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
“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
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
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
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
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
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.