Verm-X – A Different Approach to Worming

Those lovely peeps at Verm-X sent me some samples to give out at my chicken keeping courses, along with a lot of fascinating literature.  Now, in my early days of chicken keeping I had dabbled with Verm-X but I was steered towards using Flubenvet as a wormer for my flock.  In fact, Flubenvet, at time of writing, is the only licensed poultry wormer in the UK, so it is pretty much the number one choice by vets.  Verm-X on the other hand, is herbal based and a decade ago (phew – have I really been keeping chickens that long?!) pet owners like myself tended to prefer veterinary licensed products.

Wow, opinions certainly change!  Fast forward to 2017, and people are looking at drug free alternatives in all walks of life.

Worming my flock had traditionally been like a guessing game.  I could ask one vet how often I should worm and it would be a different answer to another.  In the end I would worm 2 or 3 times a year as a precaution, and maybe an extra dose if I had an ailing bird (just in case).  This is known as blanket worming, and was a common practice for horse owners when I was younger.  We would buy a wormer around every 8 weeks, but we had the luxury of a few different types, so we would alternate them to prevent worm resistance.  With poultry in the UK, we are limited to Flubenvet at present, although I know some have used Panacur, but note that this isn’t licensed for use in birds.

Nowadays, horse owners are encouraged not to blanket worm anymore but invest in sending off a faecal sample to a lab for a worm count.  This tells the owner what type of worms are present, if any, so the owner has the benefit of choosing the correct wormer for the job, or maybe doesn’t have to worm at all.  Furthermore, worm counts are also available for hens!  Verm-X went one better and sent me a special pack of pellets and a worm test kit to trial.

We seem to be very comfortable using wormers these days.  I think we need to remember that these are essentially chemicals that are designed to kill internal parasites, and are therefore mainly taken internally.  Whilst I think they have a valid place in the treatment of worm infested animals, I am less comfortable about using them routinely as a preventative, and blindly, as I have done in the past.  Personally, I have never had worms but I don’t think I would want to go on a worming programme to stay worm free!

Verm-X has a different approach to keeping hens worm free.  Its more a herbal supplement to keep your hens RESISTANT to internal parasites.  This sounds quite appealing to me, especially as we are in an age where a lot of our food, and livestock have been open to over medication.  A lot of the people who attend my chicken keeping courses are also very interested in growing, and rearing organically, so Verm-X does tick a lot of boxes.

The question is, does it work?  I thought I would do a little test trial with my flock of 7 chickens and 2 ducks over a period of just under 3 months.

Contents of the worm test kit

First I wormed all my birds with Flubenvet to ensure that there are no worms present in my flock.  This involves feeding them with wormer medicated pellets for 7 consecutive days.  A few weeks later, I gathered my first poo sample to send to Westgate Labs, to ensure they are ‘clear.’  Although you can test each bird’s poo individually, its not going to be cost effective, unless you are concerned about a particular hen.  I went round collecting droppings from various areas of the coops and run and did the following to produce the sample…

Poo collecting (with disposable glove!)
Give the bag a good squeeze to mix it up
Fill the sample pot and put the lid on securely
Seal it in the clear bag with sample label and send off in pre-addressed bag.

Westgate Labs have teamed up with Verm-X by producing a special pack of pellets and a worm count kit, and this may be something you might want to try as buying the worm kit separately is £9.50.

A few days later, I got the results by email (you can opt to receive your results by phone, fax or text).

<50 epg means less than 50 eggs per gram, meaning no trace of worm eggs were found.  A good result, although the website says its a common one (its to be hoped!).  I am hoping to stay worm free now till my next worm count using Verm-X as a supplement every month.  The pellets themselves are tiny but they do smell strongly herbal.  The ducks are not as accurate when they are eating so they inadvertently gobbled up Verm-X along with their normal pellets.  The hens were more picky, so I ended up crushing their pellets into a powder with a mortar and pestle and mixing it with a variety of ‘wet’ treats (chopped grapes and tomatoes) so it would stick.  This was divided up into several portions so everyone had a fair chance of eating this concoction.  Following the instructions, I did this for 3 consecutive days, to which the hens were quite disappointed when their grapes stopped coming!

I did 3 treatments of Verm-X for the flock between July and October before submitting another poo test.  Again, another positive result…

Apologies for the blurry pics – it does say <50 epg!

Although my trial is not conclusive and I could be just lucky, being able to keep tabs on my birds’ health like this does give me peace of mind as I do not have a particularly large garden.  Having smaller areas with a lot of birds can increase the risk of worm burden unless managed correctly, so I am personally happy that my methods work!  It also highlights how much over worming we do without realising it, therefore introducing more unnecessary chemicals into our livestock, and inevitably into the food chain.  While Flubenvet does have its uses should the results in my future worm counts change, I think it would be good practise to resort to wormers as a treatment rather than a routine measure.

Keeping Roosters and Cockerels – Pros and Cons

Tarquin (foreground) and Oscar

The chicken keeping fraternity is sadly quite sexist.  The general opinion when keeping chickens is no boys.  ESPECIALLY when you live in a residential area, which is most of us.  The main reason being that you risk falling out with your neighbour when your cockerel finds his voice.  So with that advice, most of us never take that path.  But what if?  What if our neighbours were fairly relaxed, and we weren’t too bothered about a little extra work and no eggs…?  I took that risk and this is what happened.

Bear in mind I live in the UK.  There is no law in the UK banning us from keeping cockerels or roosters, but there is a law about reasonable level of noise. This may be different in other countries and in some areas (particularly in some US states), the council are not keen on the keeping of any poultry of any gender(!)  Roosters crow randomly throughout the day, but its those dawn choruses that will have the council enforcing removal of your pet.  The same reason why we don’t start up power tools or let off fireworks in the early hours.

You may have seen in my earlier blogs that I ended up with 3 cockerels one year – not ideal in a suburban cul-de-sac!  But with a planned routine, I was determined to keep my boys while making sure everyone, including myself, has a good night’s sleep every night.  The answer lies in shutting the boys away in a darkened box for the night and putting them indoors where they are not likely to disturb anyone.  I have found designs online for building a soundproof box, but I prefer a good old cardboard box.  Bedded with newspaper and straw and closed over the top to stop your birds flying out, its a cheap and hygienic option that can be easily replaced periodically.  The box itself does not need to be particularly big, as you will notice your own hens do not move much once they are roosting for the night.  My 3 boys were brought up together and were happy to sleep together in one box, but this depends on your individual birds.  I now have just Tarquin, and my crowing hen, Mabel (her story is http://furandfeatherpets.co.uk/index.php/2017/03/30/mabel-my-crowing-hen/ )  They sleep in separate boxes as they don’t get on.  Every night my crowers are brought in to their sleeping quarters in the garage and let out in the morning after 9am, where any crowing was less of a disturbance.  This has to be a commitment and it means if we go away, even for one night, we have to get a pet sitter in to bring the boys in at night and let them out in the morning.

Siegfried (barred Wyandotte)

During winter, my roosters are quite happy to sleep indoors.  There is the occasional heatwave when it may be kinder to upgrade to a larger box, or separate the birds if they are sleeping together.  I have also put in cool mats which can be wiped clean – these should only take up half the box, so the bird can move to wherever he feels comfortable.

Some people have asked whether a shed would be suitable or shutting them in the coop with the hens and not letting them out till 9am.  I don’t think this will be enough to keep the noise down.  Your own house will have enough insulation to prevent sound from being heard, but you also need to be able to shut your roosters away from you to avoid being woken yourselves.  This is why garages are particularly good, and especially converted ones as they will have wall insulation as part of the conversion.  Failing that, the room furthest from your bedroom may do the trick – and close any doors.  Also bear in mind that your roosters are not directly next door to your neighbour’s bedrooms if you have a semi-detatched or terraced house.

Each boy chicken will have their own voice and how they use it.  Oscar was fairly shrill and he crowed more frequently.  Siegfried was the last to find his voice and only really crowed when the others started him off.  Tarquin doesn’t actually crow much and is not particularly loud.  Ironically, the loudest (and probably most annoying) crower is Mabel, who technically is not even male!  This is largely because she refuses to wear a collar, which is my second tool for reducing crowing noise.

I was quite reluctant at first to use the anti crowing collar because when I researched these, there were comments saying they were cruel and dangerous.  I have used them on all my four crowers and they are none of those, but their effectiveness varied with each individual.  As mentioned, with Mabel, she removes the collar with her long legs within an hour of putting it on, so it was as good as useless!  Siegfried occasionally got his collar off and I would find it later in the evening but most of the time he got on well with it.  Unlike the 2 Silkie boys who would sulk and protest each morning after putting the collars on, Siegfried would get on with his duties with no complaints.  Being fairly loud, I needed to fit it fairly snugly for him and the same went for Oscar.  I found that Oscar’s volume lowered noticeably more than Siegfried’s, which was desirable as Oscar was more likely to crow.  Tarquin was the one who protested the most at wearing the collar, walking backwards and in the early days, even throw himself about and lie down.  However, he wasn’t as loud or frequent as his brother, Oscar, so I allow him a bit of leeway and I can get away with fitting his collar a little looser.  During the winter, when he is less hormonal, he doesn’t wear the collar at all!

Uh-oh! Here comes the collar!

The collars themselves are not expensive.  I bought mine from various private sellers on Ebay and they consist of a length of nylon webbing with a velcro attachment, often in a choice of colours.  I prefer to buy collars that have been sewn – a lot of them are offered on sale with the velcro glued on, but these separate after a while.  Fitting them takes some practice and you may need an extra pair of hands to hold the bird.  With the index finger and thumb, make a ‘ring’ round the bottom of the bird’s neck to flatten the feathers where the collar is going to sit, and arrange the feathers that are going to overlap the collar.

Wrap the collar around the neck, adjusting the feathers as you go.  More than likely you will need to adjust the tightness of the collar a few times.

The collar needs to be fitted at the base of the neck and to be effective, it needs to be snug.  The tip of your finger should still fit inside the collar, but initially I would fit it looser to allow the bird to get used to it.  In the picture below, it is actually a bit loose as I can get more than the tip of my finger in

The theory around the collar is that the bird should still be able to breathe, eat, drink and continue with his daily duties.  But his ability to take in a big breath is reduced so his crow will be less powerful than without the collar.  So, in a nutshell, the anti-crow collar does not stop crowing, but reduces the volume.

You will find that roosters crow with more frequency and gusto in the summer as it is mating season and less in the winter.  We lived with our 3 roosters using collars and bringing them in at night with no complaints whatsoever.  In our favour, we have some brilliant neighbours who are all animal lovers and appreciated the complimentary eggs that sometimes came their way.  In reality, no neighbourhood is silent.  Our estate will sometimes have dogs barking, children playing and builders working, so some bird noises during the day should not upset many people.  However,  it is down to the personalities you live with, so check you know what your neighbours are like.  I would not contemplate keeping roosters if they are already pulling faces about keeping hens!

Oscar – you can just make out his collar

Even if you have tackled the noise problem, testosterone in roosters can cause problems within the flock – and towards you!  All my roosters have been brought up since chicks, but as they reach maturity, they develop a macho persona, and this again varies between individuals.  I found Oscar was keen on squaring up to me whenever he felt like it, and he didn’t like to back down!  Siegfried didn’t like it if I wore different clothes other than my normal outdoor clothes and wellies.  He would do a double take and then fly at me!  Tarquin is the least aggressive of them all and will only have a sneaky go at me if I wasn’t looking.  Interesting to add that he has quite small wattles for a rooster and generally doesn’t crow that much, which suggests he has less testosterone and is therefore, less alpha male.  They also work as a team; when I had the three boys together, if one asserted his authority towards me, they would all gang up on me!

Oscar and his big comb and wattles!

This can all sound very scary and may put people off keeping roosters, but I have never been hurt by my boys, partly because they didn’t jump very high so my wellies protected me, and also because they are not big birds.  It would be a different matter if it was a turkey stag as there is some serious weight behind turkeys!  But yes, roosters protect their hens and environment, and although they know me well, they still treat me as competition, in the same way they will have little battles with each other to sort out the hierarchy.  On the whole, my three boys got on well as they were brought up together (this is not always the case, but I can guarantee that bringing new roosters into a flock with existing boys is asking for trouble).  When a rooster gets cocky and decides to have a go at me, I simply pick him up and carry him around in full view of the flock whilst I get on with my duties.  Kind of reminding him in a passive way who’s boss!  He will try his luck again in the future, but it usually deters him from coming near me for the day.

There is a golden rule that there should be one rooster to 3 or 4 hens to ensure no one gets over mated and that there are enough hens around to keep the boys happy.  Mine’s was not an ideal situation as I had 3 boys to 6 hens.  I survived this scenario as Siegfried seemed to be the only rooster that was successful in getting any action!  For some reason, Oscar could never get near the ladies (maybe this was why he had an attitude) and Tarquin would get lucky occasionally, but only with either Molly or Bunty. Tarquin and Oscar often hung round together, to the point where I wondered if they were even that interested in hens!  I sadly lost both Siegfried and Oscar to natural causes within months of each other, which left Tarquin to inherit the flock. This should be a dream position for any rooster, but the ducks remind him that he has no authority over them!

If you have been happily keeping hens for pets and are ready for the next challenge, do consider keeping any boys you hatch or take on one that needs rehoming.  Sadly, far too many are disposed of because they don’t produce, or because we don’t want the hassle.  Be considerate about your neighbours and manage your rooster, and he will look after your girls and keep them from arguing amongst themselves!

 

Tofu Cat Litter Review

Even as a non meat eater I am not the greatest fan of tofu.  Or beans.  It is assumed that vegetarians like beans and therefore tofu (bean curd).  It wouldn’t surprise me if tofu performs better as a cat litter than a food and so I gave it a go, and here’s my findings 😉

It all started with an advert in my Facebook feed.  At £8.00 for a 6 litre bag from Amazon, it was more expensive than my current litter but delivery was included.  One click with my eager finger, and the item arrived the next day.

The litter is manufactured in China by Green Pet Care and is sold on Amazon via Cider House Pet supplies.  I received good communication from both parties when I emailed them – more on that later.

It’s green!!

The bag of litter was not as heavy as a clay litter and generously filled my litter box with their recommended 6cm depth.  When changing a litter, its recommended to gradually introduce it, but for the purpose of this trial I have decided to just jump in and see how my three cats react.  I have another tray downstairs  with their original litter.  (Another note – it is recommended that in a multi-cat household, you have one tray per cat but my third tray was made redundant as they never used it).

The litter is pelleted, not as big as some wooden pellets I have seen, but more like the chicken feed pellets I feed my hens.  What struck me straight away was that the product was green in colour.  “But tofu is white!” my brain argued.  Cue my email to the Chinese manufacturer politely asking the composition of the litter.  I was very impressed by a quick response from the company.  The green colour was from  a food grade dye as I had the green tea version of the litter.  There were also natural, lavender and peach varieties!  Also attached to the email were three documents detailing test results for toxicity, manufacturing process and specifications. This was brilliant information – I now know more about this litter than the one that I have been using for over 10 years!

As with a lot of cat litters, this one claims to be dust free.  I think there is always an element of ‘dust’ or fine particles but I don’t feel this one is any dustier than the average litter.  I was looking forward to seeing it being used and it wasn’t long before the first wee clump appeared.

The clumping was surprisingly good!  It was easy to scoop out and stayed together well.  I was actually looking forward to finding something to scoop out in the litter box!  Sounds sad, I know, but indoor cat owners can get quite excited over good cat litters!

 

This litter is also compostable and flushable which makes it easily disposable and eco friendly.  As the clumps are quite firm and sometimes quite big, you might need to break it up before flushing so it goes down more easily.  If there’s several clumps, I would also flush them individually, preferably on a full flush (I nearly clogged up the toilet by being too ambitious).  My existing litter is actually better when it comes to disposing down the toilet – this one can sometimes leave a residue.

Tofu litter is a winner for me due to the lack of tracking.  The odd green pellet will go astray, but nothing like past litters I have used including my current Cat’s Best Okoplus.  I found it tracked slightly more the older the litter got, but it was still good that I didn’t have to use my dustpan and brush as much.  There was also very little odour,  and the litter seemed to be lasting longer than usual.  Normally, I would need to empty the box after 4 days but a week later it was still going strong!

One week and looking good!

To be completely honest though, I think it has lasted because my cats prefer their usual litter as the other litter box got slightly dirtier.  Maybe in time they would get used to using this one all the time but at least it was encouraging to see all three had used it.

Ok, time to give it up!

After 2 weeks, I got rid of the litter.  It had stayed odourless and looked reasonable to the end – just that it was no longer covering the bottom of the tray and some of the pellets were turning into powder.  I guess it was a successful trial though I suspect in reality the bag would last me somewhere between 1 and 2 weeks with my 3 cats.  I would seriously consider using this product permanently but I am hesitating at the price, which is twice as much as I am paying now.  In fact the price has now gone up to £8.80 on Amazon at time of writing.  Cider House Pet Supplies kindly emailed me back promptly to say they were looking into importing bigger bags of this product, so maybe I will make the switch if the price is right.  Not having to sweep up cat litter all the time was the clincher for me, along with the odour control properties, and I am hoping the peach and lavender litter become availalble in the UK soon, as I will more than likely try those!

Frozzys – Frozen Yoghurt For Dogs

“Frozen yoghurt for dogs??  What next?”  I hear this quite often when working next to the Frozzy freezer at a well known pet retailer.  Yet Frozzys are incredibly popular and in summer, they fly out of the store.  I reckoned it was worth doing a blog on this, but first I will need to borrow a dog as at present, I am dogless.

Dougie…and a Frozzy

Introducing Dougie, a Tibetan Terrier owned by my friend Laurie.  Dougie has a sensitive stomach and has to be careful what he is fed.

Frozzys are simply pots of frozen yoghurt that are lactose free.   This means they are not likely to upset tummies so they are suitable for puppies too.  Because they are frozen, dogs have to lick them, which means theoretically they should last longer than the average dog biscuit.

Available in 4 flavours – original, cranberry, strawberry and blueberry – they can be bought individually or in a four pack of a single flavour.  Dougie’s favourites are original and blueberry…

He knows what’s coming!

In an age where there’s so many dog treats available but canine obesity is on the increase, its good to know that Frozzys are not quite the equivalent to a human ice cream.  Its low calorie and rich in fibre and as well as being tummy friendly, Frozzys contain vitamin A, K1 and a number of B vitamins too.

He’s got it – yum!

Frozen treats like these are ideal for teething pups and hot summer days.  Alternatively they can also be defrosted and poured over biscuits for fussy eaters.  Laurie has this to say about the product;-

“Dougie has SO many allergies it’s great to find a treat he can actually eat and that lasts longer than 2 minutes.  He’s a crazy dog, full of energy and they keep him completely entertained and are a great reward for good behaviour.  They’re fab for a cooling treat in summer but he loves them any time of the year.”

Frozzys are made in the UK and are available from selected leading pet retailers at around £1.69 each or £5.99 at time of writing.  More details available from www.frozzys.com

Thanks for your input Laurie and Dougie! 🙂 xx

 

 

Cat Pouch Hoodie Review

I originally saw this item advertised on Facebook, and like any discerning mad cat lady, I had to have it!  For years, when one of my cats demand to be carried around (namely Bart), I adapted by doing everything one handed, although he will also happily perch on my shoulders (me, less happy).  I often joked to my husband about having some sort of cat papoose but now….a hoodie with a cat carrying pouch!  This has better not be a joke I thought.

The Facebook video was American.  As with any great idea, I figured there would be another version available to buy from the UK, where hopefully I wouldn’t have to wait ages for delivery nor pay overseas postage.  After a quick trawl on Ebay, I found various sellers around the world  and different names for this item, including cat pouch hoodie, mewgaroo and nyangaroo.  Beware some odd looking versions of this garment!  And beware listings where the item is from overseas – you might be in for a long wait (although there is more chance of you getting the colour and size you want). I opted for a supplier who shipped from Leeds so my hoodie arrived within a week but black was the only option available – pink and grey had sold out.

The hoodie itself was made in China where sizes are notoriously small.  On a good listing there should be a fitting chart available, but generally speaking I would advise going up a size.  I am a UK size 10 and I found Medium a good fit.

Being the sort of person who gets cold easily I was pleased to see this hoodie feels soft and comfy.  However, soft and comfy fabrics always attract cat hair so within minutes, my new black top was christened by Siamese cats!  No problem, I thought – I bought this item as a stay at home outfit, not a fashion statement!  It does have some cute features that appeal to humans rather than felines though.  The hood itself has cat ears and there are thumb holes at the end of the sleeves with a pawprint.  Probably more suitable for a child than a grown woman like me, but as I believe in nurturing my inner child I will wear this hoodie and enjoy it!

The all important feature is the cat carrying pouch at the front – the reason why I bought this garment.  It has a press stud button to stop the pouch gaping when not in use, and also a zip out fleece lining for easy cleaning.  Less popular with me are the dangly pom poms hanging from the hood.  They are the right length to be conveniently tucked out of the way in the actual pouch, or they will drive you mad when you are cleaning litter trays, feeding cats, etc.

So…the proof of the pudding?  I got my own 3 cats to try out the cat pouch.

Phoebe wasn’t keen, but then Phoebe isn’t one for being carried around.

Ringo wasn’t a happy chappie either!  But Bart on the other hand…

I did feel like I was pregnant with a cat though.  I also trialled the hoodie with a friend’s dog.  Penny the Toy Poodle seems to like the fleecy pocket too!  Thanks for the picture Madi 🙂

The pouch was also handy for collecting eggs from the hens and for Gloria the hamster…

…although she didn’t want to stay in it for long!  I am quite pleased with my purchase having spent just under £20 with free postage.  The pouch is really useful for carrying small (and obliging) pets but it is also a fun and comfortable top.  The only downside is it will need lint rolling regularly to remove pet hair, and check the sizing before you buy.  I have also spotted a short sleeved version for the summer months so might just treat myself again, British weather permitting!

Mabel, My Crowing Hen

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Mabel, before she went weird.

In any social group, there is always going to be some sort of harmony and unrest.  You only have to look at home and work, and of course some places are more dysfunctional than others!  Flocks of chickens have their own ups and downs partly due to fluctuating hormones, but why has my lovely hen, Mabel suddenly started crowing?

This is actually not the first time this has happened in my flock.  A few years ago, I had a lavender Aracauna called Pollyanna who started crowing (or tried to) at 5am one summer morning.  Polly wasn’t shrill in the slightest and sounded like an owl!  It was quite comical when she took a breath to begin, as her wings would lift slightly, like it was a big effort!

Polly 🙂

But when Mabel started crowing…at first I thought a neighbour had got a new cockerel, but it sounded suspiciously close by.  As mentioned in my earlier blog, my own roosters sleep in the garage in a darkened box till 9am so as not to disturb anyone, so it couldn’t be them.  Plus, this crow sounded different from theirs.  Have I gained an extra bird?

Running down to the garden in my pyjamas, I saw my hens looking back innocently at me.  In my rudely awakened mind, I figured one of them had to be the culprit as the crow wasn’t a true cockerdoodledoo.  I did a mental elimination of each hen but at the back of my mind, I had a hunch it was Mabel.  Out of all the hens, she was the most butch!

I wondered if it was psychological.  Mabel started crowing about two days after I lost Siegfried, who sadly died suddenly in his sleep.  For some reason, Siegfried had singled Mabel out and used to chase her off.  I often wondered how he achieved his dominance as Mabel was both bigger and heavier than him.  When all three young boys were introduced to the flock, Mabel had given both Oscar and Tarquin a good pasting and so Siegfried never challenged her.  As you can guess, back then Mabel was the alpha female.  Fast forward another year, Siegfried had blossomed into a handsome rooster who chased the girls with a springy elevated step, and even had the nerve to challenge me!  I wondered now he has left for chicken heaven, if Mabel is asserting her authority again by crowing like a rooster?  Or at least trying to.  This is what she sounds like;-

 

Its a shame I didn’t get a recording of Polly ‘crowing’ as she was quite deep sounding in comparison, but her story was not dissimilar either.  Polly used to be alpha female, but after a mysterious illness she lost that title, and became mercilessly bullied by Rhonda, a hefty Bluebelle, who was the previous underdog.  Polly recovered and continued to lay eggs, but never regained her position.  She took to crowing instead which she did in the summer mornings around 5am.  During summer I normally leave the coop door open 24/7 but I started shutting it overnight to stop her disturbing everyone, and she pretty much stopped after that.

Mabel however, has been known to occasionally crow during the day too.  She now sleeps in the garage at night in her own private box to avoid waking everyone, as she is considerably louder in comparison, and shutting the coop door hasn’t deterred her.   More of a concern, she hasn’t produced many eggs in the last year and I have seen her perform a mating dance to some of the other hens!  Could Mabel be turning into Marcel?

This is the science bit.  It seems that Mabel’s behaviour is down to some internal physiological changes rather than external influences.  In hens, only the left ovary is functional.  The right ‘ovary’, which technically is not an ovary, is dormant, although this is not the case with some other birds and species.  If the left ovary is damaged, eg  infection or tumour growth (tumours are common in older hens and Mabel is now 4) it will stop producing oestrogen, the female hormone.  Subsequently, the rise in male hormone, testosterone, will cause growth of comb, wattles, male plumage and the crowing, plus other male behaviour!  Well, Mabel aways had a big comb and wattles but here’s a picture of her sunbathing as a pullet.

And here she is at time of writing, age 4.  She still has the plumage of a hen though.  Some hens going through spontaneous sex reversal develop spurs and male feathers.

Note Mabel’s bigger comb and wattles!

Furthermore,  it is possible for the once dormant right side to develop into an ‘ovotestis’ which is a kind of male organ capable of producing sperm!  Not sure whether Mabel has this – I have seen her doing her courtship dance but she hasn’t mounted any of the others yet.  Below is a short video of her mating dance!

Crowing hens crop up from time to time, but a hen becoming a rooster is a rare occurrence.  It has been known to happen but it would be unlikely that Mabel would turn into a full on producing rooster.  More likely I would end up with a noisy half and half bird with no eggs!  If you want to know more about the spontaneous sex reversal in hens, check out this fascinating link which I have found invaluable while researching this unbelievable subject! http://www.urbanchickenpodcast.com/ucp-episode-018/

Chickens eh?  There seems to be more drama in a chicken run than in a soap opera!

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Hatching Ducklings -My First Time!

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Earlier in 2016 (yes, I am late again writing this post!) I decided to take the plunge and hatch some duck eggs.  The previous year I had hatched some chicks so now I was bitten by the bug!

My husband Steve wasn’t so keen.  He was visualising a gradual invasion of birds…and their poo.

“We’d be incredibly lucky if they all hatch,” I said, carefully putting the pale blue eggs into the incubator.  “Look what happened last year.”  Out of 7 eggs the previous spring, just one was fertile (Molly) so I was given some more, of which two hatched (Siegfried and Bunty) and one died before hatching.  Nature just isn’t that straightforward.

This time I have 7 Indian Runner duck eggs to gamble with.  Runner ducks are my favourite breed and if I get 2 out of them, I’ll be happy.  In fact, just 2 would be perfect.  The incubator is a Brinsea Mini Advanced hired again from Ken at Pear Tree Poultry, Preston, who also supplied the eggs.  This time it will take 28 days before we see any babies, but second time around I feel more sensible.  This time I will only open the incubator to top up water and candle once after the first week and again before lockdown!

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For those not familiar with hatching eggs, candling is shining a torch onto the egg to see if it is fertile.  There are candling torches available made specifically for this purpose.  Last year I did it a lot as it was my first time and also, I couldn’t believe how unlucky I was with my unfertile eggs.  But that wasn’t going to happen this year, fingers crossed!  Days went by with the incubator reliably doing its job keeping a steady temperature and humidity level, and ever now and again turning the eggs.  When I went in to candle each egg, there were 5 fertile ones!

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The fertile egg is on the right – you can see the developing blood vessels.

Well, that was an improvement on last year, although part of me was wondering if I could cope with 5 ducks.  And it would be just my luck if they were all drakes!  Steve gave me a look as if I had told him I was expecting quintuplets.  “We will manage!” I said positively.  Having had a strong background in sales I was very good at being convincing, but come what may we have to take responsibility for whatever we hatch.  Hatching chicks and ducklings is a wonderful experience but sadly there seems to be a lot of people wanting to do this but not wanting to take responsibility for the hatchlings.  I remember an older chicken expert telling me, “If you are prepared to hatch them, you should be prepared to kill them,”  meaning that any unwanted cockerels are your responsibility to dispose of.  This usually means euthanasia unless you are raising them for the table.  For me, as I see my birds as pets and my meat eating days are long gone, I prefer to say if you are prepared to hatch them, you should be prepared to keep them.  Last year I ended up with 3 cockerels who lived happily within the flock until Siegfried and Oscar passed away.  They were harder to manage than the hens but it all added to my chicken keeping experience.  Although I’ve no regrets keeping boys, the work involved means I have to think carefully about when I can hatch eggs again.

Drakes are different from roosters in that they are generally quieter than ducks, but there is also the issue of how many will I end up with.  The ideal scenario would be 1 drake to around 5 ducks to avoid competition and overmating.  However, my 3 boys lived happily with 6 hens without much issue.  I think I was lucky in that respect as the Silkies were not particularly sex driven and seemed to spend most of the time hanging out with each other!

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Onion, the hand reared baby rabbit checking on the eggs

So, the days went by where I would just check the incubator to see that all is working and top up the water well.  My spare room where the eggs were residing was starting to resemble a child’s eye view of Easter, with five blue eggs at one end (I disposed of the 2 infertile ones) and Sage and Onion, two baby hand reared rabbits playing in their indoor cage.  Lockdown is the last three days of incubation, where the water is topped up for the last time and the turning function of the incubator ceases.  The lid of the incubator should stay on with no disturbance to maintain humidity levels and hopefully we should see some action!

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Preparation for lockdown, watched by Sage and Onion!

The next day I noticed a tiny fragment of shell had broken off one of the eggs.  This is a process known as ‘pipping.’ It wasn’t long before another egg followed suit – hopefully we should see ducklings within 24 hours!

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Note the fragments of shell to the right of the well.

 

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You can just make out a duck’s bill poking out the bottom!

Just my luck that nothing is that straightforward with me! 24 hours came and there was little progress from the initial pip.  Furthermore, there was no sign of pipping from the other three eggs.  Much as hatching should be left to nature, sometimes you have to intervene.  With the two pipped eggs I helped break away some of the shell.  I could tell why the ducklings were finding it difficult to break out as the shell felt hard and brittle.  Despite the well being topped up, the humidity wasn’t as ideal as it could be.  I found out later that this can be improved by spraying the inside of the incubator and the eggs – I’ll remember that next time!  Meanwhile, I needed to get the ducklings out of their shell without causing injury.  This meant peeling away the shell slowly, and if blood appears STOP and leave alone.  This happened a few times with both ducklings which meant the incubator wasn’t a pretty sight.  This is why I line the inside of the incubator with kitchen roll, as it makes clearing up a little easier.  Eventually, over several hours they were out, with one of them still with a small piece of shell stuck to the back of the neck.

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Wow, that was a loooong traumatic hatch.  No wonder they look exhausted!

By now, I knew the other three eggs were not going to happen.  Generally, once one egg pips, all viable eggs in that hatch will pip within hours.  The not so nice bit is breaking them open, and it looked like they had stopped developing a good while ago.  Nature can be very unpredictable at times.

Resting and drying off in the incubator…

Still, I had 2 beautiful ducklings which I had now transferred to the brooder.  This is just a heated box that they can live in until they are bigger.  The brooder featured here came with the hire package from Pear Tree Poultry along with the feeder and drinker and non slip mat, although I recommend getting a couple of spare mats as baby birds poo a lot.  The heating is via a red infra red lamp hence the lighting.

Newborn ducklings are incredibly unsteady on their feet compared to chicks.  There was a lot of drunk impressions and falling over…

Like chicks, ducklings do not need food and water for the first 24 hours as they have absorbed the nutrients they need to get by initially.  As they took so long to hatch, my two didn’t take long helping themselves to chick crumb and water once they had rested and fluffed up.  The chick crumb should be unmedicated – different to the feed I gave my chicks.  Ducklings are notoriously greedy and can overmedicate on the coccidiostat in medicated chick crumb which can be fatal.  I fed my two Dodson and Horrell chick crumb.  The protein levels in chick crumb are a little high for ducklings so they can be moved onto growers pellets around 3 to 4 weeks of age.

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Keeping warm in the brooder

Ducklings can become very tame if they ‘imprint’ on a human, but mine imprinted on each other and were not keen on me at all, despite having handled them at birth.  From a practical point of view, this is better for them as strong attachments to humans can present problems but I was a little disappointed that they were so skittish.  The first duckling to fully hatch out was a little bigger and bolder – the second one followed him around everywhere, and for a couple of days still had a fragment of shell stuck to the back of his neck.  I managed to remove it after dampening the area down although it left his neck fluff a little spikey!  We decided to handle them regularly, and when their walking had stabilised, we let them wander supervised indoors.  We didn’t have them out for too long though as they pooped loads!

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The brooder had to be cleaned several times a day as the amount of poo produced was unbelievable.  I was glad I only got two ducklings in the end!  Baby birds are incredibly clumsy and they walk over their food or trip over it so clearing up spillages and replenishing water and crumbs was the main job.  Ducklings are messy by the way they eat and drink so I found using kitchen roll over their non slip mats very helpful.  Kitchen roll is not as slippy as newspaper which is often the cause of ‘spraddle leg’ (excessively wide leg stance) when chicks and ducklings can’t get a foothold.

Despite my best efforts the floor of the brooder was always wet from them flinging water around and needed changing at least 3 times a day, as did the water.  Whilst ducklings still have their fluffy down, they are at risk of getting chilled if wet so the presence of the heat lamp is important.  This is also the reason why its not advisable to let young ducklings swim, tempting as it is to put them in the bath! If they were raised by their own mother, that would be a different matter as they would receive some waterproofing from the mother’s natural oil.  Hatching from an incubator is convenient for many reasons but the lack of a mother has its disadvantages, especially if you only get one single bird hatching from a clutch (see my earlier post on my chicks last year).

They seemed to grow a quicker rate than the chicks did, so much that Steve was convinced we had goslings! As a bonus I felt that they were not as prone to getting poo stuck to their feet and did not get ‘pasty butt’ which is when poo accummulates around the vent. These two lived in the brooder for a week and then I needed to return the equipment back to Pear Tree Poultry.  As they were growing considerably fast, I decided to use a large dog crate as a brooder with a hanging infra red lamp above it.  Depending on the room temperature, the lamp was kept low enough to keep the ducklings comfortably warm.  Like chicks, they will cheep loudly and huddle together if too cold and move away from the heat source if too warm.  Over the next few weeks as they develop feathers and are able to regulate their body temperature, the lamp is gradually raised in height until it is removed.

Ducks, being waterfowl, need water with their food and managing their water was tricky.  The chick waterer was OK at first but soon they wanted to dip their beaks into something deeper.  This is how they keep their eyes and nostrils clean.  We went through a couple of makeshift containers…

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An old butter tub with hole cut out of the lid is great for young ducklings but they soon need something bigger.

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We upgraded to the plastic milk bottle design but as they were getting bigger still, it wasn’t long before they were able to go out and use a bigger outdoor drinker.

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Almost 3 weeks old and white feathers are appearing among the yellow fluff.

At 4 weeks I introduced growers pellets and grit to the ducklings.  They were growing at an alarming rate so I was keen to get them outside to a larger enclosure.  The weather was fine so I was able to introduce them to their Eglu and run during the day and brought them indoors back to the dog crate in the evening.

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Enjoying the sunshine!

The chickens showed some mild interest around them but otherwise left them alone.  Being outside, the ducklings could drill into the earth and nibble grass and generally learn to be a duck!  They enjoyed making muddy holes by their waterer and as their bills were getting bigger, I exchanged their chick feeder for the bigger Omlet grub container.  Ducks shovel their food unlike chickens who peck.  This makes ducks quite messy and wasteful, so chickens are great at clearing up after them.  When I bring the ducklings in at night, the chickens make a beeline for their run for any dropped food!

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Talking to the late great Siegfried

Within their run, the ducklings can exercise more efficiently while being sheltered from the rain.  Once the fluffy yellow down is replaced by feathers (white, in my case), they become more resilient to wet conditions.  This is around 5-6 weeks old.  Fortunately, during a spell of fine weather, they were able to stay out overnight.  It is around this time when you can make an accurate guess at the sex.  Females are more vocal and quack, quite loudly sometimes!  Drakes, unlike roosters, are quieter making a rasping sound so generally there is more chance of keeping a drake without upsetting neighbours.  As it turned out, both my ducklings turned out to be girls so I named them Pandora and Jemima 😀

Growers pellets are still a little high in protein for ducks.  Duck/waterfowl feed is not always easy to come by, so a compromise can be made by supplementing young ducks’ diets with wheat (normally available at a corn merchant/horse feed supplier).  Ideally, this should be fed soaked in water – this also encourages the ducks to clean their eyes and nostrils.  By 16 weeks the ducklings can go onto layers pellets, again with wheat provided.  Whereas chickens pretty much need to stay on pellets and limited treats, ducks diets can be supplemented with greens.  They will also need poultry grit in a separate container. Pandora and Jemima are not the most adventurous eaters – at time of writing they still ignore peas and sweetcorn, but they are having a good go at round lettuce and cress.  Their favourite is watermelon and there is nearly always one taking up space in my shopping basket!

Now the girls were a similar size to the chickens, I allowed them to free range round the garden (at first keeping the chickens in the run).  Runner ducks are flightless so there was no problem of them disappearing over the fence, but other breeds can have a wing clipped in the same way as chickens, to prevent them them taking off.  Runner ducks, being land ducks don’t need a pond to swim in either.  However all ducks need a water source to dunk their heads in and this can be provided with buckets or a kids’ plastic paddling pool.  These can be changed and refilled easily making them more hygienic than a pond.  Introducing the chickens turned out to be a very calm event.  Pandora and Jemima were quietly dominant over most of the flock apart from Oscar (now departed), Bunty and Molly.   Oddly enough, the latter two were the youngest and smallest hens in the flock.  Tarquin, the rooster wasn’t keen on them, and kept a distance from them,  although I sometimes see them following him trying to wind him up!

The new run

By the end of summer, I had a new walk-in run put up for Pandora and Jemima.  It is possible to keep ducks and chickens together but separate sleeping accommodation and feeding arrangements would have to be provided.  As the ducks were still on growers pellets and dirtied their water constantly, I preferred to keep them separate.  Like our chicken run, the base consisted of flags with shavings as litter and the Classic Eglu was their house (roosting bars taken out as they have no need for them).  Their house is bedded with straw but throughout the summer they showed no interest in using it, preferring to stay out all night.  This is the downfall of ducks – they don’t put themselves to bed like chickens but that was not a huge concern to me as they are safe in their run.  When the dark winter nights arrived, I herded them into the house every evening (yes, they waited outside for me to do this!) and shut them in till morning.  This is more for my peace of mind to keep them sheltered from cold but ducks are very hardy so I have found that most owners shut them in at night for their own safety rather than warmth.  They are more sociable now they are older, quacking loudly when they see me and Pandora will often have a nibble at me but Jemima is slightly more aloof.  They seem to interact more than chickens, who choose to be your friends only if there is food around!

Paying me a visit!

I have found that ducks are a delightful addition to the garden, a little noisier than I expected but very comical to watch!  Although they don’t scratch up the land like chickens, they do drill holes, particularly where there is water, so muddy areas can develop.  I provide them with a long planter of soil in their run, so they can do this if they need to be kept in.  The huge advantage is that before these two came along, I was plagued by slugs in the garden.  Huge ones, that would end up in the chickens’ feeders and poo in them.  So much that I took to bringing the feeders in at night.  For some reason my chickens don’t eat slugs (they’re supposed to!) but Pandora and Jemima relish these.  I witheld any big ones till they were large enough to manage them and I am pretty much slug free now.  My next advantage with the ducks will hopefully be soon when eggs come along!

Thanks again to Pear Tree Poultry for their fantastic incubator hire service.  Sadly due to space, I don’t think I will be hatching anything this year but feel free to share your experiences by sending in your comments! 🙂

 

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Tried And Tested Greyhound Coats – By George!

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George in his birthday suit!

Just as people are different shapes and sizes, dogs vary even more so.  Dog clothing is a fast growing trend and whether you dress your pet for fashion or for functionality, whenever you pick up clothing at your local pet store there is a nagging doubt if it will fit.  Sadly, that is the curse of off the peg clothing for dogs.  There is no national standard for dog sizes and company standards vary between each other.  The best option is to try it on!

Greyhounds, Whippets, Lurchers and other sighthounds are at a particular disadvantage with their distinguished body shapes.  Yet these breeds wore coats even before dog clothing became popular!  These dogs are built for short bursts of incredible speed so they have long necks, deep chests and tiny waists.  Most fashionable dogwear would be a poor fit on a sighthound breed.

My head was turned when I spotted George, a beautiful tall Greyhound sporting some eyecatching fashions which looked incredibly warm, comfy – and well fitted.  How his fortunes have changed since his days of an ex-racing rescue dog!  His owner, Anita was only too happy to recommend his designers.

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Deluxe Snoggla by AK Creations

When I had a peep at the AK Creations website, I was blown away by the quality of the coats on offer.  I wanted a dog so I could get a coat!  The one George is modelling above is the Deluxe Snoggla, a quilted showerproof coat lined with polar fleece.  For someone who appreciates good outdoor clothing on a winters’ day a fleece and quilt combo definitely gets my thumbs up!  Anita agrees -“The lilac A & K creations coat is great for cold days when it’s not raining too heavily. The soft material that wraps round under his chest helps to keep his little bald undercarriage warm and dry and the neck of the coat also provides good coverage.”

The neck of this coat unfolds to form a hood, which is shaped so as not to interfere with the dog’s vision.  The coat itself fastens easily with the built in fleece panel, which passes between the front legs and is secured with velcro and snap fastenings.  The Deluxe Snoggla is around £65 to £85 depending on size of dog, plus postage.  Along with other super designs, AK Creations also make pyjamas for chilly nights, cool coats for hot days and colour co-ordinating bags for stylish owners!  Three measurements is normally required when ordering a coat as these are all handmade.  Not surprisingly, they are inundated with orders so be prepared to wait a while for your garment to be made. http://www.akcreations.co.uk/

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Anita and George

In the above picture, George is overshadowing his owner with his funky raincoat from Milgi Coats in Cardiff.  If you want to stand out from the crowd, Milgi Coats do a fantastic range of patterned designs.  Here, George is wearing a raincoat in Purple Haze.  Made from lightweight, ripstop fabric it is both tear resistant and waterproof.  The cotton flannel lining ensures the coat is warm and breathable.  The cut of the garment is very generous too, giving good protection around the neck, chest and back legs.  The coat is also machine washable and great value at £35.  Anita’s verdict on this? “The Milgi coat is the one I use in milder, wet weather – it’s quite light but waterproof. I like the polo neck style collar – it doesn’t flap about in the way some do, exposing his long neck to the rain.” Milgi also do beds, bandanas and…Christmas coats!  There is an easy sizing guide available, but be quick as last date to order before Christmas 2016 is 11th December!!! http://www.milgicoats.co.uk/

As George was a rescue dog, Anita is involved with Lancky Dogs, an organisation for rescuing greyhounds and lurchers in the north of England.  They often take part in the monthly dog walk which raises funds for unwanted dogs, and is also a great social event for greyhound/lurcher owners.  Take a look at Lancky Dogs wonderful work at http://www.lanckydogs.org.uk/

George has also picked up some bits for his wardrobe from Lancky Dogs…

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The anonymous blizzard coat

“The blue and grey blizzard coat is really excellent quality and has the polo neck I like,” says Anita.  “It was given to the Lancky Dog group to raise money to rescue more greyhounds but unfortunately we don’t know who made it!”  Note the belt fastening around George’s waist – its a common feature in some greyhound coats to wrap all the way round for a better fit.

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George’s polo neck jumper

This is actually home made!  Anita comments, “The yellow and black knitted coat was made by a member of the group and I’m sure other people could do the same. It’s great for adding under the blizzard coat, which isn’t as warm as the A & K coat, to keep him comfortable on very cold, wet days. It’s also useful for cold nights when the heating isn’t on downstairs.”  Greyhounds, being very thin coated will feel the cold more than most dogs, so be aware of cold nights and mornings in the house.

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All this modelling is hard work!

Many thanks to George and Anita for helping me out on this blog as I have a severe lack of dog!  Always nice to hear some feedback on products from other owners.  Let me know if there’s a subject you want me to cover or a product you swear by and I’ll certainly consider it!

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Me, at my day job with George

 

 

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The Family Pet Show 2016, Event City, Manchester

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Staff at Manchester Dogs’ Home stand!

I am quite lucky that my current employer allows us to work one day a year for charity.  I took this opportunity to help out Manchester Dogs’ Home at their stand at this year’s Family Pet Show.  I have written a blog on last year’s pet show, but this year its even better with some brilliant talks and demos plus the addition of giant tortoises and alpacas!

As it happens, this is the first year Manchester Dogs’ Home are manning their own stand, as opposed to sharing.  And it was busy!! £1 entry for fun dog shows (Cutest Pup, Dog The Judge Would Most Like To Take Home and Best Trick) and understandably, the entries filled up fast.  There were also some reasonably priced dog treats and accessories on sale at our stand, and all for charity.  Building work is still continuing at the Harpurhey home since the tragic fire in September 2014, so every donation still counts.

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Left, me and Dogs’ Home Manager, Steve.  Right, Catherine, regular volunteer plus friend!

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Shortly after opening, the visitors find us!

Had a fun shift with staff and volunteers meeting all the visitors, and quite a few had dogs from the home.  It was encouraging to see how generous the public are with donations too.  If you are looking to offer a forever home to one of the doggy residents, or wish to donate or volunteer have a look at their website www.dogshome.net

After helping out, I had a chance to look round the show.  This year, I was on my own so I was like a giddy child let loose in a pet paradise.  I sadly missed the Leopold Miniature Pony demonstration (again! Next year, I promise!) but I managed to catch an interesting talk about Lupine Dogs from Julie of Miyax Dogs.  Julie specialises in ethical breeding and training of wolf dogs.  Julie’s dogs have appeared in film and television (Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful) and she brought along her lovely youngster, Eve.  Her website is www.miyax.co.ukwp_20161001_15_14_46_pro

Apologies for the blurry photo, but she was very active!

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On the subject of poor photography, I also managed to catch these photos of James Bowen and Bob the Street Cat, just arrived for their book signing.  VERY busy stand!  If you are not familiar with this amazing true story have a look here https://www.facebook.com/StreetCatBob/  There will also be a film out later this year!

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This lovely lot are from Hebbs Alpacas and are checking out their bed and breakfast facilities as they are here for the full two days.  www.hebbsalpacas.co.uk 

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 Not just one, but several giant tortoises, as well as other exotic critters from Crocodile Joe and Safari Phil.  Sadly Lavender the skunk was asleep when I called by Safari Phil’s stand but you can see her picture at http://safariphil.co.uk/#/meet-the-critters/4590594874

I actually missed Crocodile Joe’s live demo (although I heard him on his didgeridoo!) but plenty of videos to view on http://www.crocodilejoes.com/index.php?page=videos

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Stopped by to have a chat at the Parrot Rescue stand.  These gorgeous cockatoos seemed to be taking everything in their stride.

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Same with this cat show entrant, who is just taking it easy between classes.  The pet show welcomes cats as well as dogs to the show, but its not always convenient to go places with your cat.   Below, this chappie shows us how its done!

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Barking Heads/Meowing Heads had an eyecatching stand…

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While Sealife Manchester had some engaging staff…

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My view by the Dogs’ Home stand

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Plenty of things to get involved in!

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And I ended up getting one of these!

Again, time flies when you’re having fun and my only regret is not being available for the second day of the show.  Many thanks to organiser, Carrie Mosley for helping arrange my volunteer work with Manchester Dogs’ Home and thanks to Steve Mapley and his crew for having me!

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Hand Rearing Baby Rabbits

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It was totally unplanned.  I had gone in for my induction for my new job at a large pet retailer when one of the managers asked if I could help with hand rearing some baby rabbits as a matter of urgency.  There were 7 newborn babies that had been brought in by a member of public who had unwittingly handled them and now the mother was rejecting them.

Of course I said yes.  The babies were being split amongst three staff as bottle feeding a litter of seven was a lot for one person alone.  None of us had done this before, and ideally, there would be a greater chance of survival if mother rabbit could be coaxed to nurse her babies again.  But the owner did not want to bring her in, so hand rearing was the only option.  We understood that the chances of survival for these baby rabbits were extremely slim.  They were only born the day before – they won’t have had much of their mother’s milk.

My husband was waiting to pick me up after my induction.  He eyed my cardboard pet carrier suspiciously as I got into the car.  “I can explain!” I bleated.  Prior to starting my new position, my friends had joked about me bringing animals home.  I couldn’t believe I was doing it on my first day!

Being new to this experience, I did my research on hand rearing rabbits and took on board information from various sites (although some of the advice differed greatly from each other).  Normally, the mother would only feed the kittens twice a day – her milk is super rich and also means that the less she visits the nest, the less likely predators will know its there.  As I am using a replacement milk powder (Beaphar Kitty Milk), I will need to feed 4 times a day to ensure that I will be providing as much nutrients as their mother would.  I mixed 1.5 scoops powder to 35ml boiled water, cooled to body temperature.  During the early days, as they would take very little, I mixed half this amount.

However, I was having problems with the bottle teat.  Despite having pricked it several times with a pin, there seemed to be very little coming out.  I even cut a slit into it, but again I couldn’t be sure the babies were receiving anything.  I decided to switch to using a 1ml syringe.  Luckily, I have accumulated a few unopened ones from previous vet visits.  I got better results from using a syringe and could also gauge the amount taken, but I had to be careful to feed the rabbits slowly, in case milk gets in their lungs which can cause death.  Its a very slow job, and I was grateful that I only had two to nurse.  Feeding them four times a day was exhausting and a big commitment – it took me back to the days when I was a mother myself!  In addition to feeding, I had a SnuggleSafe Pet Heat Pad to keep them warm, plus an old flannel for them to snuggle under, as well as hay for bedding.  As they were so small and inactive, I kept them in the cardboard pet carrier.

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The first week was crucial.  This was the week when the rabbits would either survive or die.  Sure enough, one of my colleague’s babies passed away two days later,  followed by another…and another…  With the news of each one passing away, I worried in case the bunny grim reaper was going to visit.  He didn’t, thank goodness, but all the other 5 rabbit kits went to rabbit heaven that week.

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We were not out of the woods, and it seemed we would be at risk until the babies were weaned.  This could be as soon as 4 weeks according to one website but even that sounds like ages away when you are arranging everything to fit round 4 feeds a day.  5 feeds sometimes – when I felt that the rabbits hadn’t taken much, my paranoia set in, and I would offer an extra feed late at night.  At first, they would take a miniscule amount –  less than 1ml at a time.  As the days went on, there would be an increase as they got better at feeding, and of course, as we got better at feeding them.  By now, I had sorted out a back up team to help with feeding duties while I was at work.  This consisted of my husband Steve (I had NO pets when he married me – he certainly got more than he bargained for!)  and my sister, Yausan and her husband Derek.

My sister was an obvious choice to babysit the rabbits.  She lives 5 mins away and has had various rabbits in her life.  Each one was special to her.  However, she currently has two rescued bunnies and was a bit surprised when I called on her to help  handrear the babies.  Like most people, she had no handrearing experience either.  “Feed them really slowly.  And don’t get attached!”  I told her.  Within that first week she named them Sage and Onion.  I would go to her house to pick them up after work and see Yausan and Derek each with a happily fed rabbit asleep on their lap while watching TV.  I hoped even more now that they would survive.

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Onion
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Sage

A few websites recommended the use of Avipro, a powdered probiotic useful for stressed, ailing animals.  I have used it before with good results on sick chickens so I fed 1ml daily to the rabbits in the morning.  Then I read in another website that I could add a small amount of powder to each milk feed, which made life a bit easier!  Also, after each feed, you should encourage the rabbit to poo and wee by stroking their nether regions with warm moistened cotton wool to imitate the mother washing them.  More often than not, the babies would obligingly wee, and wow, it was quite a lot of wee!  Old towels were quite useful when it came to feeding them, not only for cuddling them to keep them warm, but also for the milk and wee spills!

At the end of their first week, the babies grew furrier and their ears got longer.  Around 10 days is an important occasion as that’s when the eyes open.  Onion’s opened first, and it happened after a feed!

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“I can see!”

Sage’s eyes opened the next day.  He is slightly smaller than Onion but he is a strong feeder.

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“Nom nom!”

With their eyes open, they became more active and curious.  The bathtub when lined with a towel, became a good place to let them have a run, and as they are producing more wee and poo, a plastic brooder type box seemed more practical than cardboard.  They were taking increasing amounts of milk, and also nibbling at hay.  We dropped to 3 meals a day.  I was looking forward to them coming off milk and bought them some junior rabbit pellets.

However, Sage and Onion didn’t appear interested in the pellets till they were almost 5 weeks old.  I had also bought a hay based junior rabbit food (Nature’s Touch) to try to tempt them, so now they are on two types of rabbit food, the spoilt bunnies!

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Onion, left. Sage, right.

Apparently, hand reared rabbits can be prone to tummy problems, so its recommended not to introduce any fresh veg to them till 4 months of age, and even then to introduce tiny amounts.  Perhaps it was the weaning, but one morning Sage wasn’t taking his milk as usual and seemed quieter.  I didn’t waste any time getting a vet appointment as young rabbits can go downhill quickly.  As it turned out, by the time we packed the rabbits into the car, Sage was back to normal, but we continued to the vets for a once over.  He confirmed Sage was ok, and that he was a buck and Onion was a girl!  As soon as Sage’s testicles appear (approx 4 months), he and Onion will be neutered to avoid any unwanted pregnancies.

Now the rabbits are eating well, milk feeds dropped to two, and then one feed in the evening around 7 weeks.  I had expected to stop feeding milk by now, but Sage and Onion had other ideas.  They loved their milk feeds and where they were once helpless and had to be encouraged to feed, they were now jostling for the syringe, which has now upgraded to a 2.5ml size.  They can take anything from 20-35ml in a sitting and I was hoping that they would become disinterested in milk.  In the end, I made the milk thinner and reduced the amount available till we eventually stopped feeding milk at 8 weeks.  One website had mentioned that mother rabbits would actually continue feeding babies till 8 weeks which made me feel better about it.

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Weaned, at long last!

Sage and Onion continued to grow; their coats grew increasingly fluffy and their ears lopped (their mother was a Lionhead cross).  Being hand reared they were very friendly and would make amazing pets for the right person.  I had enjoyed the experience of bringing them up against the odds but the perfect home was waiting for them all this time.  My sister had fallen in love with them and had looked after them at weekends – with no cats in the house, and no chickens in the garden, she could offer a better environment than me.  I will be sad to see them go, but as she is local and will need a rabbit sitter when she goes on holiday, it won’t be a complete goodbye.

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Sage and Onion at their new forever home, taking residence on the settee!

So…handrearing baby rabbits.  Where possible, get mummy rabbit to do it as its hard work for humans and often unsuccessful.  Avoid handling newborn rabbits as this causes them to be rejected in the first place, but if this happens, there’s a chance that the mother may accept them again if her scent is rubbed over them, using her soiled litter.  In the event you need to handrear, here are some websites that I found useful.  Good luck!

http://cottontails-rescue.org.uk/health/hand-rearing/

http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/orphan.html

http://britishwildlifehelpline.com/Rearing%20Rabbits.html

Also, have a look on my Facebook page for some video footage!

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