It's been a difficult week in the colony, some days had me questioning my decision to keep my girls in a colony at all, but I have to keep reminding myself that the ups most defiantly out way the downs.
It all started well, with Skye kindling a nice healthy litter in one of the ground level nesting cages (huge plus as the last litter was kindled upstairs). Unfortunately it was a rather large litter, 9 kits in total and they were all rather small, I like my does to raise smaller numbers as it means bigger, chunkier, healthier babies in the long run. A quick call to my breeding partner Ann and I discovered that one of her new moms had lost her litter in a tragic accident., so the 4 smallest babies were pulled out, snuggled up in a make shift nest and off I popped in the car. It looked to go well at first as the foster doe came over and fed the babies, but sadly it was not meant to be as I'm told the following morning there was no trace of the babies at all. A sad end but at least here we have 5 beautiful healthy babies now looking much stronger and growing well.
Then things started to get worse. Sadly Zyanya, my beautiful sable doe and the current dominant doe in my group, fell ill. She came down with a sudden and unexplained case of gastro-intestinal stasis, I still can't pin point the cause, she was 4 years old and had just finished raising her final litter, she had looked so fit and well. At first Zy had just slowed down and wouldn't eat the dried food, however she was still passing droppings (albeit misshapen) and eating fresh greens, especially dandelions, parsley and strawberry leaves. This went on for a couple of days, with me providing pain relief and hand feeding her, but sadly after 3 days she stopped eating altogether, no amount of coxing or syringe feeding would help, I made the decision to remove her from the colony to bring her indoors, but she passed away the same evening.
This left a huge and sudden gaping hole in the hierarchy of the colony. The group structure completely dissolved, it may not have been so bad if I hadn't only recently (2 weeks prior) introduced bluebell to the group, or if Skye hadn't only just kindled (her babies were just 4 days old), meaning her hormones were rampant. But if truth be told I'll never know. In theory Skye should have taken command of the group, as she was 2nd behind Zyanya, but I guess she was torn between asserting her dominance and protecting her new litter. Minerva (who has recently been speyed) is the group matriarch and former dominant doe, Zy always left her pretty much alone and she slotted in without any arguments. However the order was not resolved peaceably as I had hoped and there was a fair bit of fur pulling, this is not something that normally bothers me as it is a normal part of dominance behaviour, however the next day, things still hadn't settled back down and the girls were not sitting together, or eating together (a sure sign of discourse), and then Skye got a bite on her nose. I assume this happened during a dominance display - a dominant rabbit will often approach a more submissive rabbit with their head low to the ground and push it under the other rabbits face, if this animal submits they will groom the dominants rabbit's head - however in this case it looks like she got a nip for her efforts. If I had to guess which doe did it I'd say Minnie, as all the others would normally submit to Skye without any quarrels. While this injury may just have been a one off, and everything settled, I made the decision to split Skye from the group to protect her kits from getting caught up in the hubbub.
Skye is now shut into the double nesting area with her babies and all seems happy and well. The other four girls are back to living harmoniously - although at present I cannot tell who has taken on the role of the dominant doe. Skye can still interact with the others through the bars of her hutch, but for now will remain separate, I have yet to decide if or when she will re-join the group. But at least for now, everyone is calm and happy and I can enjoy my sociable girls once again.
On a happier note the colony has been over-run with newly emerged butterflies this week. All the chrysalises that I found throughout the shed at the end of last year have begun hatching out. The adult butterflies however are too large to fit through the mesh that the caterpillars came in through, so they have had to be removed one by one to the garden. But they have certainly brightened the place up, and I forgive them for eating all my sprouts.
I'm also very happy with how 'Moorcroft's Catkin' is coming on - she is Zyanya's daughter and a real looker. She has lovely chunky type and her coat is coming on nicely, I'm looking forward to getting this baby out onto the show table later in the year, it's been a long time since I've felt this proud over a baby I've bred.