And that’s that for the year…

It’s officially not Christmas anymore. Phew. Back to ordinary living.

Well, not really. My daughter’s still here, my brother’s coming up at the weekend for a visit, there’s a heap of presents to work through – I love it when people give me novels I haven’t read yet! – and there’s a few activities still to unfold. I organised a clay pigeon shooting lesson for my daughter and I  – a mother/daughter activity session – so that’ll be a fun end to her holiday, just before she heads back to Glasgow and gets her nose back to the uni grindstone. I’m looking forward to it, too! There’s also the Amazon tokens to spend – and a contribution to the gun fund from my mother as a present, so that’s good too.

We’ve nearly finished clearing the allotment, with just some equipment to come home now; posts, wire, netting, hoops and so forth. I’ll see if I can pressgang my brother into helping with that – we sank the posts pretty well! Hopefully the ground won’t be too frozen – we’ve had a few sharp frosts but that’s all, to date. I was even out tonight with the dogs, just before midnight, without a coat – which shows how mild the weather is. It’s freezing, yes, but only just.

So, as one year draws to a close and another is poised to start, it’s time to review what we’ve learned, what grew well – and what flopped spectacularly, like the sprouts. We’ve harvested about three meals of sprouts, they just never grew for us this year. Last year they were the size of ping-pong balls and we scoffed them from November to March! Ah well, that’s gardening. This year the onions have been excellent, we’re still only half-way through the stored onions. The roots haven’t been bad, though I’d’ve liked them bigger. Courgettes – a show stopper. We still have jars of pickled courgettes in the cupboards, along with pickled beetroot and beet relish.

Next year we’ll be seeing how much we can grow in the garden – more deep beds to build and fill, though the bunnies are producing plenty of excellent compost material for that purpose! They, too, have been one of this year’s star projects, and hopefully next year they’ll continue to be as prolific.

I want to do more vertical gardening to maximise the available space – simple things like stacked tyres for potatoes, to get a bigger harvest in the space, and close-planting roots under the beans and peas, for example. If I get round to it, we have an old window with glass and I’d like to put together a hot bed to go under it, to lengthen the growing season.

The fruit cage needs to be assembled. It’s not doing any good lying in a stack waiting to be put together, and the blackbirds had too many of our raspberries this autumn!

It’s coming up on time to order next spring’s seeds, so I’d better go make a list.

Hope everyone had a peaceful, happy midwinter celebration!



A Quick Liver Check…

Not mine. Mine is unchecked, probably staggering along fine since I don’t smoke and rarely drink alcohol. No, it’s the bunnies and that hepatic coccidiosis.

Delilah’s bunch have been looking pretty big and furry in the past week and with my daughter coming back from uni tomorrow, then Christmas, then one of my brothers arriving for a visit on Boxing Day, I decided I’d kill them today (the rabbits, that is, not my relations!), otherwise it might well have been sometime in the New Year and that would be silly. The two rex boys had finished moulting, too, and started squabbling instead, so I reckoned they’d better go before they scratched each other to pieces.

My, what a difference a few months make! Much denser meat and lots more of it, plus oodles of scrummy fat wrapped lovingly around those tender internal organs…. the rexes were 5 months, while the rex crosses were only 10 weeks. Anyway, between them the 8 bunnies have turned into 8kg of meat in the freezer for us, 16 days’ ferret food, 4 days of delicious organ meat to add to the dogs’ dinners, and 8 good pelts. The rex pelts will be wonderfully warm and soft when I’ve cured them – at the moment all the pelts are in the freezer until I have time to do them justice, after the houseguests depart again. I’m thinking fur muff and fur hat at the moment.

Most importantly of all – 7 spotless, perfect, healthy livers, and one that was just a tiny bit spotty! The litter-training and daily cleaning is paying off, the coccidiosis is under control.

I’m pleased. I’d be ecstatic, but for that one slightly spotty one – the smallest of the crosses.

Trudy’s 7 are now enjoying the space of a big cage (with litter tray!) and Trudy’s enjoying having her own cage back and not being trampled underfoot at feeding time.

Jezebel’s are now eyes-open and staggering around – one rushed me as I was cleaning out and had to be retrieved. I re-inserted the critter into the middle of the nest to make sure it got back in the warm, but if they do fall out in the night now, they should be able to get back in again under their own steam.

So, the numbers in the rabbit shed are down to the low twenties and descending nicely, and since I know the new routines are working, I can build on those and aim for totally healthy livers in the next lot.

Seasonal Weather….not.

You just can’t rely on the weather these days. Here we are, only a week from the whole consumerist overdose called Christmas, and we’ve had exactly one tiny snowshower (less than half an inch), two lots of hailstones and a lot of rain that turns into frost in the mornings.

My skis haven’t been out of the shed in years. The snow shovel hasn’t been out yet, the sacks of salt are untouched from last year, and we’re wearing out the winter tyres on bare tarmac.

Which is not to say that it’s been easy going on foot recently! The yaktrax are worth their weight in gold on the pavements – rain during the night followed by a brief sharp frost before dawn add up to some quite amazing sheets of black ice on the ground and having decent grip underfoot is priceless.

Now up til this year, we’ve always had the local council out gritting pavements here the moment anyone in the met office says “frost”, because at the end of our road is a semi-sheltered housing area and there are a fair number of older though still active people there who do, normally, walk to the shop or to meet their friends. This year the council hasn’t shown its face in the village and even the main bus-route through the nearby town hadn’t been gritted – which makes me wonder if they’ve run out of money or just declared war on the ‘grey vote’!

The bunnies have all accepted their litter trays now and cleaning out is accomplished in 25 minutes daily instead of an hour, plus I’m only replacing a trayful of shavings a day instead of a cageful, so it’s saving money into the bargain. The youngsters are growing like weeds again, which is reassuring, and Delilah’s gang of 6 will shortly be heading into the freezer – they’re getting big and feisty! The two young rex bucks are nearing the end of their moult so they won’t be long, either – and they’re going to be quite big!

My daughter’s home from uni on Sunday – it’ll be interesting to see how she’s changed! I just hope I still recognise her.

Been a Busy Couple of Weeks…

Since my last post here, that is.

The mouse problem is getting sorted, steadily. Chocolate hazelnut spread is proving the best bait on the little nipper traps and most days I’ve moved a couple of mouse corpses from the bunny shed to the ferret cage (the ferrets adore eating fresh mouse – far better than boring old ferret kibble!), starting with definitely adult mice and now coming down to half-grown mice, so we’re making progress.

The bunny population is down to 22, Jezebel’s last litter having been culled out and butchered. I wasn’t happy with the livers and some consultation with my vets has confirmed I have a hepatic coccidiosis outbreak on my hands – enough that the youngsters have spotty livers and some haven’t grown as well as they should, but not so bad they were dropping dead on me. Still, that’s bad enough so I’m going to have to go through the cages and scrub each one out with 10% ammonia solution to kill the parasites (Eimeria steidae, a sporazoan) and up my cage-cleaning and hygiene routines somewhat.

Coccidiosis is one of these things that no bunny keeper can ever turn their backs on. Practically every bunny in the world carries one or more of the various species of coccidia that can live in rabbits; most are gut parasites and this one causes liver damage. It doesn’t affect the meat for culinary purposes, although the livers are unusable in this litter. The babies are usually safe enough from sickness while they’re suckling because they get immune protection from their mother’s milk. The older ones develop immunity as they live with the parasites. The ones who suffer and sometimes die are the ones between about 4-5 weeks and 4-5 months, after they’re weaned but before their own immunity develops fully. So, since I can’t eliminate the bugs (my vet has confirmed that she can’t find any drug that will kill coccidia without killing the rabbit as well) I just have to try and keep them in cleaner conditions, so they’re not picking up too many of the parasites, and scrub cages as and when I can with the 10% ammonia solution, which is the only thing that will kill the spores that the parasite leaves around the environment.

I normally clean cages every couple of days, but since that’s clearly not good enough, I’ve pushed that up to daily cleaning. I’m also introducing litter-trays for the bunnies; rabbits usually litter-train quite well and Trudy, Silver, Jet, Tigger and Delilah are happily using their trays properly (as are Trudy’s litter, copying mum) while Samson and Jezebel think I’ve given them chew toys and the two Rex boys like to use them as building blocks and stack them up instead of sitting in them. They’ll get the idea in a few more days when the novelty wears off, I expect.

Turning to herbal remedies, one I found that offers some promise was garlic – there have been lab trials using garlic in rabbits against coccidiosis that show definite helpful effects both as a treatment and, even more, as a prophylactic. I don’t know how they were administering garlic to their rabbits but none of mine will eat it minced or chopped, so that’s a non-starter. To be honest, I wasn’t very hopeful since most rabbits loathe all alliums. Trudy, Delilah and one of the Rex boys tried a small piece each before hopping away, the others didn’t even sniff too closely.

I have managed to track down a supplier of rabbit pellets containing a coccidiostat, a drug that reduces the parasite’s ability to reproduce itself, but the nearest stockist is 60 miles away, so I’ll have to go down and fill the car full to make it worthwhile. I’ll get to that next week!

(I had intended to do it today but…. the boiler quit on us last night, so it was rather more important today to be on hand to let the plumber in. We’ve had fairly sharp frosts the past few nights and it’s not a good time to be without heating, so last night my mother commandeered all the hot water bottles and our one electric-powered convector heater, and I put another blanket on the bed and invited the whippets to share rather than putting them in their cages for the night. It was toasty but I did get stepped on somewhat by restless dogs. The heating is now fixed again, thank goodness!)

So, the bunnies will be an ongoing shell-game for a time as I shuffle them around, cleaning spare cages and then moving rabbits into them and cleaning the next couple of cages. I need to build some fresh cages anyway, which will help, and I think I’ll remove the two big cages I’ve been using as growing-on spaces for youngsters and build a lot of smaller cages I can put two bunnies at a time in, in the interests of improving hygiene and the ability to isolate any illness. I’ll also stop any further breeding until I’ve got this sorted out and the system rejigged to my satisfaction (and the bunnies’ improved health benefit!) so I should work down to just my breeding stock of 7 over the winter as youngsters grow up and are culled out.

Fortunately there’s plenty of rabbit in the freezer.