One of the well known sayings in homesteading is “where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock.” Even knowing that death is part of the normal cycle of life doesn’t always make it easy to cope with. When faced with loss on the homestead, what’s the best way to cope?
Loss of Livestock
This week (January 2023), a stray dog broke into our chicken coop. It killed our little flock of five hens and one crazy bantam rooster, Gilderoy. My little mama hen, Buckbeak hatched Gilderoy from a purchased clutch of eggs, and later that year she hatched a second clutch of her own eggs.
Our fence has been a huge issue since we bought the house. It had even gotten to the point where I couldn’t let the chickens out to free range any more because of it. Unfortunately, our coop wasn’t built to withstand anything more than raccoons and possums.
While our fence is getting replaced, and we will get new hens later this year, it still really, really sucks. This isn’t the first time we’ve lost chickens or rabbits, and I think that does help make it somewhat easier. But we do still feel grief, regret we couldn’t fix the fence sooner, and also a bit of anger too.
Loss of Pets
Just three days before our flock was killed, one of our cats died of natural causes at 13 years of age. This was more of an expected death than our chickens. But any time you lose a pet, especially one who has been around for so long, it’s not fun.
Pets can sometimes feel like members of the family and it can feel so empty when they’re gone. My thirteen year old daughter felt the loss of this cat especially keenly. They were good buddies throughout her entire life so far.
Digging two graves for family animals in just one week is really sad!
How To Cope With Loss
Unfortunately, coping with loss has been on my mind a lot over the past year as my mother died in 2022 at just 66 years old. While losing a parent is nothing like losing livestock or a pet, many of the feelings are similar. And sometimes the pain of one loss can bring up the pain from another.
I don’t have any secret success tips for how to get through these painful parts of life. I just have things that other people recommend that I can see from my own experiences have been helpful.
One common tip is to acknowledge your grief. This has been very helpful for me. Even if part of me is thinking, “It’s just chickens,” acknowledging that I am, in fact, feeling sadness and grief over my chickens helps me eventually move past those feelings. Instead of convincing myself I’m being silly, just saying “yeah, this hurts right now,” is something I personally find helpful.
Another common suggestion in how to cope with loss is to seek out support. I think this can absolutely be helpful for some people. Using our recent chicken example, my husband has gotten a lot of comfort from letting other homesteading friends know what happened and listening to similar stories they have shared. I seek support in a slightly different way. Over the past year, the best way for me to seek support has been to let people know that I appreciate their love and care, and to also be honest with friends and loved ones when I need some space or alone time.
Another way to cope is to explore your feelings. This can be done with a professional counselor, journaling, meditation, or any way that works for you personally. And that doesn’t just apply to the big losses either. I sat with my daughter as she explored her feelings of grief for our cat, and provided a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. I’ve done a LOT of journaling, but also had times in my life where a counselor was hugely helpful too.
There are more ways to cope with loss and grief. It’s not fun. But it does get better eventually. Even though this is part of homesteading, part of pet ownership, part of life, doesn’t mean it’s always easy in the moment. And that’s okay.
What ways have helped you the most?
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