We expected farm life to be a steep learning curve, and that has proven true time and again.  We expected some losses, and we expected some successes.  Still do.  What we have learned in the last few months has been nothing short of incredible.  Sometimes, it seems like everything is running just like it should, and then suddenly we find ourselves facing what may seem nothing short of a miracle.  On the other hand, we may also suddenly find ourselves facing a completely unexpected loss.  Any loss at our small scale is a big loss, seeing as how every animal on our farm has a valued job–most being to supply our food. 

Almost a month ago, our only rabbit doe, Lala, an American Chinchilla, suddenly fell ill.  We went out to tend her that morning, to discover she was tilting her head, hopping in clumsy, unbalanced circles, and seemed completely confused.  We put our heads together and tried to find a reason.  She had been in her cage, had access to nothing unusual, and ate all the same food as the other 3 rabbits.  Yet, suddenly, overnight, she went from a perfectly normal, healthy rabbit to this pitiful state.  We double checked her cage for safety, but there was little we could do.  It seemed to be a neurological issue.  We made sure she was comfortable, and then monitored her as the days went by.   She had been bred about 2 weeks prior to this, so I knew there was a good chance she was pregnant.  I assumed the worst, though, and prepared the kids for the possibility of a total abortion or a birth and then abandonment.  Amazingly, she continued eating and drinking, the head tilt and balance improved, and she returned to almost normal.  She still had a slight tilt, with one eye slightly off.  We just hoped for the best, and tried to keep her comfortable.  As planned, we left for our trip to Red Gate, but warned the caretakers of her condition, and the fact that she was due to deliver kits the weekend we were to return.  Before we left, we made sure her nest box had plenty of straw, and hoped for the best.

When we returned, we found her in a similiar condition to when we left, “almost” normal, along with a litter of 9 kits–one of which appeared to have died shortly after birth.  Interestingly, though, all straw had been removed from the nest, less hair had been pulled than usual, and the babies were scattered all over the box.  This was very unusual for Lala, as she has always proven to be an exceptional mother.  Thankfully, it was a good, wood box and had protected them from the elements for the 24 hours since their birth.  A couple were weak and chilled, but I quickly added straw, gathered what hair I could, created a nest, and put the 8 live kits together.  I monitored them closely, and Lala seemed as protective of them as usual.  They grew quickly, and were obviously being fed, so I quit worrying about them.  Then, after a week, another kit died.  I’m not sure why.  This is the first time Lala has ever lost kits, so I wondered if it was due to whatever was plaguing her.  The others seemed to be doing well, though, so I let them be.  Another week went by, and the remaining 7 were doing great. 

There was no further change in Lala, other than some noted weight loss, but this is common when she is nursing kits.  We ensured she always had an ample food supply, and noted that her droppings were still normal.  Then, this morning, we went out to feed, and Lala was near death.  Once again, just overnight, she went downhill to the point she couldn’t even lift her head, and one eye was almost rolled back in her head.  When I took her out of the cage, she made a feeble attempt to fight me, but seemed to have lost all use of her front half.  She was weakly using her hind legs to clumsily push herself around the cage.  It was awful!  I can’t stand seeing an animal suffer.  I have never killed an animal in my life, though, and just can’t do it.  So, I am giving her a couple more hours until S gets home, and then I will ask him to do the deed if she doesn’t die before then.  I am just baffled as to what is plaguing her though.  The other rabbits are all absolutely fine.

The future of the kits is yet to be determined.  I gathered them all into a box, and brought them inside, where we are going to attempt to bottle-feed them with goats milk (supposedly the best substitute for rabbit milk–if you can get it into them).  They are a little over 2 weeks old, so I am hoping they will survive this.  Only time will tell. 

In other, much more thrilling news, we have seen tremendous progress with the goats!  Last week, I finished building a new goat pen so I can better wean Lilly, and be more prepared for kidding season next year.  We still have to build a better shelter and make some adjustments, but since it is almost twice the size of the other pen, the goats and I both love it!

Even better than a goat pen, though….do you remember the story of poor Sara’s plight?  When she arrived here, she had many issues, some of which I hoped to help with better nutrition.  The worst of her problems seemed to be her terribly overgrown hooves and misshapen legs–likely due to a combination of neglect and nutrient deficiencies.

After 3 months on a new, more nutritious diet, with room to move, in addition to hoof trims as frequently as every 7 days, I recently noticed some near-miraculous improvement!  Here she is as of this morning:

She still has a ways to go, but, although I hoped for some improvement in her hooves, I never dreamed her legs would straighten out so much!  And so quickly!  It seemed so sudden, as though it took several months for the nutrients to build her back up, and then there was just this sudden improvement!  Her hooves are less splayed out, and looking much healthier and straighter.  Her hoof pads are not as tilted as they used to be.  She is looking healthier and thriftier, too, and carries herself better.  I have even caught her playing with Lilac a few times.  I would still like to see some more weight on her, but she is getting a little bit of the standard goat “pot-belly” finally, and her long, unthrifty hair seems to be falling out in some areas, and replacing itself with more normal, short, healthy-looking goat hair.  I am soo excited about this progress!  She is still having stool issues, but the “goat-berry” stools are happening with increasing frequency.  Hopefully that will come around as well.  For the first time, she is looking as though she may have some great potential as a dairy doe!

Farm life.  I love it, despite the setbacks.  I do plan to try the American Chinchillas one more time, but since I have lost both of the ones I originally bought, while the other breed rabbits are doing fine, I am questioning if it could be the particular bloodline, the breeder, or something in our environment that they just can’t handle.  In the mean time, I am focusing more on the progress we make around here, as we learn new things all the time!  It will be so neat a year from now, to look back over this year, and remember all that has happened!