Disposing of a Dead Calf


We finally came to the point of acceptance. This calf was never going to stand up again. Our Uncle Jon came to help us put him down. I asked hubby and Jon, “Are you sure?”. I really needed to have a peace about this decision before we carried it through. Never mind the financial loss, we are talking about a life. A life with big, brown eyes. A life we have been nuturing for six months. Just because we eat meat, doesn’t mean we don’t care about our animals. We want them to have happy, healthy lives.  We enjoy interacting with them and learning their personalities.

The vet had already advised us this cow wouldn’t survive, but we had needed to give him a chance.  We gave him a few days of nuturing care and every type of medication available.  The measures did not improve his quality of life by much and certainly weren’t giving him the strength to stand again.  Before we put him down, I wanted to try standing him up one more time to be sure this was the right thing to do. Hubby and I lifted the bony calf  off the ground and he didn’t even try to stand. His legs were curled up underneath him. I tried to uncurl a leg and it bounced back to the bent position. He had snot running from his nose. His ears were drooping. It was time to say good bye.

I did not stay in the barn while hubby had the difficult task of shooting the cow in the head. I didn’t want to hear or see it. I’m thankful I have a hubby who steps up to the plate in difficult times. After it was done, I returned to watch them skin the calf. I want to use his hide for something. Maybe a rug or wall hanging? I see it as a reminder that although the calf didn’t provide food for us, he provided lessons on animal health and end of life decisions.  He taught us farming can be idealistic in your head, in a book, or on another person’s blog but the reality of farming is not always ideal.  Sure, we have the best bacon in our freezer and fresh eggs every day.  We have cute rams butting heads in the pasture.  We have healthy cattle grazing on grass.  The turkeys follow us like pets.  But farming has also exposed us to loss (financial and emotional).  I’ll never look at a cowhide the same again.

Removing the hide.

Removing the hide.

Once the skin was removed, we had to dispose of the carcass.  We’ve lost piglets.  Remember?  We’ve lost one hen.  She got stuck between the electric fence and a hog panel.We’ve lost baby chicks and baby ducks.  Those animals were all small and easy to dispose of.  We burned their carcasses in our burn barrel.  How do you dispose of a large animal that has died before butchering time?  There used to be a wagon that would collect these animals, but it no longer exists in our area.  Our options were to

A.  Drag the calf into the pasture and feed the coyotes.

B.  Bury the calf

C.  Burn the calf

Feeding the coyotes isn’t a good idea because they will return for more and may think a live cow is fair game too.  Burying sounds nice, but we don’t have the equipment to build a big enough hole in a short amount of time.  That left us with option C, burning the calf.  Sigh.

Jon and hubby pulled the calf’s body into the pasture, surrounded it with hay and wood and lit it on fire.  It took two burning sessions to turn him into ashes.  Our five year old saw the fire and asked, “Is that the cow?”.  I’m relying on honesty as we navigate experiencing farm life and death so I told her “Yes, that is him”.