December on the farm…

I haven’t posted in awhile – we’ve been really busy this fall.  Here are some updates:

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Here is our snowy yard today.  It took awhile to get this much – most of November we didn’t have any snow.  The chickens haven’t been coming out of the coop building much. I left the run open on days I was home until we got snow. Now the chickens don’t want to come outside anyway, and our white ducks might get lost if we let them out! They like the snow though.
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Here is Marigold, one of our female bunnies.
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Here is Petunia, Marigold’s sister. They were born this year in March.
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Here is Buddy, our male.
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The garden in winter. bleh. I’m already starting to plan next year’s garden!
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The back yard. The snow is pretty, but it gets to be tiresome after awhile. It’s nice through the Holidays and then I wish it would leave (it won’t for several months after, though).
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Our bird feeder is up, so the chickadees are happy. We kept it down in the summer, to prevent bears coming to our porch. The bears should be hibernating now.
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We lost our hen Specks a week or so ago. I thought she was egg bound or something (she was lethargic but still eating), so I treated her for that, but it didn’t seem to matter. We were very sad to lose her. She was a big personality in the flock. Very vocal about us coming in to get eggs. And very friendly -she liked being petted. We’ll miss her.
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This is a little older – here are a couple of pumpkins I ended up roasting. I made some pumpkin bread with the flesh, and froze some for later this winter.
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Here are all the tomatoes I canned this fall.
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A Nice Autumn Day

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:

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Our watermelon, cut up.

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:

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The slow spillage into the yard. We just left the door wide open – it didn’t take them very long to figure it out.
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Here they are, wandering around. They don’t usually stray too far from their home.
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Here they are near the sand pile.
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Basking in the sun.
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The ducks had fun too. They rooted around a bit – you can see one of them has a huge mudpile on her bill. I tried to catch her to clean that off but she was not cooperative. It came off later.
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Here is the General with some of his older-hen harem. They were weeding / de-bugging the strawberry patch.

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:

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Here is the setup in our shed. They are all about chest high. We had to make sure they are taller than our dogs’ noses.
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Here is wind (now “Day” – we somehow changed their names in recent weeks).
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Here is Fire (her name is now “night”)
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Here is Buddy (he was Earth).

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.

Tiny bunnies

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.

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Our tiny bunnies

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.

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Tiny bunnies with mama
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Here’s a gray one – he’s a bit bigger than everyone else.

 

A cure for hot bunnies

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:

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Wind with her milk jug.
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She looks a lot more content here.
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Here is Earth/Buddy and his milk jug.
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Here are some of the babies.
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You can see the white baby bunny is kind of climbing the milk jug. The babies really liked the cooling effect.

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.

Bunnies growing up

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:

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Here you can see the bunnies – Our white Californian, Wind, had white, gray, and white/gray bunnies.
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The brown ones are our Rex, Fire’s babies. Everyone has the same Dad – Earth, our American Chinchilla Rabbit.
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Some of the white bunnies have pink eyes like their mama.
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Here is Wind, relaxing in her much larger space.
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Here is Fire, looking for some treats (grass/dandelions), which she will get to enjoy all of, since she won’t have to share anymore.
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Here is Earth (or Buddy – my son is attempting to change his name to this, but I still like Earth).

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.

Chicks and bunnies – updates

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:

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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.

 

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:

 

The runaway bunny

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.

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The runaway bunny

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.

the hiding spot
His favorite spot to hide was under the truck. I think he actually climbed up on the axles at one point. I was afraid he’d climb into the engine, but I don’t know if he’s agile enough to do that.
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Here he is running back under the truck on one of our many attempts throughout the day to catch him.

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.

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Here are the babies in their new home.

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.

Late November on the Farm

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Snowy woods.

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.

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Our Nova
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The three dogs on the back porch. Nova likes to eat snow.
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Another picture of Nova

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.

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The chickens don’t seem to mind the snow at all.
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Snow chickens. The dirt spot here is where we took away their old roost that was out there. We had to steal the sawhorses that held it up, for the rabbit hutch, which you will see below.
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Yesterday they found the dirt spot, and they were taking dirt baths in it. The ground is not frozen yet, luckily.

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:

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Rabbit row. On the left are the rabbits in the hutch we built, and on the right is the one that came with the bunnies. We’re getting it set up for the baby bunnies when they get bigger. The garbage bags in the picture are straw and hay – I have them outside, but covered for easy access.
old new hutch
Here is the hutch that came with the rabbits. It had a roof which we removed in order to get it in the back of the truck. We are just planning on using one side for the winter, so we have closed that side in with wood.
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The inside of the new (old) hutch. It has a wire bottom, but I will cover it with straw to try to keep the babies’ feet more comfortable. I need to look it up, but I believe it will be a couple more weeks before they go in there. Hopefully we’ll get the snow out of there before then. We brushed what we could out, but it may melt a little too.

And here are the little baby bunnies:

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They are starting to munch on food – this one is eating hay.
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Here they are – they are all brown. But some are darker brown, and one has a little lighter fur. I’m assuming they change color as they get older, but I could be wrong. I’m still new at this. The mom is black and the dad is gray, so I don’t know how the brown comes in.
baby bunny pile
They like to pile up on top of each other, outside of the nest box. I think there are 8 of them. I’ve tried to count without taking them all out, and they jump around too much so I have not gotten a good count. I will be able to get an accurate count soon when I need to move them.

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.

white bunny
My husband built nest boxes for the other two rabbits, and they are lined with straw, so they can stay out of the wind when it gets very cold. They like to sit on top of them sometimes, as you can see Wind do here.

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.