Neglect is a Killer

A rabbit was brought to me a few days ago, the owner telling me, “Something is not right, do you think you can help?” There have been very many very important human medical things happening at my house all this week, so I told the owner the rabbit was low on my list to get to during the day and would be caged outside with the other rabbits.

That first evening when I finally got to the rabbit, the outlook was poor. Prior to coming to me, the rabbit had been eating less and less and was bony, very lethargic, and it’s toenails about an inch long. First thing, trim its nails! Flipped the rabbit to trim nails, and lo and behold, it has a giant hard, crusty poop ring encircling and encrusting it’s privates, matted to the skin. It smelled very bad and you could see where skein of infection enmassed in the fur. It was a miracle it could poop at all. The owner was horrified and I was horrified by the owner. We got part of the poop ring cut out of the fur and it’s nails trimmed before I had to leave for work, so I put the rabbit in the cage prepared for it’s arrival. Food, water, and hay were provided for the night.

The next day, near evening, I went out to the rabbit and carefully scissored off the rest of the poop ring, spraying her down with an iodine mix to help kill the infections. The fur had clumped and torn the skin around the uro-genital area, and many injuries were revealed with this cleaning. After cleaning the fouled skin and fur–to the point of clipping mats of fecal-encrusted fur off the rabbit–I gave her a grooming with my bunny brush. I finished by coating her uro-genital area with Blu-Kote, to prevent more infection. She hadn’t eaten much that day (the owner saying she was a picky eater) and so I checked her teeth–way overgrown, no wonder she was eating less and less! She couldn’t open her mouth wide enough anymore!!! I clipped them to an appropriate length and gave her several medicinal plungers of water to drink. Who knows when she drank last? The rabbit was much more animated after all these medical administrations, grooming her Lionhead self for the first time that I’d seen. I gave her several more plungers of water, strips of peeled carrot, lots of rolled oats, and a healthy dose of gel probiotics. Thinking that maybe she might have trouble with the water bottle with her freshly trimmed teeth, I put in a bowl, and she drank deeply.

Day Three rolls around. More medical things happening at the house. It’s hot outside, but after watching all the buns in their cages at different intervals, everyone seemed to be handling it, just stretched out and chilling in their cages. Evening came and I gave the Lionhead a glance over, and she seemed to be doing all right. The Lionhead has a few bunny berries in the waste pan. More water gone from the bowl. It was at that point the owner told me it was a good thing there was a bowl, since she didn’t use a vacuum bottle, but a Lixit. This steamed me, since I had Lixit bottles in my cupboard and this could have made a huge difference the first day of having the rabbit. The rabbit had not touched the oats, the hay, or the fresh willow, but had nibbled at some grass and carrots since they were gone, her belly plumped up. She was alert and looking around, which I considered a positive thing, progress.

Today was Day Four. The rabbit was lethagic, and didn’t blink very often. There was no new poop or pee in the waste pan but her belly was plump. A vast majority of the human medical things I had to do was done and I could devote more time to the rabbit. I took her out of the cage and flipped her over to inspect her healing wounds. They were scabbed over and clean, so I cut away a few more fecal mats on her legs and started to groom the sheared hair around the uro-genital area, when I noticed white granuals deep in the fur. Brushing them out, I was horrified (again) to realize they were moving–maggots. I sprayed the area with the iodine water, grooming frantically, cleaning a few tucked away poop mats from the bunny. Then I happened to look down and wached a large grey maggot emerge from and then disappear back into the rabbit’s anus.

There are few things that make me nearly puke, blood-laden dentistry and discovering rehydrated dead mice being at the top of my list. I now have a new thing to add to my list. I never want to have to expel a live, wriggling maggot from the anus of a lethargic living rabbit ever again.

Immediately I dosed the Lionhead with oral ivermectin, followed by probiotic, and more plungers of water. I diced apple into teeny, tiny pieces, and shoved them into her mouth, hoping she’d chew them. If a rabbit quits eating, you’ve got 24 hours to restart their guts or they will die. Some carrots and grass from the day before isn’t going to be enough to push the ivermectin through. The Lionhead mouths the apple pieces, making a grinding sound, and dribbles them out of her mouth. It then occurs to me that perhaps her molars are too long also, and she can’t chew, despite her front teeth being trimmed. I am not a rabbit dentist and it may be too late anyway. I do what I can to make the Lionhead comfortable as possible in the cage because there is nothing more I can do and I am now I am late for work.

On the ride to work I call the owner. “Your rabbit will likely die before Sunday.” I explain all that I have done for the Lionhead. “The problems started long before you brought her to me because you didn’t have the time for her. When she started to regularly eat less was the time to say something. I don’t know if I can save her, and I don’t think I can. I can try some kit formula on her when I get home from work since it’s high in protein, fat, and liquid. But the fact that there are maggots feasting in her bowels means her organs are dying. The maggots are not the cause, they just eat flesh that’s already necrotized.”

The owner then tried to blame it on me since I have exposed her house rabbit to an outside cage and flies. I retorted angrily that all my other rabbits are exposed to flies and NONE of them have this outcome since they are not neglected. Their teeth are not overlong. They don’t have giant crusted poop-rings attached to their behinds for who knows how long. They don’t have Edward Scissorhand claws. Their diet is monitored daily. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS. The owner was quiet and now sad, since she really liked her Lionhead.

So as I write this I wonder if it wouldn’t be kinder to euthanize the Lionhead, rather than waiting for her to die on her own time. I wonder if I can yet pull a miracle out of the bag and save this rabbit. I wonder if it’ll be alive by the time I leave work tonight. I wonder if there’s a little bit of mercy for the Lionhead, one way or another.

I hope, but I don’t think so.


An hour after I originally posted this, I made it home and checked on the Lionhead. She was dead. I buried her immediately.

There Is More To This Then You Know

It’s incredible how some people will criticize something they know very little about. While this is not new in any aspect of life, it does rear it’s ugly head in the most unexpected places. I think I have a few acquaintences who can’t decide if I’m a horrible person for raising meat rabbits or if I’m the really fun, friendly cool chick they knew before I got into raising New Zealand rabbits. They are appalled that I bring to this world a litter of “cute fluffy bunnies” just to process some of them to eat. Some I do sell to 4-H members, which is cool to my acquaintences since their mindset is “help the kids out”. Obviously my acquaintences don’t know what happens to a lot of 4-H or FFA projects. I had one person tell me that they mentally see my hands stained red.

I will not deny that I have processed rabbits for my freezer. I love rabbit bacon for breakfast. I love knowing what exactly is in my food and where it came from. I love knowing that a dish I serve hadn’t been contaminated by chemicals from China or infected with samonella and e. Coli at a massive butchering plant.

I consider myself a very small farmer, which is why my Facebook page is listed as an Agricultural Company. While some of my rabbits do go to folks as pets (mean rabbits aren’t eligible for this program) most are sent out into this world as livestock, to help the human race continue in one form or another. I am a member of a local community garden committee and the main reason I expanded my footprint there was to provide healthy forage and herbs for the rabbits. The garden had benefitted in return from the loads of rabbit poop compost which has made its way back to organically enrich the soil.

Most times folks who are critical have no idea the work that sometimes goes into saving a litter or individuals of a litter. If you think I just stand around and wait at the end of a conveyor belt for rabbits, then you should read “A Tail of Two Virgins, Part 2” and see how much heart and soul goes into my rabbits. If anyone has ever read James Herriots personal experiences as a farm vet in Yorkshire, England, you know how deep caregivers and stock owners can feel for their animals.

So the next time the opportunity arises to criticize small farmers and owners of livestock, stop and think how much those people are putting back into their land, their community, and their hearts.

The Tail of Two Virgins, Part 2

My last blog was about trying to get two virgin rabbits bred to each other by using a next cage over rabbit mating exhibition to show them how making babies is done, and the difference when another virgin doe is bred to an experienced buck. If you missed this post, back up and read it before continuing since this is the results 30 days later!

If anyone ever tells you that breeding rabbits is easy and monotonous, they are liars of the worst sort, the type your grandma warned you about. I was asked at work a few weeks ago how many babies I thought the three does would have. I replied, “Anywhere from two to thirty.” One never knows with rabbits.

This past weekend all three of those does were to kindle, since breeding occurred all on the same day for them, so by Thursday we’d moved all the cages into Winter Quarters. On Friday I gave all the does a fruit Tums tablet in their food in case they needed extra calcium for delivery.

Saturday rolled around and I saw Mossy in pre-labor; she was fussy, so I gave her peace and quiet, a little dried willow for pain, and kept a general kept a low profile while in Winter Quarters. Mossy was pulling hair to the point where it look like another rabbit exploded in the cage, but she’d layered the nest box with bunches of hair. Nice nest, well lined so far, all things are going pretty good for her. Cinderella, the red doe, just sat there looking at me from her cage with a fearful look in her eye, watching Mossy on the tier below her just making a mess of her cage, like a neat sibling who has to share a bedroom with their messy sister.

Cinderella by her nest box
The casual observer to her cousin’s hair pulling antics the tier below.

The day progressed and nothing really happened, but there are a few days of leeway involved, so I figured the hormones had hit and now there was massive housekeeping to be done by Mossy who kept adding hair to the nest box. Cinderella just eyed the whole show and I think Rose, Mossy’s mom, was just laughing her head off at the crazy going on.

As I turned to leave, I noticed one very small clump of 15? 20? hairs by Cinderella’s feeder. I gave Cinderella the eye, looked at the nest box which was unremarkable, and decided to dig my hand into the nest, just in case. Oh my! Tucked away at the bottom of the box was a huge pile of kits!!! Cinderella had her babies and tucked them away so neatly you’d never know they were there! I gave Cinderella a lot of willow, sunflower seeds, and oats as standard postpartum rabbit dinner which she began to inhale. I then took the nest box from Cinderella’s cage to check the babies, determined there was a whole pile of them in there, but wouldn’t disturb them til tomorrow to count them out.

Before I went to work a few hours later, I checked on Mossy again and she was humped up in the nest box looking busy (yay!). Rose had made a nice nest in the straw but hadn’t pulled a single bit of fur, and then I noted that Cinderella had merely moved to the other side of the cage.

Doe in nest box
Mossy in her nest box while in labor.

Late that night/very early Sunday morning when I came home and checked on the rabbits, what I saw broke my heart. Mossy had delivered three babies on the wire, not in the nest, and they were definitely dead. Two broken colored kits and one of indeterminable color. They were big, as kits in a small litter can be, and I think that they’d died before birth, seeing how Mossy was having problems with delivering. The mere fact she’d delivered them on the wire and not in the nest box she set up is indicative of her first time mom status. (That is why it’s really important that multiple does be bred at the same time for fostering needs.) She was very protective of her dead babies, constantly checking on them, and wasn’t very pleased when I removed their remains. I gave her some more willow and sunflower seeds to distract her and cleaned up her cage. Mossy only had two other siblings, so I chalked it up to small litters running on her mother’s side of the family. Cinderella was still huddled in a corner of her cage and Rose was sprawled out like the loose woman she is. All was well enough for 2:30 am on a Sunday morning. I was going to bed.

Twelve hours later after sleep and church, I check on the rabbits again. I pulled Cinderella’s nest box to examine the babies to make sure they’d been fed. Right as I put my hand in the nest, a kit popped up and chomped down on my finger, which is a really bad sign. They hadn’t been fed yet and were coming up on almost a day old. Counting out those kits as they jumped around in hungry desperation was a challenge and there were TEN babies. One of them was really thin and runty and I worried about it since that one really needed to eat, pronto! No wonder Cinderella had a scared look–she’d had her babies spectacularly and camouflaged them expertly, but had no idea she needed to nurse them. Starting to panic, I checked Rose’s nest box since I needed her to potentially expertly foster some kits, and it was still empty. Rabbits only have 8 nipples and 10 kits are too many, particularly with a small weak kit involved.

So I was now in a really precarious position–I had one first time mother who done 95% of everything right but too many babies and didn’t know about nursing. I had another first time mother who’d done great making nests and pulling fur, but who’d lost all her babies and was still confused as to where her kits were and what to do next. My professional mother was running a day or so behind the others in kindling. So, divide and conquer was going to be the plan, with an eye on Rose in hopes that when she kindled, I could save some of these living kits from these first time moms.

I put five of the babies in a blanket on my lap and placed Cinderella over them, holding her gently and petting her in a relaxing way. I could tell the moment kits latched on because her eyes widened in surprise, but she let down her milk really quick and began to drowse on my lap. Those babies figured out nursing and chugged away, relieving Cinderella from what was a definite case of overfull boobies. I pulled the kits from under her, checking that they had full bellies (and the ones that didn’t got put back under her), and when they did, I transferred them to a secondary holding nest box.

With five more mouths to feed, I grabbed up Mossy, who I figured would have had her milk come in by then, and put her over the babies in the lap blanket. She was rather bewildered by these wriggly things under her, but three of the kits latched on and got a good feeding. Of the other two, one got an okay dinner, not as much as it’s siblings. The small weak one didn’t hardly get any after 30 more minutes of me trying all the ways I know to get a kit to nurse. That left just one option–extra formula feedings until it got it’s strength back. However, the clock showed I needed to leave for work in 15 minutes by then.

I salvaged what clean fur I could from Mossy’s cage and her prodigiously lined nest and put those last five babies in it, placing it in Mossy’s cage. Perhaps her mom’s brain would kick in when she saw wriggly live babies in her carefully prepared nest. She did go over and check the nest out, so that was a positive sign. I double checked Cinderella’s nest box and the five kit in there as I started to return it to her cage–and that’s when I noticed she hadn’t pulled hardly any fur for her nest and those first five babies weren’t going to be warm enough to digest the first dinner they’d just gotten.

It was enough to make me cry right there and I almost did. Except I didn’t because that would have gotten some fur in my eyes and I don’t cry and I don’t quit and THANK GOD I’D SAVED ALL THAT FUR THE RABBITS HAD BLOWN RIGHT BEFORE THEIR LAST SHOW IN OCTOBER (which I had gotten points docked for their bad coats). I had a pretzel bucket half full of red and black rabbit fur for just a scenario I now found myself in. I liberally applied this fur to the nest, covered the babies in it, and left Cinderella staring into that crazy multi-colored baby bed. I hoped she wouldn’t tear it (and the babies) apart while I was gone since that had liberal amounts of Mini Rex buck fur in it. I had to leave since work pays the rabbit feed bill and whatever happened would happen.

When I came back from work five hours later at 2:30am Monday morning, I saw dead babies lying on the wire of Mossy’s cage. Had she accidentally killed the foster babies? Taking a closer look, I see it is NOT the fosters from Cinderella, but two more dead kits that had been retained by Mossy. One was a large red kit and I think the other was a broken red. I am upset since I no longer have Coppertop, the virgin buck I bred her to last month, so that rabbit genetics experiment failed. I am relieved, since I’m sure that the hormones from nursing the kits earlier in the day had helped expel the last remaining stuck kits. Mossy could have died of sepsis from retained kits or become sterile, neither situation I want. She was much calmer and ate her willow and sunflower seeds with gusto, only slightly boxing at me when I remove the dead kits from her cage and clean it for the second time in 24 hours. Everything looked alright, I was very tired from work, anything else could wait til the morning. Rose has still not delivered any kits, so there goes my fostering plan with her.

This blog post is going to end soon, right? Not yet. It’s only Monday afternoon, 48 hours after the kits started to arrive.

Monday early afternoon. I pull both boxes and check on the kits–Cinderella has fed her babies hours ago and covered them over, marking the end of needing to guide her way into motherhood. Mossy’s nest box has hungry, unfed kits in it. Switching it up again, I put these hungry kits in the blanket on my lap and use Cinderella to feed them, since her milk has come in. They feed in a few minutes, except for two of the smallest kits, even after flipping the doe. That means I need to make kit formula up when I go in the house. Cinderella’s fed kits I put to Mossy, whose milk amount is just so-so, but that is okay since those kits ate earlier in the day and they are professional eaters at this point! Nursing takes less time than on Sunday. When they are finished, I take the two hungriest kits into the house with me and make up the goat’s milk formula, which I managed to spill half of during preparation, and am truly grateful that my husband found the spare bag of frozen goat milk cubes in the freezer. (Love you, honey! Can you tell it’s been a crazy rabbit weekend?) Formula finally concocted and warmed up, my daughter and I sit down to feed the two kits, which the stronger of the two chugs. I can barely get any down the starving one, so I don’t think it’ll survive another day, but I leave it with Cinderella since she’s actually feeding her kits. Give life a chance, right? After that I went to my herb garden and harvested fresh growing parsley, which promotes milk production, and give it to all does, including Rose, who hasn’t kindled yet. Time to go to work.

Tuesday, November 21. Cinderella’s brood doing ok, everyone is still living. She has added freshly pulled fur to her nest to accommodate the colder night. Mossy’s bunch need to eat, but when I blanket nurse those kits, their bellies are HUGE. The parsley has done its job.

Wednesday, November 22. Spent the day with the kids and checked on the rabbits late in the eve. The small hungry one, left with Cinderella in hopes of attaining life, has died. That leaves nine kits between the two moms and Rose is not pregnant at all.

So what could have been 30 or more kits from three different bucks has turned into 9 kits from one buck. Since Mossy is being a surrogate mom to her half-siblings, I won’t re-breed her, but may breed Rose back to Hammer. I’ve been inquiring from the local 30 year Red breeder for a new buck for the next generation, and eventually it will be Mossy’s beaux. I had pinned so many hopes on this trifecta of does and now I must re-figure my plans and priorities for the spring.

For those who are breeding rabbits for their homestead or farm, be aware that you may be needed to manage inexperienced does (and bucks)! is a great website with tons of information regarding all that can and does go awry in a breeding operation with plenty of active members to assist with questions. Your planned kits do not have to be inadvertant fatal statistics!

Ah, those rabbits! I don’t think I’d do this if it were boring!!!

The Tale of Two Virgins

It’s breeding time at Soaring Goose and there is nothing quite like having rabbit virgins. Most everyone is familiar with the term ‘breed like rabbits’ but let me tell you, youngsters have very little clue.

One of my senior bucks, Valentino, is a very laid back soul of a rabbit (think Filmore from Disney’s ‘Cars’) but when he found virginal Cinderella in his cage this morning, he didn’t give her a chance to be demure and shy. He showed her the way of a proven buck within seconds and has been very kind—and persistant—in breeding her all afternoon.

My conundrum came with Coppertop and Mossflower. He’s not quite worth what I paid for him but he does have some grandparents that Mossflower shares genes with. Mossy is the daughter of Valentino (mentioned above) and she has done quite well in the shows. Coppertop is not the greatest conformation but he has a nice butt, really coppery red fur, and a nice big head. I don’t plan on keeping Coppertop long but thought I’d see what the meeting of genes could produce. Could be big meaty rabbits or long lean meaty rabbits, but either way, they’re meaty.

So here I am with two virgins who have no idea how to make babies. The drive is there but honestly, that really is the wrong end for  Coppertop to be concerned with. She’s reluctant, he’s clueless (despite assistance from me), so what to do?

Domestic rabbits are social animals, and always are happier when they can see another of their kind (just don’t let them invade their space—then the fight is on). I recalled reading about a farmer that when he bred his heifers to his bull, he would put young bullocks in the next corral. He was asked why he did that and replied, “How else do you think those young ones will learn? By watching. That way when they are old enough, they’ll know what to do.” That makes sense if you think about wild herd animals such as buffalo or horses. Youngsters are not shielded from viewing mating activities their entire time with the herd, so having watched the dominant stallion or bull, there isn’t the issue of humping the female’s head. Which is what Coppertop was doing ardently.

In the cage row next to Coppertop is Hammer, another senior proven buck. I grabbed up Rosebud and put her in the cage with him. Hammer is a get-down-to-business buck, and if Rose wants to play hard to get, he pulls out the dominant buck moves, puts her in her place as second in his cage, and does the deed. Efficiently and repeatedly. He grooms her afterward and is nice to her but when she gets up to wander about his cage, he’s back at the business end of life. He’s like this with all does.

Before the demonstration of how to make rabbits.

So Coppertop and Mossy got to watch brown-chicken-brown-cow moves from a professional with all the added social graces a considerate buck uses on his intended. After watching Hammer take Rose in hand, Coppertop was much more efficient with Mossy.

It’s my preference to leave a buck and doe together as long as possible during the day. Many breeders say that you only need one fall-off to get kits (which is true) but it’s the sexual stimulation that releases eggs in a doe. The more stimulation, the more likely for a decent sized litter. Take Rose for example; she went from having 2-4 kits in her 15 minute visits with Hammer to having 10 kits after spending the day with him. If it’s safe to leave them together, let them, IMO. They get to be social, groom each other, have a quickie, and the bucks get to be with another rabbit like they haven’t since they were in a litter.

The does are always cranky after spending the day getting their tails chased, but they LOVE being mothers, and truely care for their kits. I see putting Mossy back in with Coppertop tomorrow to assure myself of the next generation. and I can almost guarentee Coppertop will not be shy, coy, or hesitant tomorrow. He’ll have had all night to consider what he’s seen and done, and will waste no time with begetting kits.

Red Ribbon Blues

This afternoon as my husband and I pulled in the driveway coming home from our congregation meeting, he points to something sticking from under the wood fence gate, and says, “Look!” To my dismay, a reddish paw is sticking out. “Somebody got out,” I replied. After getting out of the car and approaching the non-moving foot, I tickle its toes and pad, and it did not move. “Whoever it is, they’re dead,” I sighed sadly. I had hoped maybe an orange colored neighborhood cat had come behind the fence to expire, but not so. We went to the front door to go in the house and I anxiously cataloged who it could be. Rosebud? She’s clever and has escaped before. Cinderella? Not likely, since her cage is high up. Hammer? He’s not the intrepid type. 

Both of us went to the back door to see who the unfortunate was. Scanning the back cages, I see that Cinderella, Rosebud, and Hammer are all accounted for. That just leaves the youngsters in the Rabbitude. We rounded the corner towards the fence gate and I see that the door to one of the youngster’s cage is open. Then we see the poor buckling on the ground, alive, but worse for wear, bleeding at both knees. It’s apparent he has broken his back at some point.

I scoop him up gently, dodging the feces and urine raining uncontrollably from his behind. I put him back in his cage where he cuddles up to his brother on the other side of the wire divider. He cannot control his back legs for certain. He takes a small drink from the waterer and stretches out. The third eyelid is bulging, so I know he is in pain and fear. “Hang with your brother until I get changed,” I tell him. A broken back means he will be euthanized, there is no other option. It is a waste of a fine young buck who took 2nd place at a recent show and who I was hoping to sell. Right now, it’s my job to make him as comfortable as he can be until the end.

I change out of dress clothes and into civvies, then go to the garage to fetch a shovel. I pick a nice spot in the yard and dig a hole big enough to receive the incoming body. When that is done, I check on the other rabbits. Another cage door is open! Thankfully Trooper is smart, and is tucked the corner of his cage. We live in the city, in a neighborhood where there are those who have trouble keeping their hands out and off of other folk’s things. It would not be the first time someone has messed with the rabbits, but it would a first since the gate is padlocked. I check the perimeter for human entry but I don’t see anything obvious. I look about the yard some more and I see evidence that the buckling had visited the other rabbits, that he’d eaten in my garden, had left poop calling cards in critical spots. Perhaps the buckling survived the drop to the ground, went visiting, and was spooked later on by something else which caused his injury. Maybe someone was in the backyard “visiting” the rabbits, and made a bad grab for the buckling? Maybe cages didn’t get fully closed when we removed ice bottles the other day? Maybe he broke his back during happy hijinks–it has happened before. Maybe today was just a day when a bad thing happened.

I returned to the buckling’s cage, gently removed him, performed the euthanization, and laid him to rest in his freshly dug grave. He is buried by three littermate siblings who didn’t survive being born, and another sibling in a prior litter who was killed by a rat. He rests in good company and now his story will be added to theirs in that little graveyard, but the red ribbon will always be his.

The Earth That Nourishes Us

Is it sleeping or is it eating?

Fall has made it’s presence known in the swirling mass of leaves and almost cold nights. The rabbits are feasting on the crab apple tree leaves that have turned brown and crispy, like a bunny potato chip. They inhale whatever late season greens I can find; dandelions, the last plantain, grasses gone to seed, and the cover crop of oat grass that loves this cool weather. All this bounty depends on the dirt we live on. What have we done to it?

Accounts from the pioneers who came to the Firelands and the Western Reserve repeatedly said that “a squirrel could run from state edge to state edge without ever touching the ground.” Ohio had a thick ancient forest that was known for irretrievably losing unwary travelers just a few steps off the main trails or just beyond your cabin clearing. The settlers started clearing the forests to build houses, barns, and start fields to feed their families. They found the dirt rich and dark, which grew a bounty of food. More people came, clearing the woods, making room for taverns, stately homes, orchards, and more fields. Cuyahoga County had many lumber mills in the 19th and early 20th century . Years passed and slowly the giant oaks, ash, and beeches came down and edge of the woods crept back until now you see them huddling in strips between houses or protected in parks. 

Have you noticed the difference in your dirt? My family has been in northern Ohio since 1806 and most of them were farmers. Nowadays farmers and home gardeners pour both chemical and organic fertilizers into the soil, trying to stimulate that verdant growth which our great-grandparents talked about.  My grandmother would tell the story of how the doctor would come to their house and she and her siblings would run to the woods and hide so they didn’t have to get shots. My mom’s generation still reminice about playing in the near-derelict barns of their grandparents, built from the bones of ancient Ohio trees, and the small wooded tracts that were all that was left on the property. Where are those woods today? I’m sure you’ll find a housing development or a business park where those leafy sentinels stood.

Recently I read a history book about the beginning of the city of Lakewood, Ohio, and in it, it talked about Dr. Jared Kirtland who was a famous naturalist. He studied the soil of Lakewood and finding it made of leaf humus, urged his neighbors to give up growing grains but to grow fruit trees instead. Lakewood and Rockport (modern day Kamms Corners) became famous around the country for the bounty of the variety of fruits grown here. Slowly, progress paved over farms and trees were cut down to build houses that city workers live in. Cleveland was known as “The Forest City” for the amounts of trees that abided here, and Forest City Industries was named after that. More houses, more urban spread, less trees.

It’s November 2016. I ponder and think and ruminate on what I read. Sara Stein’s “Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards” is a resident on my book shelf, a book that takes a deep look into what happened to her plot of land in Pound Ridge, NY from the time it was settled in the 1700s to the 1990s. One of the many points I took to heart was  we need to feed our dirt. 

Ohio is not the mountainous New York of Mrs. Stein’s ecology. I struggle with growing flowers and food for the rabbits in the clay churned soil of Cleveland. As I look over my dry, cracked, grey toned garden dirt, I think of the settler’s accounts of the trees and their squirrel inhabitants, of Mr. Kirtland’s scientific determination that fruit trees would grow well here, of my grandmother hiding in the woods, my own childhood growing up deep in the shaded woods of Bradley Woods Park watching the cycle of woods life, watching in these last few years as the city cuts down the last of our elderly trees and I have finally reached an obvious conclusion: my garden needs trees.

Ohio was covered in trees. Billions and billions and billions of leaves have been laid upon Lake Erie’s clay edged land for eons and they rotted into leaf humus. My native soil bacteria is for leaf humus. Trees, yes fruit trees, thrive in this leaf humus ecology, which will still support grasses and shrubs. But it needs leaves and moisture to feed it, and leaf humus is outstanding in retaining water. I remember as a kid in the spring the super nasty, soggy, heavy wet pockets of leaves that we’d missed raking and putting on the leaf pile in the woods during the fall. Water would run out of those clods, even in the high summer. Milipedes, centipedes, nightcrawlers, potato bugs, and all sorts of fungus thrived in that humus.

The short sighted plan of people took away the biological machines, our trees, that fed and nourished the environment of our dirt, not realizing how vital they were. That dirt, having been fed for countless eons, was able to provide for several hundred years a bounty of food, all the while city planners pushed the trees to a reduced state. Is it no wonder I struggle with my garden? To the best of my knowlege my dirt has barely been fed since 1948, when our house was built. The trees that do remain on our treelawns keep trying to feed the dirt (and themselves) but we keep raking leaves up and stuffing them in bags for the garbage man to remove because they are ‘unsightly’. We are throwing away the food Ohio dirt needs, which leaves us with whimpering gardens and a paucity of native bacteria. We are starving our neighborhood soils and don’t even realize it.

Today I ran the lawnmower. It’s a bagging mower and I set the deck on high, not so much to cut the grass in mid November, but to suck up the leaves and mulch them. The bagfuls of chopped leaves I then deposited all over my front garden beds, leaving riotous colors and a fluffy contour. I have been adding fallen leaves and rabbit droppings for the last three years and the dirt has gotten much better, more brown colored and crumbly from the infusion of brown carbon. 2016 was the first year the front gardens retained moisture long-term and is the first year the seeds I scattered germinated.

For 2017 I think I will take a new piece of advice from the Ancient Giants that use to cover Ohio–come spring I won’t turn the soil, but let those leaves lie and decompose where they lay. I’ll just dig a few holes where necessary for my seedlings and let Ohio biology do the rest of the work for me. After all, it likes to eat too.

Rabbits Aren’t Easy

Rabbits are delicate creatures. They can break their own back while running around, binkying.

Recently, I’ve had to put my Charlie buck (Valentino) on probiotics since he is prone to bloat. In my opinion, that was my fault, since I started him on green plants too fast, despite knowing that charlies can have intestinal issues. Like some dog breeds, there’s a such thing as being “too white” which has it’s origins in DNA coding. My Cocker Spaniel suffers from White Dog Syndrome, where he involuntarily shakes, like little mini seizures. Thankfully, it’s been a long time since he’s had an episode–it seemed more common when he was 8 or 9 rather than his elderly 12. Also on the good news front, ‘Tino’s bloat has cleared up; whether he’s a candidate for probiotics the rest of his life and very limited greens, I guess we’ll have to wait til he’s 6 months old to find out.

In the last 24 hours something has occurred with my favorite broken doe, Rainey. She was a little “off” yesterday, but heat can do that to a rabbit. Today, oy!! Her eye is extremely bulged out and the ear above it doesn’t seem to want to cooperate either. I don’t know if she somehow scratched her eye but she’s now in a cage in the house where it’s darker and cooler. Which is great when you can’t close your eye. I’m gonna have to break out saline eye drops for her until the swelling goes down and feed her some willow, a natural painkiller. The husband will be less than thrilled at having a recuperating rabbit in the house, but I don’t toss him outside with a migraine headache and tell him to deal with it.

Poor girl, I’ll let you know how she does the next day or so.



Swollen eye, what a pain!!!


11:19pm: Rainey’s eye worsened considerably despite my best efforts today, and this evening she passed into the Happy Hopping Grounds. I already miss my Dragon Lady. Thank you, Rainey, for getting me started into showing and rabbits and thank you for all the lovely sons and daughters. Your daughters, Rosebud and Hollyberry, will carry your legacy on.

Rainy would have been a year old this Saturday.