Although they don't get much attention in this blog, we also raise rabbits here at the farm. I just like them, and I'll have young rabbits for sale periodically. I can watch them out my kitchen picture window while I'm cooking or doing dishes. The pens all have outdoor access, and some are moveable "tractor" pens which make great mowers as I move them across the back yard. One such tractor is currently right outside my window and houses Honey Bunny, who basically looks like a wild cottontail, and Leo, our tan and white lop-eared breeding male. He's got a short face that looks like he's got some Lion Head rabbit in him, and he's quite adorable. Both bunnies are quite tame and docile. Although that might sound like a weird thing to say about rabbits, I've lost more blood to the bunnies than all the other farm critters combined (including the cats!) They have legs made for digging and sharp claws, and if they kick and scratch you while you're moving them to a different cage, it's often worse than a cat scratch.
Anyways, Honey and Leo have been in the same pen for about two months, so yes, that means there are babies! Usually I do try to take the buck (or male) out before the blessed event, otherwise there's a good chance the mama will be pregnant again before the litter is weaned. It's hard on her to not have a rest between pregnancies, but things have been so busy I just let it slide this time. There are 5 little rabbits who just opened their eyes a few days ago. When I looked out at the pen yesterday, I saw Leo, Honey, and a small, grey-white baby bunny outside. The rabbits get outdoors via a ramp, so I have to put up a small piece of wood to keep the babies from falling out- I call it the "bunny baby gate." By the time they are old enough to climb over it, they seem to be smart enough to get back up into the warm, dry enclosed pen. However, since the baby didn't seem to be distressed, I figured I could finish what I was doing in the kitchen before climbing in the cage to catch it and put up the gate. There isn't much cuter than a farm baby, and tiny bunnies are so fun to watch! It seemed to be snuggling up to mama until she went inside. Now, many people who raise animals of any kind will tell you it's a bad idea to let a breeding male around the babies because no matter what species, the males will harm or kill the little ones. I'm not denying that this can happen (I've had male rabbits fight until one was severely injured) but I also think giving an animal the kind of environment it was designed to live in eases this. Our lambs are born and live on pasture and Rambo the ram looks after his whole flock, babies included. When we bred goats, I never saw the male harm the little kids, although other females would head-butt them away from their own offspring. Leo has been in with babies before and I had no worries about him, but I found it truly fascinating to watch him with this little one. I looked away, and when I next checked, the baby was nowhere to be seen. Leo appeared to be grooming his toes or something. On closer inspection, Leo was actually grooming the baby by licking its little head and letting it cuddle into his fur just like a mother would do. And yes, since the parents look nothing alike, I'm sure it was papa. When I caught the baby and put it back upstairs, it was Leo who seemed to be guarding the rest of the nest.
Raising livestock in a more natural way means that they get to interact with each other in ways more meaningful than just through the bars of one cage to the next. While the disadvantages to this are that yes, sometimes they can and do fight for dominance, and accidents can and will happen, all farm animals are social in nature. I do try not to treat the animals as human, but when you interact with them you can see that, if you get to know them, they all do have personalities and even emotions(some more strongly than others). I think an important part of raising animals naturally is allowing them to have a social life, with members of their own kind and even across species. To me, it's fascinating to watch how these interactions play out, whether it's a bunny family's dynamics, how a mother hen protects her chicks, or how the cat sunning himself reacts to an inquisitive turkey. I often think I'd be $10,000 richer if I could only capture some of these moments for America's Funniest Home Videos. But in addition to providing me with constant entertainment, being observant about these things helps me to be a better farmer. Giving them natural interactions means my animals will be less stressed, and if I use their natural reactions to my advantage when I handle them, it makes life easier for all. That, and lots of snacks!