Raising Rabbits 2/3 in series

In the first post of this series I talked about what questions you need to answer before you get rabbits.  If you are still reading, I am assuming that you have decided that rabbits are still a good fit for your family.  I can’t blame you, I think that they are fabulous. 

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In this post I am going to talk about how you choose the right rabbit and bringing it home. 

One of the questions that you answered in the first post is why you want rabbits.  If you are looking to homestead, like I do, than you are interested in a rabbit that is breed for meat and possibly for fur.  There are many meat rabbits out there that can supply your family with a steady supply of food.  The breed that I choose was American Chinchilla.  The reason that I choose that breed was that I wanted something that was a heritage breed.  The heritage breed animals seem to be a much better fit for a homesteader.  They produce a good size roaster and are a very good with kids.  Those are two very important things to me.  A breeding trio will provide you with a constant supply of meat.  A trio is made up of two doe rabbits and 1 buck. You want the two does to be two generations removed from the buck or unrelated to the buck.

If you are interested in rabbits because you would like a pet, there are a lot of smaller rabbits out there that are not as large as the American Chinchilla.  I have found that some of the smaller breeds can be a little grumpy.  If you are looking for a pet, please make sure that you have the time to socialize it, so that you have an animal that can be handled. Lastly,  I would not be an animal lover if I did not plug the local animal shelter.  If you just want a pet and compost, this might be a great place to look. 

Another reason to have rabbits is for fiber.  Do not tell my husband, but this is my next adventure.  I love the angora rabbits.  They provide you with fiber a couple of times when you shave them.  I love that this is a renewable resource, unlike the rabbit fur, which is a one time use only.

No matter what your reason for getting a rabbit, this is a great place to research some great breeds of rabbits.
http://www.livestockconservancy.org/

Once you decide what breed you want, you can go to the American Rabbit Breeders Association Site to find lists of breeders by state.  While you are on the ARBA site, if you are interested in showing rabbits in 4-H or another organization, please get the show standards book.  This makes you an educated consumer.  I, for example, do not show my rabbits.  When I sell a rabbit, I know that it is pure bred American Chinchilla, it has a good attitude and then I focus on breeding ability and health.  I know nothing about showing.  My rabbits are easy to handle, clean, in good health and come with papers, I depend on the buyer to know which rabbits are good show rabbits. 

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Look over your rabbit when you buy it, you want it to have a clean bottom, clipped claws, clean ears, nice teeth, and bright eyes.  Feel the rabbit over, make sure you do not feel any bumps or scabs.  I actually was selling a rabbit, and even though I interact with my rabbits often, I did not notice a bump her side.  The seller helped me find this abscess before it got worse and I was able to get the rabbit to the vet.  This was a rabbit had gotten out of her cage and apparently been bit by a tick.  The bite got infected.  I was able to get her treated and now she is a healthy rabbit.  You want to find a breeder that cares about their rabbits. 

BRINGING THEM HOME
Before you bring them home make sure you have your water  bottles, feeders, hay, cages, and rabbit feed.  You might even want to talk to the breeder about rabbit feed.  If you have more than one feed available to you, the breeder might be able to point you to one they found worked better than another.  We prefer Blue Seal Show Hutch Deluxe.  My rabbits love it and I recommend it to all my buyers.  Before you leave the breeder make sure they give you a small bag of whatever they are feeding so that you can slowly transition the rabbit to their new food.

Actually bringing them, a cat carrier is a great way to transport your rabbits.  Another great way to transport is rubbermaid totes with holes drilled in them.  We did a mix of the two.  You can transport the does together in one carrier, however, you need to make sure each buck has their own carrier. They will fit if you put them in the same box. 

Just like with bringing the rabbits home, once they get home you have to make sure that they bucks have their own cages.  The does can share a cage while they are young, but once they reach breeding age it is important that everyone have their own cage. 
 
After your rabbits are home, make sure they have water, but I have learned to with hold food for a few hours.  Let the rabbit get settled from the car ride before you offer them food. 

Now that you have your rabbits, the next post will be some basic management and lessons that I have learned. 
Always end with cuteness!

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Raising Rabbits Part 1/3

This is a three part series on raising rabbits.  Hopefully we will have the whole series published by the end of the week. This first series is about where to start..

When deciding if raising rabbits is right for you, it is important to answer a couple questions first.
Why do I want to raise rabbits?
How much space do I need / have?
What am I going to do with the babies?
Do I have time?

There are many reasons to want to raise rabbits.  On a homestead they are very valuable.  Some people raise rabbits for meat, some raise for show, some raise for manure and some raise them as a pet. 
We originally started raising rabbits for meat.  We had tasted rabbit meat and liked it.  We wanted to become protein independent, rabbits are a great way to do that in a urban setting.  When it came time for us to cook our first rabbit, I got a horrible migraine.  I occasionally suffer from migraines so I did not think anything about it.  The second time, I suffered from another migraine.  The third time I was not home when the meat was cooked.  I enjoyed it for dinner and did not have a problem.  I attempted to cook it myself again and was sick again. When I did some research I found out that some woman get migraines from rabbit meat.  It has something to do with hormone levels.   We have since decided that rabbit meat is not for us.   Even though we do not raise our rabbits for meat, they are invaluable to us because of the compost they produce.  The soil is rich, and my tomato plants grown in rabbit manure were 10 feet tall.  You need to ask yourself, Why do I want rabbits?

Depending on why you want rabbits you need to consider the space that you have.  A rabbit needs a cage that is 3 foot by 4 foot.  This is a minimum  in my mind.  We are also looking for ways to get our rabbits more space.  Also, when rabbits have babies you have to have a place to put them.  Males and females need to be in different cages.  We have two grow out hutches and runs. Below is a picture of one of our runs.  We do not keep them in the run at night and we do not keep them in the run in the winter.  This is a summer exercise area for us.   

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There are many ways to build your rabbitry.  It is important to make sure that the rabbits have shade, enough space and protection from the elements and predators.  We have built our cages inside a 10×8 shed.  There are 4 female cages on one side of the shed and 4 male cages on the other. 

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Under the cages we have ramps with linoleum flooring so that it is easier to keep clean. 

Next, you have to know what you are going to do with the babies.  If you are raising rabbits for meat then you know the answer to this question.  If you are raising them for show or as a pet, the answer is not as clear.  We are not raising our rabbits for meat so we only breed them twice a year, based on demand.  We sell our babies to other people that are interested in homesteading, 4H or just want a pet.  We only breed for what we have found out we can sell.  The breed that we raise, American Chinchillas, are an amazing bred.  We have taken time to get a great blood line, and we want to be a part of the come back of this breed.  If you only want a pet and you do not want babies, take the rabbit to vet and get it fixed.  It is important to understand the purpose of your rabbits.

Lastly, you need to evaluate if you have time for rabbits.  The way we have our rabbits set up, we have about 1/2 an hour worth of rabbit chores a day.  Every two weeks or so we spend a couple hours with our rabbits.  We take them out, do health checks, clip toe nails, brush, and give the cages a good cleaning.  Make sure you have enough time to give the animal the care that it needs. 

In addition, we are going to add the cost of rabbits.  You can build rabbit cages out of scrap and spend next to nothing on them.  We put ours in a shed, so we had to buy the shed, buy the wire and build the ramps. That was our choice, rabbits do not need to be in a shed.  On average a 50 pound bag of feed cost $20.  Once a rabbit is 6 months old it should only get about a cup of feed a day.  We supplement with hay, which we get for $3 a bale.  We have had to take the rabbits to the vet twice.  It was under $100 each time.  Other costs to research is a tattoo kit, water bowls, feeders, nesting boxes, clippers, traveling cages, show stand, ARBA membership, and bedding if you use it.  Our rabbits are also litter trained, because we want to get as much of that compost as we can, so we buy bedding for the litter boxes.  Brain storm the type of rabbit set up you want and figure out the cost of your rabbits before you get started.  

We love raising our rabbits, we have found that it is worth it for us.  If you need more information on raising rabbits we encourage you to read Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits.

The next post in this series will be which animal to choose and how many!

Farming from the Couch

Last year I fell and broke my foot.  I than re-injured it in the winter when I slipped on ice.  I was really hoping that it would heal. I was a good girl and used ice at the end of the day and took anti-inflammatory medications.  In the end of a 5 month attempt to heal, the doctor told me reconstruction surgery was the only way I could get better.  He even told me that if I had another serious sprain, I would be facing an ankle fusion.  All that being said, I had my surgery a week ago.  It will be 3 months before I can walk or drive and possibly longer.  Most people are able to walk on their own without crutches at 6 months.  I have a long road ahead of me.

Just because I am down and out does not mean that the farm stops.  We have 3 goats, 2 pigs, 50 chickens, 7 rabbits, 50 tilapia, 7 ducks, 3 cats and 3 dogs that do not care if I can walk or not.  This kids are a major help, the community is pitching in and my husband is a saint.  

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My job on the farm has drastically changed.  I am researching grants to help our farm grow, I am planning our garden layout for next year, I am going to blog more about food, crafts and the farm, and I am organizing help for the farm when needed.

I would be lying if I told you that I was happy not being so hands on.  I love to work on the farm.  I love having dirt under my nails.  However, I am going to focus on organization, my second love.  I am also focusing on our Home Made Christmas projects.  Thank you for hanging with us as we continue our farming journey.  We are trying to stay positive and look at this time as a blessing for us to get organized. 

Catching Up

I am going to try and be a brief as possible but we all know I can be long winded.  This week we have had a goat with bot fly, we had a chicken get eaten by a fox, 25 new chicks and 5 new ducklings came in the mail, we are addressing some garden issues, and lastly we are harvesting from the garden.  It has been a very busy week. 

Hiccup the goat had a scab on his back, I am a picker so naturally I picked at it to see what it was.  I am very glad that I did, because when I squeezed the scab a small worm came out along with some puss and blood.  I contacted the vet and set pictures.  The vet sent me to Tractor Supply for an Antibiotic.  I cleaned the wound really well.  Some air did get in under the skin, so it sounded like crackling when you pushed on the skin surrounding the wound, but that only lasted about a day.  It has been two days and I am happy to announce that Hiccup seems to be doing great.  Below is a very bad picture, but this is the worm and stuff I was able to get out of the goat’s back. I crushed the worm before I took the picture, I`m sorry. 

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The new chicks and ducklings are so cute and we are enjoying them like always.  With the egg shortage that is coming, I wanted to make sure that we had enough eggs to supply our family.  My husband and I also decided now that we are on the farm, we want to have a self sustaining breeding flock.  I did some research and I came across Delaware Chickens.  They are a heavy egg laying breed that has a good size for meat as well.  We ordered those, as well as, a random assortment of heavy brown egg layers.  We like them better than the Americanas.  The ducklings are for bug control.  I will keep you up to date on the breeding program. 

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Cucumbers, cucumbers and more cucumbers.  We got the garden in the ground late so all we are getting at this point are cucumbers.  We weeds are so high someone asked me if we planted corn!  I am working every morning, pulling weeds, tying up tomato plants and laying down newspaper, cardboard boxes and feed bags for weed barrier.  I am determined to get these weeds under control.  Wish me luck. 

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This is the after picture of the plants tied up and weeded.

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This is the before picture of the tomato plants!

Lessons Learned

We have been at the  new farm for about a month.  We are learned many things and I am going to fill you in on my top three lessons learned.  1. Not all chickens are created equal.  2. Vultures are VERY protected and territorial.  3.  Dirt needs love too. 

I will start with the chickens.  We had this great idea, in order to keep track of how old our laying hens were and egg production we would order hens that lay a different color every year.  Last year was brown so this year we switched to blue.  If you follow my small blog you will know that we are very hands on with our chickens.  My son has taught a chicken to sit on his lap while he swings on the playground.  We have had chickens in our house, we have chickens follow us around the yard when we mow and we have never not been able to pick up a chicken.  This year we choose to raise chickens that laid blue eggs.  The breed we ordered is Americana. These birds are complete freaks.  Ever since they were chicks, when we go to feed them they throw themselves against the side of the cage.  With our first group of chickens we hand fed them for the first several weeks, way longer than I would like to admit.  When we put our hands in their cage, they came running.  They perched on your shoulder while you did chores and were always, and I mean always underfoot.  I have even had to kick one out of the kitchen when the door was left open.  They chickens produced eggs and were farm animals but they were also part of our family.  (I could go into a side bar about ore relationship with out food and then being able to eat them, but that is a hole different post.) The Americana birds that we have are not like that at all.  Even if we have scratch grain, fresh scraps from the garden or even chicken feed… they do not run towards us.  They do not even go in to roost at night.  Not the brightest chickens in the world.
A month after we got our Americanas in the mail we went to Tractor Supply and picked up some chicks that we were using for an educational presentation.  We had no idea what breed they were, they were just straight run whatever the store had.  Turned out that they are Rhode Island Reds and Black Astrop.  These chickens have a very different temperament than the Americanas.  They always go in to roost.  If I tap a feed bucket they come running and they are easy to put away or pick up.  I dislike the Americana breed so much I have already ordered chicks to replace them.  They have not even started laying and I am ready for them to be gone.  Which is a good mentality to have considering the fox is probably going to catch them since they refuse to go in at night.  Crazy chickens.

Okay that was long winded but I feel better, I just had to get it all out.  Second lesson oh these darn vultures.  In our area vultures are everywhere.  Yes I know they have a very important job to do.  I understand that, but what I don’t understand is why these birds are protected under the migratory bird act.  They don’t even migrate.  In fact, they choose the same nesting spot for their whole life.  Even though they are in great numbers and even though they do not migrate, these birds are still protected.  I have learned that not only are these wonderful birds protected but so are their nesting areas.  When we moved into the house, a vulture was nesting in the small barn on the property.  When we first went to see the property, there was two eggs in the nest.  We have had the magical pleasure of watching these eggs hatch, and grow into the most hideous creatures that only a mother could love.  While these chicks have been growing we have been slowly moving in our farm.  First we moved in the chickens, then the ducks and lastly the goats.  We have tried to be respectful of these fabulous creatures and have not moved anything into the barn.  The adult vultures have started to become more and more aggressive.  They first just sat on the top of the barn as a warning. Then they sat in front of the chicken coop all puffed up and growling at the chickens.  That progressed to them charging the coop and the goat fence.  Now they have climaxed into attacking the dogs, myself and my children.  We are glad that our son has the personality that he does… he just screams at them.  We have called local, State and National services and they have all said that Vultures are completely protected and there is nothing we can do about it.  We can not disturb the chicks and we can not injure the birds.  If we did, it would be 6 months in prison and a $15,000 fine per bird.  Needless to say, the darn birds are still in our barn.  We are hoping the chicks grow quickly and leave the nest.  Once the chicks are gone, we can reclaim our barn. 
Lastly, we have learned that our soil needs love.  At our previous property we knew our property was made up of fill dirt.  We did not try to plant a garden in the ground.  Our soil was all compost.  We occasionally had a rock, but for most part we grew our garden in compost.  We have had the garden plot at the new house tilled.  We have tilled each individual row, but this dirt has no nutrition in it.  No has given it the love that it needs.  There are a lot of rocks and hard red clay.  We have added compost around each individual plant, but we do not have enough to love the whole garden.  The grass in the isles of the garden is taller than the tomato plants.  We are realising that it is going to take years to build the soil up.  We are going to compost as much as we can and invest in the land.  It is sad that it has gone so long with no one giving it the attention that it deserves. 
The future will bring many more lessons, but these are just three of the lessons learned so far.  We hope that our lessons can help you in the future. 

Dreams do come true

I finally feel like I can make our amazing announcement!!  We have moved!  We really loved our little “about” an acre plot, but we were pushing the limits of what could be done in that much space.  We were able to raise a lot of our own food, but we are really interested in raising all of our food, and raising food for other families as well.  So finally with a lot of God’s Grace and a lot of hard work we now own 5 acres.   We are very blessed in that we did not have to move far, we are still close enough to Baltimore that I can go to the Orioles games whenever I want.  The benefit is that we now have enough land to pretty much do whatever we want… the pig is already on order!

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Moving a homestead, even a small one like ours, is not easy.  We have amazing friends that have helped us and are continuing to help us, because we are far from done.  So far we have moved most of the contents of our house, the ducks and the chickens.  In preparation for the move I planted my garden in pots.  So we have moved 760 veggie plants, 12 blueberry bushes and 6 raspberry plants.  The aquaponics system still has to be moved, as well as the rabbits.

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Over all I think that the move is going very well.  We are all very tired and our days are very long.  The kids no longer ask to stay up late, they beg to go to bed early.  The animals seem to be adjusting well to their new environment and are being patient with us while we get the perfect pens built.  Right now our main focus is just trying to get everything here, once we do that, we will focus more on stacking firewood and building bigger chicken yards.

The garden is going in slowly but it is going in. A friend came over with a tractor and tilled a 100 x 75 foot garden.  By the deer fence should be up and all the plants should be planted.   I have never planted in the ground before, I know crazy, but I have only ever gardened in raised beds.  My raised beds were full of black gold, very little rocks and tons of worms.  The dirt here looks a lot like the dirt on a baseball field and we will have enough rocks to lay down some paths. Most people when they move they focus on the furniture, well we march the to beat of a different drum and we are moving all that garden soil.  We are digging out all my raised beds and dumping the soil in the new garden.  I am also moving my compost pile.  Good soil makes all the difference in the world and we worked really hard to create the soil, so we are taking it with us, it has more value to us than a flat screen T.V.    Also in moving the 760 pots, I found out that I did not label the plants very well.  I planted beefsteak, san marsanos, and cherry tomatoes… however in the end I think I will just end up with tomatoes.  I have no idea which ones are which.  I am hoping that I am a good enough gardener to be able to tell the watermelon from the cucumbers but even that might get interesting.  This year is just a test year, I would rather grow cucumelons than grow nothings at all.

The whole thing will be a work in progress.  We have many plans for the future and step by step and shovel by shovel we will get there.  My secret goal is to be selling CSA subscriptions in two years, we will see if it happens.  In the mean time, we will continue with the truck trips back and forth and the evenings in the garden.

Spring goings ons

I finally think that Spring might be coming to Baltimore.  We are going to have a night this week close to freezing, but Spring is really trying to push through.  We have been busy!  Unfortunately busy means that I do not have as much time to write, so I am going to try and bring everyone up to date on the farm. We have many new inhabitants of the farm, 60 some I think.  I hate to say that I have lost count!  We have our “meat birds”, that we raise out for our family’s year supply of chicken.  This year we are raising Rainbow Reds.  These are a pasture chicken that does not have as much breast meat as the Cornish Crosses but still produces a 5 pound roasting bird.  We also have a couple Cornish Crosses, because they were on sale at Tractor Supply.  That store is dangerous in the Spring!  Total we have 30 meat birds. They are scheduled to go to butcher the middle of May.

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Laying hens:  Our current laying flock is getting to be of the age that it is time for them to be soup.  We have 14 birds and we are lucky if we get 7 eggs.  We have had 3 become egg bound in the last month and a half.  I hate to see them suffer and I really hate to waste the meat.  So we prefer to butcher them before they start to have problems, this way nothing goes to waste.  We keep debating whether all 14 are headed to the soup pot, or if we are going to try and wean out the ones that are still laying.  That decision is still up in the air, I hate to go a couple months with no eggs.   We are raising out new laying hens.  They are 8 weeks old right now.  We chose to raise 15 Ameraucana Chickens this year.  These birds will lay blue or green colored eggs.  I am excited to get the colored eggs, but I have to say I am not impressed with the breed so far.  These birds are very skidish.  We have never had birds that we could not easily pick up. We handle these birds twice a day and they are still very skidish.  When you stick your hand in to change the water or to feed them they freak out, flying against the walls and screaming.  The meat birds that we are raising are so much calmer than these birds and those we don’t pick up often.  Hopefully they will calm down soon.  We also have 6 random laying chickens from Tractor Supply that we used for a Urban Farming presentation. I told you that store was dangerous. They are incredibly friendly and do not see why chickens need to be kept outside, when the living room is so warm and full of kids that feed them leftovers from lunch and dinner.  They were moved out to the brooding barn this week, much to their dismay. wpid-ncm_0033.jpg Ducks:  Yes I said ducks.  These were purchased just for my Urban Farming presentation, for the 100% cute factor. One is a yellow Pekin Duckling and the other is a Black Runner Duckling.  I had already found a farm that would take them after the presentation.  This farm even had a pond for them to go live in.  Well, I am a complete softly and have fallen head over heals in love with this crazy ducks.  They still live in the living room, because the kids can not bear the idea of them being outside.   They eat their breakfast of greens while taking their morning swim in the bathtub.  They are then dried off with towels by the kids while watching morning cartoons.  The ducks have imprinted on my 6-year-old daughter and it is cute beyond words.  They follow her everywhere.  She is diligently working on teaching them their ABC’s and 123’s.  She feels all ducks should be properly educated.  Needless to say, the ducks that were never meant to live at my farm, now have names and are not going anywhere, anytime soon, except to play house in the backyard with my daughter. wpid-ncm_0001.jpg wpid-ncm_0122.jpg That is all for new animals.  We still have the rabbits.  We have 3 does still available for sale, after we sell those does we will not breed again still August.  We will maintain our breeding stock of 3 bucks and 3 does.  These rabbits are absolutely amazing.  We took one of our youngest does out to the Urban Farming presentation.  There was 50 plus people that wanted to love on her and touch her.  She loved every minute of it.  She was passed around, flipped upside down and petted for two hours.  She never ran from the kids, she let everyone one of them love her.  The only rabbits I have ever owned is American Chinchilla Rabbits, so I just assumed that this is how ever rabbit acts.  I was amazed at how many people came up to me and told me stories about how grumpy their rabbits were.  If you are looking for a rabbit, American Chinchillas are the best way to go, they are fabulous rabbits. wpid-ncm_0014.jpg Fish:  Our tilapia are finally outside!   The weather has finally become warm enough for them.  Right now we have put them in the sump tank.  I have kept the smallest of the fish in the house, so that they can get the food they need to grow. Veggies:  We have started our seeds and we have some of our over winter veggies that are growing well.  I will do another post about veggies so that I don’t go over 1,000 words in one post…. yes I know I need to post more often, I will work on it. Big BIG things are happening on our Farm.  I can’t wait to share all the details about it in the next week our so.