An American in the Algarve: Part 2, Scene I

Potty Train Your Bunny

Even after my dramatic transition from city mouse to country mouse, I am probably still one of the least experienced would-be farmers in all of Portugal and that might even be an understatement. To put it bluntly, I know nothing about raising chickens. Or ducks. Or roosters. Or hamsters. Or bunnies. Or guinea pigs. 

And that’s a fact. I grew up on 11 acres of historic woodland, famed for its civil war buttons and 1860 trenches. But that was a forest. Not a farm. We had two dogs, one cat and some uber-sensitive fish that died faster than we could buy them. At some point, there were gerbils, but they never seemed to survive very long and, eventually, I was too heartbroken to get any more. 

The cat was never allowed inside by strict orders of my mother. It turns out she was right about cats tearing up every scrap of furniture they can get their claws into. I learned that the hard way. When we still lived in Tel Aviv, I was coerced into bringing home the stray kitten my son had fallen in love with at kindergarten. The cat was supposed to live outside on our rooftop garden, but he always found a way to sneak into the apartment downstairs, make his way into the kitchen and either eat whatever was on the counter or tear up a handmade Italian barstool – just for the fun of it. His name was Patrick. I don’t know who named him, but he was the bane of my existence. When we moved, Patrick stayed behind as he had disappeared into the garden below and could not be found. I vowed then never to own another feline – male or female. 

When we moved to Portugal in 2019, I had no grand visions of owning land and rearing animals or keeping a farm of my own. We arrived with our one dog, Charlie Brown, and I thought that was plenty. My children had other ideas. Somehow they convinced me to buy one guinea pig and one rabbit for a birthday present. But then we were told it is cruel to keep only one guinea pig, so we had to buy our lone little piggy a friend. The friend turned out to be a lover. Those two quickly multiplied (and here I’m talking faster than a human gestation by a factor of 13), producing six more baby guinea pigs.

We neutered our first little guinea pig, but it actually takes six weeks for them to stop firing real bullets. Apparently, as the vet explained to me after I already had SIX accidental baby guinea pigs, it’s the same for humans. Who knew?

The toy rabbit died of myxomatosis, but a rabbitless existence didn’t last long. I happened upon some hares for sale at the Saturday market, and I just couldn’t let them be someone’s dinner. They were so cute when they were small. And then they grew. Today, those female hares are massive. Teeth like a Gruffalo. Claws of a Griffin. These ladies are equipped for a serious battle. At least they are really both girls.

At some point, after we had finally moved the guinea pigs and rabbits out of our spare bedroom and into an outdoor enclosure, we decided that it would be really nice to have our own fresh eggs. I mistakenly purchased tiny balls of fluff from an unreliable looking hippie in the backwoods who promised me that “99% sure they’re all females”. His math skills were atrocious. Six out of ten were males. When they started to fight, we had to re-home one and remove the other three from the coop as they were literally murdering my females. 

Now, after a few years of experience, I know that it’s wise not to buy the cute small fluffy kind of chicks if you want eggs. You actually cannot tell the gender until they’re mature, around four or five months old. So after losing nearly all the females, either from rooster abuse, disease or a wild animal attack (we’re not sure what, but we think maybe a fox), we were down to one laying hen and three useless, loud roosters who my children adore. One is even named after a superhero and Mr. Incredible certainly has an incredible voice. I’m sure the neighbours adore him too.

Last week, after many months of eggless farming, in which you do the same amount of work but reap no benefits, I decided to buy more hens. For sure, females this time. After a recent vaccination, the two large hares moved in with the chickens as they had far outgrown the guinea pig cage. A few days later, on a trip to the pet store for a new dog collar, I found myself over at the rabbit cage. A group of six adorable small bunnies were hopping around, so similar to the one we lost to that terrible man-made virus, myxomatosis.

So now, the newest addition to the farm family is Honey, a soft-hearted little bunny named both for her colour and disposition. Including this sweetie, I am astounded to say that at the current count I have eight chickens, three ducks, three rabbits, five guinea pigs and one dog. Luckily, the stray cat who appeared this winter and started helping himself to the chicken scraps had an owner. So we are still cat free. Except for the vicious white wild cat who came with the house. Every time you go near her she hisses, but she’s always crying to be fed. We call her the White Witch.

The task of my week at the farm? Potty training the new rabbit, Honey, who has taken up residence in my office. Somehow, things have shifted from my children wanting pets to me losing all of my senses and bringing them home all by myself. 

Meredith Price Levitt is a freelance writer for over 20 years and a recent immigrant to the Algarve. She’s learning Portuguese, how to tell a chicken from a rooster, how to potty train rabbits and building a hexagon for aerial arts. You can reach her at:


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