Snowy Farm in February

Today it’s cold – about 4 degrees F.  It is supposed to get up into the 20s though today.  I thought it was a nice sunny day for some pictures of our snow.  It looks pretty but I can’t wait for it to melt away.  Our side door is under a spot where our metal roof drops snow.  From plowing that and the rest of the snow away from the door, our driveway is packed down enough where we have to go down to the door. If you’re standing in the driveway you are a few inches above where you would be if you were inside the house, if that makes sense.  I hope you enjoy my photo tour.

snowy side yard
Our snowbanks in the back as you’re heading to the chicken coop.
snowy coop
The snowbank in front of the chicken coop. We have a trail to the actual door so we can get in.  Our chicken yard gate is not closing very well right now, but the chickens don’t really come out – they don’t seem to want to walk in the snow. The building through the woods is our neighbor’s house.
snowy woods
The woods, beyond the snow bank
rabbit hutches
Our rabbit hutch in the woodshed. We have a blanket that usually covers the rabbits when it’s very cold, but there was no wind today so I let them have some fresh air. They should get some sunshine too once the sun rises more.
snowbanks
Our snowbank on the side of the house near the woods.
squirrel tracks
Squirrel tracks! They come to eat the seeds the birds knock out of our bird feeder.
snowy street
A view of the road. The old building in this picture is our old hall, across the street.
snow by door
The side of our house. The snow gets really deep around the house because of our metal roof – the snow drops off in little avalanches when the temps warm up. Sometimes there are chunks of ice in it – you don’t want to be standing there when it falls.
front porch
Our front porch full of snow.
birds under cedar
A view of our yard under the cedar tree. You can see a couple of birds on the ground. They are waiting for me to move so they can come back to the feeder.
yard under snow
Our side yard, under a foot or so of snow. In the distance under our apple trees you can see deer tracks – the disturbed snow – they come to try to find apples under the snow. We’ve had them try to shake the trees before also. There are still some apples up at the top.

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.

Thoughts on Rabbit Harvesting

bunnies
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.

nest 1
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.

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.

Snow Dogs

We had a couple inches of snow from last week, and then yesterday we got about 6-8 inches.  The dogs had a lot of fun playing in it –  Even Downey – he hates water and being wet, and won’t go out in the rain.  But he loves snow.

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The dogs playing in the snow
dogs in the snow
More snow – Nova almost blends in to the snow compared to the other two
snow dogs
Downey and Atat
more snow
Our garage and cedar tree
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The yard covered in snow

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.

runaway bunny 2
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.
going to hide
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.

babies new home
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

woods with snow
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.

nova
Our Nova
three dogs
The three dogs on the back porch. Nova likes to eat snow.
nova 2
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.

winter coop
The chickens don’t seem to mind the snow at all.
snow chickens
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.
chickens in snow 2
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:

bunny row
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.
hutch inside
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:

baby bun
They are starting to munch on food – this one is eating hay.
bunnies
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.