28 November 2009


I don't really recall exactly how I started raising rabbits.

Naturally on the farm we had a lot of animals. Though our money crops were all from the orchards - olives, oranges, and almonds - we had pigs and steers, for meat; goats and sheep (to help keep the grass down in the orchard; at least, that was the theory, though I don't know how well it worked); chickens, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl; dogs and cats (also pet skunks, for which my mother is to blame).

But I raised rabbits.

The origin of the rabbits was somehow connected with 4-H. "Calf Clubs" are the closest New Zealand equivalent that I know of, though it's not really the same. 4-H clubs had rather more the flavour of scouting. Although agricultural in orientation, there were a lot of activities - were they called 'merit badges??' - that you could do that were not strictly agricultural. I know that I did an electricity project and a Morse Code project.

And I did rabbits.

I remember that what attracted me to the idea of rabbits was making money. I wanted to buy a telescope, and the bottom-line one that I wanted cost US$49.95 - a quasi-infinite amount of cash to a 12-year-old. I don't recall whether I had any formal allowance from my parents. But I decided rabbits was the way to get the telescope (it worked - eventually).

My father and mother supported me grandly. The idea was that I would have eight breeding does, two bucks (this was the proportion that the book said was what I needed). This implied 10 rabbit hutches - which my father built. It also implied a steady supply of Purina "Rabbit Chow" (I was going to put in a link to that product but when I go on the web now I find they have so many duded-up versions of "Rabbit Chow" that I decided I would be embarrassed to link to them). I only now begin to think that my mother may always have paid for that. If so, my money-making business may not have been as money-making as I may once have thought.

Raising rabbits is not itself difficult. You feed them. You give them water. The hutches have a little dark box in the back for the doe to go into to have her babies. You have to put the buck in at the right time for breeding, wait 8 weeks for birth, and then feed the babies for twelve weeks.

Then you have to kill them.


Eventually I became reasonably skilled at slaughtering rabbits - though I cannot say I ever approached the task with aplomb - but learning how was a bit traumatic.

Jeremiah promised to demonstrate for me, with the first one. OK, we bring out the victim. Jeremiah explains. Then, in the smoothest fashion you could imagine, with his left hand he gently grasps the little rabbit by the hind legs, has a stick in his right. Up sweeps the rabbit, down comes the stick sharply on the back of the neck. Probably severs the spinal cord because there is no wriggling now. Out comes the knife, throat cut, and the rabbit is in Rabbit Heaven before it knows it is dead.

With similar expertise comes the slaughtering. Skin cut just so and so, peel it off like a sock. The skin goes on a stretcher to dry and the skins eventually are sent to a place in Sacramento that pays me US$.25 each for them - and at one point sells me, for ... well, I don't remember, but only a few dollars - a lovely pair of rabbit skin gloves that I wish I had now and would probably cost me hundreds.

Gutting the carcass is quick and clean. Be very careful not to rupture the gall bladder as the liver is part of the meat you will sell and gall will ruin it for eating.

OK, now it's my turn.

My stomach knots a little even now, in memory of that 55-year-old crime.

I grab the rabbit. Not gently. It begins to struggle. I raise it quickly and start smashing it with the stick. It does not like this. I am in tears by this time. Eventually it is sufficiently subdued that I manage to cut its throat.

The rest of the operation is a blur. I do remember that we had to throw that one away.

I did, as I say, get reasonably skilled at the operation. It is surely a sign of the fallen state of creation, that, as St Paul says in Romans 8 (I think it is) 'groans in tribulation' now. Adam and Eve were told that the plants were for them to eat; Noah had explicitly to be given permission to eat the beasts. I am not a vegetarian and do not believe we are required to be - but it is surely a reminder of our state that, however well we succeed in reducing the pain an animal feels in being killed, we ourselves know that it would be well if it were not necessary to kill in order to eat. It is. It will not always be so. The lion will, one day, lie down with the lamb; and 12-year-old boys will one day no longer need to kill rabbits to buy telescopes.

I must tell you some time about the day Peter and I were given permission to kill a rather mature cock, with a rather dull axe. But not now.

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