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Sat, Dec. 14

Life in the Slow Lane: Rabbits and Bunny Tractors

I finally got the first rabbit tractor finished! Is it perfect? No, it's definitely a prototype, although I fully intend to house a rabbit in it. However, it has square corners and is solid, and light enough to be pulled easily across bumpy ground. And it is so completely covered by wire (some of it pieces I hand wove together) that I can't imagine any predator in the world breaking into it. This includes Radha the puppy, who is at the top of my predator list.

This project was a huge learning experience for me. As you, my plucky readers, will know, I'm not power tool savvy. But each project brings improvement, like "do not unwittingly tuck your fingers inside the circular saw blade cover." Yes, I did it but the damage was minimal, requiring only a bandage.

Rather than the rectangular tractors I saw on-line, my version morphed substantially when I realized I couldn't lean in and grab a rabbit with that design. That resulted in a new triangular design. The back end, where the rabbits have an enclosed house/hiding area that's (hopefully) weather-proof, is about 20 inches tall. The woven wire floor is lifted about 4 inches off the ground which should keep paws dry during wet weather. The front end, which started at almost 4 feet tall is now 30 inches tall. The roof slopes backward to shed water, hopefully shed water, anyway. I didn't get it done in time to rain-test it last week. The horse fencing that covers the bottom of the front section is at ground level, and offers holes big enough for nibbling on the grass and even sinking bunny toes into the ground without allowing digging.

The nicest part about this first tractor was that I didn't have to rush. I'm so glad I didn't breed the girls! This gave me time to mull over what didn't seem right until I figured out what I didn't like about it. After that, it was just a matter of taking it apart ONE MORE TIME to fix it. Let me say it's a miracle it's as solid as it is.

I take that back. The nicest part of this project is that I now know exactly how to build the next two tractors. In fact, Christina and I had the framework put together for number 2 in just a few hours. Talk about solid! The next two will last forever and if I can get the right wire, I may have all three done by next week.

In preparation for moving the rabbits from their hidey-hole by the back barn, I started a petting program. That's because my first experience with Scaredy Bunny resulted in scratches for me and terror for him, something I'd rather not repeat. Now when I go back to feed them or offer them fresh greens (right now they're gaga over my apple tree prunings), I stick my hand into their cages and...TOUCH THEM. (Oh, the horror!)

The back doe (girl rabbit) who I am tentatively calling Bitsy Bunny (just because it's alliterative) was the first to submit. She's a sucker for forehead scratches and ear rubs, to the point that she's now more interested in being petted than eating. The doe in the middle cage, who hasn't yet got a name alliterative or otherwise, is the smarter of the two. She watched her sister get man-handled, assessed the risk, then carefully submitted on the premise that she might be missing out on something good. She now also greets me at the front of the cage. We've even touched noses, which is a pretty good sign.

Scaredy Bunny, the buck, has been much harder sell, however even he's giving way, or so says the way his eyelids slowly lower when I scratch his hind quarters. Of course, the minute I move my hand away from him, he tenses up again. But we're getting there.

I'm looking forward to seeing them in their new, larger, sunnier, dirtier, grassier homes. As for me I'm already reaping some benefits from having rabbits. I presently have all my chickens and turkeys locked into the back barn/chicken coop. The chickens were getting way too creative about where they were laying their eggs, including on a six-foot high shelf off which the egg always rolled. Locking them in the barn for a while will force them to form new and safer egg-laying habits. My turkeys joined them because Tom is now clearly blind. I don't know how much longer he has, but I'm determined he will go in his sleep. To give the girls something to do while they're locked in, I've shoveled two months worth of hay and rabbit droppings, along with leaves, chicken poop, and dirt, into one corner of the barn. The girls, even the turkey girls, are having the time of their lives turning that pile for me.

Compost turning made easy! Huh, I might be onto something here.

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