Saturday, August 2, 2008

mark 'em up

A strange piece of farm equipment was delivered to the cabin this week. A tattoo gun. Well, I guess "gun" isn’t the right term, more like a tattoo pen. I ordered it from a rabbitry supply catalog from the Midwest. It came in a little blue case along with ink, wells, and instructions. The box had a Dutch rabbit on the front with the logo “Rabit-tatt.” It cost 45 dollars, practically the price on one of the bunnies themselves, but it had to be ordered. Here’s why:

I’m taking this rabbit breeding business fairly seriously. I’ve kept Angora rabbits as pets for a few years now, but Vermont was my chance to go from an owner to breeder. Between the egg sales at work and the two litters of bunnies planned for the summer, a little income was coming out of the homestead. A nice change. I did the math and found out two litters of fancy purebred French rabbits would pay for all the chicken feed, rabbit pellets, and straw for nearly a year! So I wanted to do it right, to help support myself here, and to learn the whole process of breeding small livestock.

Rabbits are my training animals for sheep. Like sheep they produce wool, create offspring, and require care and feeding. If I could learn to manage the rabbits as livestock - I could take the lessons from them into those first couple of sheep. That's the plan at least.

Thanks to the farm library I had a lot of help. While consulting the books “Barnyard in your Backyard” and “Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits” I learned every aspect of breeding and raising the six healthy bunnies on the porch right now. But now those bunnies are over a month old and that's when small-livestock management comes into play. Which included tattooing, writing pedigrees, and photocopying and filing paperwork for each individual rabbit. Paper work was one thing, any schmuck can buy a file box and some folders – but tattooing was something I was nervous about.

Why tattoo? Even though this litter is for spinners and pets, they were still the offspring of two amazing parents. Parents who had been meticulously bred and trucked to rabbit shows all over New England ( in fact, a rabbit show is where I got them.) My bunnies were the newest generation of that line, and deserved the same attention to detail as all the rabbits that came before them. They needed to be marked so their owners would have proof they were the animals on the paperwork. People who bought them for shows or their own breeding programs demanded it. It was my job. So here I am, tattoo apparatus in hand.

Tattooing went like this. You poured the ink into the small plastic well and then placed the tip of the pen into it. Then you turned on the needle and let it run a few seconds to scoop up the ink and load it with ink. When it was loaded, you took a bunny in your arms, braced it tight against your body and wrote it’s number in it’s left ear. The first rabbit was so aloof I thought I didn’t do it properly, but when I wiped her ear with a wet paper towel the sequence BB01 showed through in my own handwriting (it’s equally weird and neat to see your handwriting on an animal.)

BB stood for Bean and Benjamin, the bunnies’ parents. And 01 through 06 would be their identities in the litter. Within ten minutes every bunny had a light tattoo on his or her left ear. It went fast and painless, and another small first happened at the homestead. While branding livestock, even adorable tiny livestock, I joined the ranks of people bringing animals into the world and preparing them for market. Yes, it's a long call from sheep (who wouldn’t be tattooed, they’d be ear tagged) but it’s what I can do now in my little rented cabin, at least today it is. I’ll take it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you tag the rabbit's ears like you do for sheep? For that matter, couldn't you tattoo sheep like you do rabbits? In any case, that is the ca-yootest bunny I have ever seen!

August 5, 2008 at 8:09 AM  
Blogger jennifer said...

Cool! Were you at all tempted to take the needle to your own skin? My hubby is is a tattoo artist so this is familiar territory for us . . .
ooh! Maybe this is the segue I can offer him between our current suburban life and the complete homestead life I long for! "Honey, you could still tattoo!" Tee hee : ) Well, I'm glad to have come across your blog after reading your article on the Mother Earth News website. Great article, I also have that yearning to spend my time doing things directly related to my and my family's survival. It soothes the soul somehow, makes me very happy.

August 5, 2008 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

nah, i didn't think about tattooing myself, but i bet i could if I wanted too... i think i'll stick to my long-eared friends though. And Jennifer, you can do a lot of homesteading in suburbia! Start by baking a loaf of bread and sewing something easy. You dont have to raise a barn in a day right?

August 5, 2008 at 5:58 PM  

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