Monday, July 18, 2016


THE YEAR OF THE RABBIT If like Asian cultures we named years this year should be the year of the rabbit. I have not seen as many rabbits as I have this year in a long time. The high rainfall and low predator count from years of drought is most likely responsible. Eddy County NM is home to one major species of jackrabbits and three cottontail species. The black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) is found in Eddy county and most of the state. The desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) occurs throughout the County and the state, while the mountain cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii) occurs primarily in northern New Mexico, but has been reported at higher elevations. Eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) inhabit most of the County and the state, with the exception of the northwestern quarter. The black-tailed jackrabbit is somewhat smaller, than the white tailed weighing only 3 to 7 pounds. It has a grayish brown body, large black-tipped ears, and a black streak on the top of its tail. The eastern cottontail is 14 to 17 inches in length and weighs between 2 and 4 pounds. The brownish or grayish ears are 2.5 to 3 inches long. The tail is cottony white. The desert cottontail is smaller (12 to 15 inches in length) and has longer ears (3 to 4 inches long). The body is pale gray washed with yellow. The mountain cottontail is similar to the eastern cottontail, but somewhat paler. The mountain cottontail also has shorter ears (about 2.5 inches long) compared to the desert cottontail. This all said rabbits have had a good time feeding on my garden this year. I have lost all my chile peppers to them and some tomatoes. Significant damage occurs when concentrations of rabbits are attracted to orchards, gardens, ornamentals, or agricultural areas. High rabbit populations also can damage range vegetation. Most damage to gardens, landscapes, or agricultural areas occurs in areas adjacent to rangeland normally used by rabbits. Damage may be temporary and usually occurs when natural vegetation is dry. Green vegetation can be damaged severely during these dry periods. Last year’s plentiful rain produced a lots of native vegetation and rabbits reproduced as well. Rangeland over-browsing and overgrazing can occur any time rabbit numbers are high. Jackrabbits consume 1/2 to 1 pound of green vegetation each day. It has been estimated that eight jackrabbits eat as much as one sheep, and 41 jackrabbits eat as much as one cow. In some areas heavily infested with jackrabbits, numbers have been estimated as high as 400 per square mile, extending over several hundred square miles. Range damage can be severe in such situations, especially in areas where vegetation productivity is low. I know I have at least 20-25 on my place; I have counted 12 on the front lawn one morning. Jackrabbits and cottontails are considered nongame animals in New Mexico and are not protected by state game laws. The white-sided jackrabbit (Lepus callotis) occurs in the southwestern corner of New Mexico but has not been reported in Eddy County is listed by the state of New Mexico as a threatened species. While looking similar to the black-tailed jackrabbit, the white-sided jackrabbit is stockier and conspicuously white along the sides of its body. If you are experiencing problems from this species please contact New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for assistance. For small gardens exclusion is accomplished the best control method most often by fences and gates installed around the area to be protected. Exclusion by fencing is desirable for small areas of high-value crops like vegetable gardens, but is usually impractical and too expensive for larger acreages. However, when considering cost, remember that damage to high-value crops can mean big losses. Also, the cost of fencing can be spread over several years. I am hoping to build a garden area soon that will have good fencing to keep my sheep and the rabbits out. Along with exclusion, using wooden cage traps is probably the most practical means of controlling problem cottontails. However, using wooden-cage traps is not effective for jackrabbits because they are reluctant to enter a trap or dark enclosure. In addition, live trapping is less effective during the summer months because abundant vegetation makes it more difficult to attract them. Therefore, exclusion is more feasible during the summer. Rabbit repellents often are unsatisfactory for protecting plants from rabbits, especially in the long term. However, chemical repellents may provide some temporary protection from rabbit damage to trees, vines, or farm and garden crops. There are a number of different repellents available. Something that seems to be working for me is a motion sensor sprinkler. As cats or other animals move around at night the sprinkler comes on for a few minutes and most animals do not like getting sprinkled. It does not work when windy however the sprinkler will be on while the wind is blowing. I have used this devise with birds as well. Other frightening units like electronic ultra sound etc. have not been proven to be effective. Shooting is a quick, easy, and effective control method. Of course this is not possible in the city limits or near houses. Make sure local firearms laws allow it and that it is done safely. Persistence is required if shooting is the only technique used. Removing rabbits in one year never guarantees that the population will be low the next year (this also is true for trapping). Encouraging the rabbit’s natural enemies may aid in reducing rabbit damage. Hawks, owls, eagles, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and snakes all help the farmer, gardener, and homeowner control rabbits. NMSU Extension has a new publication which was used to write this article and it is Guide L-210 on the web or at your local county extension office. Subscribe to Eddy County Ag news at: Eddy County Extension Service, New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. All programs are available to everyone regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. New Mexico State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Eddy County Government Cooperating. L-210: Rabbits and Their Control in New Mexico,

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