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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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.

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.

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!

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.

Of Mice and……. Feed Hopper Lids.

I know perfectly well there are mice living in the sheds. There are always going to be mice, living in the sheds, as long as there are sheds and mice! They’re just the common, ordinary house mouse and I’d much rather they were in the shed than in the house!

But…. I do draw the line at this.

Top left corner,....the darker brown objects are NOT rabbit food!

Top left corner,….the darker brown objects are NOT rabbit food!

Mouse dropping in the feed hoppers on the bunny cages! Which, logically, means I’m feeding the wretched mice on expensive rabbit food. Now, I have no objection to feeding the rabbits on bought-in rabbit food because I get something back from them (meat, fur, loads of composting materials, the occasional cuddle) but mice? No way.

So, the logical thing to do is to deny the mice access to the feed hoppers. They’re probably just shinning up the wire doors and climbing in, stuffing their little furry noses to the brim and climbing out again, so a little ingenuity later and my childhood spent watching Blue Peter comes into good effect

Blue Peter has a lot to answer for....

Blue Peter has a lot to answer for….

We have stacks of empty ice cream cartons lying around, so a pair of scissors and a few snips trimmed the flat bottoms out of a pile of them. These are, pleasingly, just a little larger than the top of a feed hopper. I drilled a couple of holes along one long edge (the trusty penknife – who says you don’t need a penknife in everyday life?) and a pair of wire-cutters applied to the coil of soft wire (the same stuff I used to break in the other week!) and we have this:

The bottom of an ice cream tub and two short lengths of soft wire.

The bottom of an ice cream tub and two short lengths of soft wire.

A couple of minutes work with a pair of pliers, closely watched by various interested and slightly suspicious bunnies, and I achieved lids on the feed hoppers: Delilah certainly had doubts about what I was up to and I nearly had to push her out of the way to attach her lid!

Mouse proof (hopefully!) lid for feed hopper.

Mouse proof (hopefully!) lid for feed hopper.

Stylish they aren’t, but they should be effective, they’re dirt-cheap and very easy to do!

Lid in place, looking good!

Lid in place, looking good!

Now, I just have to set a few traps for the mice and reduce the population  a little….

Better mice than rats, though!

Useful Contacts

Well, Trudy had her kits on time but it was a couple of days before I got to see them, as she adopted a ferocious aspect and mounted armed guard over the nest whenever I came near. After a while, however, the novelty wore off and while I was cleaning her cage out, she popped quietly out to visit the neighbours and I sneaked a quick glance into the nest.

I have to give her points for consistency (as well as protectiveness) as she’s had seven, three black and four white. Exactly the same as last time.

We had a minor blip in our power supplies to the shed the other day, discovering the power was out in the evening (naturally…. who tests the lights work in daytime?). It hadn’t been out long and the freezers were still cold, so I flipped the trip-switch thingy back to the ‘on’ position, then shut the door and was just turning the key in the lock when I heard a smug click from the other side of it. Ho-hum, be like that, we’ll just work round it til tomorrow and phone an electrician. I do undertake a certain amount of DIY but  electricity and I began our acquaintanceship when I was a toddler and stuck my fingers in a live electrical socket. I survived it (obviously!) but for some reason I have a terrible fascination for electricity and apparently have a fantastic earth connection, since any stray electron looking for a way to earth invariably heads for me. I’ve been electrocuted more times than I can count and take extreme precautions in thunderstorms.

So, trying to trace a fault in a mains electrical circuit in the dark, in the rain…. no. Not on your nelly! Daylight and a man who knows what he’s doing, thanks. I dug out the headtorch and did the evening bunny rounds, then went to bed.

When I got up, my mother was in the process of running an extension cable from the nearest house socket to the big freezer. Great minds clearly think alike since that had been my plan, too! We also looked up the nearest sparky and phoned for help. It didn’t take him long to diagnose the problem – leaky roof in the end shed allowing water to seep into one of the light sockets and create a short circuit – and fix it (he unplugged the shed in question, number 4, which is powered off one of the sockets in shed number 3). Hey presto, we had power and light again.

It was at that point, now we had lights on again instead of merely torches, that the electrician noticed the 31 rabbits in shed number 2. Gosh, what a lot of rabbits! We got the daughter a guinea pig last week…. What do you do with them?

We eat them.

There was a short pause and a few thoughtful “oh” sounds, then he successfully reprogrammed his brain from ‘rabbit = pet” to “rabbit = meat” and we got talking about how big rabbits get, how fast you can get them to killing weight, the advantages of aiming for self-sufficiency, the Highland cow he has due back from the abattoir for their freezer and the insanity of relying on the government to save our behinds if things get sticky.

This is good. Now, I know where he lives and he knows where we live, and we both know the other has meat on the hoof/paw and no problems about eating it. If, as and when TSHTF, I know a bloke who might trade beef for veg/rabbits/pest control…. and vice versa.

Allies are good, barter is great, and the more people in your community you know and can get into a friendly, allied, barter-oriented relationship with, the better. I’d much rather the neighbours looked on me as a potential asset than a waste of space….

….. though I still won’t be giving them too much info in case they decide to rely on me to feed everyone in a crisis.