It is almost time to think about leaving home. Unafraid and curious, the mini-lop kits hopped from the interior of their home for the past 20 days and ventured into the caged area where Mum was feeding on delectable dandelion flowers and leaves. The baby rabbits do not mind being cuddled. The rate of growth is remarkable. I cannot be sure about their gender but think one is a male. One kit’s ears are light chocolate colour. The other’s ears tend to be more coffee coloured. Unlike their mother Oreo, there are no markings on their bodies that I can see at this stage, Day 20. Their fur is so fluffy. Cute. and cute.
Late afternoon has been pleasant as the spring weather warms and the garden plants grow and blossom. Paws the rabbit is being encouraged to exercise. Once he has explored the boundaries, visited Oreo’s cage and sniffed the smells, he will hip-hop and dart in and out of the borage, rhubarb, comfrey, curry plant and wormwood herbs that grow under the fruit trees. Tonight he dug a shallow burrow in the hens’ dirt-dust bath area. The hens accept Paws now and there is beak-to-nose communication.
It is Day 14 since the birth and we have seen rapid change. From hairless newborns enveloped by a thick quilt of soft rabbit fur, the white-furred kits have emerged from their downy cocoon, moving in tiny hops as they explore the boundaries of their nest before joining Mum on the floor of the hutch. One tiny hop for a rabbit. One giant hop for baby bunnies.
For the first time, we saw Oreo cleaning her babies as they lay on their backs while they suckled. They are beguiling, such cute characters. After school this afternoon, it was with absolute wonder as they cuddled the kits that grandsons learned the baby rabbits had newly opened their eyes.
I stood back and looked on gobsmacked. Were these the same boys who absolutely must be in front of a gaming device in their spare time? Rabbits = 1, devices = 0.
Day 12: kits moving more within the the nest. They huddle together.
13-days old and moving more. Kits emerging and more visible from the downy cocoon of rabbit fur.
Kits seen suckling while lying on their backs. Oreo licked and cleaned each kit
Holding 13-day old kits while the bedding straw in the nesting tray is changed.
Oreo is calm about me cleaning the nest, handling the kits and watching her with the kits. I have been careful to build trust and a routine with her. I like to talk to her with a quiet voice and let her come up and sniff my hand. It helps to offer Oreo a piece of apple. Everything stops for that treat.
If we thought rabbit care would become routine pet care, think again. I have been on a steep learning curve, learning on the hop so to speak, moment by moment.
Leo, the family cat, frequently and successfully hunts wild rabbits. Though the hutch and run are predator proofed, it has not stopped him scoping the possibility of getting easy prey. It means we must spend time daily with Paws so he can have a run and forage in the orchard. For now, Oreo does not leave her cage and is never far from her kits.
After the birth of the kits, it was the behaviour of our normally amiable free-ranging hens that astounded me. I was giving Oreo fresh water and feed. Two of the hens tried to push by me into the cage run. I pushed them away. They flew back and pecked me as they tried again to get into the run. They stayed near the cage for some time glaring at the enclosure that had been their chicken coop one year ago.
The local pet-shop owner suggested I remove the placenta stained fur to clear the hutch of smell that would attract predators and might be agitating the hens. Later that afternoon while doing as I was advised, I sadly counted four kits. The fifth was nowhere to be found. Oreo for reasons of her own had eaten this newborn. I had been told to expect this could happen.
Grandson, 9-years old, was an interested onlooker at this time. He wanted to know about about birth and the placenta and asked lots of questions. Sitting quietly in the orchard with this boy while we watched his pet rabbit, it was a special moment to be part of a learning conversation about Oreo’s experience and be able to relate it to facts of human life. Wow! Oreo is more than a pet. Oreo the mother. Oreo the teacher.
Tuesday, 24th October is a date when I would like to have been proven wrong about the saying, breeding like rabbits.
In my previous blog about Paws, mentioned how excited Grandson at the arrival of an unexpected second pet rabbit and how his Mum said she had got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’.
Oreo, a mini-lop rabbit, gave birth to her first litter of five kits about midday. She showed strong basic instincts in her preparation for the birth and mothering.
She had tried digging a burrow from the cage. She had plucked fur from her lower abdomen to make a soft downy cocoon for her babies in the straw nest created some days earlier. In this way, Oreo exposed her nipples ready to suckle her kits.
There was a time lag of about three hours between the birth and when we were able to separate the new mother and her kits from Paws, the father. Too late, I think. Oreo is probably pregnant again.
Four weeks ago, we became accidental grandparents to Paws, the cutest one-year old white bunny with light chocolate coloured floppy ears. Who could resist such a cuddly charmer? Grandson’s school Agricultural Day loomed and he wanted to show his pet mini-lop rabbit that he cares for when he stays with his mother in the city. It would be a short stay we were told.
The old chicken coop and caged run was scrubbed, put in a sunny sheltered spot in the orchard and furnished with fresh bedding straw and sweet-smelling hay. A hutch away from hutch, secure from predators we thought as we admired the comfy rabbit home.
Paws arrived with a bag packed with his care booklet, grooming brush, hay, pellet treats, purple plastic toy tunnel, red walk harness, sipper water bottle, woollen blankie and a surprise.
His mate, Orero. An adorable female mini-lop rabbit with floppy ears and chocolate coloured patched fur.
Grandson was excited at the prospect of an unexpected second pet. His Mum said she got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’. As seen-it-all-before Grandparents, we were suspicious. Wild rabbits breed prolifically in our rural area. Domestic city raised rabbits must have the same basic instincts.
Both rabbits eased into rural lifestyle living and diet. Grandson learned to identify and pick dandelion, dock leaves, grass, puha and thistles from the stream bank. Oregano from the vegetable garden, yum. Happy rabbits. I googled ‘rabbits’ and questioned our local vet. Reality – Oreo could get pregnant at a young age.
Grandson’s Dad and Himself bought wire netting, built and kitted out a bigger second secured rabbit run. Agricultural Day drew closer and Grandson’s photo and written project work had to be completed. Paws and Oreo settled well into their new rabbit run. On Day 10, it was with some dismay I saw Oreo padding the straw-lined plastic tray inside the hutch shelter with hay stalks.
Six days later, I was greeted with a snow of white rabbit fur throughout the hutch and run. My first thought the cat had entered the run and wreaked havoc. But no. Five newborn kits nestled in a thick blanket of rabbit fur in the plastic tray. When birth is imminent, mother rabbits pluck soft fur from their abdomen and create a downy cocoon for their babies. It is in this way they also expose their nipples ready for suckling.
And, Paws was mating with Oreo.
Paws is confined to the bachelor quarters. Oreo and her kits now dwell in the old chicken hutch. Grandson and his brothers were ecstatic. Grandson’s Dad thought about solutions to longer stay. Grandparents sighed and rolled up their sleeves at the prospect of newborn rabbit care.
Now, about that mother duck who nested and hatched six ducklings among my celery plants.
In October, a friend gave me six vegetable seedlings. She described them as a cross between a Pea and a Bean, a heritage vegetable brought to New Zealand by Dalmatian people who settled in this country more than 100 years ago.
The seedlings have flourished and are growing skywards on the bean frame next to my scarlet runner beans. We pick young Peans and enjoy eating them raw. It is hard to say whether the Pean is a cross or whether it is a distinctive vegetable in its own right. I’ll let some pods grow large and see what eventuates.
As is the way in summer, we now have a proliferation of beans. Tired and hot at the end of a busy week, I had no idea what dish I might create as I picked the green, butter and runner beans, Peans and green chilli for dinner tonight.
However, a recipe evolved and Friday night dinner happened for three adults, and three grandkids who must have sausages and sauce. Kids and vegetables – that is another story.
Slice 1 onion and saute in olive oil until soft
Add 2 crushed cloves of garlic and 1 green chilli finely chopped
Slice 1 red pepper (normally I would char-grill beforehand and peel) and saute with the onion
Add 1 450g tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer.
Top and tail and cut the beans and Peans. Add to tomato mixture.
Simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.
Season to taste.
I added some leftover black Kalamata olives that had been marinated in a chilli and red capsicum dressing and then served this dish with crusty ciabatta bread.
As an after thought – I could have added some crumbled feta cheese. But – next time.
The Pean has earned its place in my vegetable garden and kitchen.