The rabbit tractor was a success for night one. Both bunnies are dry and well following a cool lightly rainy night. The tarp on top was a little bowed in due to the rain collecting, but I think if I were to get a big plywood board and lay it over the top I could solve that problem. I just don't happen to have any on hand at the moment.
I moved the pen back, so the front edge is just behind where the back edge had been yesterday so they are on completely new ground. You can see where they matted down some of the grass yesterday, but it's got a nice manure spread now. I re-situated their nest tote, refilled their water bowl, added a couple fresh-picked comfrey leaves, and left them to graze.
And potentially big news from the bunny barn... Brace yourselves... I no longer believe we are dealing with snuffles. I don't think it was ever snuffles at all... I misdiagnosed based on symptoms, but I missed one critical piece of evidence. Snuffles produces a thick white mucus discharge from the nose. What we're seeing here is a thin yellow nasal discharge.
Back to my fellow breeders I went. Some of the suggestions included
- potential allergies - from the hay, the barn, something at the new house, whatever might have been in the barn previously, etc.
- continuing issues with the hay - mold, ingredient issues, possible contamination with bird/rodent activity (since it's outdoors and wildlife has access to it).
- possibly bordetella - Though further research suggests it rarely causes actual problems in rabbits.
At this point I believe what killed the most affected ones was pneumonia (hence the infected lungs). Now I just have to figure out what the underlying issue is that is causing the pneumonia in the first place.
Some rabbits seem more prone than others. Most of the O litter are gone now because they all got severely ill - two remain in quarantine, one is pictured above with nasal discharge. Some died due to the illness and others I had to cull. All of the remaining P litter is in quarantine with nasal discharge, but have not been sneezing. I did cull two from that litter for excessive discharge and sneezing. Of the four remaining kits from the N litter, three are perfectly healthy, and one had to be culled due to illness. Meanwhile, #5's litter of Rex crosses was split. About half of them got really sick and died or had to be culled, and four of them seem perfectly fine. Miss Penelope started sneezing something like a week ago, and I really struggled with the reality of having to lose her - she's our oldest doe and one of the best moms I've ever worked with. But as of today, her nose is virtually clean (a little wet but not gross), and of her four kits, one has bad nasal discharge, one has rattle-sounding breathing, but no nasal discharge, and the other two seem fine. Hodor, who hasn't sneezed at all since being moved to quarantine for excessive sneezing, had another sneezing bout today, which only lasted about a minute (after I refilled his water dish), and then stopped. It's getting harder and harder to tell who's sick when every sneeze could be contamination, or it could just be water up the nose, or dust or something mundane.
Today nobody got hay. I feel horrible withholding something they love and that should be a part of their daily diet. I don't know what I'm going to do at this point. The hay could be contaminated and the cause of all of this illness. While it smells fresh and I don't see any mold on it, it is coming from the same bale that had mold on the other side. We've been using the clean side where the sun is on it directly every day to keep it dry. Maybe that's just not enough. Or it could be something in the hay. The fields are full of all kinds of plants. Mostly grass, but there are flowers and weeds and things too, and it's entirely possible that any of those things could be things that rabbits shouldn't have.
Withholding hay means going through one $13 40# bag of feed every two days for the herd. As someone who was looking into transitioning to a largely hay based diet to save on feed costs and have healthier, albeit slower-growing, rabbits (eating what they naturally should), this feels like a big step backwards. Now I'm a little trapped. I can't sell any rabbits while we're dealing with an illness, but we have always used the extra money from the sales to help with the feed bill. We are now looking at $200 a month in feed bills with no money coming in to offset it, and no way (assuming the hay is the culprit) to stretch the food out.
The comfrey does seem to be helping. I've seen a drastic decrease in sneezing since I started feeding comfrey every other day. For any homesteaders out there, or rabbit breeders - I highly recommend that you grow a patch of comfrey on your property! It will pay for itself with the first couple of harvests, and it's perennial even here in the cold winters of central Minnesota! Plant it and leave it. It requires no maintenance and will readily spread seed year after year to increase it's patch size. We have three patches here, two smaller patches back just into the woods beside the yard, and one nice big patch right at the edge of the lawn that sprawls probably six or eight feet around with leaves easily 12-18 inches long. Next year when it goes to seed, I'm hoping to gather some seed and spread it to other areas of the property as well. From there is should self-replicate into large patches with no additional help from me. Talk about low maintenance and high return! Here is a great video I found on YouTube explaining some of the benefits and previous uses of comfrey for humans.
My long nap put me late to do bunny chores, but everyone did get fed and watered, and everyone got sunflower seeds too. No babies for Miss Elizabeth. I take that to mean that her breeding didn't take, and there will be no litter from her this round. Alice is doing well, but one of her kits has mysteriously vanished. She had six in the nest box, then yesterday I could only find five. I figured the other one was in there somewhere or possibly I was miscounting (they do move around a lot, and Alice kept bumping my arm with her nose to get me out of the nest box). Today #3 came out and actually physically removed the kits from the nest box and she could only find five as well. She searched the nest box, the cage, even the ground around the cage... No sign of the sixth kit at all. On the one hand, #3 says the kits are beautiful and that the insides of their ears are white. I didn't get a chance to peek at them since I was dealing with quarantine cages at that point and didn't want to potentially expose them to anything. I will try to get an updated photo tomorrow (if Alice will stay out of the nest box long enough for me to get a photo that's at least in focus). She's a good momma and gets a little upset when we start digging around in the nest box, so I try to keep it to a minimum. Photos may have to wait until after school when I can get #3 to help me... Unless I can distract her with some comfrey leaves long enough for me to snap some photos. I'll try that first.