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.
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.
Jemima seemed most fitting to name our latest feathered friend. She waddled into our lives one morning about three weeks ago. Shy, yet trusting and friendly like Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle Duck, she has let us hand feed her and even give her a cuddle, and she stops, holds her head in a way looking at us that suggests she is listening to us chat to her.
Loving a handful of grain in a watermelon rind
Drinking water inside hen coop
Breakfast is over
Time to waddle back to the stream
We think she is an escapee, that being from our neighbour’s duck pond across our stream where hundreds of ducks of different breeds live. Bruce happens to like ducks and geese. What child has not loved listening to Beatrix Potter’s stories about garden and farmyard animals being read to them? When they were little, I used to take my grandsons to scatter grain at feeding time. It is fun to stand in the middle of the noisy rush of quacking and honking birds, like a big city rush hour which I no longer miss..
In the relaxed way things happen here, one day, we will wander over to Bruce and ask if he is missing a duck. His answer will be laconic and he will not know or even worry that Jemima has herself a new home. Bruce took on six ducks recently because their owner could no longer care for her pets. Jemima is probably from that small flock. She is earning her keep and is doing a great job scooping up the bugs and slugs in my garden. For now, Jemima can sleepover at our place and be one of the poultry girls.