Rabbits are not a taxing prey, as the fields are carpeted with rabbits of all ages and sizes at the moment. You could kick a stone and hit one. And it doesn't require any real fieldcraft - just warm clothes, a shotgun and good sea legs for standing in the back of a moving truck. A sense of humor helps too.
My dear old Dad gave me a new 12 bore semi-auto shotgun as a wedding present (Mike's tried not to read anything into this, though he's been on his best behavior since it arrived). It's my first semi-auto and it's taken some getting used to. It came with an extended mag so I can cram in 10 cartridges at a time.
This is the perfect back-of-the-truck rabbiting gun, when aiming becomes more of an aspiration than a likelihood. It's dark, the truck is bumping around in all directions. You see a bunny in the light and you try to follow it with the gun while trying to stay standing, and the spare tire keeps slamming into your ankles, your hip bones are banging into the metal bar that you're trying to lean against for support, and all the spilled wheat you're stood on makes it all a bit slippery underfoot. Hence, the sense of humor.
Pete the underkeeper and I did the shooting, while Mike drove and shone the light out on the fields looking for rabbits and foxes. Mike has a system for alerting us to rabbits he thinks we haven't seen: waving the light wildly and beeping the horn (what did I tell you about no fieldcraft needed?) Pete brought a rifle in case of a chance at a long-range fox, and I brought the semi-auto for bunny harvesting. As there we're no foxes and lots of bunnies, Pete and I took turns with the semi-auto. We managed 13 bunnies between us before we ran out of ammunition, about one rabbit per 3.5 shots. I don't think that's bad going when you take into account all the factors.
Pete and Mike gave me a refresher lesson in gutting rabbits. I am officially rubbish at it. By the time I'd opened one rabbit, Pete had opened the other twelve.
There is a simple technique for cleaning them, which is 'The Flick': grab the head and the back feet and flick the body away from you, like you were snapping a towel. Eveything but the liver / kidneys comes out in one clean package. Neat huh? It takes a bit of practice to master.
I took off all the prime, unshot rabbit loins and thigh meat this morning while I was waiting for Nigel the hedgelayer to meet me. He's going to clear the weeds and lay what's left of the thorn hedges on the road boundary of Milkweed farm. We checked all through the overgrown hedge to make sure there were no nesting birds, as it's getting late in the season. All clear, so we'll get on with that next week. Ted the woodsman cleared the willows out of the dew pond which gives us access to extract water for the livestock.
The cleared pond
While we were looking for nests, Nigel and I got to talking chickens, as usual. Nigel told me that he dowses all his hatching eggs to find out which are the hens and which are the cocks. He kindly showed me how it's done:
- Thread a needle on a piece of cotton (thread) and tie the ends so you've got a needle hanging on the end of a 7"ish loop.- Lay your egg on its side and touch the egg with the point of your needle. Lift the needle so it hangs just above the egg a 1/2" or so
- Be patient. Soon the needle will start to move above the egg. If it moves back and forth in a straight line, it's a cock. If it does little circles either direction, it's a hen. If it doesn't do anything then it's infertile.
I had a half dozen bantam eggs in the pantry and under Nigel's guidance I dowsed the eggs. The needle tells me I have 3 hens, 2 cocks, and 1 infertile. I set some Silkie eggs in the incubator this morning and there was a little room left, so I put the 3 potential hen eggs in. In a few months, I will see if I have 'the touch', or if my dowsing skills are on par with my rabbit gutting skills.
Nigel took on the remains of my butchered rabbits to bait his fox traps and feed the magpies in his catchers. Have I not mentioned that it's crow and magpie trapping time? How we use a 'Judas' bird and a spring loaded trap door to catch maurading corvids? Stay tuned for the next post...