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Death of Livestock/Pets--How do you cope? How do you help your children cope?  RSS feed

 
Nicole Alderman
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Today's post is in memory of Chicky, who was eaten today by a bobcat. We only had one chicken, and she was more of a pet than anything. She ate mice and bugs and scratched in the dirt, and even tolerated my three year old picking her up. I never even got a picture of that. She loved her beak scratched, and when she was a baby she try to snuggle under my husband's hair to keep warm. We raised her from a chick and read a children's book most every day to our son about how a baby chick grows up. It had a song in it, and we'd sing it too her. So, she not only came when we sang for our ducks to come eat, she'd also come for her own special song (that the ducks didn't care about). She'd often go for walks for us, following us through the woods and up the hill, pecking at bugs along the way. She would often forage by herself, and sometimes follow along with the ducks.And, when we went to put her and the ducks away at night, the ducks would all go right in, and she'd wait until they all went in, and we closed the door. We would have to open it in, all special for her, and gesture her in.

We'd lost a duck two days ago, and I'd spotted the bobcat yesterday when the ducks started hollering. So, I kept them enclosed in their yard. But, Chicky can fly. So--while my husband and son were napping and I was putting my daughter down for nap--Chicky must have been attacked. There's feathers in multiple places just 5 feet from our house. It was somewhere between 2 and 4pm. Broad daylight.

She's not the first death, either. We've only had a total of maybe 35 animals in the past two years. Five ducks died from illness. 14 ducks and one cat disappeared, assumed to be consumed by predators. That's 22 dead.

4 runner ducks
5 ancona ducks
5 golden 300 ducks
1 chicken
1 cat
2 Khaki campbell ducks
4 ducklings

I'm sitting here writing this, when I should be sleeping, because I can't sleep. My son is three years old. In his little life, he's experienced 22 deaths, most of them personal. He still talks about our cat, and she died when he was only a year old. When we told him Chicky died, he went over to her feathers, blew them a kiss and said he loved her feathers and Chicky....and then said Chicky wasn't dead, that she had "fought off the bobcat" and was hiding in the woods. The poor little guy is totally in denial. And, because so many things have died in his little life, he talks about death and heaven almost every day.

I've never been one to lie about things, but with him so focused on death, we've started not telling him when ducks die. We still haven't told him that the one duckling that hatched had died...we're letting Mama duck sit on more eggs and we'll pretend one of them is Baby Duck.

Are we doing the right thing? With so many things dying in our care, should we stop raising animals? With so many things dying around my son, should we stop raising animals? All these deaths have been hard for me to handle, what about my little son? What is all this death doing to his little psyche? I know that trauma and loss of a loved one can have very negative impacts on children. But, so too does living in a bubble from reality.... My husband wants to go right out and buy another chicken--is this healthy? Is that being responsible animal tenders?

How do you deal with death on the homestead? Do you have any advice for me?
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Chicky
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Trying to nest under my husband's hair
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A boy and his chicken
 
Todd Parr
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I have no advice for you, just want to say I understand how you feel.  It affects me greatly when I lose an animal, and for me at least, it doesn't seem to get easier.  I'm sorry you lost your pet, and sorry your son lost his friend.
 
John Weiland
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Nicole Alderman wrote: But, so too does living in a bubble from reality....

How do you deal with death on the homestead? Do you have any advice for me?


Sorry for your losses,....yeah we have a lot of those too.  I do think that many cultures/societies like our own are indeed living in a bubble when it comes to matters of life and death and have been largely insulated from it myself.  The loss of animals and others brings that to the fore and provides a good time to even check in with yourself about your own feelings about death, human or otherwise.  Don't have kids so can't really advise in this regard, but in the overall, cyclical nature of things, the chicky died today to feed another family.  And until then, your animals had/have a pretty good life roaming around like others of their species....housed in containment/confinement of one manner or other....never get to do.  We've seen similar things happen...goslings being taken in front of our eyes by snapping turtles, hawks/owls taking chickens, and then lots of other things just dying from old age and other natural causes.  They are provided food, shelter, a great place to run around...and occasionally losses occur, sometimes in higher numbers than we would like.   Grief and grieving is learned and I agree that you should not hide it from your kids. It just seems a part of living that this transformation called death occurs....and provides reminder that we are a part of that cycle as well.
 
Travis Johnson
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When you have livestock, sadly in time you will have deadstock. It is just the way it is.

I grew up on a farm so I learned the cycle of life rather quick, for me it was a Dalmatian that was killing lambs. I was five at the time, but with a lamb in its mouth, my Grandfather called for my Grandmother to bring the rifle and it did not make it to the fence. I had to put down my own German Shepard for doing the same thing. I hate doing it, but on a farm; livestock pay the bills.

I have had devastating days too, like getting up one morning and finding 20 dead breeding stock ewes dead on the ground from bloat. It was all my fault, taking them from a crummy pasture to one that was absolutely lush. I posted a photon on here one time of the aftermath, but too many complained and it was deleted. Sadly it is just a reality, but even now I feel bad I made such a mistake.

But with my 4 daughters, I do not look at protecting them. As a sheep farm, we have lambs come into the house during lambing season all the time, but lets be honest, only the ones prone to die are in the house, and for a reason. Most do not make it, and the kids see that. BUT it is a good thing. They know the cycle of life. In fact when #2 daughter, and #4 daughter, entered school, I had to warn the teachers that they knew what death was, was not afraid to talk about it, and that they are normal farm kids. It is a good thing...
 
Travis Johnson
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Maybe a touch of comic relief is in order after saying all that...

When #2 daughter was 4 years old, we were eating at a restaurant and being a good dad I was talking at 4 year old level about my day and how her pony had got out of the fence...again. Inside his quiet restraunt she piped up really loudly, "Did you shoot it Daddy?"

EVERYONE looked up at me in horror, and I am like "No, I didn't shoot her pony."
 
David Hernick
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I have a boy who is almost 3.  A couple weeks ago we lost a chicken "cuckoo bird-cuckoo maran" most likely to a racoon.  I was away, so the bird went in the freezer so I could bury it later.  My son did not really understand what happened since there were two cuckoo birds, until i buried the cuckoo bird with him.   He loves digging and I went about it as sort of sad chore,  but as soon as the bird came out of the black bag and went in the ground my son lost it.  We wanted the bird back, "dig her up!".  I had some explaining to do, buthe calmed down after hearing the bird was there to rest and return to the earth and that it is natural for wild animals to eat chickens and that we eat chicken and take their lives too.  It was the right thing for my family, although i did not tell my wife what i was up too & his cries drew a little bit of criticism from my wife in the moment.
My friends who have had trouble with bobcats have had to used electric wires in their coop and enclosure designs to be able to care for poultry.  Whenever I have lost poultry I have stepped up defenses to be able to keep my animals safe,  but I would ask my self if I should really have poultry if i did not think I could keep them safe.
 
Lorinne Anderson
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I think kids handle death much better than adults, when given the opportunity - they have no preconceived notions - especially if the adults around it handle it appropriately (the cycle of life, we all have to eat, leaves fall, die, then regrow in the spring....).  I actually think it is very healthy for them to participate in and learn that death IS a natural, normal, part of life; develop the coping skills early, and understand that death is not something to fear. 

So many adults are handicapped by an inability to deal with death.  I view this is as your opportunity to teach your child that death will come to everything in its time, that it is okay to be sad or to miss their deceased friend.  Help them learn to deal with grief, develop rituals (burial, service, etc.) that allow the healthy expression of grief in whatever way completes this situation in your family.  To deny your child this learning opportunity is to potentially handicap them for life with an inability to deal with a situation that will occur over and over in their life. 

Oh, and please, please, please never give a child a one liner such as the deceased has: "gone to be with god", "been called home by god", "gone to heaven".  I do not say this to be disrespectful or to denigrate or dismiss those with religious backgrounds but because although these are often very comforting thoughts for many adults, children take things literally!  Some think they need to now die so they can go play with Fluffy or be with Grandma, not understanding the permanence of the situation; some think god has either stolen their friend, or their friend was "bad" and had to go; and if you EVER want your kid to sleep through the night, do not EVER use the "put to sleep" euphemism! When dealing with death it is critical that one is honest; explain that some sicknesses, injuries or situations simply cannot be made better, and in those instances, help them understand that death is a release from pain; or with predation explain that the animal that killed the livestock did so to provide a meal (often, for its babies),  so they did not starve - just as these animals, at times, are killed by us to provide food for our families.

You may need to possibly consider re-thinking how the livestock are kept, enclosed and what safety protocols are in place.  It is not fair to your family, the animals or your wallet to keep replacing birds and other animals if no steps have been taken to ensure they have a more secure environment to live in.  Perhaps look into electric fencing, netting over the poultry area, more secure fencing, a guardian dog....

A few common mistakes: 

1)  trapping, killing or otherwise eliminating the predatory species will only solve your problems in the short term.  Nature hates a vacuum and another predator will soon fill the void of the one removed.

2)  chicken wire only traps chickens, it is in no way a predator proof fencing - for it to be predator proof against land animals (bobcat, raccoon, fox, mink, cat, dog, etc.) it must be heavy, welded wire, or mesh that is electrified or metal roofing panels that are re-purposed to serve as fence panels that are unable to be climbed  - do ensure that the fencing is tall enough that predators cannot leap over it or that it is not made redundant by nearby trees, fences, buildings that allow the animals to circumvent your exterior pen walls and gain access through the top. Pens should either roofed or netted over so birds of prey are kept out:  consider using old fishing nets (gill nets etc.); but closely spaced fishing line strung across the pen is often very successful keeping flying fowl in and predators (owls, eagles, every 4-6 inches; hawks and falcons every 2 inches) out, it takes time but is simple and cheap.

3)  floors of animal enclosures must be concrete or wired (either dug down at least two feet around the perimeter or across the surface of the outdoor enclosure) to prevent predators from digging under enclosure fencing.

4)  buildings, houses, roofs etc. must be either climb proof (build with metal roofing panels) or have sealed soffits (hardware cloth, over-layed by strips of wood so you screw through the wood, the mesh then into the structure).  They must also have no holes or gaps larger than a one inch - rats or mink WILL get into a hen house and kill through a one inch hole, even if they have to enlarge it a wee bit - unless covered with heavy duty mesh (hardware cloth) or fill with alternating layers of spray foam and steel wool (most wont chew through steel wool, the spray foam locks it in place). 

5)  "door" closures must be critter proof both in sealing the openings (so the top or bottom cannot be pried open allowing access) and with the locking mechanism - coons and such can easily lift latches etc.  but cannot fathom spring clips (like from a dog leash).

6) remember and understand that once identified as a place where food can be obtained predators WILL return, it may not be for a few days, a few months or even a year, but they will note it in their "GPS" in their brains, and they WILL remember when food gets scarce that once, a long time ago, down that stream bed, road, ravine etc. that they got a meal at your place.  Always assume they are out there and protect your livestock accordingly.  And for those of you who have "never had a problem with _________ (raccoon, bobcat, fox, owl, eagle, mink....)", trust me, it is only a matter of time, and up until now you have been either lucky or very vigilant in securing your own livestock.

I understand all these things can be expensive, but start small, put an old baby monitor in the coop (so you can hear when a ruckus starts up), increase fence enclosure heights, string fishing line, add electric fencing or netting.  Post ads on free sites for used metal roofing, fencing, mesh old fishing nets, etc. Often these items are free for the taking, it ensures them a second life and keeps stuff out of landfill; safeguard one enclosure at a time, then restock.  In the long run it will be well worth it.

In closing, yes, please do include your child in all aspects of life, perhaps they have or will develop their own way of coping, their own ritual, but do not shield them, it could make you a liar in their eyes, and they will eventually find out and could lose trust in you.  Please look into doing everything possible to ensure your livestock are not "sitting ducks" trapped in enclosures that have the potential of serving them up as a buffet for local wildlife...it is not fair to them, your child or your wallet.

Good luck.
 
Dale Hodgins
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It might be wise is to allow the child to help or at least watch as new defenses are put in place. This would be a good time to instruct them about predator safety. I don't know if you have anything bigger than a bobcat, lurking outside your door. Cougars are an issue here.

I still remember my mother lying to me about what happens to dead pets and people. I didn't believe any of it. This does affect the relationship. I was never quite sure, if she believed the stuff she was telling the kids. It was expedient. There should have been a long talk about road safety. Our dogs were hit on the road, and it was clear to me that they were in no condition to live in heaven or anywhere else.

I suppose, at some point your child will be old enough to be put in charge of animal safety. It's very important to provide an environment where they can succeed at this. Right now, there's no way that this could be viewed as their fault. Having pets, can really be a negative experience, if the child's actions or lack of action, allow future losses.

I had almost no relationship with my grandmother, on my mother's side. It started with a dead pet. She came to visit, and allowed her dog to roam freely. She was killed on the road, and because I had gone across the road, to see the cows, I was blamed. The dog followed. . I was 4 years old. This was brought up many times over the years. By the time I was 8, it was clear to me that this was not my fault. That was the year when I told the whole family that I was done with the religion that my grandfather preached every Sunday. The adults in my family were very concerned with making sure that all offspring had a proper religious indoctrination. The inconsistent stories about what happens to dead animals, made me question everything they said. I decided that those two grandparents, were not worthy of my respect.
...............
Well, that drifted into some pretty heavy territory. That was my experience. Dead pets are serious business for children, so it's very important that they understand what happened, and why it happened. And, I think it's very important for the parents to accept responsibility and make it clear to the child that they will try harder in the future, to protect their pets.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Lorinne Anderson wrote:

Oh, and please, please, please never tell a child the deceased has "gone to be with god", "been called home by god", "gone to heaven" and especially never "been put to sleep" - these are comforting thoughts for many adults, but children take things literally!  Some think they need to now die so they can go play with Fluffy or be with Grandma, not understanding the permanence of the situation; some think god has either stolen their friend, or their friend was "bad" and had to go; and if you ever want your kid to sleep through the night, do not use the put to sleep euphemism! Be honest, explain that some sicknesses, injuries or situations simply cannot be made better, and help them understand that death is a release from pain, or to provide a meal so that something else doesn't starve.


We make sure that he knows that when a animal dies from illness that they know that the animal becomes nutrients for our garden--we bury the animal under a tree so that the tree is healthier. This kind of backfired for a while, as he went around killing insects and worms so that they "become nutrients"--we had to explain to him time and time again that we don't want animals to become nutrients, and it's better for the animal to be alive. Thankfully he's finally past that! If an animal's body is gone, we talk about how the animal had to eat, just like we do. But, we are Christians. We do believe in heaven. So, when we tell him that we think his cat's spirit is probably in heaven with a new body that has no sickness, we're not lying. And, while I know that many think we shouldn't teach our children our beliefs, I just don't agree.  In my mind, everything that anyone thinks is right or wrong stems from a religious or philosophical belief if they really think about it. If a person thinks it's wrong to talk about heaven, that's their philosophical belief, that they are teaching their kid. And that's fine, in my mind! In a way, it's rather ironic to tell someone--based upon one's belief of what's right--to tell another not to tell their child something that they believe is true.

Buuuut, now I'm getting cider-press-y, so I'm moving on and half-expecting I'll get a nice little note from a mod say, "Hey, can you cut that out of your reply?"



But, I must also address the extensive livestock losses you have faced.  Here is where I think you need to possibly consider re-thinking how they are kept, enclosed and what safety protocols are in place.  It is not fair to keep replacing all these birds and other animals if no steps have been taken to ensure they have a more secure environment to live in.  Perhaps you need to look into electric fencing, netting over the poultry area, more secure fencing, a guardian dog.... 


We have a four-foot chicken wire fence that electrified at the top and at two feet. The skirting of the fence bends out to prevent burrowers. The yard is 1,700 sqft, half of which is yard, and the other half is salmonberries for them to eat and hide in. But, they prefer the grass areas and hate to go to the back side of the yard, and are being a little too hard on the grassy areas...which is not good since part of it also our septic systems' sand filter, which needs grass to thrive. I think I'll cut back the salmonberries to make more lawn for them.... Anyway, the yard is about as secure as I can make it without somehow trying to cover that giant area with a net...

As for their house, it's pretty much Fort Knox. The only thing that can get in is rats, and they probably get in during the day. It has a concrete pad, hardware cloth EVERYWHERE that isn't wood. So when predation gets bad, they pretty much live in their house unless we're outside watching them. But, it's only 8x8 plus four nesting boxes. So while they are safe, it's not a very ducky place to be, and gets rather crowded when we have more ducks.

You can read about it here: https://permies.com/t/37721/critters/Ducks-Safe-Fed-Affordably#316150

Anyway, it's so hard to balance them living good ducky lives foraging on our five acres...or being in big yard...or trapped in a house. I've only had one duck taken from the yard (at that was at night). I detailed my trials here: https://permies.com/t/50703/critters/Ack-Disappearing-Ducks. I've literally had animals snatched at noon, when I was just on the other side of the house. The last time this happened, I kept the ducks in the house for weeks except for maybe an hour for them to bath while I stared at them. After a while of this, we had months of no predation  and I slowly let them range more and more unsupervised, hoping that the bobcat had given up. We've had a few more losses since then, and go back into lock down...and then I feel bad for the ducks and let them forage more... Only to have another loss after months of safety and have to go back into lock down. We've only lost two or three poultry to predators this year--the other three seemed to die of weird illnesses (nothing contagious, according to autopsy), and they all came from one breeder

And please look into ensuring your livestock are not "sitting ducks" trapped in enclosures that have the potential of serving them up as a buffet for local wildlife...it is not fair to them, your child or your wallet.


We've only had one loss in their yard...and that was at dusk and likely an owl. We now put them away hours before sunset. Chicky had flown out of the yard and was next to our house when she was taken. They've got multiple places in the salmonberries to hide in their yard, so I'm really hoping it's secure enough, because I have no idea how to put a net over such a large area .




They are currently locked in their house whenever we're not outside. In their yard when we're outside but not actively watching them, and only free ranging when we're literally staring at them. I'm hoping this is striking a good balance between security and freedom, but I don't know And, I really hate locking them in their house during the day .

a guardian dog
with a three year old and 8 month old, I simply don't have time to train a dog...nor the money to feed one. We'd like to get a dog when the kids are older, but that'll be a few years. We also only want a pretty small flock, between 8 and 18 ducks, which is rather too small--right?--to justify the cost of feeding a dog? We thought about a guardian goose, but those don't seem to stand up to bobcats. I have no illusions of making a profit off of my ducks, but if it costs more to raise them than than we would spend on organic eggs, we really can't justify keeping them on our small budget...

1)  trapping, killing or otherwise eliminating the predatory species will only solve your problems in the short term.  Nature hates a vacuum and another predator will soon fill the void of the one removed. 


My husband really wants to shoot the bobcat--especially since it likely has bobkittens--though I realize that's quite futile. I've tried telling him that, but he's not really listening. I guess he's in the "anger" stage of grief? So now he spends hours watching for it, while my son follows around with whatever he's decided is to pretend is a "gun." I don't think my husband will succeed, and even if he does, it won't help for long. At least my son is learning about gun safety as we're constantly telling him how dangerous guns are and that we don't want animals to die.

David Hernick wrote: Whenever I have lost poultry I have stepped up defenses to be able to keep my animals safe,  but I would ask my self if I should really have poultry if i did not think I could keep them safe.


So very true. It feels like our options are either to stop trying to keep poultry or to deal with a loss of duck every few months. I just don't know what's the best thing to do



Lorinne Anderson wrote: So many adults are handicapped by an inability to deal with death.  I view this is as your opportunity to teach your child that death will come to everything in its time, that it is okay to be sad or to miss their deceased friend.  Help them learn to deal with grief, develop rituals (burial, service, etc.) that allow the healthy expression of grief in whatever way completes this situation in your family.  To deny your child this learning opportunity is to potentially handicap them for life with an inability to deal with a situation that will occur over and over in their life. 


I agree, so very much! Thank you, and everyone else that replied, for reminding me that for something to live, something else must die. It is the natural cycle. Like many, I was raised rather insulated from that cycle. We had some koi eaten by herons, and some dogs and family members die of old age or illness--but we didn't really talk about the natural cycle, or how we eat meat just like the bobcat. For everything to eat, something else must die, whether it is plant or animal. I very much agree that many people today in our country are insulated from dealing with the "little" deaths of pets and livestock, and really cannot deal with the grief of a family member dying, because they never learned to cope. I am glad my son is learning these skills, I just wish he wasn't getting so much experience, and our animals dying so much.
 
Nicole Alderman
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And, I wanted to say thank you to Lorinne Anderson. I looked at my post and realized I ended up responded to a lot of her post, and wanted to make sure it was clear that I am really thankful for the good information, not unhappy or defensive about it!

And, thank you, everyone for replying. This post has really helped me heal and think about what to do from here on out.I really didn't know who to talk to about what had happened, and am so thankful for this community here at Permies!

And, I totally grateful for any more replies that come. This is a great discussion!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Nicole,


Experiencing the great circle of life is one of the hardships and one of the joys we humans get to deal with.
As farmers we raise livestock, most of these animals are food animals to some other animals.
One thing about predators, they normally do not kill except for food.
The death of one of our animals is a hard thing, we have cared for it, nurtured it and then...
comfort is perhaps that our animal fed another and maybe even a new family member.
It doesn't make it easier except from the view of understanding that this is how life works for all creatures.

Redhawk
 
Jessica Milliner
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I feel you on this. My little girl is three and in addition to losing her great-uncle and my parents little dog dying (we live on the same property as them and she spends a lot of time at their house) we also lost 25 chickens and 2 ducks in about a month to a fox (most of the chickens were killed while we were away and a relative was watching them.) She's definitely learned more about death than I hoped she would have at this age. Like you, our birds were killed right in front of our house, and in the middle of the day

My dad and cousin who was watching our animals, have spent a TON of time and energy trying to shoot, trap, snare etc the fox. After returning from our vacation I invested in some electric poultry netting and haven't lost any more birds. If a predator has gotten a meal somewhere, it will always keep returning. In the two months I've had our birds behind electric fence I've seen the fox close to them several times  (it always manages to slip off before I grab the gun! Just because I don't want to spend a lot of time and energy hunting it doesn't mean I wouldn't kill it if I had the chance.) The bobcat won't ever stop coming round. It will come and check, and if there's not an easy meal it will keep going and if it has an opportunity it will take another bird. Your best bet is to protect them with a strong psychological deterrent (a HOT fence).

Anyway, we deal with this with our daughter in a few ways. Firstly, we do not name our farm animals or make pets of them. Our sow who had piglets we call mama pig, and that's as close to a name as any of them have. We also talk to her (nature shows like planet earth help with this!) about how predators have to eat other animals. They don't have any choice and if they didn't kill animals they would die. Having said all that, she did have one buff orpington she named Pingus. When she says she's sad about the fox eating our chickens (which she does mention) I agree it's sad, but there have been a few times when she's said "mama, did the fox eat Pingus?" And I've said "I don't know sweetheart, maybe Pingus went to live in the woods.". Not my proudest moment, but I totally understand what you're saying about it being a lot to process for little ones (bear in mind, we left for a vacation with ~25 chickens, and came back to 6).

BUT kids are resilient! She talks about how she's sad Maddie (my dad's dog) or Uncle Mike died, and I try to always listen to her feelings and agree with her that it's sad, and make sure she knows if she ever wants to talk about it or ask any questions I am here, and she is processing and coming to terms with it in her own time. And really, I think one of the wonderful things about living on a farm is that our children get to see this real stuff of life. Chicks hatching, piglets getting born, and likewise pigs getting sent to the processor to be turned into meat, and death from predators and illness. I wouldnt want to raise her any other way and I don't think your are traumatizing your son. It just takes them a while to process death, the same as it does for all of us.
 
Alef Arendsen
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So, without having read the numerous other replies, I wanted to chime in as well with our experience.

We only had this happen once so far, when a fox came to kill a few of our chickens. Fortunately the kids weren't around to see the mess he / she left behind in the orchard.

We did not show the kids (almost 4 and almost 2) the dead animals but we did immediately decide to do a short ceremony. We had some roses and calendula flowering at the time, took some petals and spread them in a stream running alongside the orchard. The kids did some as well and we thanked the animals for all they did for us (fun, warmth, eggs, chicks, et cetera). Especially and of course the eldest one asked a lot of questions but at no point there was a difficult moment or anything.

I like to think that we continue to do a little ceremony like this; it only took 10 minutes but was very valuable to me and I hope also to the kids.

cheers,
alef
 
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