Tuesday, March 26, 2013
A rough weekend of learning led to some hard thinking.
Twilight's litter is doing very well, though she is still very aggressive and scaring me when I go to check on them. We've come up with how to cope with her finally which is put up a barricade using the granite tile that we use for cooling in the summer, put the kits in a box and take them elsewhere to weigh them. When we come back put them back as quickly as possible before she knocks down or jumps over the barricade and get away. She hasn't managed to injure me since the first weight check, but I'm a bit gun shy at the moment with her, and very much not taking risks. As you can see from the photos her babies are gigantic, and moving around much earlier than they should. The litter average is 20 grams over the litter averages of previous litters. The biggest one is 195 grams which is positively massive, and all of them are doing well and quite large. One of the challenges with them is they are already moving around with some facility which means we have to be careful weighing them beyond worry about Twilight assaulting us.
This picture quite nicely shows Twilight in protective mode. What it doesn't show is the growl she produces when we're even near the babies side of the hutch these days. She is calming down to an extent but she is making our lives quite difficult on her side of the isle. Most mother rabbits generally try to ignore where their babies are when they aren't feeding them. She is nothing like that going in to check them if we so much as look at or touch that side of the hutch.
Unfortunately there is no such good news when it comes to Dawn's litter. Her babies are still hovering around 65 - 75 grams, those that are still alive. We've lost 6 of 10 so far. The first one died because it fell out of the nest at some point over the course of a night and was dead by the time we got back. Three died when ice popped open a seam on the hutch and poured melt water from the snow finally starting to melt from the roof in to the nest. The Lady of the House and I spent 3 hours Sunday morning before I went in to work struggling to re warm as many of them as we could. When I got home from work around Midnight they were all still alive, but Monday afternoon another was dead on the wire from having held on to the nipple too long and being dragged out of the nest. Today we came out to the second biggest kit dead and cold in the nest, and the others barely hanging on. At this point we may have dropped below the critical mass point where they can't stay warm in the nest no matter what without us helping by putting in hot water bottles. I'm not sure if the ones that are left would be able to grow up to full sized rabbits even if we do manage to get them growing again at this point since they're basically the same size they came out, just with some fur.
Obviously this is what has gotten me thinking. There are a lot of difficult things about Homesteading between keeping motivated, the physical labor involved, planning, handling the ever changing world and what she throws at you. With animals one of the difficult things is killing and butchering these animals you've raised from being babies. That's been particularly tough for me and after every time I kill one of our rabbits I wander around disquieted for a couple of days. Despite that it is something I can handle knowing that the other choice is to eat food from unethical sources, or not be able to afford to eat in a way I'm comfortable with.
This is the first time though that probably the most difficult part of animal husbandry with homesteading really hit home. In Homesteading you have to make decisions all the time, and sometimes they will be wrong. With plants it means you're short or lacking on harvest. You're the one who suffers. The same with many things in homesteading. With raising animals when you screw up the animals suffer. Our wrong decision was to breed for mid March. Most places say it should be ok, and last year it would have been fine. Unfortunately this year as of today we have 12" as our base depth of snow with drifts substantially higher. Saturday morning we had 18" as base snow depth, and that melt combined with insufficient building on my part what killed most of Dawn's kits. So now we get to learn from our mistakes.
Dawn's stressed and concerned about her babies. She's been very listless, and I think the stress has actually been making her less and less able to care for them. I'd initially planned to foster two of Dawn's kits to Twilight, and didn't end up doing so in what now looks like a not so good choice. At this point it's past the 5 days that it's recommended not to foster beyond, and Twilight is very aggressive about policing her nest. We're at a point where we have to decide what to do about Dawn's kits, and I'm not entirely sure what to do at this point. It definitely motivates me to build hutches in the chicken coop so if anything like this happens again they can be in a place that's at least warmer. And next year we won't breed this early for certain! This afternoon when we get home we will see if any are alive, and if they are we will decide then how to handle the remaining kits, and we will let you all know Thursday.
For feel goods, Twilight's litter in a clementine orange box.