Thursday, January 30, 2014

Still too cold, and weasel proofing hutches.

Again I have no new photos for you, but for the most part they would be dull. We aren't having the beautiful sort of winter with over-saturated blues and crisp days as from the photo Right from last year. It's just cold, there isn't much snow. It's so cold the snow we have down that's been compacted isn't even really turning into ice. It's blowing away or just sitting there. The rabbits are getting unfriendly and suspicious because I haven't been spending any time petting them, or socializing the babies, or even really doing more than a weekly health check. As a note, they are all doing quite well. Sunshine's babies are starting to take up as much of the hutch as she is. I'm going to be butchering the kits that are with Halley and Comet at the moment, and swapping Sunshine and her kits into the hutch Halley and Comet are in, and putting the soon to be kitless pair into the smaller hutch for now. But, the cold isn't just an inconvenience for me, and making life difficult and not as pretty as last winter.

I'd mentioned the weasel tracks we've seen around before, and there have been a lot of them for the past few days. An ever increasing number really. They wander closer to the rabbit hutches than I am happy with to be sure. A related note, we've stopped seeing the funny vole trails meandering around the yard, or jumping mouse tracks. At the depth of snow we have, we should be seeing those, but we're not. I've also found a couple volesicles around. The weasel tracks we've seen around belong to critters who mostly live off voles, jumping mice, and the like, but they're not averse to rabbit if they have to, though usually they don't bother with the larger prey unless they have to. Like, if it's bitterly cold and most of their prey is dead.

So I went and chatted with the extremely helpful folks down at Crabapple farm, and with apologies if I summarize over some of the important parts I'm going to note down some of the conversation. It will wander a bit because I was also talking about making a feed storage area.

1: This winter has been low on snow cover and very cold which has been a population reducing winter.
2: Weasels can climb, but like all predators they have a cost benefit analysis going at all times. Is this prey going to give me enough energy to be worth what I expend getting it.
3: Weasels want to make a stealthy approach when the rabbits are sleeping. Even something that forces them to make a bit of noise getting up should do to discourage them.
4: It's like security, you can't make your gubbin holder impenetrable, but you can make it worth not bothering for most thieves most of the of the time. The same is true for predators and tasty treats, and vermin and feed.
5: Remember, I'm the biggest scariest predator in this neck of the woods. My urine may be more effective when applied near the hutches than even bobcat urine since bobcats don't really bother the weasel family much (they stink).
6: An old trick for keeping mice out of feed storage areas is to have the feed area on legs, and at the top of the legs below the floor of the storage area, have inverted pie plates.
7: Since the hutches are already constructed, and it wouldn't take much to discourage the weasels it's probably worth considering making little leg skirts of hardware cloth without the spikey ends cleaned up the way I usually would. Just form an angled short skirt around each leg with hardware cloth, and tack it to the leg of the hutch.
8: Bells or something that jingles would probably have a similar effect.
9: Weasels will only bother with rabbits if they're desperate, kits are a different story.
10: Thankfully they'll only hang around for a month, if hunting is good. If things are bad they may move on sooner.

So, realistically I don't have a lot of time right now, and it's so cold that without proper winter gear, like boots without gaping holes in them, I can't be outside for that long until it's over 30. Step one, suck it up, and stop peeing inside again, pee behind and near the hutches. Rotate where I do so. This will probably be sufficient. As soon as it's over 30 (and thus snowing again I'm sure), I will cut wire skirts and install them. The process for this will be measure, remeasure, cut the prototype, install it. If that works, make the rest to the pattern, and do a mass installation in one go. We may not NEED to do this, but not doing an inexpensive and quick thing to try to protect the lives of our rabbits seems ill advised.

The other note is, I will have more time to work on these things shortly as I have been offered a new job, and accepted. Not sure how long I'll have extra daylight time before my hours go up, so I will be doing my best to make use of it, no matter how cold it is! We are also eagerly anticipating daylight savings time as it will extend our functional outside working day even though it's a fairly artificial change for folks who work by the light. We are still, and probably will be long term clock based wage workers that also do farming rather than farmers who also do clock based wage work. Maybe in 10 years I'll look back at that statement and laugh, but with the realities of paying for a house, I suspect it'll still be true then.

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