Homesteading can be so rewarding, the growing and raising of our food, learning lost skills, and just the extra time we spend working together as a family. Homesteading can also be very sad and even heartbreaking.
One reality of homesteading is the loss of animals, which can happen at any time and be a shock. There have been a fair amount of deaths since we started, some from predators, some from sickness, and some that we could not explain. So how do we handle this? What do we do when we have things die and need to explain them to the children?
Some of the ways we have found that help decrease predator attack include: letting the birds out later in the morning, monitoring the skies for hawks, and putting the birds up before dusk. The kids have even organized a Chicken Guard. When they hear or see anything from a stray dog to a hawk they yell for the Chicken Guard and everyone runs outside to scare the predator off.
We also have death because of sickness. We have learned that in many cases by the time you realize the birds are sick it is too late. Anytime that we see a bird begin to act off we increase things like probiotics, apple cider vinegar, and electrolytes in hopes of boosting the immune system. Occasionally we have to administer other medicines, but sometimes there is very little we can do to help the animal.
Just recently, we have had two deaths on the homestead. The first was by a hawk that came while we were not home and got one of our young birds. She was an all-white bird and the favorite of my youngest son. When we found her, he was distraught, crying and yelling that he hates hawks. I took the time to explain to him that yes, it was horrible that the hawk got her, but that he needs to remember that we know this may happen. I told him that I was angry as well and that she was such a great bird. He finally felt better and decided that the hawk wasn’t so bad.
We incubate eggs every year and sometimes do more than one batch of eggs. We have probably been hatching our own birds for 4 years. This process takes most of the month to complete, it involves monitoring the temperature of the incubator, and turning the eggs 3 times a day. We spend a lot of time watching the eggs as they get closer to hatching time. My kids enjoy making whistling sounds to help encourage the baby birds to come out of their shells. They are still amazed every time eggs hatch.
At the beginning of February, we collected 18 eggs to try and hatch. I spent every day turning the eggs and checking the temperature and humidity of the incubator. I candled the eggs a few times during the incubation period and weaned out the infertile ones keeping only those that seemed to be developing. As we got closer to the hatch date I noticed only one egg moving, giving me doubts about how many would actually hatch.
The night before the hatching date, we had two chicks start to hatch. I left them to work themselves out of the egg overnight, assuming they would be out by morning. Sadly that did not prove to be the case. The two birds that had started to hatch never made it out and all the rest of the eggs that had seemed promising also did not hatch. That meant for the first time ever all the eggs we collected did not hatch.
The kids were obviously upset by this. They had told me I should have helped the ones that started to hatch to get out of the eggs. We have done this in the past, and the results were not good. The birds we helped to hatch did not make it much past the first night, because as I came to find out when birds can’t hatch on their own they are not likely to survive. With the latest batch of eggs not hatching I reminded the boys of this. I told them that although I would have loved to help the birds hatch the reason they could not make it out of their shell was that there was already something wrong with them. As you can see in the picture below, the ones that started hatching did not get very far, which means that they were not strong enough to hatch out alone and would not have made it.
This is the sad truth about homesteading. This is the part you need to be ready for, the part where you may walk outside and find your favorite chicken killed, or your whole flock wiped out by some predator. Sometimes you have no explanation. There are many times that a perfectly healthy animal may suddenly die and you may never figure out why. I have found that even though these moments are horrible it is all in how we explain it to the children that matters. Death comes with the territory as do the lessons that it brings. I hope that by having these experiences my children will learn to appreciate things more and gain a better understanding of life.