|Horses and buggies at the Little Farm auction in May, 2012|
I got out of the Suburban and headed towards the group, all eyes watching me closely. All four boys were dressed alike in dark pants and bright blue/green shirts nearly obscured by dark coats.
I was already enjoying myself, and we hadn't even exchanged a word yet.
"I'm here about some rabbits," I began tentatively, not sure how much of the farm's business I would be able to discuss with the youngsters if their father wasn't home.
We had pretty much negotiated the entire purchase of our flock of lambs last spring from a different farmer's young son, so it was entirely possible these youngsters would be able to assist me today despite their age.
At the very least, they probably knew as much or more about raising rabbits as their father - it was, I guessed, one of their regular chores.
"Yup, they're back there," the oldest one answered me, indicating the barn behind him.
"Is David here?" I inquired. I knew when I pulled in it was about 5:15pm. David had told me a few days earlier that he would be home from his "outside" job around 5:00pm.
"Nope, not yet, he'll be home around 5:00," offered the same boy. I guessed he was perhaps the oldest of the brothers, and seemed quite comfortable talking to me, while his siblings all hung back wordlessly, brown eyes staring wide at me.
"Well, it was just after five when I pulled in," I offered, wondering if the boy wasn't aware of the time. Perhaps in his tender youth he was yet blissfully unaware of watching the clock.
"Yeah, 5:00 YOUR time!" he retorted with a sparkle in his eyes and a big grin.
"Ha - you've got me there!" I responded, laughing and following the group of boys through the big barn and across a barnyard to another building.
He was of course referring to 5:00 "English" time, that is, time driven by man-made clocks and imposed by our rigid 8-5, time-clock-punching culture.
5:00 Amish time was a whole different barnyard.
In the second building we entered I spotted two long rows of rabbit cages, their inhabitants planting soft noses against the mesh, no doubt inquiring as to the whereabouts of their dinners.
White rabbits with black ears and noses, white rabbits, even a cinnamon colored buck and a dark black doe, all New Zealand whites, the boy informed me.
I wasn't sure how many questions I should ask the boys, but as I walked along the cages the eldest followed close behind me, pointing out items of interest such as the baby bunnies in nesting boxes lined with their doe's fur, bodies so tiny entire litters would have fit in the palms of my two hands.
I asked if they were born with their eyes shut and he told me they were, adding the most fun time was when they came out of their boxes at about 4 weeks old and started hopping around.
The boy didn't know how many his father wanted sell and I didn't ask for a price.
Stalling for time, I asked if I could meet their Holstein calves who were licking up the last traces of their dinner from a trough across the barn.
They agreed and we all made our way over there. One of the silent younger siblings decided to do some showing off and jumped into the feed trough walking back and forth in front of me as I offered my hand to the calves.
The calves were curious and delightful, trying to suck my fingers. If I had been ready for a milk cow I might have asked the boys "how much?" for the nearly all-white one.
But I'm not ready for a cow.
"Mama's coming," I was informed, and through the big barn I saw a short, slender figure leading a horse with one hand and holding an infant in the other. Behind her trailed two more children, both girls, none of which could have been more than three years old. She tied her horse to a stall and continued in our direction, asking if I'd been here long.
"Not too long," I reassured her.
We stepped back outside the barn to chat. After scolding her boys for still being in their school clothes, she sent them off for chores and started talking about the rabbit business. She was very curious about how many rabbits I would buy and where I would sell them.
As I listened to her talk and answered her questions, I couldn't help but admire the view.
Their farm was perched along a ridge top with a view of rolling hills for miles.
The sun was about to set and had dropped below the cloud line, illuminating a pair of Belgium draft horses with an almost magical light. Her oldest son had already explained to me the pair of horses was getting old and would soon need to be replaced. But in the slanting evening sun he looked perfectly strong and beautiful.
Just then a one-horse cart came wheeling into the driveway. We all stepped off the road as David maneuvered his cart and horse to a stop.
"Sorry I'm late!" he yelled cheerfully, dismounting from the cart, grinning like his oldest son, but sporting a surprisingly bright red beard and looking ten years younger than me.
"Did you like what you saw?" he inquired. I told him I was just in the "looking" stage right now, hadn't even measured the space the cages would need to go. How many was he looking to sell?
He reiterated his wife's sentiments about wanting to keep them but not having buyers for them at present. "No use butchering them if someone else could use them," he said to me.
He told me they had been large rabbit producers in Pennsylvania, at one time having more than 1100 rabbits under their care. They wanted to raise rabbits here, too, but the only market they knew of had dried up. He loved raising them he said, and his smile and sparkling eyes confirmed the truth of what he said.
David's wife then asked me, "You've never tried rabbit?"
"No, not yet, but I'd like to," I added, trying not to sound too city-ish. "How do you like to prepare them?"
David interjected that she liked to prepare them in the pressure cooker, then fry them. "They're very good," they both assured me again.
I asked them how they liked their turkeys - I could see several large white ones strutting around their yard near the house, could just make out their familiar trilling voices.
They told me they really enjoyed raising the birds, though they've been "fighting" lately - displaying their plumage at each other. My males did that on occasion also - though I'd hardly call it "fighting."
The sun slipped further towards the horizon, and I told them I'd need to get back in touch with them after I conferred with my husband tonight. It was time to get home and do my own evening chores.
We said our good-byes and I walked back towards my vehicle, watching their oldest boy pull a wagon-load of firewood up the hill towards their house.
It is no surprise to me why people - farmers and non-farmers, English and Amish - are drawn to the idyllic images of the farm.
Red barns, bawling calves, mooing cows, plodding draft horses, scratching chickens, gobbling turkeys on the loose.
It may still be one of the hardest ways to make a living, and often the most heart-breaking, but I would have to say, so far at least, it is also the most enjoyable enterprise I have ever attempted.