I haven’t posted in awhile – we’ve been really busy this fall. Here are some updates:
It was a bit chilly today, but the sun was out. We have had colder temperatures lately, and the garden is mostly done. We had a couple of watermelons that just were not growing anymore. My son asked if he could pick them today, so I said yes. I figured they weren’t ripe, but when we cut into the largest one (the one we’d set up a sling for, from previous posts), it actually had some pink to it. And it was surprisingly sweet tasting. So this was our first ever successful watermelon:
For some reason (maybe the sunshine), I got the bright idea to let the chickens and ducks out of their run today. We have had so much rain, and it rains so often, that we just haven’t gotten a chance to mow our lawn in the last couple weeks. So I thought, since they’ll eat grass, and they’re hanging around in a semi-wet / muddy run, maybe they’d like to hang out in the yard for the day. It wasn’t that unwise, I suppose. It was just a cluster trying to get them back in. They wanted to hang out in the woods, and they found the sand pile for some much-needed dust baths, and didn’t want to give that up so easily. They didn’t really do much “mowing” for us, but they enjoyed themselves. We got some good pictures:
We also moved the adult rabbits to their winter home, inside our entrance shed/mud room. We got some new cages, and my husband has been putting them together and setting them up for us. Last winter was really hard with our old setup, so we wanted to make it easier this year. Here are photos:
The cages are pretty nice, we got them from KW Cages. They have a slide-out tray for easy cleanup, which should make it really nice. The rabbits are getting settled in – they weren’t so sure at first but they seem to be relaxing more tonight. We have a gate to the shed, so we can keep the nosy dogs out (Especially Atat, who is almost as tall as the cages, and very curious). I think this will work well for winter. We’ll get them set up outside again in spring.
We have a lot of tiny bunnies – 13 at the moment (11 with Wind, our white rabbit, and two with Fire, our black rabbit). They are growing pretty quickly, and they are so cute.
There’s a space behind the doors of Buddy/Earth (the dad) and Wind’s cage, and her babies keep going over to visit. At first I was worried that he’d hurt the babies, and then I realized that he was being nice to them. He would lick/clean them, and they kept going over to visit. But then he started getting too excited – actually looked like he was humping the air near them – so we are not letting them over there anymore. If we find them over there we move them back with mom. They will be moving into their own cage soon, once they are all weaned from her milk.
We had some really hot days last weekend. My poor rabbits were not enjoying it – it was in the high 80s, low 90s, with high humidity. I was trying to figure out what to do for them, when I remembered – we keep old milk jugs full of water in our chest freezer when we don’t have a lot of stuff in there; it helps to keep the freezer running more efficiently if it’s full. Luckily I had enough frozen milk jugs to put one milk jug in each cage. The rabbits loved it, you could tell within a few minutes that it made them feel better. The babies were scratching at the jugs and licking them, and I noticed Fire had some frost on her mouth after she licked her milk jug. Later that night, when it had cooled off, I pulled the jugs out. I noticed they had chewed them a bit, but not enough to really hurt the rabbits. I did have to replace a few of the milk jugs. I tend to save them for different uses, so we have a lot laying around. This is a nice solution if you have rabbits that are not doing so well with the heat. Here are some pictures of my rabbits with their make-shift air conditioners:
Somehow I didn’t get any pictures of Fire with her cooler. You could probably use water bottles instead of milk jugs, although some water bottles have such thin plastic I’d be worried the rabbits would chew through it really quickly. The jugs are good because they take all day long (sometimes a couple of days) to thaw.
Our baby bunnies are about a month old. I’ve noticed they have been drinking less and less from their moms, and eating more of their mothers’ food. The moms, Wind and Fire, have been seeming like they’re starting to get a little tired of being crammed in with their children, so I moved the babies today. We have two extra hutch compartments, but one needs to have the door fixed, so I put them all in one side for now. We will fix that door soon and split them up when needed as they grow.
I was worried the two batches may not get along, but they are so young that they are pretty friendly with each other. Here is everyone in their new / non-cramped housing:
This is the first batch of our planned three for this year. I’ll be breeding them again in the next couple days. That way the females have a little break between each litter. We won’t breed them in the wintertime.
I counted our baby rabbits tonight. Wind (our white Californian) had 10 live babies! Fire, our black Rex, had 7 total – 2 died the other day, but we counted 5 alive this evening. Wind’s babies are all different colors. Some are naked pink, some are black, and some are spotted.
For the chicks – we are still mid-hatch, and we are up to 22 hatched out of 42. I don’t see any more pipping at the moment, but from how this hatch has been going I’m not worried. Today was their due date, and they started hatching 2 days ago so I’m going to give any stragglers until Saturday night. So far we’ve gotten 11 Marans, 5 Easter/olive eggers, three bantams and three from our home grown eggs. Here are some updated pictures of our newest fuzzballs:
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.
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:
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:
We had an escapee today. Yesterday I moved the babies into their new home, which is on one side of the extra hutch. This morning I was heading out to feed the rabbits and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little fuzzy blur running away. There was a loose spot where the door meets the floor of their cage, and I think he squeezed through there. We spent most of the day trying to catch him. We set up a cage on the ground with a water bottle and food, hoping he’d go in on his own when he got thirsty.
We don’t have any snow right now, so he was happy munching on grass. The food in the cage was not as enticing as the grass.
Our cat Wizard snuck out this morning and seemed like he was attempting to help me catch the bunny. But he’d get up to the bunny and swat at it, so I think he just wanted to play with it. Luckily he didn’t seem too intent on attacking it, which was what I thought he’d do. He wasn’t very helpful though, so we made him go back inside, and were hoping the rabbit would go into the cage if the cat wasn’t there. That didn’t work very well though. In the end we had to chase him into the cage. He did not want to be caught, but we got him. He’s now back with his brothers and sisters.
I’ve fixed the loose spot in the hutch, so hopefully we won’t have a repeat of today. Oh, and I found out when moving them that we have 7 babies.
We’ve been very busy this month. In my last post, I said I would get some pictures of snow… well, then it melted. But on Thanksgiving, which was a couple days ago, we got about 4-5 inches. So we have snow again.
Here is Nova. We got her about a month ago, from our coworker. Nova was her son’s dog, when he was in the Air force in Georgia. Now he moved back to town and is going to college, and couldn’t keep her, and my coworker felt bad that Nova was home alone during the day. So we took her in. She gets along great with our other dogs and she is a sweetheart.
The chickens aren’t minding the snow so much. I have heat lamps in the two rooms of their coop, so they can go in and warm up their feet if they get cold. Our batch last year (which we still have the hens from) didn’t like to go out in the snow. I’m not sure why they don’t mind this year, but they don’t.
Last weekend we went up to my cousin’s to get the original hutch that I got with the rabbits. We have set it up near our other rabbit hutch, so it’s now Rabbit Row:
And here are the little baby bunnies:
The rabbits have been doing ok with the cold so far. We’re going to add a tarp to the front of the hutches to block wind from the inside. That’s one reason I positioned the hutches into “Rabbit Row.” – I figure it will help block wind somewhat. I’m already planning on a new setup once spring comes – more of a rabbit shed, I think. I’d like to add a run of some sort so they can hang out in the grass also.
We’ve also decided on names for the adults. They are Earth, Wind, and Fire. (my husband came up with it) – The gray buck is Earth (since he’s on the left), the white doe is Wind, and the black doe is Fire.
The farm is pretty much ready for winter. It’s a nice time to just cozy up inside – we don’t have a lot of projects we can do outside in winter, except reinforcing animal housing and doing normal feeding chores each morning and night. I like that it’s kind of a relaxation time. Of course I’m already planning in my head what we’ll do when spring comes.