September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
You guessed it: a rabbit.
Meet KC, a Mini Lop, so called because of its floppy ears. This two-tone, lop-eared bunny is just one of nine on the farm of Aaron and Holly Nelson, Richland Center, Wis.
Theirs is a farm that finds room for both bovines and bunnies. The Holsteins - 185 milking, 20 dry, and 200 youngstock - take center stage, of course.
Sept. 4, found Holly, Aaron and their brood of boys - Zachary, 11; Brock (9), Darin (7), and Easton (2), readying seven rabbits and two Holsteins for the Richland County Fair. It was entry day for the bunnies and other small animals with dairy cattle making the trek to the fairgrounds the next day.
Showing livestock at the fair is something of a tradition for the Nelsons. Aaron exhibited dairy cattle there when he was a boy. Holly, as might be expected, showed rabbits.
Aaron, Holly and the boys are part of Huff-Nel-Sons Holsteins LLC. They're joined in the 1,030-tillable-acre farm that's been in the family six generations by Aaron's parents, Larry and Sherry Huffman, and Andy, Aaron's brother.
On this particular day, the Nelsons were hopping busy. Milking in the double-5 parlor began around 5 a.m. and wrapped up some three hours later. After that, Aaron scraped the barn and prepared the farm's chopper. He and Andy stuffed into a storage bag eight loads of corn silage their neighbor, Randy Manning, chopped for them.
Meanwhile, Holly readied the three older boys for their second day of school. Then she kept a watchful eye on Easton as he helped her prepare the rabbits and supplies for the fair.
Holly, a self-proclaimed town girl from nearby Richland Center, raised rabbits as a girl, as did her brother, Heath, and sister, Heather. Besides taking the bunnies to the fair, the family attended area rabbit shows.
Rabbits fit in well on a smaller place, where cows, horses, hogs and sheep might not. At one point, Holly's family's long-eared herd was up to 25.
"I think what I liked about rabbits is that I showed Mini Rexes and Mini Lops," Holly said. "They were small and soft. And I liked the people I met, and traveling to shows."
Aaron, by contrast, admitted that he knows little about bunny husbandry. But he can readily state some of the vital statistics of the dairy herd: a 23,500-pound rolling average on twice-a-day milking; a 3.95 percent fat test; and a 3.1 protein test.
He has been helping Zach with Rosie, the Red and White Holstein winter yearling he will take to the fair. Aaron has also been assisting Brock with Katie, the Holstein junior calf that will make the trip to the fair. Zach has exhibited cattle there two years, while this marked Brock's first time.
Darin will represent the Nelsons, too. He was scheduled to show a calf in the little britches event on Sept. 18.
But it was mostly about the bunnies on Sept. 4. After the older trio clambered off the bus from their several hours at school at nearby Ithaca around 3:15 p.m., Holly and Aaron kept things hopping. The rabbits needed to be tucked into their cages at the fairgrounds by 6 p.m.
First the pickup truck had to be loaded with an assortment of rabbit supplies. Methodically, Holly handed items to the boys to give to their dad, who tucked everything into the truck.
The list included a shovel, rake, shavings, clippers, a tub, a bag of rabbit pellets, brushes, identification tags and a step stool. Bales of hay and straw went into the truck, too. The bales were not for the bunnies, but for the Nelsons' area of the dairy barn at the fair.
"We're the only ones in dairy in our 4-H club, and we're the only ones with rabbits, too," Holly said. That meant the Nelsons drew the assignment of decorating the cattle area and the rabbit area for the club, and barn duty for both areas.
"We don't leave the fairgrounds very often after the rabbits and cattle are in place," Holly said.
To allow her to work and still be at the fairgrounds, Holly, a social worker, planned on brining her laptop computer with and checking on the livestock throughout the day on Sept. 5. The boys would be off from school on Sept. 6 when the rabbit show took place, which meant Aaron took over at the fair that day.
Seven rabbits went to the fair, while two stayed home. This is the first year the Nelson kids showed rabbits at the fair. In fact, it's the first year Holly has raised rabbits after a hiatus of several years.
As for Zach and Brock, Holly said, "I think they're more excited about showing the dairy cattle. I think they're nervous about the rabbits because they've never done it before."
Holly was unsure about the boys competing in bunny showmanship.
"This is their first year, and I want them to get used to their breeds before they start to talk about them," she said.
Showmanship requires telling the judge about the characteristics a representative of each breed is supposed to exhibit, such as its color and overall conformation.
Rabbits are a good 4-H project for kids to learn about animals, according to Holly. She said, "They're small enough to hold, but there's still the responsibility that goes along with feeding them."
Bunny chores are divided among the trio of older boys. Zach feeds them weekday mornings, while Brock takes that chore weekday evenings. Come Saturday and Sunday, it's Darin's turn. Cages are cleaned Saturdays and Mondays.
The Nelsons house their rabbits in a room off the old two-story barn. The cows moved to a freestall barn up the hill in 2002, and a double-five milking parlor was constructed near it two years later.
At 4:20 p.m., the boys traveled to the fairgrounds. Half an hour later, the rabbits were being looked over by veterinarian, Christine Kohlman. And by 5:06 p.m., the rabbits were fed and watered and in their cages.
Next, it was over to the dairy cattle building. Holly strategically arranged the bales of straw and hay, and tacked up a sign in the form of a smiling cow.
At 5:32 p.m., the early September afternoon was still warm, at 80-plus degrees. After chores at home, Holly would return, to finish decorating the dairy area.
Back on the farm, Aaron prepared for milking. He was joined by his parents, Andy, and an employee. By approximately 7 p.m., milking was done, chores had been completed, and the two fair calves had been fed and watered.
Aaron and Holly agreed that it's crazy, at times, trying to raise four boys on a dairy farm.
"There's never a boring day," Holly assured. "Everything is always go, go, go."[[In-content Ad]]
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