Life and Death of Our Cow, pt 2: Explaining Death to a Toddler

This week continues to remind us of the early offerings of spring. Things are starting to pick up, but it will be another slim week for SFF at the Market. CSA members, please remember the abundance that comes with late May-September. At the market this week, Eric will have eggs, stew hens, chicken feet, green garlic, leeks, transplants of tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, fennel and basil. Next week we should have radishes, spinach, green onions, carrots, and more!

Thank you all for your kind words about Maple. She really was a great cow and we miss her terribly. After Maple died, Milo and I hurried over to Jeanne’s. As we arrived Jeanne and Eric were standing in the drive. As we approached them Eric asked what we should tell Milo. We ultimately decided we should let Milo see Maple. It was a tough decision, as even I really didn’t want to go see her. Eric told Milo that Maple had died. Of course Milo had no idea what this meant. As we went into the barn Milo saw Maple and the calf. He greeted the calf with, “Good morning, bull calf!” Which was followed by a, “Get up Maple.”

We have had numerous discussions with Milo about being cautious around Maple. We have allowed him to be in the barn with her when she was in the stanchion, but have told him he had to go to the other side of the barn door when she was going in and out.

Milo continued, “Get up, Maple, get up.” As I started to sob, Eric told Milo, “Maple will never get up Milo. She’s not able to get up ever again.” We sat and watched Maple for a minute. Milo finished with, “Maple not getting up, ever.”

Milo and I got in the car and went to school. I sobbed the whole way. By the time we got to school I looked like a puffy, wet mess. As I dropped Milo off I explained to the teachers that our cow had died. Milo assured the obvious, “Mama’s crying. She’s sad.” But no mention of Maple.

Over the last two days we can hear a cow mooing, or pass a herd on the way home. Milo has asked about going to see Maple a few times, I have reminded him, “Milo, Maple died. We won’t get to see her in person ever again. We can look at pictures, and we may see her in our sleep, but we won’t ever get to pet her again.”

I’m sure if a child psych professor at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics were to read this, we would quickly be told how we screwed this up. I’m sure some of your are judging our decision to share this with Milo. We figure that life and death is such a part of farm life, we had to introduce the topic at some point.

Have you had to explain death to a little one in your life? What did you tell them? How did they respond?

UPDATE: W.G. the bull calf, has gone to live at Farmer Bill’s. He will be surrounded by another calf who lost his mama, and numerous other mama cows. He will be loved and cared for, fortunately we can visit him anytime we want.


About saltforkfarms

A small organic farm in Iowa that raises Standard Breed laying hens and hybrid broiler chickens suited for a pasture-based system, as well as varieties of vegetables and fruit suitable to our Eastern Iowa climate. We grow food, we eat food, we sell food!
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5 Responses to Life and Death of Our Cow, pt 2: Explaining Death to a Toddler

  1. anti jen says:

    Who would judge how you told Milo, who will be a farm boy? The life and death cycle are part of your lives, and how should you have told him? That Maple was now with the fairy cows in heaven? I’m sure the process of talking about death on the farm will evolve, but for now, Milo understands that Maple is gone, Mom is sad about it, and now he’s on to the next thing. Pretty healthy looking from the outside, looking in. Love to our Salt Fork Family.

  2. Teri says:

    I think you managed this perfectly. Milo has learned a valuable lesson in life, we may lose something or someone but we have memories to cherish and in this case something very special is left behind for us to love. You are a very special family!

  3. Carrie says:

    You did a great job Eve! Brenden (2) didn’t really get what we were telling him when Sophie died. We let the boys come w/us when we burried her in the side yard this morning. I don’t think they really understood it. Jacob (4) was upset once we came back to the house, but I think that’s because he saw Curt & I were. I think you are right–shielding them from sad things won’t teach them how to cope when sad things happen to them. Unfortunately, death is a part of life here on earth anyway and we as parents need to give our kids tools so they know how to handle it~the good & the bad.

  4. Sue says:

    You handled it perfectly. Milo is a smart and beautiful boy who will grow up with a sensitivity that will make him a compassionate man.

  5. Berit says:

    Aw. How difficult for you. For what it’s worth, I think you did well, mama. Hugs to Milo, and to you.

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