Making Hay

Week of March 1st, 2009 | The weather was starting to get warmer.

Holm Girls' Dairy or Rabbit Refuge?

By Sarah Holm

 Laura with El-ahairah and Cookie.

Laura with El-ahairah and Cookie.

I have always had an affinity for rabbits. My first rabbit, a white angora buck, I was probably too young for and I'm sorry to say he was rather neglected. But after his death people kept giving me more rabbits and the more I learned how to care for and play with them, the more I grew to love them.

Rabbits can be very good pets. They are very quiet and clean. They do not bark, or jump up on you like dogs do, nor do they require as much space as a cat. They do not get lonely if you are gone all day, but will eat and sit quietly, groom themselves periodically, and calmly wait, thinking various bunny thoughts and dreaming bunny dreams.

Lately, however, I am afraid my love of rabbits has taken a rather unmanageable turn. Looking back, I believe it started two summers ago. Laura and I bought two baby rabbits, a brown Mini-Rex we named Hazel, and a brown and gray speckled Mini-Lop we named Dandelion. We did not have a secure cage for them because they were so small. So we asked our parents if we could keep them in our room. Apparently there are benefits to having hideous ancient carpet and peeling wallpaper, as they said yes.

We litter boxed trained them and had all sorts of fun. Laura taught Hazel how to play tag. It was pretty funny to watch. Laura would sneak up on Hazel and, with exaggerated stomping, chase him under our bed. Laura would freeze and wait; pretty soon Hazel's little velvet nose would peek out from under the bed skirt and it was Laura's turn to run. After being chased around the room by the tiny rabbit, Laura would leap up onto the bed, screaming in mock terror. So eager was Hazel in this game, that the plump little bunny would put his paws up on the bed and wiggle his nose ferociously at my sister. Then Laura taught Dandelion, who was a very greedy rabbit and twice the size of Hazel already, to jump up on our bed. I thought this was pretty neat until Dandelion began jumping up in the middle of the night and trying to sleep on my neck. Several times I woke up to find the terrifying fuzzy face of some unknown animal gazing into my eyes. I would leap up screaming and poor Dandelion would be catapulted into the air.

I finally made Laura move them outside. I still feel guilty to this day about it, because two days later they dug a tunnel under the cage and escaped. We never saw them again.

Then last summer Erika and I bought two baby English Spots at the Kickapoo Country Fair. They are sisters and we named them Mopsy and Flopsy. Then some friends of ours gave us their pet rabbit. Their mom made them choose between a rabbit and a cat, and, foolishly, they chose the cat. The young buck, who we named El-ahrairah, is an albino Jersey Wooly. I was quite satisfied with the amount of rabbits we had but then some friends of our friends called and asked if I would take their rabbit. I agreed because it was a Netherland Dwarf, the smallest rabbit breed in the world and I have always wanted one. So the dainty, light brown doe came to join my collection. I named her Hyzenthlay. I thought I had enough rabbits, but then some friends of the friends of our friends called and asked if I would take their Mini-Lops. They were moving and their bunnies needed a home. How could I say no to such a story as that? Besides, I didn't have any Mini-Lops. So Chocolate and Blackberry are now with us. The Mini-Lops' former owners also gave me the phone number of a friend of theirs who needs a home for two rabbits and ten chickens. The ten chickens are tempting, but I'm afraid if I call, I'll find myself stranded with two more charming, but rather worthless, glorified rodents.

It's getting to be quite the job to feed them all and clean their cages every day. It should get easier in the summer. I am going to put them and their cages in my garden, where they can eat the weeds and I can collect their droppings for fertilizer. Rabbit droppings are supposed to be the best fertilizer, after cow manure.

My sister Mary tells me that Erika left El-ahrairah (the only male) unsupervised amongst the girl rabbits, so now I've got baby bunnies on my mind. Thankfully, only Chocolate has begun making a nest, so hopefully the population boom will not be too bad. I had to give a pretty stern lecture to Erika about the birds, the bees and the bunnies and the benefits of birth control. She has promised to be more careful in the future.

I am not too upset though. I've always wanted to raise a litter of rabbit kittens—baby bunnies are awfully cute.

For anyone who would like to read more stories about rabbits, I recommend the book "Watership Down" by Richard Adams. Laura and I had some lovely summer evenings with this book. I would read it aloud to her while she petted Hazel and Dandelion, we would have the windows open to the dark night outside. Sometimes we would have to stop the story to listen to coyotes yapping or to the hoot of an owl. I'm sure you would enjoy this book too.

Farm Fact: The largest litter of baby rabbits is 24. It has happened twice. Once in 1978 and again in 1999.

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