By Jennifer Woolwine

Death On The Homestead


baghdad to barnyard

February 26, 2022

Summer Sunset with mountain views on the farm

Whether you have a barnyard full of animals, or a singular four-legged friend, you will experience loss. I wish I could say it gets easier, but it doesn’t. It’s gut-wrenching EVERY SINGLE TIME. Death makes you question the homestead lifestyle if you’re a farmer or homesteader like me. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and it can be physically and mentally challenging. We’ve suffered several losses on the farm over the years, and while you’re never fully prepared for death on the homestead, you expect it. Animals get sick, injured, or killed by predators, but all you can do is your best.

Our experience with animal loss

We’ve lost a Pekin duck to an owl, two baby chicks to a weasel, three peafowls to a black bear, a bunny to an obstruction, and a chinchilla to an unknown cause. We brought our senior flock members into our basement this winter. We had some exciting mornings with roosters crowing in the house at 5 am, but I felt better knowing they were spending their nights warm instead of freezing in the coop. This past week, we lost one of our senior hens, Brownie. I didn’t see any signs, symptoms, or a change in her behavior leading up to it. There was no evidence of mites, worms, or lice, and I hoped it was just her time.

Brownie was attached to the hip of our rooster, Duke. He was so depressed and spent all day looking for her. That night, I brought the flock in and spent one-on-one time with Duke. He fell asleep in my arms. The following day, I didn’t wake up at 5 am. I knew something was wrong and saw Duke had passed away during the night. It was heartbreaking, and I worried the whole flock might be at risk.

The vet came out a few days later and looked over our remaining flock. She ran additional testing but found no evidence of infestation, illness, or signs of Avian Influenza. I wish we had waited to bury Duke and Brownie because it’s hard not knowing why they left us so suddenly.  The vet told us to be thankful they didn’t suffer and went peacefully in their sleep. It’s painful losing them so quickly, but it’s how you wish all your animals left this world.

Backyard Flock- Black and White Rooster with Grey and White Hen and Brown Hen

All animals receive the same level of care.

On our homestead, all our animals receive the same level of care. We don’t differentiate between pets and livestock. I know not everyone feels the same way or you might have limited resources. If your dog needs a 5k surgery, most pet owners don’t hesitate, but if your goat or cow needs the same surgery, you might consider other options.

We don’t have children and enjoy providing the best care for our animals because our animals ARE our children. When they hurt, we would rather sacrifice something for ourselves if it means it can help that animal. If we had children or a large family, we would have to be practical and choose the best option for the whole family.

Veterinarian appointment with our sick goat

Our experience with animals before the farm

Growing up, David and I had limited experience managing death on the homestead. We did not have indoor pets, and money was tight, so they didn’t receive vet care. Sadly, most of our animals were dropped off at a pound or put down if they were sick or injured. We were both told the white lie, “We took your pet to live on a farm.” multiple times. I think that’s why we share the same goals for our homestead regarding pet care. I can’t forget how helpless I felt as a child, watching an animal suffer and being unable to do anything about it. Now, anytime I notice something off with one of my animals, I get them checked out by the vet for peace of mind.

“Pets are humanizing. They remind us we must preserve, nurture, and care for all life.”

— James Cromwell

Each homestead is unique

Most homesteads raise animals for a multitude of reasons. Whether they provide your family with eggs, milk, and meat or serve as breeding stock, land improvement, or fertilizer, every animal has a purpose. It’s one of the reasons I love being a part of the agriculture community. The homesteading community includes people from all diverse backgrounds and social classes, and while we share similar goals and dreams, each homestead is uniquely different.

You don’t have to raise animals for meat to be a homesteader. You don’t have to cook every meal from scratch or grow your food. Homesteading is not just one thing. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle. It’s what you make of it.

Whether you rent an apartment, own a farm, have a huge garden, or a patio garden, raise animals for meat, or raise animals for companionship, all homesteading versions are perfectly acceptable!

managing death on the homestead

Most homesteaders seek self-sustainability, which means adopting a frugal mindset and making the most of limited resources. For example, if you’re raising livestock for meat, you’re not going to spend much on vet bills. Common sense, right? Maybe your kids fell in love with several baby chicks, and you decided to keep the whole flock. They quickly grew up and became roosters, and now your flock is constantly fighting. You dispatch the roosters for the safety of your flock and your children. Besides, you’re not going to spend the money for a vet to euthanize them when they can provide meat for your family. Regardless of what you raise your animals for, animals raised on a responsible homestead will have a better, healthier life than those raised on huge industrial meat farms.

Death is a natural part of life.

Death on the homestead is a natural part of life. We’ve had our fair share of loss, and it doesn’t get easier. We are constantly learning and have become stronger, more challenging, and wiser in the end. Whether you spend thousands of dollars on your animals or a small amount, it doesn’t mean the animals are loved any less.

The loss of a beloved animal is never easy. If you recently lost a pet, please feel free to reach out to me anytime. We can cry together while swapping stories about our beloved furry and feathered friends and I’ll send you the biggest virtual hug.

Try to remember the beautiful memories you created together and feel comfortable knowing your animal was well-loved and cared for.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

— Anatole France

XO, Jen

Baghdad to Barnyard. Death on the Homestead

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  1. Jenn says:

    I’m so sorry for your losses!!!!. Maybe Duke passed from a broken heart?.

    • You know that’s what we said after the vet gave the rest of the flock a clean bill of health-Maybe he didn’t want to live without her??? I hate not having answers, but they were around 8/9 years old. At least they lived a good life at the farm! They will both be missed dearly!

  2. Tracy Thomas says:

    That’s so sad!!!!!!!!!!

Jen Woolwine       Author

Jen is a combat veteran and wife who is passionate about animal rescue, homesteading, and mental health advocacy. Jen's amazing journey of transitioning from military service to homesteading can be followed on her blog and social media platforms @baghdadtobarnyard.

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