold and transform. But sometimes crops fail or animals are lost before their time. And for Rainette, that can really sting.

When an animal dies, farmers are left with a body. Sometimes, that body can become food. Often, it's full of medicine or too weathered.

Recently, my favorite heifer was one of the unlucky ones. A bit like an oversized goat, she loved to stick close out in the field -- my bovine sidekick. What would have been a c-section for a human became very complicated for sweet Bernie, whose calf was too big for her to deliver and became lodged in the birth canal.

This pressure can result in paralysis. The treatment is a very expensive cow hydro-therapy tub, or cross your fingers and hope she gets herself up and walking within 36 hours.

A text comes: things have gone south during delivery. I come out of the cheese room, put on my boots and head to the barn.

Bernie is nestled in hay, her ears half drooping as always, not erect like the other cows. I climb over the gate. She greets me with a plaintive moo that cuts straight into my heart. I rub her nose and face, coo about what a good girl she is. She wants like hell to be up on her feet. Both of us are pushing, helpless. Finally she lays her nose on my knee and sighs. Within a day she stops eating and drinking.

A different farm, two weeks later. The afternoon crawls towards evening. I go walking with Amelia. She's almost four and smart as a whip. Her mom is milking goats; keeping one of the kids busy is help in a different way. We blow dandelion fuzz to the wind and watch the plow slowly turn the dirt over. We duck under the electric fence and she takes my hand and leads me.

She knows all 70 or so goats by name; where the fence is hot; how to turn on the milking machines. She asks if I want to see the Bone Path. We enter a clearing in a stand of trees. Jaw. Skull. Teeth. Ribcage. Wildflowers growing around a mostly intact pelvis. I recognize parts of my own anatomy.

We look quietly for a moment. Amelia is tired, so I carry her back up the old cow path, through the field where dried corn stalks will become a maze later in the season. She lays her face on my shoulder and sighs.

I think about death and birth and a shrine of bones bleaching in the sun.

Commentator Aurora Rainette works as a farm-hand at several farms around the Pioneer Valley. She lives in Cummington, Massachusetts.