Mid winter chickens

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The chickens venturing outside, waiting for me to come in and feed them.

We’ve had a couple of decently warm days.  Yesterday they were calling for a high of 37 degrees Fahrenheit, but we got to 48.  Today we were at least in the high 30s most of the day.  The days have been getting longer, and my chickens have been laying more eggs.  Their production had dropped way down in December, but it’s gone up now.  We were getting 3-5 eggs daily earlier this month, it’s now up to about 7-9 a day.

The chickens decided to venture out today a little. We also cleaned out the coop – it was easier with the warm temperatures. I had tried a couple weeks ago with highs in the 20s and their poop was frozen to the floor, so I just had to add bedding. Today I was able to actually scrape everything out before adding new bedding.  Getting the old stuff over to the compost bin wasn’t happening though; we have a huge snowbank in the way, from plowing our driveway. I have the old coop mess over to the side in a bin, and will move it once I can get over there.

I wash eggs on Sundays -we collect through the week and put them in the fridge until we can wash them up all at once.  I have noticed my “Escape Artist” chicken is laying again, we’ve had quite a few white eggs this past week. She’s the only white-egg layer.

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The week’s eggs.

I’m glad the days are getting longer.  I can’t wait for spring.

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Thoughts on Rabbit Harvesting

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Our rabbit kits

We raise our rabbits for meat.  We have three adults, and I got them this past fall so that we can have meat for our family.  One small step towards our greater goal of being food independent.  Although I would have preferred to wait until spring to breed our rabbits, one of the does was pregnant when I got them in late October.  That left us with 7 kits ready for harvest at the beginning of January.

The second week of January, I harvested four of the kits. They were 9 weeks old at that point.  I had been looking into what the most humane way of killing them would be – my parents raised rabbits when I was a kid, and my mom told me that they had always used a .22 pistol – it’s fast, easy on the rabbit since they feel nothing – it’s over in an instant.  That’s what we ended up doing.  A shot in the back of the head, and it’s over.  It was a lot easier than I thought.  It’s never easy to take an animal’s life, but I feel we did it in the most humane way.  I also thanked them each for their sacrifice to us before taking them.

The first four took me a couple of hours from start to finish – from culling to having meat ready.  I’m not going to go into detail here, but they are pretty easy to process – especially compared to chickens.  It is still quite a bit of work, and it was cold out that day, so I decided to wait to take the other three at a later date.  For the first four, we got about 6.5 lbs of meat – I weighed one beforehand, and it was about 4 lbs live weight.  I got 1.5 to 1.75 lbs of meat from each kit.

A couple weeks later I culled the other three.  I again got about 6 lbs of meat – they had grown a little more – one produced about 2 lbs of meat and the other two were just shy of 2 lbs each.  I’d heard that you want to harvest them from 8-10 weeks old, because beyond that you are losing out on efficiency in terms of a meat harvested to food spent ratio.  Also older rabbits tend to have a tougher meat texture.  The first four we did at 9 weeks, the other three were 11 weeks.

One thing that made this whole thing easier was that we had not handled the babies a lot – they weren’t very friendly. They saw us as food and water providers.  We try to pet the adults, our breeding stock, when we go out to feed them.  But our plans are not to cull them – someday when they aren’t good breeding stock we may have to rethink that.  I think in the summer the babies would get more handling, since it will be nice out and I’m sure my son will want to play with some.  It may get a little harder then.  But it’s kind of the same with our chickens. I’ve culled roosters that I really liked – I had reasons that they needed to be culled though – some were aggressive, or aggressive to hens.  It’s all part of farming, and processing your own food.  My son was interested in watching the harvest a bit, but did not participate at all. I always try to impart this lesson to him – “This is where our food comes from.  If you buy a chicken or other meat at the store, it had a life once, and someone else killed it.  At least we know our animals had the best life we could give them when they were alive.”

We are going to wait to breed the adults again until spring.  We aren’t planning on having any rabbit kits during the winter anymore.  Winter makes it harder to take care of everyone – water freezing, and me being worried they are cold – I don’t feel it’s fair to the does to make them have litters in the winter.  I’ve planned out a breeding schedule for summer, so we should be able to get about 3 litters from each of the two does throughout the warmer months.  I have an uncle that keeps saying we should get more.  I think that the adults we have are plenty for now.

 

A tiny nest

My husband was out feeding the rabbits and saw this tiny nest up in a tree.  I got some pictures of it. We’re not sure what kind of nest it is.  It’s empty at the moment, of course.  I said we should see if anyone comes to re-use it this year.

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It’s kind of hard to see here – the nest is about 12 feet up into the tree, maybe about 3 inches wide, and it seems to be tied on to the branch by a few strings/bits of grass.

 

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Here’s a closer view, this seems to be the back.  When I went to the other side, it looks like there’s a tiny hole at the top 1/4 of the nest for the birds to get in and out.

I’ve never seen a nest hanging like this. I’m excited to see if anyone claims it in the spring.

Disgruntled Rabbits

I went out to feed the rabbits the other afternoon, and the door of my white bunny’s hutch fell off when I opened it.  I had to quickly figure out where to put her while I figured out her door.  We have a cage outside that we usually put them in while we clean their hutches, but it is currently covered in snow.  I was in a rush, so I thought, “oh, I’ll put her in with the black female, since they lived together before.”  That was a huge mistake.

They immediately started fighting – the black rabbit (her name is Fire) was not happy about the other one (Wind) being put in HER cage.  She attacked and I heard crazy squealing, and I quickly grabbed Wind out of there.  Phew.  There was rabbit fur everywhere.  Fire even bit me as I was pulling Wind out of her cage. Luckily nobody was hurt, but they did not seem very happy.

Here are the fighting rabbits:

fire the black rabbit
Fire, the angry bunny
wind the white bunny
Wind, the happy-to-be-out-of-Fire’s-cage bunny

I brought Wind into the house, and put her in a cat carrier while I went to look for the cordless drill to fix her door.  The piece of the door that the hinges were attached to had split at that spot from the weight of the door.  Poor rabbit – the dogs were trying to see what I was carrying around the house with me.  I was able to keep them away most of the time, but I’m sure she was not happy.  I found the drill, and then brought her outside with me to figure out her door.

I then realized that we have an empty hutch that I could have put her in in the first place.  The hutch that the babies are in is 2-sided. We enclosed the side that they are in, to block the cold winds and snow, but the other side is still there, just not enclosed.  I wouldn’t want to house her in there for very long, but it works in a pinch.  So if this ever happens again, I have that option.

At that point my husband heard me dealing with the mess, and came out to help me with the door.  We got it back on with a new larger hinge, and Wind is safely back in her hutch now.

I told my coworker about the rabbit fight.  She sent me the below video – I’ll have to get my chickens involved in crowd control in the future:

 

Feathered Freeloaders

My hens have not been producing much lately.  Egg production can go down in winter, and I think that may be what is going on, but it’s really down.  I’ve kept track of the eggs we receive from them since we first started getting eggs.  Last December (2014) we got 195 eggs, this December we got 170.  We have more hens this year than last year – last year we had 9 at this time, and right now we have 15.  I know one hen for sure isn’t laying, our “escape artist” hen – she lays white eggs, and is the only one that does.  She’s one of our newer hens from this year. We have not gotten a white egg in at least 3 weeks.  The chickens all seem healthy, and I have a heat lamp on them, but maybe the heat lamp isn’t enough to keep them producing with the cold.  We’re down by 70 eggs from November  – In November we got 239.   Our temperatures are down from November, but not as cold as last winter, luckily.  We’ve only gotten down into the teens at the coldest, maybe 17 degrees Fahrenheit.  I think last year I may have had a white heat lamp in the coop, this year it’s red.  Either way, it’s kind of depressing.  I’ll just keep an eye on them, I guess, and hope for spring.

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Some of the freeloaders. They don’t come out into the snow much. We open the coop door for them in the daytime.