Thursday, August 11, 2011

When Being Humane is Hard

Typically being humane to animals involves such activities as feeding, caring and managing them in ways that improves their well-being, and brings feel-good feelings to the person doing the actions. Ranchers are exposed to a lot of these feel-good situations since our lifestyle demands almost constant contact with animals, and we are continuously working to improve their health, performance, environment and anything else that presents itself. We thrive when our animals thrive.

But, not every instance of treating an animal humanely is a feel-good, everything's going to be great for the animal and us, situation. There are times when doing what is best for the animal is difficult, and lots of people shy away from these situations, or don't keep the animal's best interest in mind so they don't have to deal with the attached human emotions.

Ranchers are faced with these same scenarios, when what's best for the animal isn't going to be the easiest emotional choice for them as a person.

I, and later my entire family, was faced with such a situation last night. I was riding a colt, checking water and pairs, when I came upon a down (can't stand up) bull. He most likely got in a fight with another bull, and was shoved off a steep incline.

He was terribly, terribly dehydrated because of the summer heat in Wyoming. I gave him a critical once-over, and couldn't determine what was wrong. There was no swelling, visible broken bones, or other obvious visible signs of what was wrong. I jogged my colt home, grabbed a couple water buckets, and Holly and I immediately returned, and found the bull on his other side.

Can you see his back leg? Something is broken in there, and that's why he can't stand. I knew at that point he would never survive his injuries.

Now, some may rant that we should have a vet look at him, perhaps perform surgery, etc...

We didn't have a vet look at him because the diagnosis was obvious. I honestly do not know if a vet can even perform a surgery to repair a broken leg in a bull. Even if he could, he would never fully recover, and be able to survive in any sort of natural environment. Surgery would also be extremely cost-prohibited and the odds of success are very low. It's just a viable option in this scenario.

Holly and I hauled buckets of water to him by hand, until he had drank his full. Upon returning home I found out that my dad and brother would be home that night, so the responsibility of euthanizing the bull wouldn't fall on my shoulders. No rancher ever wants to put one of their animals down. We realize that we are raising livestock to be harvested for food, but we also care deeply for our animals, and do everything in our power to keep them healthy and thriving during the time we have them. It's also very sobering and sad to see any animal in pain, as this guy was.

I should also clarify that this bull was bought as a breeding animal, which means his primary purpose was not to be harvested for meat. We spent thousands of dollars to purchase him for his physical appearance, genetic potential, and several other criteria we carefully and thoroughly select for in each of our breeding animals. His injury was very expensive to our operation.

But, all emotional and economical investments aside, as the owners of this bull we had to do what was in his best interest. As I previously mentioned, he was not going to survive his injuries, and prolonging the inevitable was only to result in more pain and discomfort for him, and was unfair to him. Putting him down, as quickly and painlessly as possible, was clearly the most humane thing to do, if not the easiest.

So that's what we did. I pondered long and hard whether to share this story, because it isn't an easy one to absorb or understand. But this is the real world of ranching, and I believe people have a right to know the happy and sad aspects of my lifestyle, and the choices we make in order to always do what's in the best interest of the animals we raise, even when they're extremely hard on us.


  1. Great post. Although, it may have been hard you did what was best for the animal. It is never fun when animals get hurt.

  2. this is a really great post... I'm glad you shared with your readers. It's insight into an aspect of ranching struggles and that I, and probably a lot of your readers, are unfamiliar with.

  3. I too am glad to read your post. Sometimes in blog land, in my opinion...some readers have an unrealistic view of "homesteading." We too have had to do "humane" things - never easy, never fun! However, I do believe that posting about the "real" problems that occur in "homesteading" is important for those who are dreaming of doing it someday. I feel sometimes bloggers read everything and anything about how to do something - but are clueless "in practice". So, I too post about the good, bad and ugly. Blessings from Wisconsin! Nice pictures!

  4. Thanks for sharing. It's important for those outside of ag to understand just how difficult it is for us to deal with situations like this - when animals simply aren't going to recover no matter what we do. As my vet says in regard to euthanasia, 'it's what we can do for them.'