Plan all you like, homestead life is a daily prioritization of what absolutely needs to be accomplished today. The farm doesn’t care about your plans. She has her own agenda, and takes Hera’s pleasure in tormenting us. The weather, animals, and kids frequently run on their own timetable, as well. Getting events to occur when we want them to is a never-ending struggle.
My farm craps all over my plans every chance she gets.
It’s not so much the half dozen emergencies that pop up every day, but the emergencies created by the emergencies. A collapsed shelf in the garage leads to a rotted stud leads to a scavenger hunt for tools that were supposed to be in my tool belt which leads to “Honey, the dog barfed” which leads to a trip to Home depot where I buy a replacement tool for the lost one, a ceiling fan that’s on sale for too cheap not to buy, crown molding in the perfect profile that I’ll never have time to put up, and the obligatory trip through the garden department for plants.
By now, I should know better than to even try fighting it.
Butchering is one of those time-consuming chores that tends to be put off the most by farmstead emergencies. Once started, there aren’t many points where you can say, “Let’s finish this tomorrow,” so even a minor hiccup can push butchering to a whole different day.
Add in some bad weather (I still butcher outdoors) and a parent-teacher conference, and the next thing you know, the meat is not quite so tender. At least, there’s more of it, so I’ve got that going for me.
“It’s only a few more days of feeding them. It’s not a big deal,” we tell each other. “Things come up, right?”
That’s how you wind up running a petting zoo instead of a farm.
We’ve been fairly successful getting our rabbits to breed. Not that our breeding buck Sampson needs much encouragement. He’s always enthused about the project. The does usually aren’t, but they oblige by closing their eyes and thinking of England.
I was out of town for work this week (an occurrence that disrupts writing entirely too often) and my wife texted me concerned about one of our rabbits. He seemed to be having some mild respiratory difficulty after several days of rain.
After a similar experience in January that necessitated culling four of an eight-rabbit litter and turning the master bedroom bathtub into an Intensive Care Unit for the survivors, my wife immediately segregated him from the rest.
We actually only had to put down three. The fourth died while we were running to the co-op for antibiotics.
Respiratory ailments are a pretty common occurrence in rabbits. At least, they are on my farm. It’s probably a function of using rabbit tractors as grow-out cages. You have to be cognizant of placement and keep a sharp eye on them to catch problems early.
In a perfect world, everybody would have their own cage up off the ground and under a four-sided structure with an opaque roof that let in sunshine. I don’t live in a perfect world.
My breeders are treated like gold. They get their own private cage in the Rabbit Condo, but the ones going to Camp Frigidaire live a more Spartan life. They get ample food, water, shelter, and enough handling to keep them from going feral, but ultimately, they are livestock.
Even with their relatively spoiled existence, the breeders don’t see a veterinarian, either. The replacement cost simply doesn’t justify the vet bills. My homestead is a business; not an animal sanctuary.
If it can’t be fixed on the farm, whatever that rabbit has wrong with it will likely be fatal. That’s just the hard, economic reality.
We formulated a quick plan that began with isolation and ended with putting him down, if he wasn’t better in a few days. We attributed the missing fur to him getting beaten up by the other rabbits because the edges were too defined and consistent to be the result of illness.
The upshot was that we might be addressing two problems by separating out one rabbit, instead of having to deal with two problems spread across two rabbits. As much as it turns into victim blaming and runs counter to my sense of fairness, managing livestock turns homesteaders into prison wardens.
One animal beating up on the others can be corrected by separating out the problem animal, and ultimately be cured by invoking the “behave or be eaten” policy, but when the entire recreation yard turns on one inmate, the only effective action is to pull that one poor bastard out of the general population.
So, inmate number 122 (I don’t name my eating animals) was placed in a single-man cage, given antibiotics, had his wounds dressed, and generally made as comfortable as possible.
And the little turd only grew sicker.
By late evening, Mrs. Carlos came to the realization this fella would likely have to be put down, which is always a bummer because it is meat lost. Out of a twisted sense of gratitude, we don’t eat our breeding stock, and neither do we eat animals that were felled by illness.
As I would be out of town for a while, and Mrs. Carlos hasn’t a sufficiently hard heart to fill the role of Grim Reaper to animals she has raised, the responsibility fell to my oldest son. He was already in bed, so the ailing rabbit was given overnight to show signs of improvement or Carlos, Jr. would be given a lesson in manhood before boarding the school bus; namely, protect those you love from nightmares.
Whether you assume them for others, protect from them, or cause them, nightmares are part of being a warrior.
A year ago, I wrote about the ISIS-run slave markets that had popped up in Mosul. I can only imagine this was about what it was like for the unfortunate inmate number 122 to be incorrectly sexed and placed in the male grow-out pen.
Yeah. We screwed the pooch on that one.
Actually, it didn’t have anything to do with a dog, and neither of us, as far as I can recall, participated in what I suppose was the most stealthy episode of rabbit gang rape in history. I just imagine nonchalant cellmates acting as lookouts and signaling the others to be cool whenever a human approached. It must have looked like a cross between a Disney movie and Midnight Express.
How do I come to this conclusion? Seven sleek, wriggling little creatures that vaguely resembled rabbits piled into a corner of the cage were the first indication that a grievous error had be committed.
Law enforcement types call that a clue.
In our defense, rabbit genitalia is notoriously nebulous. Sexing a rabbit is tricky and far from definite, even for experienced rabbit ranchers. Mix-ups happen, but they are embarrassing, so not a lot of people admit to them.
As would be expected of an unplanned litter kitted in an unprepared cage, none survived in the end. We are uncertain of the combination of causes; Mamma’s youth and inexperience kitting, unprepared housing, or even perhaps, smothering while attempting to keep them warm. I don’t know about the likelihood of that last reason.
We tightly control breeding, so the does kindle on a schedule that fits best with the rhythm of our farm. At this point, it’s mostly based on freezer space. Even if we were filling a demand for rabbit beyond personal consumption, I’m not sure I like the idea of letting the rabbits set their own breeding schedule. That’s why I’m not terribly enamored with the colony approach. It’s just not for us, right now.
And here is why my wife is a far better human being than I am.
My initial impulse was to cull the remaining kit. Mamma had a ticket on the bullet train for either Freezer Camp or Compost City that would be departing long before the kit weaned, and there was no wet-nurse available.
This is exactly why we time litters to coincide, so we can redistribute kits to balance the workload. Rabbit nursing is a socialist endeavor on our homestead.
I’m not used to culling out such small creatures, so I had to weigh my options. While I stood contemplating the most humane and least messy method of accomplishing my task, Mrs. Cunha’s mothering instinct kicked in, and she snatched the kit up before I could.
Despite the doe seemingly on the mend, she still harbored a respiratory ailment, and my wife wasn’t about to relinquish her new foster child to Typhoid Mary.
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