I suffered my first big loss as an urban farmer this morning.
I’d gone to let our four chickens out of their coop to discover we’d accidentally left the door to their run wide open during the night. Fearing the worst, I went out to the backyard armed with scratch—also known as “crack for poultry”—to get them to come running.
One by one, the ladies emerged from their resting place under the deck ready for an early-morning snack. After doing a quick headcount, I breathed a sigh of relief, then went to check on the rabbit.
He was nowhere to be found. A few days after building a space specifically so Fuzzy could hop freely—or as free as he could get in a 10-foot-long enclosure—the bunny appeared to have found a chink in the cage my boyfriend had thoughtfully, and carefully, crafted for him over the course of a number of days last week. After a cursory glance assured me he wasn’t nearby, I went to alert my fella, who, after pausing to get a pot of coffee brewing, pulled on his pants and went outside to take a look.
Now for the bad news. A few minutes after the search for Fuzzy began, the rabbit was found in a mangled, bloody heap near the back gate with his head nearly decapitated and his lifeless body already gone stiff. Judging by the amount of trauma inflicted on his (incredibly soft) little body, it’s suspected that a hungry raccoon was the culprit.
When I heard the news, I burst into tears. How could he be dead, I sobbed, when just last night he was bounding so very joyfully in his new digs? My guy hugged me and said all the right things, but his cheeks were dry and I could tell he wasn’t as torn up about the massacre as I was.
A number of hours have passed since Fuzzy’s death was confirmed, and I’m only now beginning to see that, in order to be a true urban farmer, I’m going to have to learn how to deal with this kind of loss if I want to continue to live off the land.
My boyfriend had gotten Fuzzy with the intent of breeding him to make more rabbits to put on the dinner plate, so it wasn’t like our urban farm was ever going to be a place where old Easter Bunnies came to spend their retirement years soaking up sun and playing golf.
The meat bunny dynasty hadn’t materialized yet, however—in fact, it was just last week we figured out Fuzzy was a boy—and I’d been content to watch his adorable antics from my big chair in the kitchen.
In short, I shouldn’t have gotten attached to the little guy. In fact, when a new crop of rabbits takes up residence in the fortified hutch, I’m going to have to do my best to remember that there’s a good chance they’ll be making a debut on a dinner plate someday.
Unless the Apocalypse comes, however, I’m not sure I can be the one to execute any of our farm animals. I look at my arrangement with the chickens as a reciprocal one—they provide me with fresh, delicious eggs and I return the favor with food, water and unfettered access to the grass, insects and worms in the backyard—and can’t imagine lopping off their heads. Same goes for bunnies.
I’ve been growing things to eat in my backyard for many years now, but the addition of animals on my double lot has made me feel like a real farmer. After the loss this morning, though, I may have to reevaluate my status. Would a real farmer cry at the sight of a single soft ear dangling from a lifeless rabbit or hesitate to end the life of a chicken in order to help feed his or her family?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m realizing that having an urban farm is more than just a way to provide our household with fresh victuals. After what happened today, I’m seeing that it provides food for thought, as well.
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