Take your eye off the predators…..

And you lose livestock.

It’s been lousy weather up here for a few days; rain and wind non-stop for day. Normal autumn weather, in fact. All the same, my mother (who does the chickens) decided last night that she wouldn’t go out in the rain and mud to shut up the chickens. They go to bed in their house by themselves, we just shut the door of their inner run, attached to the house, and let them out again in the morning.

We’ve been phasing this particular bunch of chickens out anyway – they’re older, they’re not laying so well, so I killed the two who like to escape the run and stalk about the garden the other day (they’re in the freezer at the moment, they’ll keep the ferrets fed very nicely for part of the winter) and we were considering when to kill the rest. All the same, it’s beyond annoying to find one of them beheaded and partially eaten at the far end of the run this morning.

My mother’s feeling guilty because, of course, she left the henhouse door open for once.

The ferrets are feeling happy because they’ve got the rest of the corpse.

I’ve shut the lower windows on the rabbitry – they don’t need the extra ventilation any more and I don’t want anything jumping in and trying to steal the bunnies. We’re down to 16 at the moment – next year’s 6 breeding stock and 10 youngsters from Ebony’s second litter who’ll be due for the freezer in December.

I went and poked around the chicken run looking for evidence of what killed the marran who routinely slept in the nestbox – the others sleep on the perch in the run by preference. There were feathers here and there, but then the hens are moulting at the moment anyway. It’s been raining like stink and then there were Mum’s wellies tramping about, plus various live chickens padding around, so finding any other tracks was difficult. I did manage to spot one mammalian paw-print, tucked away in a less-travelled bit of the run under the shelter of an overhanging bush; a long straight imprint from a back leg below the hock, where the creature had shifted its weight back before hauling a dead hen up a slight rise, and at the front end of that, a relatively small, rounded paw-print with four toes and no claws.

Felis catus, the common or garden house cat. It’s uncommon to find a nice clear paw-print from a house-cat since they usually put their back feet exactly the prints from their front-paws, but given this one was wrestling a chicken (presumably dead by then) up a slight incline and round a corner, he (I’m guessing – but we have more wandering toms pass through our garden than queens) didn’t quite manage it this time.

I went back into the house for a camera but by the time I’d come back the chickens had wandered all over the prints and destroyed them. They were possibly attracted there to see what I’d been up to (might have been food….) but hey-ho, that’s life.

Nothing to be done about it but make sure the door of the inner run is always shut in future, whatever the weather!

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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.

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!

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!