We are expecting two does to kindle and the almanac has been close to on target having predicted temperatures to be slightly above normal this weekend. I lost two litters in November 2012 and January 2013 to frigid temperatures and inexperienced does. This year I have consulted the trusty old almanac each time I considered breeding this winter. My hope was that it wouldn’t be too far off; it predicted very cold temperatures for the past two weeks so I postponed my last breeding a week or two to try and miss the coldest of weather. The girls are due this Saturday and temperatures are forecast to be close to normal for this time of year, in the upper 20s and low 30s.
Unfortunately the colder temperatures took their toll on our older breeding does. We lost two to upper respiratory infections or pneumonia last month. One of whom had a litter which was only two weeks old. Anyone you talk to will tell you that if the kits are still nursing solely from mom and haven’t opened their eyes yet then you are wasting your time attempting to feed them and bring them through. Perhaps I should have listened. Forever the optimist, I attempted to bottle/syringe feed seven, one and a half week old baby rabbits.
It was very obvious from the first attempt at feeding that two of them were not going to make it, but I tried anyway and was able to get them to take a very little warm, kitten-milk replacer. The following morning I took them out of the nest box and focused my attention on the remaining five. That day all of the kits eagerly fed and went potty and cuddled back together to keep each other warm. On the third day two more had passed and the fifth was looking pretty terrible but I persisted. By the fourth day I was down to two, apparently healthy, good looking baby bunnies. Each day they fed vigorously, processed their waste products and appeared to be responding well. They did well through day four and into day five.
When I got home from work on the evening of day five, I was busy with Little man and dinner and the various evening chores which are required to keep any household running; I hadn’t noticed that one of my cats was pretty much absent. After our dinner I went into the bedroom to retrieve the baby bunnies for feeding time, there was no movement in their box. A wave of defeat washed over me. I had been up extra early every morning that week and tried to fit an extra 30 minutes of chores into my already packed evening schedule every day. I was doing absolutely everything I could for these little critters to no avail. I reached in to collect them - they weren’t in there! Where could they have gone? The blanket covering their box appeared to be in place indicating that the cats hadn’t gotten in there. I was frantic, as their caretaker I had failed these two little critters, they were my charges and I hadn’t protected them sufficiently from the paws of my felines. Under the bureau, behind the night tables, under the baseboard heat, behind the hamper, all through the hamper (which they couldn’t have possibly gotten into, but it made me feel better); then a brown ball of fur flew past me and out of the bedroom – my oldest cat. She originated from the area of a crumpled towel from this morning’s shower. I cringed as I carefully unfolded it, expecting to see the worst. Curled up in a little nest that my cat had made out of that towel were the last two baby bunnies, they were very clean and soaking wet from ears to tail. There wasn’t a puncture mark on them. Apparently my oldest cat found the babies outside of their box and attempted to mother them. I don’t know if they were scared to death or if they got cold but the last two bunnies passed sometime during day five. My cat paced checking the spot where the towel had been and the spot where their box had been trying to find them. I finally heard her leave the bedroom just after 1:00 a.m.
Would my time have been better spent on other farm chores and to-do list items instead of trying to save a litter of bunnies that, all research had told me, had slim chances if any to survive without their mother? I remain an optimist and more than a little bit of a sap and will probably try it again if there is any hope of any of them surviving. It is never easy losing an animal, but it doesn’t seem to take nearly as many tissues and as much time to recover than it did when I started this journey.