Not Lazarus; just me, back again…

It’s been a while. I offer no excuses, since there’s no earthly reason why I *must* scribble my random ideas down regularly – nor for anyone to read them, come to that…

Despite the title, I haven’t been dead or even mildly indisposed, merely getting on with life. There was a family holiday in Argyll, during which I ticked seeing the Corryvreckan whirlpool off my bucket list and my sister and brother-in-law decided to chuck living in the south-east and move to Mull instead. It’ll be interesting to watch them adapt to living on a pretty small rural island after decades in Essex and working in the City, but they’ll probably cope, they’re both intelligent and adaptable adults with plenty of life-experience.

Following my bunny population explosion in April, Ebony went on to rear 5 kits, Trudy and Ivory all of theirs and Jezebel 7 of her original 10 kits. Jezebel also suddenly gave me the first case of mastitis I’ve seen in a rabbit in 40 years of being around bunnies, so once the kits were old enough to wean I culled her – rabbits are fiendishly difficult to cure of mastitis and while I did get antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for her from the vet to keep her going until the kits were old enough, it was obvious the infection wasn’t clearing up so I put her down rather than extend her suffering.

Jezebel’s kits did fine and are now variously in the freezer, the dogs and the ferrets. I’ve sold a few of the rex kits and the others are growing nicely and will be heading freezer-wards in September, except for one harlequin doe kit I’m keeping back from Ivory’s litter as future breeding stock.

Silver’s had three chances to prove himself a fertile stud buck and struck out every time, so he’ll shortly be going into the freezer, too. I picked up a couple of unrelated buck kits from a breeder down south on Tuesday so I’m not relying only on Jet as a stud buck, anyway.

Ebony, who made such an incredible mess of her first litter, has had another litter and pulled herself together very nicely. She has 10 kits in the nest – two black, three ermines and 5 harlies, though one’s a runt. Harlies seem to be the ones that sell so that’s excellent. Ivory’s refusing to mate again and I will probably cull her out and keep one of Ebony’s doe kits to replace her.

Delilah (the sole remaining NZW doe) had a litter of 6, which is pathetic by NZW standards, then lost one but the remaining 5 are now just about old enough to wean and very well grown, so they’ll be separated from her in the next week or so. They should be ready to kill in about 6 more weeks.

Apart from that, the garden is flourishing, the country’s still heading gently to the dogs and I’ve sold both my air-rifles. The air-rifle licensing bill is merely waiting for Royal Assent and then everyone in Scotland with an air-rifle will be expected to produce fire-arm cabinet, proof of “need” to own, insurance, and a cheque-book before they can pick up a tin of pellets….

What kind of government doesn’t even trust its citizens to own an air-rifle safely?  Surely not the one that shouted so loudly about trusting Scots to run their own country…..?

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RIP Tigger – but his genes live on.

I’ve been concerned about Tigger, my harlie buck, for a week or so. He started looking a bit unhappy on his feet and “rough” generally – ungroomed, a bit miserable – towards the beginning of last week so I moved him to a smaller cage where he didn’t have to travel so far between food hopper, hayrack and water bottle, just leaving the door open for a couple of hours a day so he could go sunbathe, socialise or whatever. He wasn’t getting any better though and watching him when he reluctantly moved around, he seemed to be trying to keep his weight on his front feet and off his back legs, trying not to move them more than he had to – which is a problem when you’re an animal that hops in long bounds, normally. That made me wonder if he’d damaged his back.

The cage-rest didn’t help and he carried on looking worse, so this morning I put him out of his misery.

I was right about the back injury – there was a patch just behind his last ribs where the tissues around his spine had swollen and discoloured, and the muscles just behind that felt softer and thinner than the rest of his back so I think he must have slipped a disc or the like. I know from my own experience that injured backs take months to stop causing agony, years to heal and they never come back to 100% anyway, so I’m glad I put the old boy down. He had a good life, he fathered some excellent kits for me, and his genes will continue through Jet, Ebony and Ivory, so for a rabbit he’s left a pretty good legacy!

I’ll keep a harlie kit from Ivory’s bunch, I think – a doe, if she’s got one! – and pick out a good harlie buck from a future litter by Ebony to go with it.

I’ll take a screwdriver to Tigger’s old cage and take the upper levels out of it, then any future occupant won’t run the risk of falling off them and doing its back in, too. If they’re determined to fall off something, they’ll have to go a bit further afield!

And the last of the Rabbits!

Not for all time, merely the last due litter at the moment! Ivory has had about half a dozen or so, perfectly competently, in a properly-built nest. Considering she and Ebony are litter-sisters, you’d think they’d be equally good (or bad) mothers, but no….

I shouldn’t do Ebony down, she does seem to have the hang of it now and her remaining kits look healthy and wriggly.

Jezebel managed to lose a couple in the night, allowed them to fall out of the nest and die of exposure, but Trudy’s keeping hers well down in the nest and they’re growing nicely.

Yesterday was the annual vet-trip for Feisty Ferret, she’s come into season and needed her hormone jab to bring her out again. Ferrets are photoperiodic induced ovulators – meaning they come into season due to increasing light levels, and don’t come out again until after they’ve mated. A jill ferret left in season too long can develop leukemia and all sorts of unpleasant infections and I don’t want to breed baby ferrets, so every spring Feisty gets hauled to the vet and stabbed with the appropriate dose of hormones. She’ll start moulting in the next week or so and get into her nice, short summer coat again.

Finally, some rabbits….

After the disappointment of Trudy’s empty nest last month, I finally have baby rabbits! In fact, almost too many….

Trudy and Jezebel produced litters on Thursday, six and (at least) eight respectively. This morning Ebony had randomly scattered offspring all over her floor and was hiding in her litter tray, terminally confused (first-time parents are often clueless). I revived three she’d left to chill on the floor and added them to the one she’s managed to drop in the nest, but one didn’t come back despite being gently warmed in a water bath, toasted lightly under the grill and even offered CPR by whippet (I take it new rabbit kit must smell like new puppy, since they unexpectedly licked the dead one rather than grabbing and swallowing, which was what I’d expected. It went to the ferrets instead – ferrets are very clear on what a rabbit is. It’s food.)

I’m left wondering if Ebony will remember, or realise, that she’s supposed to feed the offspring from time to time. At the moment I’m not pinning much hope on her pulling herself together, but I do have the option of gently dropping a kit or two into the other two nestboxes – they’re only a few days older so there shouldn’t be too much size/age difference and both Trudy and Jezebel are experienced mothers and should be able to feed an extra mouth or two, provided they don’t notice the cuckoos in their nests.

Ivory, my other first-timer, is very close to her due date – at least going by her figure, which could best be described as “stout”. I hope she does better than her sister but, judging by the attempts at nesting she’s made so far, I may be thinking wishfully!

Rabbits usually get the hang of things second time round, if they make a total fluster-cluck of the first experiment. Whatever happens, the ferrets will eat the dead so nothing’s a total waste of time….

In the garden I’m delighted that we have a hedgehog making nightly rounds! Considering how many slugs we’re already noticing around the place (that mild winter!) every set of slug-gnashing teeth are more than welcome to visit.

The tadpoles have hatched in our little pond and we have a small adult frog hanging about, so that’s another set of insect-eating guests we’re happy to have.

No sign of our toad, though. Maybe we did put too much compost on top of the critter….. I hope not. Toads can be remarkably stealthy beasts so I’m not giving up on her yet!

The Empty Nest

Well, Trudy’s let me down. An empty nest, and this morning when I put her on the floor with Silver, her behaviour can only be described as unco-operative! She ran around the floor, she growled at him, she even head-butted him in the ribs. At the point where she started trying to jump up the walls rather than share the floor with him, I retrieved her from a novel position, clinging limpet-like to Delilah’s cage door some 3 feet off the ground and put her back in the cage.

I’ll see how she feels in a day or two. Doe rabbits do have a 14-days-yes-please and 2-days-no-thanks cycle so maybe that’s what the problem is. Either that or suddenly she’s racist about grey rabbits!

Some Rabbit Ruminations.

I killed four of the young NZWs today. They’re just 9 weeks, barely big enough, but all the same, those 4 bunnies put nearly 8kg of meat in the freezer, plus 4 ferret meals and some tasty tidbits to add to the dogs’ dinner.

It takes me, on average, about an hour a day all told to look after the rabbits – now at a population of 20, but earlier today 24. So, working backwards, that would mean it takes about an hour of my time every 24 days per bunny, so at 9 weeks, which is 63 days, each rabbit has cost me less than 3 hours of my time, and about £6 in food.

I don’t actually know what the price of meat is in the shops at the moment, we haven’t bought any for months, but how long do you have to work in a job, allowing for your expenses and a whack heading to the tax man, to take home enough money to buy 2kg of fresh meat?

And it’s superb meat, too – we haven’t found anything we can’t do with it yet, whether roasting, stewing, stir-frying, casseroling, sweet-and-sours, pan-frying, mince, pies, jerky, pemmican….

The slow-cooker is bubbling away nicely with tonight’s dinner. No prizes for guessing what meat is involved.

In other news, we’re down to our last stored onion and we’ve just finished the garlic, so we need to grow twice as much to last the full year! It’s always worth knowing. This year’s garlic (about twice as much as last year….heheh) is looking good in the garden and we’ll be putting in the onions and shallots soon.

How Not to Build a Compost Heap

When I pulled all my stuff off the allotment, I brought home a big compost bin that I’d bought and put there. Today we finally got round to assembling it in the garden, alongside our existing heaps, and I have to say, we definitely hadn’t thought it out properly.

First off, there’s a distinct lack of space in that corner. We had 5 compost heaps in situ, at various stages of composting, and the only available space was between two lilac bushes. All very well, but we’d already tossed a fair old heap of rubbish in that spot already!

So, the first job was to assemble the rear half of the bin – it’s one of these sectional plastic affairs – and then put it behind the rubbish heap, then move the rest of the heap into position within the bin before we could assemble the front half. Ducking and weaving around the lilics, we got the three lower and three upper rear panels of the bin in place and started forking the muck into position.

I nearly stabbed a hibernating toad in the course of this, which was a very lucky escape for Toady! I’m pretty sure it’s the same toad we’d seen around that corner of the garden last summer – quite a large, brown toad. Anyway, she just missed being impaled and I picked her up and popped her (probably her, she’s a big toad and females are bigger) into the area of the new compost bin, then reburied her carefully to continue her winter snooze. Hopefully she’ll settle back down and when spring comes, she’ll be ready to come out and scoff insect pests in the garden again.

Having succesfully avoided amphibian assassination and moved the heap into position, we then built the front half of the bin and filled in around the edges (inside) with the cleanings of the hen run from yesterday. I’ll continue filling up with rabbit cleanings.

It would have been much simpler and quicker if we’d had clear ground to build on, though!

It’s been a quiet time otherwise – too much ice and frost to do much work on the land. The bunnies continue ticking along, although Silver has (again) managed to pull a muscle in his right hind leg, the prat, and has been moved to a different cage and confined to it until he’s healed up. The two young female rexes who were in that cage are now in his old cage and their brothers, in one of my huge cages, are just beginning to moult, so should be in the freezer in a couple of weeks, as soon as they’ve finished moulting. The ten NZW youngsters will be ready about then, too.

My FAC application is now submitted and today I drilled four big holes in the wall, to bolt the cabinet securely in place. I don’t know what the walls of this house are made of but it seemed inordinately hard! I had to stop several times for the drill and drill bit to cool down. I have a socket that fits the bolts, but not the connecting doofer to attach it to the drill, so on Monday I’ll be in our local DIY place finding something to do the job and then the cabinet will be ready for inspection by the police in due course.

Back to Prepping

A major part of food security is being able to store what you grow or buy for the future. It’s fine while you can pop down to the shops if you run short of something, but what if you can’t? It’s easy enough to disrupt the remarkable supply chain that ensures food is on the supermarket shelf when you walk in – floods or heavy snow blocking roads and preventing deliveries can happen any time, and more serious problems might ensue from crop failures, fuel crises, war, disease and other geopolitical and climatic events.

One of my criteria for “ideal” storage foods is that you shouldn’t have to do anything to preserve them – they shouldn’t need freezing or chilling. They should just sit in a dark cupboard or a box and not change. If I need to use them in an emergency, the less cooking they need, the better – I might not have the means to cook them, or might not want to advertise “get your grub here!!” with the smell of hot food, if others in the area are likely to be hungry. Tinned foods are one of the “traditional” prepper foods, either shop-bought or home-canned (bottled, in the UK, usually), but dried foods are also good.

The other day, we decided we had a backlog of eggs. There’s only the two of us in the house and despite it being winter, the chickens are still laying quietly away to themselves, although somewhat less determinedly than during the summer! All the same, 20 eggs a week does get a bit beyond us from time to time, so the other day I scrambled a dozen eggs in a very little butter, then put them in the dehydrator. The following day, I ground them to a coarse powder and vacuum-packed six portions of dried egg, which just need a dob of hot water and a stir to reconstitute as scrambled eggs again – or could be eaten as they are, or mixed with cold water. Sealed up as it is and stored in a cool, dry, dark place, it should have a shelf-life of 5 years or so.

Today I’ve started on a new batch of pemmican, which involved boning and mincing 1kg of rabbit meat (from our own bunnies, of course!) and putting that in the dehydrator. Once it’s dried thoroughly, probably tomorrow night, I’ll grind it to a powder and mix with an equal weight of melted beef dripping (doesn’t matter what sort of fat you use, but I like beef dripping) and then seal it up in 300g portions. Each 300g of pemmican will be within a whisker of 2,000 calories, shelf-stable in storage for years, doesn’t need refrigeration and contains everything a human needs to power a very active lifestyle. Pemmican’s not to everyone’s taste but it’s probably the oldest method of preserving meat known. It was the mainstay of the diet of the voyageurs, the canoe-paddling fur-traders of Canada, who burned through 5,000 calories a day (1.5lbs of pemmican) on their journeys. I don’t usually add anything to my pemmican but you can add dried fruit, chopped nuts or honey for variety, or marinade the meat before drying to change the flavour of that ingredient.

So, that’s two good sources of home-grown shelf-stable long-term stored foods for the future.

Ten White Rabbits….

…have just left their mum. They haven’t fallen off any walls, they’ve just moved across the shed to their own big, spacious cage under the window, with a litter tray at each end. They haven’t stopped running joyously around since I moved them!

Jezebel looks relieved, and did a few joyous prances of her own on the floor as I was cleaning out her hutch.

They’re a good size, a nice warm weight in the hand when picked up. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say they’re nearly a pound apiece already, so Jezebel’s been feeding them splendidly! They’re also nicely even, without any obviously bigger or smaller ones. All in all, a very nice litter, and Jezebel’s held her condition despite doing so well by them.

Silver’s bad leg is starting to take some weight again and we’ve reached the end of the meds, to our joint relief. Catching him twice a day and persuading him to swallow the end of a syringe while I squirt stuff down his throat wasn’t something either of us really enjoyed very much. He’s still limping, but he’s definitely improving today. He exited his cage this morning with the old flair, leered at Jezebel, sneered at Tigger, rubbed his chin on everything in reach, rolled in all his favourite spots and touched noses with all the babies, so he’s feeling back to his normal feisty self, anyway!

And after yesterday’s milder weather, today the wind is back and has brought some snow to play with it, too! It’s sticking, for the first time this winter, so we’ll have to see how things look tomorrow. My daughter’s due to catch the lunchtime train back to Glasgow, so fingers crossed (a) we can get there and (b) it’s running!

The Tidying of Loose Ends

I like tidying up projects, finishing them and putting them aside. I dislike things dragging on and bothering me for ages. I tend to wave visitors off briskly, wish them well and shut the door briskly.

Anyway. The allotment is now cleared, sorted, email sent to the committee saying goodbye, so that’s that. Loose thread duly snipped.

My young chinchilla rex buck, Silver, decided today was a good day to pull a muscle in a back leg, so he’s now on cage-rest until the weekend, along with an anti-inflammatory painkiller from the vet, and I’ve warned him (sternly) that if he’s not better by then, he’ll be a mitten in the near future. So there. I gave him a carrot as well and, I have to admit, he doesn’t look particularly impressed by the threats.

The other bunnies are all fine, though Jezebel is getting fairly fed up with only getting the scraps of carrot she can steal from her 10 ravening babies, who can form a feeding frenzy  that would scare a school of sharks. It’s quite unnerving to watch this mass of writhing white fluff engulf an innocent carrot and only a few shreds emerge, later….They’ll be weaned at the beginning of next week, however, so she only has to put up with things a few more days.

On other fronts, I’ve now achieved the ticking-off of all the little boxes on the gun club probationer skills-to-learn list and passed the written exam, so by the end of the month I should be a full member of the club and can start on the next phase of the project – the FAC and SGC paperwork.

It’s a curious quirk (one of oh-so-many in UK gun law) that for the Shotgun Certificate I have to provide one referee who is a respectable, clean-living professional type, and yet for the Firearms Certificate, I just need two random people of no particular qualifications (though ‘of good character’) who’ve known me more than 2 years. Applying for both certificates together, I need the respectable professional and one random other. Bizarre.

I’m off to the city tomorrow for an outing with an old friend. We happen to have birthdays only a few days apart, share the same twisted sense of humour and met at uni many years ago, so we’re going to admire the special effects (and maybe the odd male torso) in Of Gods and Men, have a nice lunch, set the world to rights and I’ll ask her to be one of my FAC references. Why not? She’s of good standing in the community, etc, and has known me nearly eighteen years – and if the SHTF and she has to bug out of the city, I know which doorstep she’ll land on, so it’s in her interests to make sure I’m pleased to see her.

As she herself remarked when I asked her to be my referee for the gun club membership application!