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I’d been warned that it would not be an easy task as hares are animals that are easily stressed and if stressed, won’t eat. And then their surprisingly delicate digestive system packs up and they die.

It seemed logical to me to provide the leveret with the same sort of environment as it would have with its mother when feeding – open air, open skies… but it wasn’t very successful and if even a bird flew over, he would stop feeding from the syringe, freeze, and I wouldn’t be able to encourage him to start again.

Then, analysing further – channelling my inner hare – I guessed that leverets would certainly be in the open air but probably had their heads stuck under Mama Hare’s furry underparts so they could reach the milk dispensers. In which case they wouldn’t be able to see anything and even their hearing would be dulled. So I started feeding him inside one of the downstairs rooms at La Fosse – which was still under construction but unsurprisingly, your average leveret doesn’t care about half-finished plasterboarding or droopy insulation… or even a lack of the now mandatory “pops of colour”. Result: the feeding routine began to work perfectly. So perfectly that, when he graduated from syringe to bottle, he was so focussed and fast that I had to pull him off the teat momentarily so he could swallow and breathe, before he latched on again and finished the bottle.

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Letting him guzzle too quickly risked him inhaling milk which would lead to a lung infection – a really bad thing – so it was a balance between him getting the occasional controlled breath but not pausing long enough for him to lose interest. I believe that the mother will only stay with the leverets long enough to feed them before she’s off again so perhaps a leveret instinctively believes feeding time is over if the milk source is removed for more than a few seconds. He then cannot be persuaded to start again.

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The process at feeding time was to collect him from his dog crate in a piece of towelling that he’d used from day 1 so had all the right, familiar scents, carry him indoors in towel in a basket, feed him, weigh him, and return him back to his nest. This eventually took a maximum of 3-4 minutes each time so adhering to my principle of keeping him as unhandled and unaccustomed to humans as possible. I was the only one who fed him – again in an attempt to prevent him assuming all humans were a food source.

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There were a few hiccups along the way – although we put additional wire mesh around the dog crate so that, when tiny, he couldn’t nip out through the wire, when he was about 3 weeks old, one night he tried climbing the wire and pushing through the bars. He got stuck. When I went out to him the following morning, he was just hanging, head through the bars, eyes closed. Aaaagh. I forced the bars apart, popped his head back through and held him while he woke up. He’d rubbed the fur off his hind legs – scrabbling with them to get through and then, when that didn’t work, to get free but he took his bottle with great enthusiasm and appeared not to be any the worse for his experience. The chicken wire was extended up the crate during his breakfast. On another occasion he managed to slip underneath the bottom of the tray and out into the undergrowth but fortunately Patrick was on hand to capture him and pop him back. Gaps were plugged immediately.

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He continued to grow and then it was time to wean him off milk and onto grasses and other herbage. He was not amused.

Part III to follow.

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