There has been some heartfelt times around the urban homestead recently. Our doe rabbit Apple had stopped producing reliable litters of kits, and so for the first time we put one of our breeding rabbits on the dinner table.
I have some precedents in my childhood, particularly when Abby the Goat finally got too old. Abby was a great goat, a good mother, a productive milker, and a lovely person to be around. She was so old, by the time my family killed her, that she was sure to be tough as an old boot, and so we turned every bit of her into Ground Goat. Many the dinner of spaghetti and meat sauce came with a fond remembrance of Abby and a story of living with her.
So, I have some precedent, but I had never killed one of my own breeding animals.
Killing Apple was hard.
We tried a new kill method and that was excellent so Apple truly died as peacefully as you could imagine, literally with a mouthful of clover.
To fill Apple’s spot we bought Lucia, a piebald doe—what the rabbit breeders call a broken colouration.
Lucia came bred, which is maybe good or maybe bad because we still don’t know if our buck Apollo is part of the problem. Lucia is not so used to human contact and charges quite a bit. But she has quickly learned that the green deliciousness we bring is not to be feared.
And then Lucia kindled—a litter of one small kit.
So it begins.
I guess someone who “produces” rabbits would have other litters they could introduce little Bun-bun to, so it would be warmed by the cuddle puddle of cuteness.
Or perhaps someone who produces rabbits would have just snapped Bun-bun’s neck and tossed it on the shit that accumulates under the cages in a production barn.
Carmen brought Bun-bun in at night, and tucked it in a nest of Lucia’s belly hair and straw, so it would survive the chill. In the morning, she took it outside to nurse.
I say it because after several days of this, Bun-bun died, and we never sexed it to know if it was male or female.
We tried to keep it alive, knowing a single kit would usually die. Next time we will try something else.
Bun-bun’s death occasions a lot of thought.
There was only one end for Bun-bun, and that was an untimely demise—though untimely is difficult to define, since in the wild Bun-bun may have died at birth or within days. Rabbits have many kits for a reason.1 If Bun-bun matured enough to venture outside the den there are eagles and hawks, dogs and cats. Foxes? Weasels? Mink? I don’t know. But like I say, rabbits have many kits for a reason.
On our homestead, Bun-bun would have spent four months being moved to fresh grass every day. It would have snacked on blackberry canes and carrot tops, as well as any dandelions we pulled from the garden. Bun-bun would have torn around on those powerful and delicious hind legs, frolicking in sunshine and reclining in rain—droplets beading on its fur.
Would it grow to be piebald like Lucia?
Anyhow. Four months, and then we would have put Bun-bun in our stew pot, probably in the Portuguese style. We would have scraped Bun-bun’s hide and tanned it to gift, or to work into something lovely.
Should I be sad? I am. As Stephen Jenkinson says, “You don’t have to like death, but you do have to befriend it.” I never like it, and I am tearing up and congesting as I read over these words.
Bun-bun would die regardless—by hypothermia or predator or the stew pot or just old age. But I am sad that Bun-bun never knew the taste of fresh clover, or the warmth of sunshine or the joy of leaping.
So, Bun-bun got a tiny shroud of organic cotton. I dug Bun-bun a grave many times deeper than its little body, and laid it carefully on soft sand. Carmen poured it a final meal of milk and sang laments in her ancestor’s language for its short life. I filled the grave in, taking care to pack the soil so Bun-bun would not be dishonoured with soil sinking in an unseemly way. And then we laid rocks in a careful pattern, with big rocks at the cardinal directions and one particular rock in the middle which was just about the same size as Bun-bun itself, though much heavier than that poor, cold little body.
I wrote this post a few months ago, and in our rabbitry some things have changed and some have remained the same.
After Bun-bun died we mated Lucia and Apollo and Lucia bore a litter of six lovely kits. These kits are practically a high-school genetics class, showing the combinations of their black father and piebald mother—one black, one white, three piebald…and one very beautiful light silver.
A couple of weeks after their birth, I found this gorgeous silver bunny dead and stiff out in the run.
So a little more about rabbits…
A few weeks after breeding, we give our doe a nest box and a pile of straw. As she gets close to kindling she begins tearing around with mouthfuls of straw, like a comical moustache. She builds a straw burrow in the box, and as she gets very close to kindling, she pulls the softest hairs from her belly to line the nest. Born blind and hairless but for a light down, this nest keeps the litter warm until they can walk.
The doe will jump into the nest box once or twice a day to nurse the kits. Unfortunately, sometimes a kit will stay latched on the doe’s nipple when she jumps out. Rabbits do not have the instinct to pick the kit up and put it back, so if the kit is too young to find its own way back, it will likely die.
As did this fine silver kit, carried away from the warmth of its litter mates.
As fate would have it, I found it after the Trick or Treaters had all gone home on Hallowe’en.
We were tired, but it was obvious to me that there was no better time to return this little kit to the soil than when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest. So I dug another deep grave near the ash Carmen calls her Grandmother Tree. We wrapped the kit in a clean square of organic cotton from an old sheet that has now provided the shroud for several animals. We sang and drank whiskey.
And then, out of the darkness—Christmas Carols.
I guess a group of people had costumed themselves as carollers, and were singing for their candy. It was eerie and wonderful and hair-raising; I feel quite sure that little silver one was carried safely across.
So, there has been more tears than tastiness in our back yard, but that is how it sometimes must be. I have written a bit about this before, and I frequently struggle to put my feelings into words.
I think if we would like to be “sustainable”, if we would like to find our harmonious place in the order of things, we need to spend a lot more time intimate with the life and death of our kin, both human, and more than human. Raising rabbits is not our dominant source of protein, and it likely costs more in feed than it contributes to the grocery budget. But it very much makes me human.