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Archive for the ‘Rabbits’ Category

I’m putting my finishing touches on my first contribution to the Gnowfglins blog post.  The teaser…title is “Foraging to know and love where you live”.

I will link when it’s up.

It’s been raining like crazy.  About a month or so ago, one of the local farmers said that from what he had found when looking at weather patterns we were going to be in for a year like we had a few back, where it rained for days, sunny for a day, then rain for days.  That was the year that blight took all our tomatoes, early in the season.  It was horrible.  There were other crops greatly effected.  A local farm lost all their squash that year when the field flooded.  Well, that man knows his stuff, because we feel like we are turning into the Pacific North EAST around here!

Yesterday we had a break in the weather long enough for me to go out and snap some pics for the post about foraging.  While I was doing this, I looked over and snapped a quick shot of our yard rabbit…

YardRabbit

Yard rabbit…what is a yard rabbit?  It’s an escapee!  So a few years ago, when we first started raising rabbits, my friend had an escapee, and decided she liked having a happy little rabbit hopping about the yard, so made no attempt to catch her.  I told her that was a poor choice, because it wasn’t a wild rabbit and would surely be eaten by a predator.  I was wrong.  That rabbit lived a year outside, happily, through winter and everything.  She had places to hide, in the farm, and she was FAST!  All was well with the yard rabbit, until a boy got loose.  Knowing the yard rabbit was pregnant, the decision was made to catch her.  That finally happened and she’s been a fabulous breeding doe ever since.

Despite the happy ending, I had no desire to have a yard rabbit.  Until one got loose over here, and as my husband so aptly pointed out, rabbits get faster, exponentially, every moment they are out of the cage.  So this little one is impossible to catch.  We have tried a hav-a-heart trap, not interested.  So for now, I have a yard rabbit.  I really like having one, honestly, I see why my friend enjoyed it.  The happy little rabbit lives in what would be my garden, if I was having a garden this year.  Stays close enough to the house that it seems to be avoiding predators, and despite eating all the strawberries before the girls can eat them, things are going well with our yard rabbit.

 

 

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Wow.  I can’t believe how long it’s been since I blogged.  This summer was a whirlwind and I just didn’t have it in me to blog. This isn’t good because I use this blog as a personal journal, especially for my farm milestones, so I’m a little unsure of how old some of the animals are.  I didn’t log in the major events of the summer.  So I’ll try to catch up a bit.

Pigs!  We don’t have them anymore.  We had the butchered on August 4.  They were butchered, here on the farm, as peacefully as possible.  No stressful ride to the butcher.  No stress of smelling death in the air while awaiting their turn.  Simply eating grain, in their usual spot, shoulder to shoulder.  Nate Huse, a local 4th generation custom butcher came to the house with his well stocked truck.  Each pig was shot, bled and hung.  Skinned.  Placed in the truck, and brought back to Nate’s shop to be hung, and pieced.  Nate is fast, efficient, a master with a knife, and clearly cares for the animals with a great deal of peace in his manner and respect in his actions.  It was amazing to watch him work.  He processed them to our specifications, and sent them back all vacuum packed for the freezer several days later.  We have been enjoying the meat with such dishes as curried ground pork, pasta sauce, stuffed pork chops, and country style ribs simmered in cherries I put up last year.  My friend built a smoke house, and we will be smoking the hams and bacon over there in the coming weeks.  Check out her bacon!  MMMM.


Cows!  Declan is growing well.  He is still running with mama all day, spending time in his own space at night, and joining her again after morning milking.  We are going to have Nate come to butcher him this fall, before Winter hits.  We decided to try this as an experiment.  We don’t want to over winter 2 cows, that need to be separated, so that the nursing will stop.  We don’t want to have a steer while we are caring for Nellie and her new calf that will come next summer, if all goes well.  The meat should still be fabulous, even if it’s less.  Sort of like veal, but without the mistreatment associated with veal.  It’s an experiment.  We might like it, we might not, but we won’t know until we try.

Nellie is ready to be re-bred.  Truth be told, she’s past ready, so we have an Artificial Insemination technician lined up for the next heat cycle in another week or so.  We hope this takes the first time, so she will calve in early June and not need to be rebred for calving in July.  We’ll see.

The pasture area is starting to fill in with natural grasses and weeds.  I have been weeding it, to try to keep the weeds she doesn’t like to eat, out.  This month we are going to finish raking it, and start throwing down seeds and mulch, in the hopes that next Spring, Nellie will have a beautiful pasture to graze on.

Chickens!

Not a lot to say about them.  We’ve had a lot of loss.  Seems we had a bout with coccidiosis, that took most of one age group.  We were able to control the outbreak without employing any chemicals/medications.  So we felt good about that.  Next year we will keep chicks inside a little longer so they can get past their vulnerable age before going out into the environment.

We also had a coon that was far more successful than coons in years past.  We lost about 20-25 to that before we caught him and disposed of the little menace.

We will be selecting a breeding flock from those that remain, and hope for a better year next year.

Rabbits!

Also a summer of losses.  We lost Mimi and Isabelle to heat.  We lost Clementine to old age, but that is a happier ending.  She was retired, so she’s been lost in the since of one less breeding does, but she’s happily playing with her friend Clarice that she grew up with.  We are enjoying the rabbit ground pens we made.  They are eating grass, laying on the ground, safe, easy to care for.  It’s really the best of all worlds.  The rabbits will be moving around the pasture after Nellie in the Spring.  I’m excited with where our rabbit herd is and the direction we are moving.

Ducks!

We had a couple successful hatches of Muscovy.  We crossed our chocolates with blacks, and will be selecting a male from one pairing and 3-4 females from the other, so we can start a solid breeding program with that breed.  I’m excited about how that went.

We had a rough hatching year for the Runner ducks.  They hatched very poorly in the incubator, so I tried using a broody hen.  She did much better, so next year I’ll be using a couple hens to hatch out our replacement runners.  I have not divided males and females yet, but it looks like we will have a good little new flock to join last years layers this winter.

Garden!

Fail!  Seriously.  I am done with a large garden.  I scaled back this year and still found myself too busy during the critical times to maintain the thing.  My summer squash/zucchini all died.  My tomatoes (all 6 plants) were destroyed by hornworms.  I had a good crop of onions, string beans, and peppers.  My plan for next year is to sign up for a CSA and simply gardening with the girls.  I hope to create good little gardeners who can take over that part of the farm.  We’ll see.

Why was I too busy to garden, blog and get the cow bred?  I had a lot going on with my full time job.  I went to a large trade show of sorts in July, so all of June and July was spent making inventory and getting things ready to freight to Seattle WA area.  Upon return I had a lot of orders to fill, followed by my friends wedding!  It’s been a good and fun summer, but now it’s time to settle into a new rhythm.  The rhythm of fall.  Foraging, picking, canning, preserving, organizing, knitting, and all around hunkering down for Winter.

I did my canned good inventory, and am quite proud of my last year canning self.  I canned enough for last year, and for many things, this year!  I have 65 quarts of diced tomatoes and 33 quarts of peaches.  We are looking good on jams.  I will be canning apple sauce on a large scale and a moderate number or of Pears since we are down to 17 quarts.  I am hoping to can up some tomato paste, various chutney’s, a little salsa, mostly fun small batch canning.  I’m very excited to be in such good shape already.

Homeschooling!

Eowyn is now a “first grader”, so we are officially homeschooling.  We have, of course, been educating our kids since they were born.  Hours of reading, and many other hands on activities to help them make connections in their brains.  But with the official homeschooling we are working out what our rhythm is for that, as well.  The girls are excited to do their “lessons” each day, so we are off to a good start.

Bead Making!

I’m back on the torch.  The show this summer, along with some other fun things, motivated me to making spending time melting glass a priority again. It’s been fun, and I’m glad to be back.  I will share some things here, from time to time.  Here is the necklace I made to wear for the show, this summer.

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When I got my first rabbits, Clementine and her litter of 6, I started researching alternative ways to raise them.  Traditionally, in the US, rabbits are raised in wire cages.  Off the ground.  One per cage.  It’s easy.  No fighting.  Easy to clean.  Easy to access for breeding and for keeping track of breedings.  But it doesn’t feel lovely.

When I take on a new animal, sometimes I think I know what I’m getting into, and I don’t.  There is only so much that reading and asking questions can prepare you for.  Each property is different.  Each animal is different.  Some animals will do well in some situations, but not others.  Each person has a style for how they care for their animals.  Just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for another.  Farming is  science, but no more so than it is an art.

We do our best to do well by our animals.  Keeping them safe.  Respecting their animalness.  There are times that we have succeeded better than others.  We’ve made mistakes that have cost the animals their lives.  We sometimes find that their situation isn’t ideal and need to make changes.  We learn from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others who are also muddling through this new area of farming, and are willing to share their shortcomings.

I believe sharing our shortcomings is as important as sharing our successes.  It can be a warning to others, to save them the frustration, loss, heart ache, and the like, that we have suffered.

All the above leads to what I did today.  Today I modified my chick housing to create a  rabbit tractor.  The first, in what I’m sure will be many incarnations, as I sort out the best way to raise out the rabbits, as well as, figuring out how best to care for our breeders.

The pen is about 3’x6′.  It has an enclosed box that has typical rabbit wire on the floor.  It has a chicken wire covered run, that has 2″x3″ wire on the bottom.  This should allow for the rabbits to eat the grass, but not dig holes and escape.  The enclosure gives them a place to go, if they are frightened, shade, and a place for me to put them when I move the tractor, so their legs don’t get hurt during the move.  I plan on scooting them into their enclosure, covering the door and moving them.  I’m excited to see this litter of bunnies on the ground, running, eating grass, and investigating.  I don’t think this is ultimately big enough for 6 rabbits, but it’s step 1.  And you have to start somewhere.

The reason it has taken me so long to try this is because I feel it’s my job to keep my animals safe.  No farmer wants “loss”.  It hurts the purse when animals die.  But really, it hurts more than that.  Domesticated animals have given themselves over to this give and take relationship.  They are trusting us to keep them safe, in turn they are giving us the ability to benefit from them.  In farming there will be loss.  There is no way around it.  Animals will die. Sometimes from our mistakes, sometimes because it’s impossible to foresee every situation.

I don’t want to put the rabbits in a situation of being eaten alive by a predator,  in order to have them in a more natural environment.  This concern has countered much of my desire to get them in a more natural setting.  I feel that this first step is one that should be secure.  It should allow them some freedom, and still keep them safe.  It should give me an idea of how they will react to the situation, and a hopefully give me an opportunity to see not only potential problem areas, but also see areas that I can take the next step in providing them more freedom…step 2.

For now, this feels better, even if it’s not perfect.

Nellie is enjoying my newest innovation.  Tree Fodder.  In Europe trees were cut during dormancy, in order to encourage suckers to grow from the stump in spring.  These suckers were then harvested and fed to livestock, as fodder.  This precluded large pastures, which is now the typical way to raise livestock, but not the only way.  I have been doing much reading on the process of creating tree fodder.  The two techniques being coppicing and pollarding.   They are similar procedures, with coppicing being lower to the ground, and pollarding being several feet up the base of the tree.  Pollarding allows the growth of suckers, in the livestock range area, but keeping the suckers out of the reach of the livestock until they reach the desired size.

The suckers can be harvested and fed out immediately, but can also be hung to dry, and kept as a hay substitute for Winter.  So far Nellie really enjoys the maple cuttings I’ve been making from the young saplings we have on the property.  I plan on starting some coppice/pollard stands this Winter, during dormancy, with the hope of a nice crop next year.  My research has indicated, so far, that Maple is a good fodder for animals, but that the tree doesn’t stand up well to coppicing/pollarding.  Ash and Elm are quite popular for the techniques.  Hickory is acceptable.  Oak reduces milk supply so best fed in small does during the dry period, and it has high tannen levels, making it harder to digest.  I will likely avoid oak altogether, and let the trees grow and, eventually, produce acorns for the pigs!

I’m excited to have an abundant source of fodder for the cows.  Our pasture area should yield enough to keep Nellie well fed next Spring/Summer, but we will never have a proper area for hay, because our land doesn’t have the right landscape, but coppice/pollard stands, that we have plenty of resources for!

Nellie enjoying her evening snack of maple leaves.

 

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I had a friend come by today, and it was such a delight.  She wanted to learn how to make Kombucha so that was what we started out with, but she also wanted to spend the day on the farm.  We planted potatoes, carrots, beets, peas, beans, asparagus peas, swiss chard, tomatoes, tomatillos and winter squash!  We came in and out, throughout the day, dodging rain drops, and we fed Nellie a nice pile of weeds from the garden.  It was great fun!

My Speckled Sussex arrived today!  This is a “new to me breed” of chickens.  I love them.  They are so beautiful.  A deep mahogany with white specks on the tips of their feathers, and a thin black bar a bit in from the white, gives their feathers interest.  They are a dual purpose bird, and have Dorking in their lineage, which should make them an excellent meat bird.  I’m excited to get to know the breed.  I purchased them from Tony Albritton from Idaho.  He was a delight to work with.  I prefer to order birds from breeders, rather than hatcheries, because the time put in by a good breeder does so much to improve the quality of the birds.  Hatcheries, while important for many reasons, don’t have the time to put into each breed the way a dedicated breeder of just one or a couple breeds are able to do.  It’s worth paying extra for well bred birds, whenever you can.  I’m excited to see these birds grow out, and will be selecting a breeding flock from them this fall!

But don’t worry little Ancona’s, you have my heart, and while I may go on about the beauty of the Speckled Sussex, don’t think for a moment I don’t swoon over your stark black and white, with that gorgeous red rose comb!  You’re large white egg is nothing to be ignored, either.

Today I was clearly reminded of why I LOVE breeding.  When you have an animal that you have selected from all the animals on your farm, who goes on to outshine their parents…well, that is what good breeding is all about.  I had a rabbit, Edna, who was the daughter of a very excellent doe, who died last summer from heat stroke.  I selected Edna, and her sister Eliza from the 6 does in that litter.  I selected them for their body confirmation, with the hope that they would also have their mother’s ability to throw a good litter, and keep them alive until weaning.  Both Edna’s mother and herself have out shined Edna’s grandmother, Clementine, who never kindled more than 7, and most often only raised 5 to weaning.  She was a lovely rabbit, but not what her daughter and granddaughter went on to be.

I have to wait to see if Edna will follow through and be a good mom, now that she’s kindled this lovely litter of 8, but to have 8 on her first litter, is quite amazing.  They all seem of solid, and consistent size, too.

I love breeding!

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Breeding season!  I’m working on two breeding programs.  I’ve mentioned the Ancona chickens, but I’m also doing something with my Muscovy Ducks.  My chocolate ducks are great, but a little undersized, so I’m breeding them with some larger ducks.  Still Muscovy, but these are Black, instead of Chocolate.  I picked up a male and a female tonight.  They have come from Yellow House Farm, and I’m excited about the project.

The Black Male will be bred to my Chocolate female.  All these ducklings will be colored black, but will carry for Chocolate.

The Black Female will be bred with “Mister” my Chocolate Male.  This is a sex-linked pairing which means that  the Male ducklings will be black and will carry for Chocolate.  The Female ducklings will be Chocolate.

Next year I’ll cross this years ducklings to bring out the Chocolate color, and hopefully increase the overall size of the Chocolate line I have.

Well, in order to do this I need to new coops.   They don’t need to be large, just enough for two ducks for a few weeks.  I got my hands on the round disks from cable packaging that are 5ft across, and used them to create an adorable round coop.

There are a couple more tweaks, like a border around the bottom to keep the bedding from spilling out, a latch on the door, and a green roof!!  I’ve been reading Small Green Roofs: Low-Tech Options for Greener Living and I’m so excited to give it a try.  I’m going to start with this coop.  Oh, and a little paint on the door and the flower…so mostly cosmetic details, which means it’s done, for the purpose of a breeding coop.

Josie had a stellar litter today.  It was on the small side, numerically, with 5 kits, but they are so chubby!  Healthy, lovely, chubby baby bunnies.

Clementine kindled as well.  Just 2 kits, so I think she’s done breeding.  She is the grandmother, and soon to be great grandmother of my current breeding does, and she’s 4-5 years old.  I’m going to see if I can find her a home as a manure maker, because she probably has a few more good years, just not as a breeder.  I hope she keeps both alive, but they are inside tonight, since it’s so cold and there are only 2, so not a lot of body warmth ti share.

My seedlings are doing pretty well, considering how much attention the animals demand.  These are Loofa gourd plants that have just emerged this week!

 

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I started, in January, attempting to make a pair of socks, for myself, each month.  I only made one knee high in January, but did complete February, March, April, and today I finished my favorite so far, my May socks.  This may be the last pair for this monthly challenge.  The other knitter that was doing this has stopped, so the idea isn’t as fun…besides knitting socks has taken up a lot of my less abundant knitting time, and I have sweaters to make to keep my growing girls cozy this Fall, which is just around the corner.  I figure if I look at it that way, I won’t be so focused on the oppressive heat that is descending even sooner.

Back to the socks, they were completed on the trip to bring Nellie home.  So I think they might be a bit overshadowed, in the big picture, but they are wonderfully comfortable, I love the colors and they fit perfectly.  Aaaah..  Happy feet.  The yarn is Claudia, from my favorite yarn store.  The pattern is free on Knitty, and is titled Java Socks.  What inspired me to make them was how stretchy the description indicated they were.  I find it hard to hand knit socks and have them fit properly.  These do.

We have a cow.  I waffle between excitement, and the haunting thought that I might be in over my head.  She is about as sweet and gentle as a few hundred pound animal with horns and a will, can be.  But that is the point.  She weighs a few hundred pounds, has horns and an idea of what she wants to do.

My friend Wendy and her husband John came with us with their livestock trailer.  It was perfect, Nellie was loaded up with a little convincing, but she did alright.  We chatted with her current owners, who were fabulous.  Very helpful, and were clearly happy to see her join our little homestead.  Her travel home was uneventful, and she was greeted by little people with fists full of grass.   John took the lead and brought her out of the trailer and down the driveway.

I was given some tips for working with her.  Hold her halter, or the leash close the halter, to control where her horns go.  That, and keeping her feet off mine, seem to be the greatest goals.  She responds well to a firm and kind manner.  I, on occasion, had to use my weight to get her to move where I wanted…making this one of  the few times in my life that I’m happy I’m not a little woman.  She was thrilled with the grassy spot, and happy to graze.

After grazing we wandered over to the barn ( I use this term loosely and wantingly…this barn I refer to is an 8×8 shed, and I so long for a real barn.  One where I can store straw and hay, where the cow will have a stall and the chickens can have pens…but I digress).  Once at the barn, she came in pretty easily, without the bribe of grain.  My dad and father-in-law built a fabulous ramp for her while we were gone, and it was perfect!  She was introduced to the broody Muscovy who is in a nest box on the wall.  Neither seemed interested in the other, so I’m hoping they do okay together.

Nellie was left with some water, hay and grain, the door half open so she can survey her new surroundings, as she prepares for sleep, in her new home.

I think I was pretty well prepared for her arrival, for a girl who has never really been in the company of cows.  Curling up with Keeping A Family Cow, a cup of tea, a blanket and cozy feet.  Today is a good day on the homestead.  Especially when we went out to put in the ducks and though we needed to herd them, they did herd easily into their new house!!  That was a relief.

While we were gone the rabbits had some new arrivals of their own.  Josie kindled 7, of which 5 lived.  One of the sister’s kindled 4 in the nest box, of which 2 lived, which was her first litter.  The other two seemed to have wiggled away from the group.  Her sister is due tomorrow, with her first litter.

 

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What a day!  Work in the morning, followed by moving a new rabbit hutch from a friend’s house to mine.

The structure was originally a chicken coop, but it’s basically a 4×8 box, with hardware cloth floor, wood and chicken wire walls and chicken wire roof, on which sits a piece of plywood.  Very basic, so perfect for many different things.  It is divided in half, so each side is about 4 feet square.  Since it’s wood, and rabbits like to eat wood, I took apart some old cages, that had rusted floors but good walls and secured them to the wooden walls, on the inside so the rabbits can’t eat their way out.  The space is plenty large enough for two does, their nest boxes and plenty of wiggle room for lounging and eating and such.

This is important because I have 2 sisters that have always lived together, in one cage, and have been bred together.  I am experimenting to see if this sort of cohabitation will work well, or not.  There are many variables:

  • I don’t know for sure they are both bred, though they both have ample exposure for such things, so should be.
  • They were moved today, but due in the next couple days, which you aren’t really supposed to do, because that can throw them off and cause trouble with kindling.
  • I’ve never had two does kindle in the same space before, so don’t know if they will take to that, or if there will be infighting, or hurting each other’s kits.

Basically this is an experiment.  One that I hope goes well, but either way, I’ll learn something from it.  I really like doing these sorts of experiments, because not only do I learn something, but since I blog about my adventures, it can be helpful to others.  I’ll keep you posted, either way, with fingers crossed for great success.

After getting their house secured and them moved, I headed to Wells Maine with other folks from the permaculture group for some spoon making!  Adam taught a group of inexperienced folks how to take a piece of 1×3 pine and turn it into a spoon!  It was great fun.  I am happy with the results and after a little linseed oil is applied, I will give it a try.  After our labors, we joined in the house for some amazing homemade soup, made by Adam.  We opted not to use our spoons, though it was tempting, because we wanted the oil to go on before the food.

The day ended with the final arrangements for transporting Nellie from Alstead to our house!  My friend, and local farmer, Wendy, and her husband, are going to trailer her for us.  We will drive along with them in our car to help load her and take care of the arrangements, but I’m so thrilled with this PERFECT solution.  She will be safe, dry and cozy.

Now to make things cozy for her here.  I have to move the ducks out of her future home, into something a little smaller…since 7 ducks don’t need an 8×8 gambrel roof shed.  I want to sure up the floor of the shed, since it was intended to house ducks, not a several hundred pound cow.  Those are the need items.  I also want to add a window, if time permits.  Phew.  What a whirlwind this cow situation has been, but everything has been a go at each turn, so I feel very good about this.

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