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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What Do You Do When The Taps Don’t Work?

This post is inspired by some reports from the States, not anything amiss in the state of our supplies here – yet, anyway!

I came across an article on the current problems in water supply in Baltimore and Detroit that sparked a bit of thinking on my part. Unlike California, the problem isn’t lack of water, per se. Both Baltimore and Detroit have plenty of water available. The problem here is that maintaining the infrastructure to collect, purify and supply water to a city is an expensive job – maintenance costs, wages, etc – that needs to be paid for, and both Detroit and Baltimore choose to pay for this process via billing customers for their water (Don’t get excited about “free” water in the UK – it’s not free, we just pay for our supply via our taxes). If you can’t pay your water bill, the water supply gets shut off.

It’s in the nature of cities in economically depressed areas to have a fair proportion of long-term unemployed, jobless and generally poor people who can’t afford to pay for much. In the case of both Baltimore and Detroit, they’re seriously economically depressed (part of America’s “rustbucket” belt where the death of heavy industry and off-shoring to the Far East has stripped jobs away from the area) and as a result, a certain number of people default on their water bills. There are, by the looks of things, some schemes for assisting those in financial difficulties, but at the end of the day those water pipes still cost money to keep in one piece with clean water flowing through them, so the water companies have to find the money somewhere to keep operating. If people aren’t paying the bills, where does the money come from to pay the workers to fix leaks or operate the treatment plants?

I’m not that interested in the whys and wherefores or the philosophy of paying directly for water or having it tucked into the tax bills. What exercised my mind was scenario planning. Take this a little further (as I suspect will happen to all major cities at some point in the future) and play the mind-games: suppose this happened where I live? Suppose there wasn’t the money to pay for clean water to fall out of taps in endless quantities? As a survivalist, what would I do if the water supply failed, long-term?

Short term, say a few days or weeks, is no challenge at all. We have a big water-butt in the garden and the climate here is soggy enough it stays full, or near-full, all the time, even through we’re using it for gardening and for the bunnies and chooks. We could easily fill up a bucket and pour it into the Berky filter in the kitchen and we’d have pure, clean, safe water for ourselves. If we lived in a city and had some warning (like knowing we’d just had a shut-off notice!) we could fill up containers and store water to tide us over a short break in supply.

But if the supply’s out for months? Or forever? What then?

The usual recommendations are that a human needs 2 litres of water to drink per say, plus washing and cooking water, say about 4 litres a day, per person. 4kg of water. In a week, that’s 28L of water per person. 126L per month. 1,512L per year. Multiply by however many are in your household and then think about the weight-bearing capability of your floors. You really can’t store that much water upstairs!

What if you live in a flat?

And then there’s that perennial problem, the neighbours. If the water’s out for a couple of hours, you can bet someone will pop round to ask if you could let them fill the kettle, because they didn’t have any water stored! All very well when you know they’ll fix the problem in a couple of hours, but what do you do when you’re the only one in the area with a water butt and a filter and the neighbours haven’t had any water for a few days? You can’t go without water for very long – even in a fairly damp, cool climate like the UK, people get thirsty after a few hours and dehydrated after a few more. Bottled water and soft drinks will only last so long and then the local shops will be stripped bare.

After a day or two your neighbours will be losing the plot. Dehydration affects brain function and irrationality will set in. If it’s a choice between drink untreated water or die of thirst, people will drink the dirty water, and since there won’t be water spare for washing, it’ll encourage the outbreak of the diseases of poor hygiene – cholera, typhoid, typhus, E coli and salmonella.

I’ll admit to a big advantage here (and it’s not accidental!); I live in a smallish village in a rural area, not in the middle of a city. We have natural water sources available by way of a small river, various springs and some old wells. I’m not planning on sharing my filter with the village but I can teach people how to build their own, using sand, gravel, charcoal and a bucket, so if (when) our taps run dry in the aftermath of civilisation, hopefully I can reduce the risk of being mobbed by neighbours desperate for a drink.

But what do you do if you live in a flat in a city? How do you supply your water needs without the infrastructure and utilities we all take for granted?

In other news: the bunnies all seem fine and the kits are opening their eyes and beginning to stagger around their cages, beginning the process of driving their mothers slightly demented. I had to pick Jezebel up to get her back in her cage this morning, she wasn’t going back in with those ‘orrible little monsters willingly! In the garden we’re pricking out brassicas and netting them at the moment – both butterflies and birds liking brassica leaves! – and the peas and beans are sprouting nicely. The parsnips haven’t put their shoots up yet but parsnips are often slow so we’re not worrying about it. They’ll turn up in their own good time! We’ve also ordered this year’s tomatoes – last year we were disappointed in our crop from plants bought locally, so we’ve gone back to the mail-order company which supplied our plants the year before, when we had bumper harvests from grafted plants. They should arrive mid-June and we’re looking forward to more big, delicious harvests!

Last August I put some eggs into waterglass as an experiment: my grandmother used to preserve eggs this way during WWII and I’m always interested in food storage methods that don’t rely on a constant supply of electricity so I put 4 dozen away to see how it works. I fished them out a couple of days ago to see the results of the experiment and I’m very pleased: they all looked like eggs, smelled like good eggs, and although when broken the white is very runny and the yolk breaks rather easily (it’d be difficult to get good fried eggs out of them), they taste normal and delicious.

All very good – but then I had 4 dozen eggs to use up! An orgy of cooking and baking ensued and we now have over 9lbs of cakes and another 9lbs of quiche in the freezer.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Yet Another Boring Catch-up Post….

One of the things that does amuse me about being a survivalist is that you spend your time thinking about and mitigating risks that would make life exciting, as a result of which life largely just ticks quietly along. Nothing earthshattering has occurred, mutant zombies have failed to overrun the country, Ebola hasn’t quite managed to make it out of Africa (yet) and the economy is largely staggering from quiet crisis to quieter whimpering crisis in the usual manner. We have winter tyres on the cars so there isn’t even the minor excitement of a bit of wheel-spin on a frosty road to give us an adrenalin rush.

If I was feeling tin-foily, I might try to connect some dots with the revelations that the US infrastructure’s computing systems has been infiltrated by some nasty malware of suspected Russian origin, a comment made last year (I think) about the US regarding an attack on their computing systems as an act of war, the simmering civil war (with alleged Russian stirring) in the Ukraine, the price of oil, the fact that the US mid-term elections have left them with a Democrat president and a solidly Republican Houses of Congress and the odd snippet I once heard somewhere that the US president has almost no power except during times of war, when he gets a lot of powers handed to him.

If I’m going to go down that line of speculation, however, I shall end up with a spade in my hand marking out the spot to put in a bomb shelter in the garden, so instead I’ve spent the day, rather more usefully, mucking out the bunnies, sexing Jezebel’s 9 youngsters and splitting them up into boys and girls in different cages, weaning Delilah’s 6 fat fluffy kits, making sure Trudy has everything she needs for her litter (due tonight) and putting Jezebel back in with Samson to ensure we get another litter along in due course.

We’re still quietly pulling produce off the allotment and stashing it in the freezer; this week we’ve lifted most of the leeks and frozen them in batches ready to use, as we have with several more pounds of carrots and parsnips. There’s lots more carrots and parsnips to come yet, though I may declare a war on slugs soon if I find many more neatly hollowed-out swedes. The jerusalem artichokes, for reasons they haven’t chosen to share with the world, have decided to flower just as they’re dying back for the winter. Something to do with the unusually mild, warm weather, perhaps? Who knows. Once they’ve finished, I’ll dig ’em up and store them, anyway.

The allotment committee have decided that they’re going to put the rents up for the plots next year, so adding another increment to our incentive to bring vegetable production back home and out of anyone else’s control or (hopefully!) reach.

Quick Update

Only a brief note tonight – yesterday I drove about 500 miles in total and today I’ve walked three dogs, mucked out two horses, taken care of my own beasties (dogs, rabbits, ferrets), done some gardening, house-sat 5 dogs for a client and this evening I’ve had to dig out someone’s terrier that got stuck under a tree in their garden so I’m feeling a little less than bouncing with energy at the moment! The past couple of days seem to have gone past in a long blur.

Yesterday I spent driving down to Glasgow with my daughter, sitting in on a meeting she had there with a counsellor and then trekking on down the M74 to meet a friend in the Abingdon Services, where we took possession of a couple more New Zealand White rabbits, both does. They’re gifts from another friend whom I helped out with advice when he wanted to get into meat rabbit breeding, so now I have 2 unrelated, placid, well-handled and fine-looking does, 6 and 7 months old, and of course my buck Samson, who’s now a proven stud (at the last count Trudy has 6 good-sized babies in her nest, all looking very healthy and she’s turning out a very laid-back, casually competant sort of mum, which is the best sort). Samson isn’t related to the new does at all, so I have a good solid set of blood-lines for the future.

We got home just short of midnight so the new girls were just popped into a cage for the night. This morning they’re looking quite cheerful, they’re eating and drinking well so I’m very pleased with them.

I can’t say the same for Jack Russell terriers who get stuck in rabbit holes, though….