On a homestead, there is no doubt the joy of life and the sadness of death.
I've been witness to this many times over my years with animals – whether it be from man-caused illnesses (such as acidosis, yes, I've seen it) or natural causes.
In particular, I always hated loosing a calf. That was always the hardest for me. Most likely because I love cows dearly. And cow babies are, in my opinion, one of the top five best things on this planet.
And speaking of animals, and babies, we were blessed with our first litter of kits this past week. The doe was bred when we bought them and sure enough, three days after beginning to pull her hair out (they do this to help expose their nipples and to make it easier for the kits to nurse), she had them.
After seeing her in the nest box, I ran out to check on her.
It was the wee hours of the morning. I was wearing grey sweatpants, my red Bogs, an XXL flannel jacket (a large portion of which is missing fabric and thus shows off the inner fuzz lining), and a hunter-orange shirt that read ‘Hunting Brotherhood' or something ridiculous like that. Needless to say, I was looking sexy.
And no, I hadn't brushed my hair. Or my teeth.
That point has nothing to do with the story.
Of course, neither did telling you what I was wearing.
I just thought you should know that I look really good. I always try and look fancy when birthing is involved. That's why I made sure to have makeup on before I went to the hospital with both babies.
What were we talking about again?
Oh ya. The kits.
So anyway, I went out to the nesting box and slowly opened the hatch. She was nursing them at the time and I could see a few little feet sticking out from under her black fur.
Well hello, little ones! Aren't you sweet!
The not so sweet part of the story is about to come next. Just warning you.
As instructed, I slowly reached below the momma to count the babies and to check for dead kits, which is unfortunately quite common. I had been instructed to remove any dead kits as soon as possible to ensure the momma doesn't eat them.
Yes. I said eat them. This can cause a momma to eat the rest of them…even the alive ones…and ain't nobody want that business goin' on.
So I reached below, only to find a cold and stiff little kit tucked under her. It didn't look like it'd been hurt or bitten. It was right in the nest box, cuddled up in hay and hair like it should have been. But it was dead, no doubt.
So I placed it on the top of the cage, and reached in again.
Another cold, little kit.
But then a warm, wiggly one.
And another warm, wiggly one.
So far, there were two dead. Two alive.
I pulled out the last kit. It was cold, barely alive, and I could see it shivering. Remembering back to a book I'd read, I ran with the kit inside to try and revive it.
As the book suggested, I submerged the body of the kit into a warm-hot glass of water. Instantly, the kit revived and began kicking with his hind feet. He also began moving his mouth, as if to nurse. I held him there, in all my morning flannel glory, right in our kitchen sink – next to the now cold cup of coffee I'd previously poured.
After a few minutes, I removed the kit and vigorously rubbed him dry in some towels. He kept kicking, kicking, kicking…
And then nothing.
Right in my hand, he died.
We lost three out of the five kits – most likely due to the cold snap we'd had pass through the same night. They all looked healthy, but who knows. The first two could have been born dead – there's just no way to tell.
The beauty in this is that we still have two vibrant and healthy little bunnies.
And thus is born the spectacular and painful cycle of life and death. Anyone who has a homestead will tell you – the amount of animal death you see can get discouraging. It's just a fact of life on the farm – animals are born and animals die.
The best we can do is be good stewards of the animals that have been entrusted to our care, ensuring they have a good life while we have them.
So I made sure to give momma an extra cabbage leaf that morning.
Three and a half more weeks until we will have our next litter. I'm already praying for a better survival rate and the wisdom that comes from experience and time.