We promise ourselves, at the beginning of every season, “NO LIVESTOCK THIS YEAR.” No animals, only vegetables. That’s what we always say. Livestock adds a whole new element of chaos and unpredictability to farming that we often find exasperating and demoralizing. Livestock adds the emotional gamble that comes with loving creatures alongside the inevitability of death, through loss or slaughter. Livestock adds a lot of work to our already impossible list of chores. And yet – here we are again. We find, year after year, that a farm (to us) just doesn’t make sense without animals. The life they bring to our farm – through fertility, through their nourishment to our family, or simply just by their very presence – is key to our sustainability.
So, when our friend reached out to us about some ducks he wasn’t able to care for properly, we were excited. There is a large pond behind our house, overgrown with algae, desperately in need of some movement and life to clean it out. Our neighbors have chickens and are always willing to share chicken eggs, so ducks seemed like a perfect fit!
The ducks arrived and we quickly set up their coop and electric fencing to encircle the pond. We released them and watched as they waded into the murky pond, jumping and splashing about and just looking blissfully in their element. It took maybe ten minutes before one duck let out a loud squawk and started flailing about, swimming in tight little circles as if stuck. We stared in confusion as it continued to spin around, growing more and more tired as it began to go underwater for longer and longer periods of time. We thought it must have gotten its leg tangled in something and, unwilling to watch it slowly drown to death, Jesse and I waded into the pond (luckily, we had friends visiting who were able to watch Further during this adventure!). Jesse used a long stick to push the now completely limp duck to the edge of the pond.
Well, maybe you have already guessed what we were oblivious to, but when I pulled the duck out, attached to the back of it was a SNAPPING TURTLE. I screamed and quickly pulled my legs out from the pond, falling onto the shore. The turtle slipped back into the pond, and we sat in shock, realizing that we had just released the ducks into one large death trap.
In a literal matter of minutes, we experienced all the emotions that come with having livestock: the joy and pleasure of watching animals living in their ideal habitat, the sorrow of pain and loss, the anger and frustration of being at odds with predators just doing what they naturally do. For the next few days, we didn’t let the ducks have access to the pond while we tried to catch the turtle. And to make the story very brief and short on gory details, we caught the turtle and killed it. We waited and didn’t catch another one, so we are hoping there was only one. The injured duck seems like it will survive. The ducks are now back in the pond.
We hate this part of farming, but as any farmer knows, death is a part of farming. If we could have thought of a way to remove the turtle without killing it, we would have. I know this story may bother some people. But this is what worked for the time and situation: we had to remove the turtle, a danger to our animals and to our son. I am horrified thinking of all the times Further and I walked barefoot around the edge of the pond, wading into the edge to grab a cattail or frog.
And with this hardship of death comes the promise of life: more eggs already than we can eat, feeding our family and other families we love. Happy ducks rejuvenating an anaerobic pond. A cleaned-out coop adding bountiful material to the compost pile that will grow more food in years to come. It is hard, and it is good. And so it goes.