About 8 years ago I raised 4 baby hedgehogs which was a steep learning curve and such an honour. We found a disturbed nest with 5 little ones strewn about the ditch. One had died and the other 4 were tiny so I gathered them up and brought to our vet.In the wild about 20% of the hoglets die before they even leave the nest and once a nest is disturbed the mother will not return condemning them to certain death. The vet dusted them down for fleas ( fleas that live on hedgehogs will not live on dogs or humans ) and gave them each an antibiotic and I was sent home with a heated mat and instructions to feed them every 4 hours with warm goats milk as they cannot tolerate dairy.
We kept them in a cardboard box in our kitchen and I fed them initially from a tiny medicine dropper which was time consuming and fraught with prickles from the growing spines. I learned to wear a leather glove on my left hand, pick one up with my thumb under their chin to prevent their natural urge to curl into a ball and once they smelled the milk survival instinct took over.
As they were only tiny about 10 days old I also had to help them with the other end too. Like kittens their mother normally does this so A quick phone call to a hedgehog rescue and I was informed that a cotton bud soaked in oil and rubbed on their nether regions soon did the trick. The result was masses of green poo which stank to high heaven. They quickly adapted to life in my kitchen but soon became way too smelly. As they were a later litter I read that unless they achieved a weight of 550 grams by November they were unlikely to survive their winter hibernation. Survival rates even then are low with many unlikely to see their first birthday but I had to at least give them a fighting chance.
They advanced to a larger box, self feeding and were dispatched outdoors to the shed. Tinned cat food, more goats milk and bananas became their regular diet. As August approached I stopped the goats milk and added wild blackberries to start to introduce them to food they would be able to find themselves as I know cat food and bananas would be in short supply in the natural habitat. I knew they ate slugs so set off on a nightly slug hunt with my torch. The first time I gave them slugs they turned their backs on them totally indifferent and I was afraid I’d completely interfered with nature but within seconds thousands of years of instinct kicked in and they suddenly made little piggy snorting noises and literally ran over the slugs in their enthusiasm . A boon for my garden as I think in the following 6 weeks I must have gathered up a few generations of slugs for their nightly feed. As they were getting bigger we made a larger den for them and placed it inside the high walls of one of our ruined outbuildings. Hedgehogs can scale walls of 6 feet or more but these were at least 16 feet high and kept them contained.
I was quite touched as a lot of my neighbours came to see them , one who was an elderly farmer who said he wanted to see them as he’d never seen a live one, only the squashed ones on the road.
By Mid October they were all a good weight the smallest weighing in at 650 grams, the largest 850 and they were ready for their release. Padraic had made 2 little wooden hedgehog houses with a long interior corridor veering left and then right to allow the hedgehogs in and keep larger predators such as foxes out. Hedgehogs live solitary lives once they leave the nest only getting together to mate so one was given to a friend in Dublin with a large walled garden, one was given to the vet who’s friend had a large chicken farm where they eventually released him and the remaining 2 stuck around here for a few nights coming back initially for the food I left out then they disappeared. They can travel miles every night in their search for food so who knows where they ended up. Although I was sorry to see them go hedgehogs do not thrive in captivity so I’m hoping that years of instinct will have taken over and that they survived . I read somewhere that they live for about 3 years if they survive the various hazards they face such as cars or eating poisoned slugs or falling into ponds or drains, the list is endless.
A few years ago our dog Lily was out in the garden barking furiously and dancing around what looked like a huge football. I went to investigate and found it was a very large hedgehog rolled up in a ball spikes fully up. We put the dog in and I got my gardening gloves and placed him gently back into the hedge line and he meandered off. He came back for 3 nights in a row despite the dog and then disappeared. Maybe it was one of my babies who knows but I was glad to see that hedgehogs are still here in my garden.
I’ve created a few safe areas for them to overwinter by placing piles of logs into a corner and we put their old wooden house under some branches in another spot. Our garden is surrounded by farmland with little or no traffic so I’m hoping that for some it will be a safe haven. It was a highlight of my life to raise the 4 hedgehog babies or hoglets as they’re known. I have no way of knowing if they survived but I like to hope that they did.