Here at Coombe Mill one of the favourite animals with all our guests is the rabbits. I have mentioned before the problems we have had this year with rabbits thanks to the local foxes and then disease and how disappointed our guests had been to see their numbers dwindle. Finally it all came good and we had beautifully bonny bunnies and healthy parents just in time for Easter.
All the children were delighted and were allowed to stroke and hold the rabbits on the daily feed run. We encourage the children to sit down or crouch low to hold them as when the bunnies wriggle the children are inclined to panic and let go! It does no harm if they are close to the ground and over straw but can kill them if they hit the concrete from a height.
I often run an activity hour session up at the rabbits where we go through rabbit husbandry, the only downside of this is that it falls at the end of the week just before the children leave so we do run through safe care of the rabbits on the first morning feed run too.
Once a rabbit feels safe and ready to breed there is no stopping them, hot on the heels of the first litter we had another by a different mother and both were competing for space in the hutch for their nest. The second Mum had mistakenly made her nest very close to the first, a parental squabble ensued and the new litter were all abandoned in days. I think it must be the same mother who fell pregnant again and keen not to repeat her mistake made her nest in the open section of the hutch well away from the growing bunnies. This was all acceptable in rabbit parenting but left them vulnerable to human fingers.
We ensured everyone was aware on the first feed run of the week that these babies must not be disturbed. However as we ran into changeover day in the Easter holidays and the older children arrived and began to roam unsupervised on their first afternoon there was trouble. I should have kept them all locked up for the day but it was such a beautiful sunny day it felt a shame not to let them out into their yard. One of our regular visitors ran up to me in reception quite concerned to say that someone was moving the babies from their mother. I was just showing in a group of newly arrived guests but Amber had just come back and followed the helpful young boy back to the rabbits straight away. It turns out the children had seen the mother sitting on the babies and in ignorance feared she was squashing them and moved her out the way and relocated the week old bunnies into an inaccessible hutch alone. In fact the mother was feeding her babies at the time. Amber quickly moved the babies back and tried to rebuild the nest as best she could; however having been disturbed and the scent of humans all over her babies it was unlikely she would take them back.
We explained to the children the implications of their actions and that we understood they were worried for the rabbits but that they should never interfere with nature. The message was reiterated on the feed run to all the children and parents the following morning and then it was just a waiting game. The children were as good as gold at not interfering for the rest of the week but the baby bunnies were left just as we had feared; their nest abandoned and unkempt. One by one they began to die until there were just 2 remaining. In desperation I tried syringe feeding them with some of Rocky the goat’s milk. They took this but I worried it would prolong a slow and painful death as there was no guarantee this contained the correct nutrient balance.
Every cloud has a silver lining
On day two of feeding them I noticed the Mother of the larger bunnies come in and sniff my returned baby all over, lick away the milk I had given and allow the baby to huddled back in with her offspring. It looked as if the older baby bunnies had accepted their abandoned baby friends and with their scents all combined so the mother had taken them all in as hers!
Nature is a funny old thing but it is always best left alone if you are unsure.
I hope we will have more baby bunnies throughout the spring and summer here on the farm, if you fancy a holiday with us and some careful bunny cuddles do check out our price and availability page.
“Tales from the farmers wife” shares life on our lovely holiday farm with Farmer Emma and our children. Step into our beautiful 30 acres and experience nature close up with farming and educational crafts in stunning North Cornwall. Family, fun and adventure start here.