Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Hunny Bunny to the Rescue

When raising livestock, there is nothing more important than having animals with a strong instinct to care for their young.  A new mother who refuses to let her baby nurse is frustrating and angering, especially when you end up having to bottle feed poor baby.  Those animals are not kept around the farm long, whether it is a goat, sheep, cow or whatever.   

We've had several nests of rabbits born over the past few weeks, and all had seemed to go very well.  Rabbits tend to be a bit more unpredictable, I don't know why, but I've had does that did wonderfully one litter and then terribly the next.  Since the rabbits are more for my own enjoyment than farm income, I tend to be a bit more sentimental about who I cull.  Plus, since the gestation period is only about a month and you end up with 4,6, or even 8 rabbits each time, you're not investing a whole lot in a lost litter compared to, say, a cow who carries for 10 months and has only a single calf.  But the other night, as I did chores, I could tell something had gone wrong with the litter that was in the hollow log in an outdoor run.  It was rainy and cold, and there was a baby bunny outside.  In the past, with a different doe, it meant that the wind had carried much of the mother's fluff she uses to build the nest away and the little blind bunny (it takes a few weeks before they open their eyes) had crawled out looking for warmth.  In that case, I merely had to block the wind, put the baby and the fluff back in the nest, and Scotchie, the mama bunny, took care of the rest. As I investigated, though, the rest of this nest was dead. The whole nest needed to be cleaned away, as it was pretty gross.  This doe had been feeding these for a week prior, so I don't know what happened to make her abandon them.  I picked up the soggy little living one.  Dan thought it was dead too, but I saw that it was moving and making small, pitiful noises.  As I climbed out of the run, I found a second baby from the same litter, in the same cold condition.  It had crawled even farther.  

Now I had a dilemma- what to do with them?  Trying to get the doe to care for these seemed as good as just letting them die at that point.  It would  be less cruel to just put them down, at least it would be quick.  Option #2 would be to try and hand-raise them.  I've tried this before, even going as far as carrying the tiny things to my job (even to a staff meeting 40 miles away!) to feed them regularly, but unlike with the sheep and goats, I was not successful in getting them to eat, and they died anyway.  Losing babies is always hard, it's worse when you're directly responsible for them that way.  So I mentally ruled that out right away.  So I could put them down...or...there are 2 other well-cared for nests here at this point.  One contained babies just a day old, and I hesitated to disturb it more than I had that day by checking for stillborns.  I didn't want to place these little ones in there, who already were long shots at surviving, only to upset another mama and lose another nest.  No, that wouldn't be a good idea.

 The other option was the doe I call Hunny Bunny.  She has a litter of very well fed babies who are about a week older than the orphans.  Hunny is diligent about her nest- removing the fluff during the hot spell we had recently to make sure they don't overheat, putting them all back in the nest box and covering them when the temperatures dip again.  She also doesn't get upset when I handle the babies.  That could work, but at this point the orphans are cold and wet.  So I took them inside, put a dish towel on my bathroom counter, and gently blow-dried them to get them warm quickly.  They began squirming and trying to suckle my hand.  I couldn't just let them die without trying something.  So I went back outside and opened Hunny's pen. I placed these little ones with the rest of the litter, covered the whole group back up, and hoped for the best.  I had no doubt that Hunny would still care for her babies, but I was unsure about the orphans.  Would she notice?  Or care?  I figured the worst that could happen is that she would throw them out of the nest and I would find them dead in the morning.  Or they would be dead in the nest anyway, due to the stress they had just undergone.  Either way, it seemed like a slim chance, but one worth taking.

Yesterday morning, I went to see if they had made it though the night.   If she hadn't fed them, it would be obvious at this point.  At first, all I saw when I moved the fluff was a bunch of sleek, healthy rabbit babies.  No dead ones, and nothing out of the nest either.  But I had to find the two I put in there to make sure.  As I looked, I realized they were right on top, warm and with full bellies.  They had eaten, Hunny had accepted them, if not as her very own, at least as ones she was willing to care for.  It may get a bit tricky when the others open their eyes soon, but for now, all is well.

 

The tan/grey one in the center is one of the fosters, its grey sibling is just beneath! The "big sibs" seem to be surrounding them and everyone is warm on this rainy morning.

 
 
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