Monday, May 16, 2011

The Value of Life

The storm continues to impact our lives almost three weeks after the winds ceased.  Downed trees had isolated four of our cows for three days after the storm.  I noticed them eating the leaves and thought little of it.  They had water and they were eating, everything should be Okay until I could cut a path for them.

Last Wednesday, two weeks after the tornadoes tore through our community, I came home and walked out to check on my cows.  I found one down, obviously quite ill.  I brought her some water and feed.  She got up and drank several gallons, but ate nothing.  It was dark by the time I got her quarantined from the other cows.  The next morning she was unable to get on her feet.  I concluded I would have to euthanize her that evening.  I came home at lunch and found her dead.  I was relieved; it grieves me to kill an animal. 

The questions lingered, what killed the cow?  Was it contagious?  I had searched my books and researched on line, but I couldn’t narrow it down.  It all happened so fast there was no time to get a veterinarian out to check on her.  Since I had so many downed trees to burn I opted to cremate her on Friday.  I used my tractor to drag a couple of logs out to the back side of my pasture.  As I approached the chosen site I noticed one of my cows lying down in the woods by herself.  I knew immediately she was one that had been corralled with the dead one and she was sick, very sick.

I gathered the wood and started the cremation process.  Then I came inside to call a Vet and do more research.  The Vet’s office informed me he probably would not make it out to my place for 24 hours.  I followed a hunch and googled "poison cattle feed."  “Cattle diseases” and similar phrases had not on the day before turned up anything consistent with the symptoms of the first cow.  Sure enough Oak acorns, bark and leaves are poisonous if consumed in large quantities.  The symptoms matched, and there was no treatment.

When I arose to go outside and rebuild the fire I witnessed a sobering scene.  The dead cow’s calf and another heifer, the two of which had been isolated with the dead cow when she got sick and I had therefore quarantined in the lot next to the fire, were lying down with their chins flat on the ground facing the fire where the cremation was in full force.

My mind flashed back to a childhood ritual.  I was perhaps seven and we were at my grandmother Johns’ to butcher a cow.  We were gathered at one end of her pasture with a pole tripod where the carcass would be hoisted for the initial dressing.  The rest of the herd had been corralled far away and completely out of sight.

I remember five things well from that day.  I remember the snap of the rifle and instant jerk of the cow down to her knees before she collapsed on her side.  I remember the force of the stream of blood when the throat was cut, pulsating with the final beats of the heart.  I remember the care with which my Dad and uncles made the incisions and dissections; great effort to not taint or contaminate the meat with unwanted substances.  And I remember the lingering, mournful bellows of the heard that began at the moment the rifle fired.  How did they know?  They had never to my knowledge bellowed at the simple sound of a gun.

Yesterday, in order to keep the bull away from the young heifer, I had to let the heifer and calf back into the section where the cremation took place.  I was astonished, but not surprised, as I watched the two bovines walk directly to the charred remnants of the cow, face the remains, bow their heads, and stand silently for ten minutes or longer.  Later they would lie, chins down, in the exact same spot.

I was surprised last evening when I led our two horses into the same section of grass.  They too walked straight to the cremation site, turned to face the remnants, bowed their heads, and stood silently for several minutes before beginning their grazing.  They had been far removed from the cremation three days earlier.

I cannot explain these patterns of animal behavior.  At the risk of anthropomorphisms, I must confess they speak loudly to me of the value of life and of the force that ties all living creatures together.  All that is is held together and connected by the Spirit of God.  All breath has its origin in the nostrils of God.
It is not my purpose to offer an apology for the vegans among us.  I eat meat and I plan to continue enjoying it for a long time.  Instead, I find in the reverence for life sometimes evidenced in the world of animals a call to truly give thanks at every meal.  All good things come from our heavenly Father, and those that nourish us come at a price higher than we can imagine.  Life in all its forms is the greatest of gifts.


Anonymous said...

Well written.

Anonymous said...

Jackie, I enjoyed that. Thank you for taking the time to observe and to write.

Ken Davis