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.
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.
27th September, six fluffy, yellow day-old Brown Shaver chicks came to live at our place. The chick rearing school project proved a source of endless fascination.
In October, grandson, 7-year old Daniel was still mothering his chicken children. Strawberry did Daniel proud to win a ribbon at his school’s Agricultural Day.
By November, I was thinking thyme for chicken casserole. My dire warning about heads on the nearby chopping block was ignored. They cheeped away and continued to forage among the strawberries and herbs.
However, the chicks were terrified of the two adult hens who command the henhouse. Gertrude and Speckles only had so much tolerance for child-minding. They took to their nesting boxes. I guess it’s natural a pecking order be established.
Come December, the chickens are quite the cheeky teenagers and speak in chook not cheeps. One managed a defiant peck of my blueberries as they were shooed out of the garden. At night now, they roost in the hen-house with the older hens. Fewer feathers are flying.
Is it too much to expect some egg-laying in January?
Meanwhile, Frog has taken residence in the flax bush I’d left soaking in a bucket until I get round to replanting it.
Many rural properties have a concrete tank for rainwater supply storage. Our tank has been cleaned once in the ten years we’ve been here. Over time salts leached from the tank walls and cracks have appeared in the walls. This year, Himself and I decided our tank should be cleaned and resealed by a professional contractor. We thought our backup fibrolite tank should have enough rainwater to see us through. Simple matter. All good.
Learning curve. The best laid plans of mice and men go awry. That one task and cost leads to another. Remove some Alders screening and overhanging the tank to reduce leaf litter and the potential for invasion by tree roots. Clear felled trees.
Use the wait-time for the sealer to dry and do water pump and other maintenance tasks. Buy replacement inlet taps and pump filter and install a float and floating arm. Seal the hole around the tank inlet pipe. Replace roof guttering and downpipe filter. Inspect backup tank and discover a near-invisible slow leak. Plan to demolish and replace this tank.
So we had less stored rainwater than we thought. We siphoned water from the second tank. For a week now, we’ve been into water conservation big time, safe water use and water recycling strategies. As we face the prospect of an El Nino climate situation this summer, it’s a timely reminder for us adults about respecting the preciousness of a clean supply of rainwater. Great first-hand life lessons for the kids in the household.
Their greatest source of fascination was when the contractor flushed out the carcass of a dead possum from among the black sediment from the bottom of the tank. Their words to the effect, Yuk! We’ve been drinking that water! They took some convincing that as they’d never been sick they were okay. Guess it was a case of what they didn’t know didn’t harm them. Still, this week we’ve been drinking boiled or bottled water.
Now it’s a case of hurry up and wait for rainfall to refill our cleaned concrete water tank.
We’re getting ready to drive south to join my family who live in a dairy farming community near Matamata in the Waikato. This will be the first Xmas we’ll have spent together in my old home since we moved to Northland some years ago. My brother will celebrate a significant birthday in the New Year and I suspect an Uncle may surprise us and fly out from England for the occasion. I want to take something special for Christmas dinner that my family would not normally eat. So right on cue, my heritage potatoes were ready for harvesting this afternoon. They’ll go nicely with roasted spring lamb. I’ll steam these potatoes with mint leaves and arrange a colourful platter display of the five potato varieties. I like to cook the blue potatoes separately because the colour ‘runs’ and tends to stain.
The soil is warm and friable and the potato growth has been prolific. This is the first time I’ve grown these two potato varieties. Top row: Kowiniwini (some refer to this as ‘zebra’). Bottom row: Maori.
I’ve written about Swift (an early variety) and Red Rascal in a previous post. Similarly, I’ve described Urenika (a blue tuber-like potato). I prefer to harvest these at an early stage when they are fairly small before they get too large because I find they tend to be floury when cooked.
Hi! My special season’s greetings to you and the people who are special to you and best wishes to you all for a happy and peaceful New Year.
I’m celebrating that the Pohutukawa trees I planted earlier this year are in bloom in time for Christmas. The drifts of white in the collage are the carrot weed flowers (wild carrot) which proliferate in the paddocks at this time of the year. The cattle love the flower heads and the pukeko gouge and gorge on the roots.
The grandkids and their school-mates sang a neat New Zealand Christmas carol at their end-of-year playcentre and school prize-giving ceremonies – APukeko in a Ponga Tree http://folksong.org.nz/nzchristmas/pukeko.html which issung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Enjoy our Kiwi down-under spirit.