Hog on the Tyne
In June my cousin Rachel found 3 baby hedgehogs in the playground of the school she works at. During the day with no sign of mother and no nest in sight she brought them home. What followed was a month looking after 3 little prickly bundles of joy.
The hogs were 4 weeks old when they came to live with us and we took advice from local rescue centres and online sources and set about feeding them and keeping them warm until they would weigh around 400g and would be able to survive in the wild unaccompanied by mammy hog. We named them Blue, Pink and Orange due to the nail colours we painted on their spines so we could keep track of their weights. Initially we also put hot water bottles in with their bedding so they could keep warm and not burn the calories they needed to get bigger.
Pink was actually found a day after her sisters and had a bit of a dicky tummy to begin with and getting her to eat solids was tricky. The solution was a smoothie made with goats milk and kitten food and then feeding her with a little bottle. We had no such issues feeding Blue, and Orange loved mealworms and would happily munch away on those. We supplemented the worms with chicken in jelly kitten food (which stinks), kibble and peanuts. For the first few days we included goats milk (not cows milk as they can't digest lactose) in with the dish until they seemed capable of eating happily with out it.
Pink quickly caught up and stopped having green poos and soon became the heaviest of the three. She was also the least reticent of the three and seemed genuinely curious when it came to lifting her out the box for an occasional bath with oats in to help with the smell and keep their skin from drying out. Blue was the shyest of the three sisters and also seemed to be the one who got climbed on the most when they were clambering about their box, or trying to escape the kitchen sink during the regular box cleaning sessions. Orange was the greedy one and unsurprisingly ended up being the heaviest of our hogs on release.
The month has went by surprisingly quick. They were such little characters and I got some amazing reference photos. They went from 125g when they arrived to just over 420g on release day. I learned a lot about hedgehogs in that month. For example their spikes get harder and spiker as they get older and they smell... really badly. I'm sure this is probably down to the fact that they were pooing and peeing in a confined space. However, I was very relieved we didn't have to teach them to toilet.
Really young hedgehogs are taught by their mother licking their 'bits' after feeding. Human hog-mammies can simulate this using a little oil on a cotton bud but our hoggies had no issues with this bodily function as demonstrated by them managing to pee down my jacket sleeve. The girls needed their box cleaning regularly and often they were placed in a shallow bath in the sink to make sure there was no poo on their feet to avoid any infection. Orange also loved to go to the loo in the drinking water which baffled our minds. They sleep most of the day as they are nocturnal creatures and they like to nest. Quite often they managed to bury under the layers of cardboard and puppy pads in their box, upturning their water in the process. Upon seeing the state of their box each morning, I often found myself asking them 'How??', especially considering they always had either a towel or shredded card for bedding!
My initial plan was to release them in Gibside (the walled garden would have provided a supply of worms and invertebrates) but then we discovered that badgers eat hedgehogs and Gibside has badgers so so time for plan B. The school playground wasn't an ideal re-release location and we wanted somewhere free from busy roads (and badgers) to give the girls a good start. Kim who has the studio opposite mine suggested her garden. She lives up near Wark with log piles, no main roads, no badgers and plenty of openings in her garden to the surrounding countryside.
Hedgehogs like to roam, you'll have probably seen TV programmes recommending people cut a 13cm square gap in the bottom of their fences. Its also a good idea to have piles of wood or access under decking. They also like piles of leaves and in summer months you should put out shallow dishes of water for any visiting hedgehogs. Kim made a little house out of the top of a beehive for the girls, but they might not stay there. They readily set off exploring upon release but for the first week or two food will be left out for them should they be unable to find enough by themselves. I'm sure with their cute, sniffly noses though they will be just fine! Looking after them is one of the best things myself or Rob have ever done and the only positive of having to say goodbye (aside from the house smelling better) is that we are proud that they have a good chance of surviving. Hopefully they will find a Mr Hedgehog to help boost declining numbers of these gorgeous animals.