Sometimes one of the babies don’t make it. Sometimes a seed doesn’t come up. Sometimes a plant dies, the honey bees leave, the eggs don’t hatch or the dog eats your new Japanese Maple tree. It doesn’t always work out and in those times, it is sad. It is a time of anger, sorrow, hurt and all kinds of tough feelings. And there are tears.
Life on the Farm is not always beautiful with warm feelings and budding flowers. I know from the outside, it may seem like that at times, but to have the tomatoes, you have to hoe out the weeds and deal with the rain. When a baby chicken hatches out of an egg or the hummingbirds come back for the first time – it is all worth it.
The day we brought home our rabbit flock was a catastrophe in every way. I had spoken with the guy that we purchased from in depth before we arrived to make our purchase. I had talked about the bloodlines, litter production, health of the rabbits and everything that I thought I needed to know to make the purchase and transition into rabbit farming. We had even made a deal to buy two of his rabbit cages to get us started.
We showed up to the house the day before we were going to make the purchase, just to check everything out. We drove the Buick. We knew that if we drove the Buick, we would NOT be taking rabbits home with us, so we knew we could force ourselves to go home and discuss the ramifications of stepping into the meat rabbit business before making the purchase.
Kelly and I are both emotional and rational beings. Due to our previous lives in business management, military action, business ownership, photography and sales management, we understand that the decision-making process is generally either emotional or rational. We always seem to balance each other out. If there is something Kelly is more passionate about, I can always play the devil’s advocate and walk through the rational pros and cons of the decision. She does the same for me, which makes it a surprise that we have a meal worm farm growing in our mudroom. We are incredible at communicating with each other and being respectful of each other’s feelings when emotion is involved. That can be a tricky landscape to navigate and we have learned that process in a very short period of time. I love that.
We showed up the day before and assessed the option of buying this man’s rabbit herd. When we pulled up, ration almost took over before we could even get out of our vehicle. The land was amazing that this farmer lived on. It was on top of a hill, overlooking a breathtaking view on three sides. It was the sort of place where people dream of building their home. BUT…. This was not a dream home. There was stuff everywhere. That’s the only way I can describe it. Stuff that should have been thrown away in the 90’s had found its forever home here on top of the mountain. Plastic 5 gallon buckets were strewn every where and old wasted away children’s items could be seen in every direction. A rusted tricycle, a cracked plastic pool, an old plastic Little Tykes backyard set half disassembled with decade old fungus growing on it. You can imagine the scene.
Kelly went into ration mode. “If he cares about his property like this, how does he care about his rabbits?” Which is a valid point and one that we take into consideration in our dealings. This idea is why the appearance of our farm is so important to us as we grow. We want people to walk onto our property and know we care. If we care about how our flower garden looks, we hope that translates into how much we care about the tomatoes we grow or the eggs we have gotten from our hens, or the quality of the rabbit meat someone is here to purchase.
We knocked on the door and a grizzled old man answered. He looked like he had not shaved in weeks, his hair was scattered and he wore a stained, hole filled t-shirt. He explained that his son was still getting ready and offered us a cup of coffee. We graciously declined. We sat together on his couch. It was an awkward situation, because we were not expecting to sit and wait on the guy we were there to see. We had specifically set up a time the day before and I had called him 30 minutes before we arrived to confirm the scheduled time was still good. Yet, here we sat waiting, like a guy waiting for his date on prom night. Awkward.
Eventually, he came out of the back, pulling his belt through his pants loops and started casual conversation. Like this was normal. I was beginning to side with Kelly on the more rational side of our decision-making process.
This is when he started to make the sale. He pulled out his record keeping book for the rabbits. He had a massive notebook that kept dates and times and weights of rabbits. It told when rabbits had been bred, by rabbit number and pen number. It told the history of each rabbit in litter size, when they were bred, how many offspring survived and how many of each gender. It was obvious he had a passion for his rabbits.
We then took a walk to his rabbit hutch. It was not good. It was dark and smelled bad. Two strikes against him. There was still blood from where they had slaughtered animals, uncleaned right there in the hutch. There were rabbits loose that had found a way to escape their pen. The pens were in bad shape. It was not a good scene.
We looked over the rabbits. They were healthy. They had their ears tattooed and seemed happy. They looked disease free. It was obvious that he had been doing this a very long time and it appeared to be a profitable situation, so we could not understand why he was selling his herd. We talked about where he sold his rabbits, how much he generally got for them and how many he raised a year. The quick math in my head told me that he wasn’t getting rich off the rabbit business, but he was making a decent side-income and he definitely wasn’t losing money. So I asked the hard question: “Why are you selling your herd?”. This answer would determine if we bought or not. After assessing the living conditions, the rabbit health, the profit potential, the potential losses, the time we would need to dedicate and all the rational sides of the decision making process, it really boiled down to this answer. After all, why would we want to get into a business that someone was getting out of? He walked us to the back corner of the dark and smelly room. There in a cage very close to the ground was the answer. It was also the answer to the smell (rabbit manure does not have a smell). There in a brightly lit 4 foot by 4 foot cage was about 200 quail. The grass seemed greener for this guy. He was getting into the quail business and wanted the space to expand his operation. I had also done a lot of research on this livestock option and had been talking to Kelly about it. Low cost of entry, high turnover in product, low cost to feed and four ways to make money. We knew this was a good livestock option, but weren’t quite ready to make that move. It was a good answer for us. He had done the math and the space he had dedicated to his rabbits could make a higher gain in profit with birds.
We told him we would go home and make our decision and let him know by the end of the day. We went home and did more research on the breeds he had, we checked the potential market for how much profit potential we had and worked our way through the rational side of making the leap. Everything added up and we were ok with buying from this gentleman. It was an instant herd and we could have income potential from them in less than 2 months.
We took our truck and trailer the next morning to bring our boys and girls home. We bought two of his cages and told ourselves that they would be ok until we built our own. We got home and started cleaning one set of the cages wile the other sat upside down on our trailer, holding most of the rabbits. Once the first cage was cleaned up, touched up with paint and moved into place, we settled the does in, four to a cage, until we could get the rest of the cages built.
When we moved the rabbits, there on the floor of the trailer laid a newborn baby. That was a surprise. None of our rabbits had been bred according to what we had been told. We quickly started checking all of the does to see which one could be the mama. There was a doe that had pulled all of her hair off of her belly, so it was assumed this was the one. This is what rabbits do when they prepare to have a litter. They use the fur to make a nest for the newborn babies and it clears all the hair so the babies can find their milk. We isolated the new mama and I quickly built her a nesting box. We went back to work on the cages.
By the next day, the single baby that had been born had died. I am not sure how long it was sitting alone out in the sun, but he didn’t make it. There were no more babies and the mama wasn’t doing anything to prepare her nest box. We talked to the guy and he looked through his records and we had received a rabbit from him by mistake. He had intended to keep all of the pregnant does. He explained that the stress of the move probably caused the mother to birth one prematurely and that more should be coming in the next 2-3 days.
We found out that we had the wrong rabbit picked out for the mom the hard way. This was devastating. I had just been in the rabbit coup building a new rabbit cage and gone in for a drink. I couldn’t have been gone more than 10 minutes and when I returned, Madre (as she is named today) had given birth to about 8 more babies. She did this while in a pen with 3 other does. I won’t go into detail, but it is a natural instinct of mother rabbits to limit the competition from other litters. I saved 2. We honored the lives of the ones lost by building a pyre and taking a few quiet moments to reflect on life and death on the farm with Grace and Brylee from next door. It was a good moment in a bad situation.
We transferred the two babies into the new pen with the nesting box and moved Madre in with them. She wouldn’t have anything to do with the babies. We purchased kit milk and mixed it with some cream and syringe fed them. They loved it. We put baby powder on the babies and rubbed baby powder on Madre’s nose to help her take to the babies. The next morning we returned to find the little babies in the box with big, fat bellies. Madre was nursing!
These two miracles from heaven have thrived. They are now 47 days old and probably should be out of the pen from Madre, but they all love each other. The emotional side of the decision making about the babies comes from Kelly. The last thing we need on the Farm is more pets, but I was not about to argue the rational side of this with the girls. These were the first animals born on the Farm since we had been here. They weren’t conceived here, so that will be another milestone, but this is the ONLY home these little babies have ever known. They get held every day and have even been introduced to the dogs.
Sometimes it is tough on the Farm and we have death and destruction and the dogs tear things up and projects take longer than they should or the sink breaks flooding soapy water into the kitchen. Some days we have beautiful babies we feed with syringes that grow into beautiful bunnies. There is a lot of emotion in decisions made and we try to use logic whenever you can, but sometimes you throw logic out the window and have two pet baby bunnies named Bouncer and Pouncer.