When I decided to join FFA in high school, rather than take four years of home economics — that was what it was called back in the day — my dad and I sat down and discussed what I should do for a project. We decided on rabbits, New Zealands, to be exact.

So Dad took me and I bought a buck and a doe from a breeder in the area who raised meat rabbits and my rabbit journey started. When we got the first pair, my dad cautioned against naming them, even though my mom and I wanted to.

“They’re livestock, and you don’t name livestock — they’re not pets,” Dad warned.

So we resisted the urge to name them. We raised several meat pens, and with Dad’s help, I showed them and won several ribbons at different fairs with them.

As most kids who have livestock projects in 4-H or FFA do, I learned about the cycle of life. One of my does gave birth to a litter in midwinter, and the babies all froze to death before we could get them moved inside.

In another litter, one baby rabbit came down with an illness, and the vet recommended we euthanize him before the illness could spread to the others, so we did that.

Throughout the journey, I learned, even though I didn’t realize it, to separate livestock animals from pet animals. The livestock weren’t pets and vice versa.

I learned not to get emotionally attached to the livestock in the way that I did to our family’s dogs and cats and, yes, even Feathers, our pet chicken.

The rabbit project ended when I went away to college, and I didn’t have much need to fall back on those lessons until this past week.

On April 26, I finally made the big move into my new house in Peru, that is, the moving company here in Peru moved my major furniture. I spent the first night in my house that night.

On April 27, I looked out my kitchen window and saw something moving under the tree in my new backyard. I went out to look and it was a baby mourning dove. He’d fallen from a nest somewhere.

He looked healthy, and he hadn’t been there long. I looked around for a nest or even his parents sitting somewhere, but couldn’t see anything.

He sat out there all day, and his parents made several trips back and forth. Toward the end of the day, his mother was sitting on him to keep him warm, and she was feeding him, as well.

But as night fell, I knew she would have to leave. What to do?

The most sensible course of action probably would have been to leave him there and let nature take its course. But I couldn’t do that when his mom was making such a valiant effort and risking her own life to keep him going.

So I arranged some shredded paper in a shoebox and waited until she had to fly away for the night to tend her other babies. Then I went out and brought him in.

After some discussion with Facebook friends, many of whom are farmers and answered with some really good tips, I made sure he was secure and warm and went to bed.

I was surprised to find him alive when I woke up in the morning, but I quickly took him out and put him back under the tree, hoping that his mom wouldn’t reject him.

She was right there as soon as I was in the house, feeding him and then sitting on him the whole day to keep him warm. When night fell, she flew away, and I brought him back inside.

This went on, and actually his parents took to sitting nearby and watching while I came out at night or toward dusk, scooped him up and put him in a shoebox lined with alfalfa hay and paper and took him inside. They were right there every morning when I put him back.

I had misgivings on Thursday when I put him out. The forecasts were calling for thunderstorms and heavy rains.

But I couldn’t keep him inside because he needed the care and feeding from his parents. I put him out and hoped for the best.

When I went home for lunch, I went out to check, and he was dead. I’m not sure what the cause was, but I do confess it made me sad.

I wasn’t attached to him, although I’d named him Jack Sparrow. I was hoping to keep him going until he was big enough to make it outside on his own.

But the lessons learned with my livestock project in FFA and from my dad came back to serve me well. There was sadness at the loss, but also the understanding that this was not a pet and that there is a circle of life.

Animals die and baby animals are especially vulnerable, baby wild animals and birds the most vulnerable. I buried him that night and put a small garden bird statue over it.

After I came inside, I was walking past my kitchen window and something caught my eye — his mother was perched on one of the decorative stones surrounding the tree underneath which I’d buried little Jack. She was sitting only inches from the statue over him.

She sat there for at least an hour. Then she flew back to her nest and her remaining baby.

For her, and for all of us, whether you’re nursing a baby bird and hoping for the best or raising a barnful of pigs to adulthood and market, the circle of life continues.