Nourishing life, community, family, home.

Posts tagged ‘rabbits’

The Gift of the Hydra

I once called it a “trash tree.” So ignorant, I was. We cut the “ugly thing” down in 2006–preferring to use the space for an apple tree in our new permaculture forest garden. But, year after year, it’s sprouted new growth–so that for every branch we cut back two seemed to grow.

I nicknamed it “The Hydra,” and wrangled with what to do. I could keep cutting it so ferociously that its roots would give up all of their nourishment and it would die. I could paint it with some sort of chemical to stop that. That’s when the poison ivy sprouted at its base. The gods seemed to be laughing. That slowed me down a bit.

I’m really glad the poison ivy DID slow me down and help me appreciate what a gift it is. Not only is the shrubby growth a visual barrier between my living space and my neighbor’s big living room windows. I realized the rabbits I keep love the tender growth and leaves. Last year I let it grow as a supplemental feed for them. I began to think of it as an unusual coppice tree. Then a friend showed me how to create cordage from the bark of saplings.

Today, it all came together in a new and joyful way. I am so thankful to this mulberry–which in my ignorance and its persistence–has come to live a different life. We have a new relationship. Today, needing a stake for the garden, I took a branch the right size and left the rest to grow for now. I stripped the extra small branches and leaves. I stripped the outer bark. I staked one of the tomato plants.

My staked tomato

Then I divided up the rest of the materials: bark set aside to make cordage. Larger branches stripped to make baskets, and the smaller twigs and leaves for rabbit feed. The rabbits love the fresh leaves–preferring it to their normal pelleted food in the heat. Mulberry and lambsquarters are among their favorites.

Not a scrap of it is left as “waste.” Every bit of it is integrated into our garden and home for the good of the whole. This is joyful living. Taking only what we need, and using every bit.

Lily munching on the mulberry treat

Materials separated for their purposes

Omnivore…full circle

Rabbits. They are touted as nearly the perfect permaculture animal. I love them. They are simple to keep, quiet, produce amazing manure, and eat many of my weeds.

As a person with autoimmune issues, I physically feel and function better when eating meat–so it was only natural that we would begin raising rabbits as part of our commitment to eat meat we knew had been ethically cared for. So, mini-lops (not now considered a meat breed) joined our very small herd of angora rabbits.

Taking an animal from conception to maturity and then death and consumption is not an easy thing. Over and over I thought, “My foremothers wouldn’t have any compunction about this. My grandparents raised rabbits for meat. Where are they now? Why is this so hard?”

Raising the rabbits was really a lot of work, but also very fun. The first two litters were handled and spoiled. We favored the broken colored ones–and found ourselves giving them names. The second set of litters, we tried not to become as attached to.

The day came when it was time to butcher the first set. All the well-meaning people that offered help when we described our project scattered like leaves in fall when we contacted them about help with butchering. My daughter and I butchered one rabbit on our own, but we were overwhelmed. I think the poor thing died more out of pity for me than any skill I had. Finally, we found a family in another county through a 4-H program that helped to butcher the rest of the first two litters. Watching them work together in well-practiced unison reminded me that this kind of activity is often a community one. Happy that the deed was done, I packed the carcasses into bags in the cooler and brought them home to freeze. So far, so good.

Then came the stopper. After months of waiting with this intent. After learning the butchering process. Now it was time to cook the meat we had raised. Into the crock pot went the rabbit, vegetables, and seasoning. The smell was very tempting after a few hours.

The family sat down for dinner. Everyone with portions of the meal. Carefully I made sure that there were no bones in my husband’s portion. My children and I ate with tentative bites at first, but then enjoyed it very much. My husband couldn’t bring himself to take the first bite.

If, after all this, the people I am doing this for cannot share in the harvest, am I willing to put myself through it again? I don’t know. For now, I am going to focus on tending my fruits and vegetables, harvesting angora to spin, and enjoying the company of my rabbits.