The Downside

Many people have expressed envy that we spend our lives in the country with animals. Most of the time we do feel blessed to be living where we are. 

And then we had this last weekend. I thought I’d share with you the downside of farm life in Minnesota.

Saturday dawned cold, below zero. When Melissa went up to the barn to do chores, she found our beloved llama, Chachi, down. When a llama goes down, it’s rare that he gets up, yet we’d pulled Chachi back from the edge so many times we thought this was just another one of those times. Melissa called me for help.

By the time I got there, she’d gotten Chachi sitting up and leaning against her. We couldn’t get him to stand. I finally lured him to his feet with a bit of grain. He was wobbly for awhile, but eventually was able to move around okay. Melissa and I looked at each other. This llama was old and weak and so, so tired. This weekend was going to be horribly cold. Chachi was already weak from some sort of neurological disorder that kept him leaning to the left. To move to the right, he needed to circle around to the left until he reached his destination. 

There’s no cure for old age. We’d worried about him for months, but it was clear our dear boy was done. We didn’t want him to suffer any more than he had to.

Saturday the wind blew and blew. Nasty stuff. Sunday morning Melissa went up to do chores. Chachi was down again. This time she couldn’t get him up on his side. She brought him food and water, but he wasn’t interested. When an animal is on its way out, there are periods of blankness, as if they’ve stepped out of their body for awhile. Chachi was starting to blank out. We called our friend Ann, one of our vets, and left a message on her cell.

The snow had blown so hard that Melissa had to shovel a path for the sheep to their hay. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I do chores 4 days a week and Melissa does them 3, but she had a really hard three days.

Blowing, blowing snow. We left mid-afternoon for the neighbors’ 1/2 mile down our road to play games and eat pizza and homemade coconut cake. (Mmmmm!) It was dark when we headed home. The road was fine but our driveway was full of snow. Melissa got the 4-wheel drive pickup half way down the driveway then we hit a wall of hard-packed snow and got stuck.

That was the farthest 400 feet I’ve ever had to walk. Dark, snow over our knees, howling wind, bitter cold. 

It doesn’t look that far now, but it felt that way! See the pickup all the way down there?

Monday morning it was -18.  Chachi was still alive, but on his way out. Ann, the vet, couldn’t come until Melissa plowed the field drive to the barn, and until the county plowed out our dead end road—the entrance to the road had blown shut during the night. No one was getting in or out. 

It took Melissa nearly an hour to plow up to the pick-up.  

Then she hooked up the chain to the tractor and I got into the truck to steer.

No good. The truck wouldn’t budge. I trudged back to the shed for shovels. It was -10. When I returned, our sweet new neighbor Jared was there. He’d tried to plow out our driveway and had gotten stuck. He shoveled around the pickup, then Melissa pulled it free. Jared shoveled himself free and went on his way. I have to say, as we muddle through our 50s, it’s wonderful to have a helpful neighbor in his 20s! After an hour outside I was unable to feel my toes or my nose, so had to trust they were all still there as I walked back to the house.

Melissa plowed the driveway and the field road. Back to the house, where I made her drink hot chocolate and eat leftover stir-fry, then Ann the vet came. I stayed in the house and thought about Chachi while Ann and Melissa put him out of his misery. No more awful nights in the cold for this elderly guy. He came to us when he was two, in 1999, and worked tirelessly to protect all the sheep in his care. He has been a part of this farm nearly as long as the farm has been here.  Here’s a photo of gentle Chachi greeting a new lamb, barely visible in the grass.

Melissa came back inside. We had a good cry over Chachi, then I planted her in a sunny rocking chair with her feet sandwiched between two hot water bottles, a wool blanket wrapped around her, and her hands warming on another mug of hot chocolate. She’d been out in that weather for nearly 5 hours. 

As I write this, Monday night, both the sun and the temperature are dropping. But all the roads and driveways are cleared. Animals fed, watered, and with access to barns. Chachi gone. Fire going in the wood stove. I’m sipping my own mug of hot chocolate, cleverly fortified with 1 1/2 shots of coconut rum.

These last three days have clearly illustrated the downside to living on a farm in Minnesota. 

Tomorrow I’ll do chores. It’s still likely to be well below zero, but the steers will bellow at me and sniff my scarf with their big, wet noses. The sheep will gather around and ask me to stir up their hay so there are new and tasty bits to reach.  

The animals are a welcome reminder that there are upsides to this life…

8 thoughts on “The Downside”

  1. Farming can be a lot of hard work in the spring, summer and fall. But it’s still fulfilling enough to make you want to keep on. But during a winter like this, after a weekend like you had . . . farming could be labeled something else. Still, looking at the whole picture, you’ve got healthy animals that you know need your loving care and attention so you keep going. (After a good cry and some fortified hot chocolate.) You two should be very proud of yourselves for all you’ve done and continue to do.

  2. So sorry to hear of Chachi’s passing. I was privileged to meet him last year during shearing at your place. We had the same experiences with the snow that you did, I think.

    For us, it was Sedona, the barn cat. But, even if they aren’t house pets, any animal passing pokes a little hole in your heart. Hugs to you and Melissa.
    -Cheryl W.

  3. So sorry to hear about your boy… We lost our old Suffolk ewe, Stacy, last Tuesday. She had a 4 day old lamb by her side, who’s now being raised by one of my 4-H’ers. I cried so long and so hard I got sick. Farming isn’t a piece of cake, but it’s so worth it.

  4. So sorry for the loss of Chachi. Farming isn’t for wimps, that’s for sure. I just lost one of my favorite ewes, 12 hours after she delivered prematurely (twin ewe lambs, damn). It’s hard to lose friends. And crummy weather doesn’t help at all.


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The Big Pivot

About Me

After twenty-five years on the farm, I’m adjusting to the adventures of city life. Part of that adjustment is figuring out what I want to write about now, since sheep are no longer part of my daily life. I’m challenging myself creatively by painting with pastels and playing the ukelele as I seek my new writing path.

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