Cows trim farm cemetery

  • Miles Smith and his family are buried in a cemetery on Miles Smith Farm in Loudon. —Courtesy of Carole Soule

  • Kelsie and her baby outside the cemetery walls, where they are supposed to be. Courtesy of Carole Soule

Monitor staff
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sarah was in labor, so I brought her to the holding area where I could keep watch.

She is a Scottish Highlander cow who had given birth to a lively, healthy calf last year. Sarah was the first of our cows to give birth this year, but this year was not good for her. 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 unexpectedly, 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 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 Miles’ gravestone peaks over the top of it and can be seen from the farmhouse he built. The cemetery, like so many family plots in New Hampshire, 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 1930s. 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.

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 Sargents, burned in the 1860s and was never rebuilt. The oldest grave is from 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, 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 just 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. Who knows, I might get away with it!

(Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, where she sells locally-raised beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other products in the on-farm solar powered store and at farmers markets, restaurants and retail stores in the state. She can be reached at cas@milessmithfarm.com.)