fuzzy thoughts

Last night, I attempted to give Junior a haircut. Junior has grown, and so has his coat, so incredibly over the last month. Since I was told he just had "baby fluff," I didn't worry so much about his coat, although it seems to matt terribly just like his mother's. I've been brushing him out and cutting out matts every week or so. Now, with this damp weather, his coat seemed kind of clammy and proliferating, growing right before my eyes, so last night I decided to go ahead and take it off.

One problem I've found, and this was particularly true with Junior, is that even once I scissor off the coat, or what looks to me like the coat, there is another entire coat underneath. What I mean is that I'll trim off the long hairs that look like "angora," and what is left at first looks like just some fuzzy wool of about a half inch. But then, when I brush that fuzz, a whole new coat emerges - long hairs pop up, not as long as the first batch, but long enough that I have to start the process over again. I suppose this is webbing or something like matting close to the skin, evidence that I'm not grooming enough before clipping. I'm sure the blower will help, once I can get them accustomed to the sound. I guess I could groom each rabbit every day until I'm sure that they are well cared-for.

I was also stressed and confused by Junior's little boy parts. They looked messy and a little swollen. Not to sound like a total gump, but I don't have much basis for comparison with bunny anatomy - the hand-drawn diagrams in the rabbit books are useless - but Junior's looked problematic in comparison to Butch's tidy little package. I tried to clean him up as best I could, but trimming in that area when I'm not even sure what I'm looking at caused me some serious anxiety.

I was remembering the angora ram I had years back, Austin. He was such a magnificent goat, and sweet. But every couple of months, I had to trim up the area around his groin or else the urine collected in the fiber and was a magnet for maggots. This chore was not my favorite part of goat-keeping, especially since he weighed almost 200 pounds and it was quite the task for me to wrestle him to the ground. At least Junior is easier to manage than that. But I've never heard of people keeping those areas trimmed on bunnies and it would be helpful to know if that's typically done.

I am still enjoying the bunnies, enormously. Every time I feel depressed, which is at least a few times a day, I tend to them or hold them. They fill me with love and hope and the grief recedes. I used Prissy's fur to make the trim on my new knitted gauntlets, so she's always with me. But then there's this stress as well, this terrible fear that they'll be matted, urine-soaked or maggot-infested, if I'm not diligent or knowledgeable enough. This seems a little absurd, since surely bunny care can be managed. Why do these bunnies hold such psychic significance for me?

I've been trying to write every day and it has been so damaging. Yesterday afternoon, I tried to revise a section of about thirty pages in hopes of sending something off to my advisor for feedback. After the first few paragraphs, I was back to that dark place, curled up on the bathroom floor. In these moments I tend to look for answers, flaws, people to blame and ways to change my life, but I think it's important to realize that I'm feeling the effects of PTSD. Which puts me in kind of a bind, since my academic career depends on getting this damned thing written. Everyone says to just write it, as if self-discipline is really the problem, and I'm sure it is since I've never been good at producing academic writing without structure and deadlines. Still, I don't think that the people who blithely direct me to write have any clue how fucked-up I am about it, or how fragile I feel. Yesterday, I only felt a sense of calm return when I thought about taking a break from the whole mess of it.

I'm also back to staying up all night and sleeping until mid-afternoon, my default schedule when other responsibilities don't intervene, but it always breeds a nasty self-loathing in me. I'm not sure why it matters, since I'm obviously a nocturnal sort of creature. At least I've been getting dressed, so that's some progress. Once my fellowship begins, I'll have a new venue and community and a different sort of support for writing. Maybe by then I'll be ready and it'll come. In any case, I need to protect my mental health, what's left of it. This may entail rethinking my approach and maybe my topic altogether. For now, it requires my total immersion in rabbits.


Another day, another haircut

Has anyone seen Bunspace? I just don't know what to make of such a thing. I have not made profiles or blogs for my rabbits yet, although I guess it could happen. I resisted Facebook for the longest time.

And so the uber-cute blower I bought: the rabbits hate it. Poor Butch started to freaky freak when I turned it on. I kinda freaked too - the damn thing is LOUD. I guess I'm going to have to turn it on every day for a while and get us used to the sound. I started plucking Mr. Butch and partway through decided to switch to scissors. He didn't seem to mind either way, but the plucking seemed to take a lot longer, and I could see pink rabbit skin on his back, which didn't seem like a good thing. Even though the plucked fiber is longer and even more luscious, the cloud of satin I ended up with is quite a haul - and the little bun that was under all that fiber is the cutest.


Bunny to Bunny

It was late when I finished this little guy. I'll have to take more photos in daylight.


Prissy's haircut

I was starting to worry that Prissy's lack of appetite wasn't due to stress or her age, but wool block. She eats and drinks, but not much, and so I figured I'd better get her coat off asap. I set up a nice little grooming station on my clothes dryer, where she could look out onto the yard, and smell spring and watch the chickens dusting and strutting. I just scissored her and it was much faster and easier than I expected. The only issue was that she wouldn't sit still and kept hopping back and forth and digging and climbing, which was fun, but at the end I held her on my lap. I was trying so hard to be careful that I didn't cut her close at all, and ended up with tons of second cuts, but still a huge bag of lovely cloudy white fluff. So I don't think I'll need or want clippers just for a typical shearing. The whole process took only maybe an hour! I got worried about her being cold in the night and ran out to check on her and either cover her up or bring her inside, but she seems perfectly fine and quite pleased with her new look.


Farm rescue?

With all my conflicting feelings about bunny breeding versus rescue, I've been thinking a lot about a farm/rescue model like Homestead Wool and Gift Farm, but with rabbits. It's a really interesting concept and seems like a great compromise in many ways. Not that I have a huge problem with "traditional" sheep farmers, but I have felt really good about buying wool and alpaca from Sandy because of the emphasis on the animals and producing animal-friendly fiber.

This wouldn't happen right away, it would be something I'd work toward over time. Besides building a rabbitry to house these bunz, there are some issues that I'd have to think through and work out, like...

I'd have to house bunnies outside, since I'm already full up on the porch. I don't have a problem with this, but the regular bunny rescues obviously do. So the bunnies I would get would tend to come from breeders who end up with too many, just like Prissy, Cosset and Junior did. Rescues don't tend to get that many angoras anyway, and the ones they get seem to be placed easily, so this seems ok to me.

I am not interested in dealing with the additional controls and legalities around running a rescue. Too much bullshit and politics. I'm not sure if advertising that one does rabbit rescue means that one becomes subject to Department of Ag rules for rescues, and how those regs differ from rabbitries and farms generally. That won't be hard to find out. I suspect most rescues form nonprofits just for the PR, tax benefits, etc., more than any other reasons. I'll have to think about this more, but I don't see why that would be preferable in this case. It would be simpler to maintain a for-profit farm with other people's leftover bunnies.

It is likely that I could end up with too many rabbits because I'm never good at turning away animals. This is just something I'd have to manage carefully and have good boundaries in place - which is much harder than it sounds. I could re-home rabbits though, maybe, or offer temporary housing for rabbits en route to new homes.

There's also the fact that rescued angoras may mean inferior fiber. When looked at from the perspective of serving a purpose, all animals are not created equal. Clearly, angoras coming from good breeders and solid bloodlines can have far superior fiber, temperaments, and health. Hopefully, you know what you're getting if you go to a knowledgeable breeder. Not so much with giveaway bunnies. Could I limit the rabbits I take in to those with "good enough" fiber? Doubtful. Are spinners likely to be just as happy with lower-grade fiber from rescue rabbits? Also doubtful (although it's still likely to be better than commercially-raised angora from China).

This model also probably would mean dealing with a lot more health problems, and temperament issues, than with a stable breeding population. I'm not sure of this - I may be making too much of it. But it seems likely that many people would get rid of rabbits when they have wool block or other issues, and also that it's likely that I'll be dealing with a lot of older bunnies. I don't know much about contagious disease in rabbits - I don't think it's nearly the kind of risk that it is with dogs, but there are some maladies that can wipe out an entire rabbitry. I've also never been sure how to think about vet care in relation to farm populations. Farmers almost never vet animals the same as the standards we have become accustomed to for companion pets (shelters either - that's why they call it "shelter medicine"). Farmers and breeders learn most of the usual stuff and take care of it themselves and beyond that, it just isn't economically feasible. I'm not sure how I'll be able to deal with that.

As an aside: It was once explained to me that the definition of hoarding is when one does not have the means to properly vet all the animals in their care. Ok, fine, but what standard of vetting are we talking about? Sounds suspiciously like hoarding = farming to the typical urban pet lover.

Which kind of brings me to the other thing: to say that a farm is actually an animal-friendly rescue kind of sounds like a judgment or diss on farming, like those other people who breed are not animal friendly and that they are actually doing something wrong. And I don't want to be one of those folks who condemn farming or breeding, or contribute to this notion that it's necessarily bad. I don't want to contribute to the anti-rural, anti-farming bent of the increasingly mainstream animal welfare advocates.

I think the answer may be something along the lines of this: there should be room for different kinds of animal guardianships. There are nearly endless configurations of human-animal relationships, and it's easy to assume that some are better than others without finding out. Just because I may not choose to breed but instead take in bunnies others have bred does not have to imply that breeding is bad. My goals are just different. Is this a cop-out? I don't think so. I am not interested in showing rabbits or in conformation, so there may be no "need" to breed. I just want happy bunnies and good fiber.


finished, noro shawl

I am so happy to have this shawl done. It's the first real knitting project I've done since I was around twelve. I've started many, but finished none, until now. And there are others on the needles, and I'm addicted. Knitting makes me feel like a kid again.


Last night's grooming efforts were a little more promising than they've been. I finally felt as though I've made some progress on Cosset's matts. The huge muff under her neck is finally gone. She hates being on her back, but I see now that I can get to most of her from the top side. I also got a new, smaller slicker brush and small scissors the other day, and they are making my job much easier. I can't believe how different the grooming needs of each of these rabbits. Prissy's coat is not shiny at all, but incredibly dense. She has these bristle hairs all over her back that are almost 5 inches long. Underneath is tons of soft wool and she doesn't seem to tangle or matt at all. Cosset and her baby Junior have new matts every time I turn around, especially in the fine hair between their ears, and I'm afraid they are going to have to be groomed daily. Butch is kind of in the middle. His coat is super fine and soft, and will matt, but not at the same alarming rate. One of my problems with documenting all this better is that I have no macro lens! Yes, I continually find the need for more gear. It's a flaw, but doesn't everyone need to be able to take good closeups of their rabbits?

I did go ahead and order a blower, a Mini-Circuiteer, which had been recommended to me by a rabbit buddy. The nice folks at pwfh.com were super helpful in sorting out what I needed. I didn't realize that the Mini K-9 and the Mini-Circ are actually the same machine, made by the same company, but the Mini K-9 is marketed to dog groomers and so costs an additional $50 on average! I was able to get the Mini-Circ but with the more flexible (dog grooming) hose at the regular Mini-Circ price, and in a great retro color that will look fab in my house. Nothing like talking to a real person when you're buying something. A blower may be an extravagance, but I need all the help I can get.

Prissy is much more outgoing already than Cosset or Butch. She will come up and nose me like a dog, and hop at top speed around the kitchen (the rabbits can't come in the rest of the house, that is dog territory). I love her dark brown eyes against her white coat and the little bit of grey frost on her nose and ears. She is so huge and striking. Cosset and Butch are still wary, taking it all in. Junior is funny, friendly and active, which is a relief since he hadn't been handled hardly at all at four months. I wonder how much of this is rabbit personalities and how much is due to handling, imprinting, etc. Nature or nurture, isn't that always the question? I am looking forward to reading Stories Rabbits Tell, which promises to shed a lot of light on bunny behavior.


Annoyed with Blogger

Does anyone have a clue why comments would not have shown up in moderation? Someone has left three comments, which I love! But none of them appeared anywhere. That is just unacceptable! I am really thinking of checking out wordpress or typepad.


Good and miscellaneous news

I applied for a summer fellowship, one that would be really perfect for me, and I just found out yesterday that I got it! I am pretty thrilled. It makes me excited for the first time in a long time about academia, and maybe almost even giddy enough to work on my dissertation. I guess it just gave me hope for an academic career, and some sense of connection to people who could help. I just feel like I need some advising, maybe more hand-holding, than my advisor or committee can give. Or maybe I just haven't known how to ask. Anyway, the fellowhship starts in June, and I have to say that if it weren't for all the extreme bullshit we went through last Fall, I wouldn't even have been in a position to apply, much less take it. It's a little strange how perfectly this has worked out.

Even weirder is the fact that one of the people in charge of the group giving this fellowship is also heavily involved in the House Rabbit Society. I didn't realize this about her, although I have read one of her other (anthropology) books, but she is a recognized expert in rabbit care and behavior. I got chills at the strange coincidence of this. My hub reminded me that the animal world is really quite small, but I just couldn't get over it. I'm hoping that I can speak with her during the fellowship and think through some of my many questions regarding rabbits.

And speaking of rabbits, I've been in a black hole of researching blowers and clippers. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to grooming and harvesting wool, and I've been trying to sort through everything and figure out what will work for me without going broke.

For now, I've decided to wait on the outdoor rabbitry or any breeding program. I'm busy enough with the four bunnies I have, plus those resources are being re-routed to barn construction, which could also house rabbits down the line. I need to get my donkeys home, and there's no need for a separate rabbitry right now. I like having them right close.

I learned that Prissy was also destined for the other side if I hadn't picked her up at the rabbit show. She is such a grand girl that it makes me sick and a little pissed. I am also wondering whether she's older than she was advertised since her breeder still hasn't provided me with the promised pedigree. Prissy had a bout with diarrhea soon after I brought her home, and when I wrote to the breeder with questions, she referred to her as an "elderly doe." I can't imagine that nearly two is elderly. Prissy's fine now and settling in well, and her age doesn't matter to me at all, except that it wouldn't be good to breed her if she's in fact "elderly."

I'm very interested in learning about rabbit husbandry, but I'm just completely unwilling to kill them, eat them, place them where they won't be cared for, or get overwhelmed with more of them than I can handle. I still believe that raising rabbits can be done well, good homes can be found, and that it can overall be a good thing even for the bunnies, but whether I can do it along with writing, etc., I dunno. This is just how it all started with the dogs, taking in everyone's culls. Some farmer I am.


Sugar snap peas, week 3

The snap peas are the larger plants - the tiny ones are cauliflower and onions.



I went to visit the donks today - they are being cared for by a friend temporarily while I'm in transition. I was bothered though because they look so scrawny. I know they are being well cared-for, or at least I'm pretty sure. They are staying with friends I've known for years, and who are much better at donkey care than me. But I am used to seeing them as wide as small cottages, and even though they needed to go on diets, I am worried. I thought they would be good there since they have new friends and so much room to run - and I'm told they are having a big time. Even still, I'm going to prioritize getting the new barn built and get them back home asap. They seemed glad to see me, especially Clem who was my bottle baby.


Color Theory

My gorgeous buck's registered name is "Taunton." We thought that was a little ...odd, even for such a fancy bunny. I've been calling him Butch, which suits him well. I came to realize today that his original breeder is from Taunton, Mass, which gives him some history. It's so strange getting to know an animal with only minimal clues to their past. I'm always reluctant to change names of grown critters I adopt, since somehow it doesn't seem respectful of their lives up until then. But I don't think these rabbits knew their names, and I don't think I can actually call him "Taunton." It just doesn't roll off the tongue. Most of my critters end up with nicknames in addition to proper names anyway.

I've been knee-deep in rabbit color genetics, and today I was told that my Butch is not a broken copper, as it says on his pedigree, but a broken (black) tort. Even though copper didn't seem right, I didn't think of tort, and certainly not black tort since I assumed there would mean oh, something like black?! But now I see that black tort and black look completely different and he may in fact be a tort. This isn't my pic - it came from the farm where I got him, but you can see his colors better than in moody bunny portraits I've taken. Can my rabbit friends weigh in on his coloring? I'm fascinated with color genetics, but first it might be helpful to be able to identify colors (especially of my own rabbits, right?)!
It's so interesting that I'm getting to know this bunny, this beautiful creature, a little at a time, but here I am asking you all "what is he"? Strange that someone on the yahoo rabbit genetics listserv is very confidently telling me my rabbit is a broken black tort. I'm looking right at him, but I don't know what he "is," how he fits into existing categories and networks of knowledge. It's also weird to me that the color is never used as an adjective, it is a very strong noun: he is a tort. With dogs, I used to get annoyed by that since it was always wrong ("I have a rednose." No. You. Don't.) But with rabbits, it seems very normal parlance, just like describing a breed or sex. Not sure what to make of that, but it rubs me just a little wrong. We may call a person white or black, but never, ever "a" white or "a" black. I wouldn't say that thinking of color in animals is the same as in people, but still, there's just something a teensy weensy bit objectifying about it.

Is obsession with color always objectifying? I used to feel terrible for all the black dogs at the shelter; being a regular old black dog was usually a death sentence, because there were just so damn many of them that they don't stand out. One theory is that we make sense of the world through some sort of gestalt vision, where certain things must come to the fore and others recede. Otherwise, there is just too much information, we have to sort it somehow. I tended to see and favor the spotted pit bulls, and I felt ok about that since they had been systematically exterminated for so long. Any system of selection, whether it's for one's own pets or for culling, is based on some system of priorities and preferences. That's not inherently wrong - it produced all the wonderful variety of animal breeds we have today that still serve endless purposes. After working in a shelter though, I'm hypersensitive to the fact that it can have bad consequences for animals who are out of favor or discarded for whatever reason.

So why do I care whether my bunny is a broken tort or a copper or a chestnut, and what colors he could produce mated to an ermine doe versus a copper? Doesn't this type of thing always lend itself to devaluation of certain of the bunnies, usually the more common colors? Those bunnies are just as valuable, lovable, and amazing. But there's no doubt that bunnies are culled based on color or more often, quality of fiber, regardless of their value as living creatures. Taken to the extreme, it's downright fascist.

I'm not sure I'm fully grasping yet the system of value that's informing these color choices when it comes to rabbits, but I get the impression that the further away we get from wild rabbit coloring (known as chestnut agouti with dominant genes AA BB CC DD EE), the better. Not only must we have rabbits so fluffy (and in the case of English and German angoras, "furnished," which is another interesting choice of word) that they barely resemble rabbits, they should also be in solid, dense and subtle colors. They actually look like a cross between a real rabbit and a stuffed one, a Real velveteen rabbit. I could be wrong, since I'm new to this and I'm sure there are a lot of individual preferences. I personally love the wild rabbit colors, but I'm also excited at the possibility of all these soft shades of brown, grey and cream. After all, the idea here is that someone will ultimately be wearing this fiber.

The folks on the listserv kindly pointed out that Butch could not be chestnut (AA BB CC DD EE) or copper (a_ B_ C_ D_ E_+ rufus) since he is supposedly out of a blue tort and an ermine - both ee recessive colors, so they could not have produced an E dominant color. So he must be a tort (aa B_ C_ D_ ee)! The recessive genes would have significant consequences were he to be bred to a certain little ermine doe who I may happen to bring home from the rabbit show this weekend. There seems to be much confusion about ermine or frosted pearl (the discussion is still taking place on the listserv), but rather than just producing copper or broken copper (or chestnut) babies due to the dominant genes, they are likely to be tort, orange, ermine, or pearl. Also, if the ermine carries the recessive d gene for diluted colors, there could be blue tort, cream (dilute fawn/orange) blue frosted pearl, and blue pearl babies. And half of any litter is likely to be broken, or part white.

How could I not immerse myself in learning about these scrumptious colors, and get swept up in the excitement of producing unusual colors in already hard-to-find bunnies? The combination of these mathematical puzzles and the extreme adorableness of baby bunnies with such soft colors and fur just packs overwhelming appeal. Am I going to be able to sit with the tension between a breeder mentality and a rescue mentality without driving myself crazy with overanalysis? I doubt it, but I'm pretty sure that I'll spend the rest of my life happily taking care of rabbits.