My wife Maria has always known she was an animal person, but my own realization has come rather late in life. Oh, I’ve liked other people’s animals and enjoyed having a cat – albeit briefly – but I never thought of myself as an animal person. The decision to get our current chickens and rabbits was mainly with a view towards their productivity – eggs, meat, and manure.
I had no idea how much they would feed my soul. I love watching them, even more so now that we have the chickens and rabbits in a shared colony pen. Unless it’s raining, I go out and do my physical therapy stretches and drink my morning coffee watching the animals wake up. Unless the flies are too bad, I put my chair inside and read without the fence obstructing my view. A couple of the chickens love perching on my knees.
Setting up the “raken” (Polyface’s terminology for a shared chicken-rabbit house) colony has been a lot of work but I’m really glad we went this way despite a few last-minute cursing work sessions when our most escape-inclined bunnies found gaps in my fencing. Being able to watch them interact feeds my soul far more than seeing them stuck in cages. Our separated buck is still in a cage but I’ll try and give him some extra space too, either via an improved separate day yard or by building a rabbit tractor.
Once I get a little more comfort with managing the colony we will be getting some breeding stock. Our buck is not capable of breeding and I also want some does whose genetics I know. Some online friends have highly recommended a breeder about six hours away and I’ll be contacting him soon.
The kids are very excited about baby bunnies. We’ll have to cross the bridge of processing them and eating them at some point. I recently had the chance to learn how to process chickens, and eating chicken afterwards was a little harder, but I completely believe in knowing where your food comes from. So many of today’s ills come from having an impersonal relationship to our living space (what Joel Salatin eloquently calls our “ecological nest”) and our food, what becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. One homesteader I came across online said they not only name their meat animals, but label the freezer packages and specifically thank them by name before each meal, similar to the way many First Peoples thank the spirits of animals after killing them.
Rabbits are the only meat animal we can get experience with in our current city, though quail may be a possibility via an educational permit I’ll explore after we get comfortable with the rabbits. Gia, our middle daughter, is very interested in them so it may be a 4H or FFA project.
Have you unexpectedly become an animal person, or fallen in love with an animal you didn’t expect to? Both Maria and I are finding the chickens far more endearing than we’d thought. I kind of scoffed at the books that mention people loving to watch “chicken TV” in the evenings but damn if we don’t spend many afternoons and evenings watching the chickens (and rabbits, who love to chase the chickens around).