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Remembering Hope

“I want to turn this place into a homestead.”  That is the statement that changed my life more than I ever thought possible. There has been the good, the bad, and the ugly.  So many tears. So much joy. So many heartaches and losses.  So many victories and celebrations. So many sleepless nights. So many long days. So many rewards.  Add all of those up and you don’t even come close to the lessons learned. Today is no different.

The day started just like any other day.  Coffee at the kitchen table.  Watch the weather report on the news. Get hubby off to work.  Feed the dogs. Make a list of what I want to get done for the day.  Load up my pockets with all the normal stuff.  You know knife, screws, drill bits, bandana, bandaid, pencils, tape measure, screwdriver, lighter, small note pad, a bit of cash and change, sometimes a side arm.  I put on my boots, grab my gloves, turn to the pups and say “Come along. Time to go to work.”

It’s a race to the barn.  Abby wants to do her morning rat check while Mowgli starts his rounds picking up feathers.  No rats this morning. Off Abby goes to check the chicken house for rats and maybe sneak an egg for second breakfast.  Mowgli is hot on her tail as he loves the left over egg shells.  I do a quick head count on the pigs, throw them some alfalfa, and give everyone a quick belly rub and butt scratch. The little piglets are so funny jumping into the feed dish.  I feed and water the alpacas and fill the pig wallows. I can hear the baby turkeys in the hay barn chirping and flying all over.  They know I am coming.  Normally we don’t keep the turkeys in the hay barn.  Animals go in there only for medical care or for an emergency.  This time was no different.

Five days ago when we went out to the pasture to check on Hope (turkey hen) and her 6 little ones we found her over the fence and not moving much.  We thought she was a goner at that point.  No she was still alive and full of energy.  We had no idea what had happened to her. Was it the heat? Was it a predator? Did the neighbors’ goat or donkey kick her? The only thing we could do was get her to the house quickly to evaluate her.

Being caught once again without an emergency crate or medical pen we put her in a dog crate. I stayed with her to give her some meds while hubby and son (who was here visiting) went down to try and catch the 6 little ones. No easy thing to do as those babies know how to fly. There is no way to get a baby turkey down out of a huge Doug Fir tree.  All you can do is wait. When they hide, they squat down and freeze making them all but invisible. With a bit of luck, a fishing net, a sheet and a couple of long sticks, they managed to catch 3 of the 6.  We gave them a box, food and water set up in the hay barn. The other 3 would have to wait until the next day since it was just about sun down and they would go roost somewhere.

We really didn’t think Hope would make it through the night, but she did.  She was not moving that much but seemed like she could possibly get better. We figured putting her in the barn with her 3 babies would be best for now. They were so excited to see their mom. They ran to her in spite of us standing there. She was softly calling to them.  It really warmed our worried hearts. What could be better than that.  Now if we could just catch the rest of them.

The next morning armed with my turkey herding sticks and the fishing net we set out to the lower pasture. We could hear their chirping sounds they make when they are in trouble or looking for their flock. That made it much easier to track them. It wasn’t long and we found 2 traveling together. That pretty much told us we had lost at least one. We were able to catch the 2 fairly quickly this time. Again the reunion was heart warming. Those little ones climbed under mama’s wing and hunkered down. The family was together again.

This morning, as usual, I fed Hope first so I could check her over. Overnight she had taken a turn for the worse. Back to the house to get some supplies for a deeper inspection and more medical treatment. She was so weak. Then I found it. Gangrene. My heart sank as I knew what would have to be done. It hit me hubby won’t be home for hours.  I can’t let her suffer. She was so weak.  She didn’t even flinch when I picked her up.  My head starts racing.  What do I do?  How do I do it?  22?  Don’t want to blow her head off.  Hatchet?  What if I miss.  Tail pipe of the car and a plastic bag?

I knew it was only a matter of time and a moment like this would come about.  I had rehearsed in my mind over and over how I would handle it.  Now that dreaded moment was here.  I had to make that call.  Let her lay there and suffer all day until hubby gets home or handle it.  No I will not let my fear and my ignorance be the reason this animal has to suffer.  She has suffered enough we should have done this 5 days ago.

A quick phone call to hubby to fill him in and get some last minute coaching.  I had never been the one to take the kill shot.  I have shot targets and gone rabbit hunting. I have stood by hubby’s side. I have been a spectator. This is different. This time I have to pull the trigger. I have spent time caring for her, giving her meds, rotating her.  With a heavy heart and a refusal to shed one tear I swallowed my fear and went back to get my gun.  Locked the dogs in the house, set the gun on the stump.  Then made that long walk back to the barn.  I told her her pain would end soon.  I told her I was so sorry I could not help her more. That this was the only thing I could do.  Then the thought of would she rather be in pain and spend more time with her little ones? My heart sank.  Am I being selfish to not want to watch her suffer?  No it’s time to do what needs doing.

This is the ugly of it all.  I can not and will not only put this on hubby’s shoulders. Gently I laid her on the ground, thanked her for all she has taught us.  Carefully put the barrel to her head  trying to remember everything I was taught.  Swallowed hard and said “I am so very, very sorry, Hope, I love you” and pulled the trigger.  I felt numb. I felt sad.  I felt disbelief.  Ya know it’s weird but I also felt pride. Not happy for what I had to do but that I was able to do what needed doing. I did it. Right after, I called hubby back so he would know I was ok. All I could say was “it’s done.”

I buried her. Put everything away.  Went back to the barn and stood there looking at the little ones.  Oh the tears.  I watched those little ones just sobbing.  The heartache.  This little turkey flies over my head lands on a bail of hay and just looks at me.  I reached my hand out with some food and she ate out of my hand.  I smiled.  Life goes on.

It may seem crazy to get so upset about a turkey.  It happens.  You become attached sometimes.  Those babies that are so cute and fluffy now will someday end up on the table.  Until that day, they will play, grow and live like a turkey or a pig or a chicken or a rabbit. They will live like the animal they are.   Enjoying fresh air and sunshine. Fresh blackberries off the vine and apples from the trees. We will care for them and then thank them for feeding us. We will learn lessons from each and every single one of them.  We will laugh at their antics and have stories to tell.  We will also feel sadness when it’s their time, yet we will feel pride that we were able to put food on the table. I will feel good knowing that these birds had it much better than those that are raised in a factory farm.  They didn’t suffer a miserable existence like the others. After all, that is why I am doing this.  One less animal has to be raised in a factory farm because we will raise our own.  We will endure the good, the bad, and the ugly, too.  Thank you Hope for your little ones.  Thank you for all you have taught me. Thank you for the strength you have given me.  Most of all thank you for the freedom you have given us.  I will always keep Hope in my heart.

About Danelle Downer

Profile photo of Danelle Downer
I’m a 50+, 5’ tall woman who has wore many hats like secretary, retail manager, bath & lighting designer, teacher, & behavioral specialist for troubled kids. I also have experienced many adventures throughout the years. Sharing these adventures with my best friend and love of my life Wayne. Whom I met on a blind date at the ripe old age of 16. Had 2 fantastic boys that grew into amazingly awesome men. We have traveled to 15 states and 3 countries. Lived in the mountains, desert, forest, city & country. We have been homeless, jobless. Faced many injuries and near death illness for each member of our family. Including being told I am disabled. To which I responded by opening a health and wellness massage clinic. Shortly after that I was in a car accident. Added a few other injuries like blown thumb joints, broken back & cut off finger tips. During a yr of healing & thinking no more clinic now what? I remembered my favorite things were gardening, animals, creating & problem solving. That’s when I heard Jack Spirko say words like self sufficiency, homestead & permaculture. Add in those famous words “what you do matters” It all clicked. Now our current adventure is building a self sufficient homestead, on our 5 ac in SW Washington. Here we raise pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, alpacas & dogs. This has been the most up and down crazy adventure but I love it. It’s a dream come true. As a team we recently received our Permaculture Design Certification from Geoff Lawton.

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4 comments

  1. Very heartwarming story, Danelle. I just butchered my first two ducks a couple of weeks ago, one of which I had hand-fed from a little duckling due to a beak deformity that prevented him from being able to feed himself. I went through a very similar cadre of emotions to those that you describe. We know that we provide these animals the best life imaginable, while ultimately providing food and security for our families. It causes one to pause and give great thanks for the gift of life – our own, as well as those of our animals.
    Best wishes,
    Chris

  2. Thank you Chris,
    It’s never easy to do. That is for sure. With our feeder animals come processing day it’s just a job. Not a pleasant one however you know you are putting food on the table. You prepare mentally the best you can. When it is one of your breeders that you really don’t expect to eat it is a bit different. When you have to put an animal down and the meat can not be consumed by us or our other animals it is a sad thing. You know the odds are at some point there will be a sick animal or there will be that special one the you become attached to. I just keep telling myself that long time ranchers still get attached from time to time. There will be that one that tugs the heart strings. I have experienced both. The ill and the one animal I wanted as a pet. It is hard and I do feel badly for a bit. When it comes down to it I have to go back to why I am doing this. Reminding myself that because I feel bad for a bit that I still have my humanity & compassion. That is a good thing.

  3. Really like it. Thank you for writing it Danelle, and for the chance to know about your real life over there. I so relate to what you spoke about…knowing it would happen ‘one day’. For me (as a vegetarian of 41 years), it was a tiny lizard just yesterday. I pulled a big plant pot out of the shade into the sun, and it tore the front legs and end of tail off the tiny little thing (it had been under the pot). I went through ‘stuff’ but, as the ants started to go for it, I knew I had to end its life. Snuffed it out with my foot, and then had to scrape my shoe hard on it to make sure it was Really dead. Nowhere near as big a deal as what you went through…but a (very) beginning of dealing with the Reality of living closer to the earth.
    Lovely writing, hope you do heaps more. It’s such a conversational tone…really like your approach.

    • Thank you Rasili. It makes no difference the size of the animal it still can be hard to do what you know you have to. Nature carries on. It’s the circle of life. At least the ants had a great meal.

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