I've been spending a lot of time marinating on the complexities of raising animals for food. It's one of those things that everyone has an opinion of, but so few have any experience with. I am pretty new to raising livestock but I find that I've learned a lot fairly quickly, which I think in large part is because I've readily accepted the rabbits, chickens and bees as part of my day to day life. There isn't a time where in the back of my mind I am not considering plans to buy more hay or build hives, organizing free range time for the rabbits, scheduling time to clean out the coop and cages, or just scheming on how to get money to pay for feed. You learn the most when you are present mentally. These critters have have built a nest in my mind.
In a few weeks, I'll be slaughtering the rabbits that I've loved and cared for since the day they were born. I've selected a couple to keep aside to either trade to friends or acquaintances as pets or for breeding stock. The rest will become food for my household.
When the kits first arrived, I had serious reservations about what lied ahead of me. Did I have it in me to take the life of some fluffy vulnerable ball of fur? I can say truthfully that no, I could not willingly harm a baby animal. They were just too cute and defenseless. As they grew, they became inquisitive and friendly. They would often kiss the tip of my nose when I put my face into the cage to say hello and get a closer look. It was easy to be charmed by them. I wasn't sure how I was going to do this.
Now, at 9 weeks old, they are different. They look like smaller versions of adult rabbits. Their faces lack the rounded shape of kit-hood. While they've taken to being handled quite well, they are less interested in interacting with me and are behaving less like curious babies and more like the adult rabbits that I am familiar with. They are like their parents, who see me not as a friend, but as a supplier of things. The creature who brings the food and water and sets them free to run around in the yard. They see me as the thing that pulls them from their hutch by the loose skin above their shoulders and cleans their ears, a routine they absolutely hate but absolutely need.
I believe I've reached another level of acceptance about the nature of this relationship, and the nature of death. I accepted the inevitability of my own death some years ago. I still think about it every day. As someone who has experienced loss many times over, I get it. We're all just visitors. Accepting your own mortality and loving something only to snuff out it's light are two totally different situations. The latter is more complicated. You're making a choice. You are sacrificing a bit of yourself too when you kill something you love.
When my boyfriend Neil and I recently spoke of death and loss, I said to him, "We don't cry for the dead. They're off on another journey. We cry for the living, because we are left behind to carry on with a hole in our lives where that person used to be." I feel that way about the animals under my care as well, though not to the same degree as if a human companion had passed. They have a place in my life. Each morning I go to them, feed them and spend a little time interacting with them. A scratch on the chest here, a stroke of the ears there. This is my favorite time of day.
In about two weeks I'm going to end that part of my life so that I can eat. I'll do everything in my power in the meantime to do right by my rabbits, providing them with comfort and opportunities to "express their rabbit-ness" as Joel Salatin might say. When the day comes to harvest them it will be difficult. I don't think I want to have visitors or spectators. I just want it to be me, Neil and the rabbits so that they can feel at ease until their last moments. There won't be distractions or noise. I think quiet is respectful. With the next litter, perhaps I will invite a couple friends over to experience the process but for now it's just too close to the heart and I can't bear making a show out of it. Not these guys. They are my first and they are special.