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!

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!