Ag Experience Insider: Tough Lessons Taught by Animal Agriculture

The joys of animal agriculture cannot be understated. It is easy to take pride in the work you do when you get to watch an animal grow up knowing that you raised it to be the best it could be. But there can be dark sides to this joy. Continue reading to learn how the Rollinger family has dealt with the loss of livestock through the eyes of ranch wife and mother, Tara Rollinger

Learning the World of Agriculture

I learned the difference between sweet corn and field corn during my first year of teaching in Baltic – 20 years ago. I grew up in a variety of places – all in the Midwest – so one would assume I’d have a better idea of anything agriculture related, but I didn’t. I had no clue how farming and ranching worked. I knew there were crops and animals, I knew it was hard work, and I had a decent understanding of a farmer’s importance in the grand scheme of life. But I didn’t have a clue about the seasons of planting and harvest or the seasons of calving and butchering. And I certainly didn’t know the loss and heartache that can go with it.

Hard Times in Animal Agriculture

If you’ve read the first few weeks of these posts, you know that the kids bought sheep in the spring – six in total. There are now four. We lost two. I don’t need to get into the why because it certainly was out of our control and we did everything we could to keep them alive. But loss is a part of this lifestyle. And it’s hard every time. There are tears; so many tears. The kids always wonder if they did something wrong. And Ross and I have to reassure them that what happened wasn’t their fault.
We lost a sweet little calf this spring. It was born with some abnormalities and it just didn’t make it. Not only is it a loss of money, it always hurts the pride a little, too. Ross and the kids work hard to keep these animals safe and healthy, so when one dies, it hurts.
And, according to the kids, some of our baby chicks (that are no longer baby chicks – they’re nearly full grown hens at this point) are gone. I hate to think it was our dogs who got them, but maybe. Or a hawk. Or a number of things. Regardless, the kids are sad. They worked hard for months to keep them alive and grow them to the point where they can be out and about with our other hens. And sometimes it feels like they work hard for nothing.
This winter we had to put a horse down. Long story short, he had been walking tenderly on his back left hoof for a while off and on and was eventually diagnosed with a Canker tumor and it wasn’t really possible to save him. We had to make the decision to put him down. Ross was gone for the Guards so I was having to make these decisions on my own. But after knowing what we needed to do, the kids and I sobbed in the living room together for a half hour and then we drove down the road to officially say goodbye. We spent 15 minutes with him just snuggling. It was so dang hard. These kids love their animals.
It’s hard because Pistol (the horse) isn’t out there in the barn when we do chores or for Kya to talk to when life is sucky. We loved our daily time with him. He came to us so skinny and he left fat and happy. We’ll miss him! We didn’t have him for long, but as Ross always reminds us, “We give them the best life possible while they’re with us.”

Tougher from the Hard Times

This life isn’t for the weak. We have a lot of animals. We’ll deal with death again. And it will hurt again. But we know it’s for a greater purpose. These kids are learning the circle of life. They are learning that death is a part of it. I don’t think they will ever become numb to it because it still wrecks Ross when he has to bury an animal. But they certainly are learning perspective and that’s an amazing quality to have. They know so much more than I did at their age. And thankfully, they’ve known the difference between field corn and sweet corn nearly their entire lives.