Dear winter, can’t we be done already? Everyone says you are worse this year than for nearly a decade before! You have to speak to people older than me to have an accurate recollection of the last time winter was like this.
You see, most years we get one or the other; snow or cold. Which is not to say it’s not cold normally even when it snows, but “cold” tends to be low 20’s and “very cold” tends to be single digits to teens. So typically we get a few feet of snow when it is 20’s OR we get very cold and dry temperatures below 15 with almost no snow… One way or another all winter long.
Not so this year. Because before every cold snap we have gotten two feet of snow. And those cold snaps have been dropping below zero, not down to a mere high single digits.
The snow before a cold snap is a boon. It is actually warmer in the snow than the air, so if snow covers everything the temperatures stay warmer close to the snow. But the fact is this winter has been bad. Two or three feet of snow is a lot, but it is even more difficult to bear when the temperatures drop below 0 and the wind off of the lake is blowing the snow into drifts knee-high and bringing the windchills down to dangerous levels.
So once again we will be bringing the chickens indoors, because once again they are starting to show hints of frostbite on their combs and it is only going to get colder. The temperatures will not be dropping quite so low, so we will be leaving the rabbits outside this time, but they have fur coats and lots of hay to keep them warm!
Amidst the blowing wind, freezing cold and feet of snow, one of our rabbits gave us a very special litter!
This is Lucy. Some time back, a very nice lady at my mother’s church had picked her up as a stray rabbit and kept her as a pet. She is a sweet, but huge rabbit. At 13lbs she was finding it hard to keep her in an apartment. So she ended up bringing her to me.
It’s a rare occurrence for us to take in a rescue. People who are so eager to abandon their rabbit on someone else for whatever the reason often demand their animals live out cozy house rabbit lives and that is not how a farm works. Every animal must pull it’s weight in some way, from Nukka pulling a wagon full of cut hardwood from a downed tree to every rabbit being a producer. If a rabbit does not produce, that rabbit must be culled. We have a three strikes rule… You have three chances from your last successful litter to produce another or you are out. Once you have three botched litters, you are soup. This is not OK with most pet owners, but in this case the lady wanted her rabbit to live a happy, useful life surrounded by other rabbits and people rather than send her off to a shelter where she could end up somewhere horrible forever… Even if she became dinner in the end.
So I found myself agreeing to keep an older, unfixed doe of completely unknown stray origins. She is a beautiful rabbit with lovely calico coloring and spots. Her body is not that of a meat rabbit, being long and low, but she is quite large. And how could I say no to keeping a rabbit out of a rescue?
We proceeded to settle her down into a cage and try to breed her. We would adhere to the three strikes rule. Well the first breeding did not take but the second one did leading to high tension and nerves. Lucy, you see, could be as old as 3 years. She was kept as a house pet for 1.5 years. Typically a doe must be bred before they are one year old or they can develop serious complications from giving birth… Prolapse, stuck kits and ruptured uterus become more likely… Most of the time an older doe will simply produce bloody balls of flesh and no viable offspring. A doe can produce nothing, never develop the instincts to properly care for her kits, or even die. So we had our concerns, but knew the risks when we accepted her.
However, her litter was completely successful and it just goes to show that you never know until you try! On one of the coldest days of the year she produced four beautiful, healthy kits! One was out of the nest and chilled after their first feeding, but warmed up just fine. Four is a small number but is the smallest litter size we would accept from a rabbit and the kits are quite large. Future litters may well be larger. Lucy herself is doing great and is becoming a very good mother. The birth was very clean compared to many of my other rabbits and I barely even noticed that it had happened.
The neat part about this is that Lucy is a “broken” rabbit, a genetic pattern we have wanted around for a while. This just means a rabbit with patches of color along with patches of white, but it is very pretty. Beautiful meat rabbits are becoming more popular. The lovely golden steel patterns that Kibbles and Nutro produce are popular because people are raising rabbits more for self sufficiency than to market and if you can get a beautiful rabbit instead of a white one, why not?
So this litter is a big step for our rabbitry, and for Lucy! It means we now have a successful breeder of broken patterned meat rabbits, and it means Lucy gets to stay as a contributing member of the rabbitry! Way to go Lucy!