From Our Farm to Your Table

Cows in the Cemetery?

Thu, 2017-05-25 19:38 -- Carole Soule
Miles Smith Headstone

Sarah was in labor so I brought her to the holding area where I could keep watch. Sarah is a Scottish Highlander cow who had given birth to a lively, healthy calf last year. She was the first of our cows to give birth this year but this year was not good for Sarah.

I found the black bull calf shortly after it was born, dead. Thankfully Sarah was fine and didn't seem upset about her lost calf. When farm animals die unexpectantly we bury them on the property. If we dragged them into the woods coyotes would eat them and develop a taste for farm animals, something we we don't want to encourage.

Besides an animal cemetery we also have a people cemetery where the farm's founders, Miles Smith, his wife Eliza, daughters and baby grandson, are buried. The cemetery is surrounded by a stone wall but Mile's gravestone peaks over the top of the wall and can be seen from the farmhouse he built. The cemetery, like so many family plots in NH, is in the middle of a pasture. It is not uncommon to see a graveyard next to the road or hidden deep in the woods.

Headstones are the perfect height to rub itchy cow necks and the rough granite helps cattle shed winter coats. The stone wall surrounding the cemetery was built in the 1930's. The stone wall and secure gates keep the herd out of the cemetery … when we remember to shut the gate. A few weeks ago I took a small group into the cemetery and on leaving, didn't securely latch the gate. The next morning I found cows lying among the headstones some of which had been pushed over. Thankfully no headstones were broken. The cows had eaten all the poison ivy in this little cemetery and trimmed the graves better than any weed whacker but they also left plenty of “fertilizer” which I cleaned up.

Kelsie and her calf outside the cemetery

The next day we re-installed the knocked over headstones and except for one, got them all standing. This graveyard holds former residents of the three farms on our hill. Two of the farm houses are still standing, one, owned by the Sargent's, burned in the 1860's and was never rebuilt. The oldest grave is 1843; the most recent is 2000. The cemetery is “full” and won't accept any more residents but we've made room outside the walls in the field for an animal cemetery.

My black lab, Shadow, and a horse named Spin as well as cats, rabbits and calves are buried in the animal cemetery. And while there is no space in the people cemetery, I'm planning for a “green burial” near where my beloved animals are buried. Since I want to live with as few toxic chemicals in my life as possible, why not be buried chemical free as well. Did you know it is legal to be buried on your own property? With a death certificate and a backhoe and I can be buried here on my hilltop farm, no casket, no embalming, no nothing. Just me and the earth.

Until that day rolls around, not soon I hope, I'll do my best to keep our small cemetery cattle free even though they did a good job trimming around the headstones. Maybe a “controlled” grazing with a few small cattle would keep the cemetery neat and as long as they don't use the gravestones for a scratching post.  Maybe Miles Smith, who was a farmer himself, would enjoy the sounds of cows and a trim around his headstone.  As long as they leave his stone standing, I don't think he'd mind.  

The other day the Loudon American Legion stopped by to plant flags for the Veterans buried in the Cemetery.  Unfortunately, they didn't latch the gate well when they left and the cattle found their way in again.  The cattle knocked over the flags the Legion planted so I'm on a mission to find replacement flags before Memorial Day to honor the veterans and their service to the country.  Now to find a better lock for that pesky gate!

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