Rabbits – grrrrr

I guess every place has their “pet” pests that you just battle to live with. Through my permaculture studies I have learnt a lot about integrated pest management, and we use it successfully to some extent. But rabbits, grrrrrr! (They're even hard to capture properly on photo!)

Since we’ve had the ducks, we’ve seen a massive decline in snails. In fact, I wonder what they’re going to eat in a few months’ time. Using decoy and sacrificial plants, together with some water blasting, we are sort-of managing the aphids. With the birds – mostly mynahs, lorikeets and starlings (black birds as the locals call them here) – we have a managed sharing agreement: what’s outside the nets, we share, sometimes reluctantly. Luckily we don’t have possums or cockatoos.

But rabbits!

Rabbit - digging

Holes everywhere!

Homeland basically has proper rabbit-proof fencing all around, so the only place they can enter is up the long driveway. And they do! They have even demolished rosemary and lavender seedlings along the driveway, which was supposed to deter them. We’ve had so much rabbit damage over the years that I’ve ended up putting rabbit protection around every edible bush or tree in the front yard. You would think our two biggish dogs would deter the rabbits, but the spoilt brats are obviously sound asleep inside the house at night when it all goes down. The smell of dog poo alone surely doesn’t deter any rabbits.

Rabbit - guild 1

Tree protection

They started their latest trick this past summer when it was very dry for very long. The little pests started gnawing through the irrigation pipes along the driveway to get to the water inside. At one stage I had to repair the pipe every time before I irrigated, or we lost a ton of water through the gnawed holes. It’s an endlessly long driveway, especially if you have to consider raising or covering the irrigation pipe. I’d basically have to re-lay the whole pipe and replace all the drip feeder pipes to raise it. Covering it all would also cost quite a few dollars, and then it would be an absolute pain if you have to do any maintenance, which you always seem to have to do with drip irrigation.

Rabbit - irrigation

Rabbit damage

I’ve tried making the gate more rabbit proof, and it worked for a few weeks, but then hey, they just started laughing at my efforts. There are less of them now, sure, but some still get in and out.

Rabbit - gate

Attempt at rabbit-proofing our main gate

We’ve tried using a rabbit trap that Gaë from next door kindly gave to us, but they just ignore the bait and eat everything else that’s more easily available. We’ve even tried spraying “rabbit pepper” – that’s a biodynamic preparation made from burnt rabbit carcasses. The smell is supposed to totally deter them within a week or two. We’ve had a lot of success with biodynamic preparations (and we still actively use them for soil improvement), but this rabbit pepper was either a dud, or that part of biodynamic preparations simply don’t work.

At Dreamland, the plot is a lot thicker! Although the property also supposedly has rabbit-proof fencing all around, they also get in via the driveway. And sometimes also from the school behind Dreamland when the kids or the falling Eucalyptus branches damage the fence. And who knows where else? But what’s worse, we think there are two burrows on the property where they may be breeding out, but these burrows are in areas that we don’t have access to while Gaë and Pauline are still living there.

In fact, as part of the native planting we did when we started off at Dreamland, we planted a beautiful but delicate little nitrogen fixing groundcover called Running Postman in some of the apple and pear guilds, only to find it had very quickly died off. Initially I thought maybe our area was too dry, that is, until I put the rabbit protection around the guilds too. Now the Running Postmen are flourishing.

Rabbit - guild 1

Extended rabbit fencing around the guild

Recently, I was so bummed… I re-did the first two (long) market garden beds <<link>> and planted them with bush peas and carrots. They all sprouted beautifully. But the peas didn’t last more than a week. The <<strong word>> rabbits nibbled all pea sprouts – nothing was left! It’s ironic, in the cartoons you always see rabbits with carrots, but they left the carrot tops and nibbled off all the pea sprouts first. And then they polished the carrot sprouts.

There is a trellis fence along the access path to the Dreamland forest garden. The holes are about 2 inches wide and maybe 3.5 inches high, which I thought would be rabbit-proof. However, I once chased a biggish rabbit out of the forest garden guilds and I thought it would be trapped in the bottom part of the access way. But said rabbit just ran straight through the trellis fence, without even slowing down. I checked the trellis – there were no holes in it – the adult rabbit just ran straight through it. So much for a rabbit-deterring fence.

Rabbit - fence

The not so rabbit-proof fence

Our two dogs love to chase the rabbits, especially Jet, and they even manage to catch the odd one. Of course, this process reaches pandemonium pitch if said rabbit chooses an escape route through the chicken flock, which it once did when we were there.

Rabbit - Jet hunting

Jet (in healthier days) hunting rabbits

However, the council recently put out poison for the wild rabbits all along Hovell’s Creek, which is less than 1km from us (oblivious to the eagles, owls and other birds of prey in the area – can you believe it?) So currently we have to be very careful that the dogs don’t bite a potentially poisoned rabbit. In fact, Jet was at the Vet recently and did an overnight at the “hospital” for either a tumour or a liver disease (depending on whose diagnosis you listen to), but it may have been a poisoned rabbit that cost us those few thousands of dollars. Jet recovered, thank you, but he is still up and down now, more down than up, actually, he is pretty ill.

Rabbit - kite

Little Eagle at a rabbit carcass near outside our main gate. How can they set out poison?

I’ve inquired about “rabbit catchers” on our local community forum, but the best responses were about ferrets (and what do we do with them in the long run?) and guys offering to come and shoot the rabbits at night. I can just imagine Gaë, Pauline and our neighbours enjoying that!

I’m happy to share with the rabbits if they share fairly, but I’ve had enough of their unfair-share scheme. Don’t they realise you have to let the stuff grow first before you start harvesting? It’s so simple but they don’t get it – they’ll devour the sprouts that could have become big plants laden with food. So at Dreamland I have now bitten the bullet and fenced off the market garden beds too. I didn’t want to spend money on cedar posts and farm gates, and I especially didn’t want to pump more cement into the ground, so I’ve attached very simple rigid trellis grids as gates between the picket stakes. It should deter them enough, as there is plenty to nibble on in the forest garden. The other plus point about this arrangement is that we can now very easily let the chooks in there to perform some clean-up feeding and scratching when we need to get those beds cleared for new plantings.

Rabbit - market garden fence

Market vegetable garden with rabbit-proof fencing

At least now I can plant a cover crop in the market garden beds again – but more about that in a subsequent post.

About martin@muchmoremulch.blog (149 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

8 Comments on Rabbits – grrrrr

  1. I hope Jet will recover okay!

    As for the rabbit, it looks like you’ve got your work cut out. Good luck!

  2. I know what you mean about sharing! We used to have bunnies here, but our previous cat Percy ate all the babies and we’ve not seen them locally for a while. It sounds like myxamatosis is going round here as well, which is distressing. I know both bunnies and cats are foriegn varmints in Australia. One hopes they could find poison that doesn’t travel up the food chain. I think they have also had reasonable success with contraception in some animals.
    Coincidentally our Dog Douglas has just had a spleenoctopy – a massive tumour was obstructing his gut. Our vet says this is very common in middle aged labradors. He doesn’t realise how poorly he still is. Hope Jet recovers well too!

  3. martin@muchmoremulch.blog // June 25, 2019 at 2:53 pm // Reply

    Hi Nancy, the vet reckons Jet has leukemia and a possible tumor behind his eye – so he’s having a rough ride, but at times he’s OK and runs around. Other days he just lies and sleeps. Well, bless Percy to rid you of the problem 🙂 Yes cats have to be kept indoors after hours here, otherwise they exterminate the small marsupials. I hope Douglas recovers well and quickly.

  4. Oh poor Jet. It’s rough not being able to explain to them why they’re feeling poorly. As long as he still has happiness in his life. I know Douggie thinks we’re being mean to him, but he’s luckily just as happy to see ‘the nice vet man’ as he was at the start. They are so forgiving.
    As for bunnies, did you know they can climb fences too?

    • martin@muchmoremulch.blog // July 1, 2019 at 1:54 pm // Reply

      Yes my neighbour whose been in the area for decades told me during the great rabbit plague there used to be thousands in the fields, and they would have days where they just cornered them and clubbed them (there were too many to shoot) and they would clamber over each other up and over the fences to get away. (my neighbour should write a book!)
      How’s Douglas doing? Jet is still up and down…

      • Douglas had his stitches out at the weekend. Although we still need to be careful that he doesn’t overdo it, he thinks he’s better. We don’t know if the growths will have spread, we’ll just have to kee an eye on him.

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