let's talk farm animals

Grieving in the barn

Guest blog by Kaitlyn Gisler, British Columbia


Kaitlyn Gisler

Yesterday morning a terrible tragedy took an unforgiving swipe at our neighbours, also a farming family. Today and for the rest of their lives this young couple must learn how to cope, and eventually live, with one child less. It isn’t fair and it’s even harder to believe.

And if that isn’t already a cruel twist, Life does something even worse: it goes on. Life continues forward when all you want to do is hit rewind, or at the very least press pause and try to pick up all the pieces.

This is where farming is a blessing and a curse. There will always be chores to do. The cows don’t hold their milk in sympathy, the calves won’t crack the seal on the milk tank and feed themselves. The barn cats can feed themselves, but they’ll still expect their bagged cat food. New feed must be mixed and the old feed pushed away. Pens have to be forked clean and gates repaired. If there is any place more evident that life must go on it’s in the barn.

Farmers can’t take a break—not indefinitely—and that’s a career and life choice. Not on Christmas Day, or Easter, or after the loss of a loved one. There are family, friends and employees who can do a job, take on an extra chore, but eventually we’ll have to wrap our fingers around the familiar handles of the wheelbarrow and lift.

When we want to stay in bed, in the dark, and try not to hurt so much we can’t. We have to get up at four, maybe five, or six in the morning and go to the barn. There’s a routine. We witness the sun rise and realize that it is another day, and we see the sun set knowing we’ve endured another day.

In the barn we can still work alongside our cows and although everything has changed they don’t push the point. They don’t ask questions, or apologize profusely for something that was out of their control (even if we are mad). They offer a sturdy shoulder to lean or cry on but otherwise don’t treat us any different.

In the barn we don’t have to explain to our boss why we’re quiet and slower than usual—we are the boss and are trying very hard to understand.

In the barn there are plenty of places to sit when we’ve become emotionally and physically exhausted but can’t sleep. A hay bale, the milking parlour steps, a tractor seat. Sometimes these spots can seem as sacred as a pew.

Then one day, while in the barn, we’ll feel the morning sun on our back, or be able to marvel at the green fields outside, or scratch our favourite cow behind the ear and begin to feel okay.

But that isn’t today—not yet—and we must still go to the barn.

About the Author:

Kaitlyn Gisler

I first started writing on my parent’s dairy farm when I was a kid. I would sit on the milking parlour steps, and between bringing in sets of our Holstein cows to be milked, would scribble stories onto the paper towels we used in the parlour. These tales, usually mirroring whatever I was reading at the time, weren’t worthy of recognition. However, my finished stories would garner outstanding reviews from our cows, although their written accolades looked suspiciously like my own handwriting.

Years later things have changed: I’ve grown up, we now have a robotic milking system that milks the cows whenever they feel like it (no more rising at four a.m!), and my writing is being printed in local agricultural publications. The cows might not be reading these articles but instead I’m getting positive feedback from the industry.

What hasn’t changed since those paper towel days? The rewarding career of farming and the joy I find in writing. I continue to work on my parent’s dairy farm, after attending post-secondary, and write feverishly on the side. Farming and writing are hard work but we are creating something. Farmers fill our supermarket shelves with high-quality locally grown products. Writers fill our library shelves and newspapers with ideas and imagination and what I’ve found is that both careers nourish the soul.



Posted by BCFACC on February 14th, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Dairy cattle,Farm life
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