Throughout my 4-H and FFA career, my livestock of choice was rabbits. It happened primarily by accident, but I’m glad it did happen. Up until my sophomore year of college, I was elbow-deep in rabbit poo and pine shavings and fur. (The fur is what I eventually developed an allergy to.)
Today, a friend of mine, Mike Haley, wrote a blog post about losing calves during bad weather on the farm. It definitely plucked at my heartstrings, because of the lessons I learned from raising rabbits as a kid.
I joke that someday I’d love to have “real” livestock, but in all reality, we operated the rabbit business much like a farm. We had breeding schedules, kindling (birthing) seasons, we kept records, we had triumphs, and we experienced losses. I’ll never forget how much I cried when I found out my award-winning herd buck (or herd sire) had died prematurely, without cause. I thought about selling out then and there. There were litters lost to cold, poor mothering instincts, or sickness.
Rabbit farming was fun, but it had its ups and downs, and definitely served as a sample of what raising “real” livestock can be like. My heart goes out to Mike and Pam today, because I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve had to separate lost kits from their confused, distraught mothers. I’ve had to administer care, and I’ve held tiny, furry babies in their last moments, unable to do anything more but offer warmth.
Mike isn’t the only friend of mine who has experienced loss. Michele Payn-Knoper, another friend of mine that I met through #AgChat, recently had to have her favorite heifer (young female cow, in layman’s terms) put down. She was heartbroken that she was unable to help her beloved heifer. Farmers care.
So while I may not have learned my hard lessons from cattle or hogs or other mainstream livestock, I can safely say I empathize. I know what it’s like to do chores in below-zero temps. I know what it’s like to watch helplessly while a sick animal fights for its life. I can safely and confidently say that farmers pour their hearts and souls into caring for their animals. There may be a few bad apples, but we can’t let them spoil the whole bunch; we can’t let assumptions rule that because one practices poor stewardship, all do.
I know. I’ve been there. I’ve been the one working hard to keep animals warm and fed and watered and healthy in the worst of the worst weather. I know the people who do it every day for a living. This is the reality. Farmers really do care.