Three different livestock stories tonight, just to keep you abreast of things feathered and furry here on the 'farm'.
If the speed of response by chicks has anything to do with how much their Mum loves them and stays protecting them, then these 8 babies are streets ahead of the 5 ducklings, who wouldn't scratch no matter what she tried. Ducklings just don't. With these chicks one dip of her beak and a single cluck had all 8 whizzing towards her on their surprisingly mobile legs and 8 little beaks diving in by hers to see what she'd turned up. Soon we will be letting the family out properly to free range. We have no fears from cats or the other chickens and we seem to be doing OK so far with regard to dogs on leads, foxes, mink etc. No! Our concerns are actually for dear ol' William the rooster, who is so keen to re-acquaint with Betty after her incubation 'holiday' that he chases her, tries to scrabble on board and would knock the chicks flying as she leapt to protect them. He's a big solid boy, and they could get badly hurt or killed, so we will wait a while till the babies get a bit bigger, tougher and speedier in their evasion runs.
You'll possibly know of the rather thin time we are having of the 'meat rabbits', born to Goldie in mid June. We had about 9 originally but they do not seem to be thriving and, although they look very healthy, one by one they have died for no apparent reason. We just find them lying on their side, stiff and chilled in the morning and up to now have disposed of the tiny bodies and moved on. We were putting it down to some internal, developmental problem possibly born out this being Goldie's first litter, and the fierce heat wave that we had during her final weeks of pregnancy and the babies' first weeks of life. By last weekend we were down to 4 babies left alive, 3 white albino and one dark rabbit-brown. None of the deaths had been foresee-able, they seemed to go from healthy to dead without us seeing any in-between sick stages or symptoms. By contrast the 12 baby bunnies of Padfoot and Ginny are thriving and growing well.
Then we had another death last week while the Silverwoods were here and this time we saw it coming. I went to move the run one morning to new grass and this rabbit was very pathetic looking and lethargic, not bothering to run for cover as I loomed over him. I nudged him into cover out of the rain but later he was back out. We rescued him to a warm dry box in the girls' caravan out of sight of the small children, but by lunchtime, Em-J reported hearing him wheezing and by 1 pm he was dead. We talked to Mentor Anne and she wondered whether liver fluke might be an issue, this ground having been grazed by sheep last year (all be it lambs treated for fluke and that, way back in December).
We decided to autopsy the rabbit and the girls decided they would like to see that. Em-J has a scientific mind and is choosing school/college options aimed at giving her a possible career in forensic archaeology. She'd done some biology but never dissected a mammal before. J-M was just on a bit of a thrill-seek and was not going to miss this one! I talked them though how we would open up the body cavity and what would be where and calmed their fears that there would not be blood and gore everywhere. We donned neoprene 'murderer' gloves and in we went. In the event the liver proved to be as clean as a whistle, very healthy looking with no flukes or damage visible as we sliced it up. Lungs, heart, diaphragm, spleen, kidneys and gut all looked normal to me.
The one feature which did strike me and I have certainly never seen (and I've skinned and gutted a few rabbits!) was that the bladder was full with wee, inflated to the size of the top of your thumb, though not inflamed or angry-red looking. It just looked like the boy had not had a wee for a while, but I am no expert and this might be standard for these rabbits. Anne and I were both a bit concerned that the bladder would have emptied in death, so a blocked duct may be indicated and again, this might point to an infection or a developmental issue. We do not know where to go with this but I will probably autopsy any more dead ones we may get. It was an interesting exercise for the girls, too and they were both pleased to have seen it and not to have run out in horror.
We hope, of course, that the remaining three babies make it through.