If you've ever stopped by the farm, you've likely seen our free range critters. The turkeys, ducks and chickens frequent the front yard (and occasionally, much to my irritation, my front porch). You'll often see a cat or two (or four!) as well. But lately, there have been a few other critters on the loose.
A few weeks ago, Dan and I decided to trim down the amount of livestock on the farm. We sold off anything that we felt we weren't going to benefit from by feeding over the winter, so we found new homes for some roosters, small turkeys, peachicks (baby peacocks) and rabbits. The rabbits are under my total control- they started out as pets in my home before I met Dan, so he lets me use my own judgment on who to keep, who to sell, when to breed them, etc. I have a few does that are big pets and I won't consider selling, but I've also bought and/or bred others that I keep depending on personality and mothering instinct. So after rounding up the ones I was willing to part with, I also moved the remaining rabbits around to minimize the number of pens that need to be used. Even one less pen seems to make daily chores go faster! A day or two later, I took some laundry outside and was shocked to see a big, brown, cottontail-like rabbit right next to the house. It didn't startle when I stepped into the back yard, at least not any more than I did! I have never seen a wild rabbit in the yard, or really that many on any part of the farm, so this was strange. Then I realized it was one of my does, the one I call Hunny Bunny. I tried to pick her up, as she's really quite tame, but of course she hopped away and hid in the woodshed. Then I looked around and saw a gray rabbit. And a black one. This would be all the rabbits that were in one of the pens, so I checked it and found that there was a hole where two sections of wire had been fastened together. We must not have refastened it securely enough when we removed some of the others that were in that pen. I though about securing it, but then decided to make it even larger, thinking perhaps I'd catch one of the escapees if they went back in after food.
I worried when the rabbits disappeared over the weekend. I saw no gobs of fur or any other sign they had met with a bad end, they were just gone. Dan and I though it very strange, as there was lots of grass to eat, and we've had a loose rabbit before that stayed for months around the yard. (He lost his free-bunny privileges one day after eating the better part of a row of broccoli.) The next day, Dan went to the barn to move hay around in preparation to put in our second cutting. When he came back to the house, he said that all three had been spotted in the haymow! He also though Hunny was craving salt, as she hopped over to Dixie (one of the workhorses) and began licking the sweat off of her leg. I was sorry to have missed seeing that, it will probably never happen again.
Over the next few days, I would see the three of them, sometimes in the back yard, other times in the barnyard or near the poultry. I eventually caught the gray one, as she really did hop back into her pen for something to eat one day. I walked over, shut the wire, and that was done. Dan and I worked together with a big net and caught Hunny. That left only the little black buck, whom I had kept partly to try and provide some company for my other buck, Leo, over the months where I didn't want a female in his pen. I hate to see anything forced to be alone all the time. One windy afternoon, I saw both bucks...in the yard! The black one was not being kind, he was actually biting and chasing Leo. I ran out, just as it started to pour, and saw the wind had blown open Leo's pen door, but that he had run back to the safety of his home. I quickly got the door shut, but at this point I was unsure about what to do with the small black one, as he obviously wasn't going to make a nice penmate. So Dan and I have been kind of enjoying having a yard bunny, it's entertaining to see him hop about. I find it interesting that the poultry and cats pay him no mind. He's nearly full grown, so the cats don't see him as a snack, which is nice.
What is not nice was that two days later, Leo found a weak spot in the wire and busted out again! I've seen the two boys happily eating near each other at times, and separate at others, but no fighting. Leo often grazes just on the other side of the wire from the girls, but both boys are getting pretty smart. If I'm going out to the garden or doing chores, I can walk feet from the rabbits without making them nervous. The second I pick up a net to try and catch them, they know. And take off for the nearest hiding place. My little renegade rabbits. Perhaps they will wander back into the pen when they get hungry. Perhaps you'll see them hopping about the next time you visit!
I'm open to suggestions for naming my all-black mischief maker. (Houdini is out, as another rabbit is already called that.) If I get a good one, I'll reward you with something tasty from the farm stand!