On a rainy spring day

Early this week we had nearly a foot of snow fall. I had just spent the previous day paving the floor of our rabbit colony. The return of winter after such a nice day of working outside was, needless to say, a bit of a shock. My life is tied to the seasons, however, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This morning it’s a gray rainy day but it’s well above freezing so every gloomy rain drop washes away some of the snow. Here and there I can see bare patches where the garden is peeking through. Before the snow had come, we had the earliest shoots of tulips, daffodils, garlic, and chives all peeking out of the ground.

Once the weather clears I’ll be heading back outside to work on the rabbit colony. The roof needs to be installed, then the walls. Then a triple check for any conceivable gap rats could get in and destroy our efforts. Hopefully this new colony will be the happiest and safest enclosure for our rabbits yet. The hutches I designed have proved to be susceptible to rats (or other predators, not sure) attacking kits from below through the floor wire. We’ve solved this somewhat by giving everyone resting boards as a safe place to go within the cage but I won’t lie and say the amount of setbacks we’ve had doesn’t discourage me.

All of the setbacks have taught me something, so I’m hoping through iteration that our systems while get better and better. The response to our small sale of dressed rabbits was very positive, so between our own taste for rabbit meat and our customers I want to produce a lot of rabbits. I also enjoy the process except when predators attack, so I’m damn well going to find a way to succeed.

I write mostly about the rabbits, but our small laying flock has been so easy. Chickens are such a fun animal and we’re expanding our flock this year. We’re picking up six day-old chicks this coming week, which means I’ll need to start working on both a temporary shelter for them while they’re first living outside but not ready to eat the laying ration our older birds are on and a bigger coop to house the whole flock once I can integrate the two. It will involve some awkward rearranging but I’m hopeful that the result will be a larger, easier to maintain coop that also conceals the number of chickens we have from prying eyes.

All of this of course will be during the beginning of the gardening season as well, so it will soon be very busy here! I’ve already got peppers sprouting under lights and will soon have broccoli, basil, and a few early tomatoes sprouting as well.

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February 2017 Rabbit Litters

We had babies born again! 11 were born to our NZ does Oreo (broken black) and Blue Velvet (solid blue). 9 made it through the challenging first week and by all accounts seem to be doing well.

I took a video of the babies and a few other things around the rabbitry this month.

January 2017 Homestead Update

For the most part I have been posting all of our news on our Facebook page but I want to update the blog with some of that news and a little more.

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Spreading rabbit manure and waste hay on the mini orchard we’re planting this spring. It should make for beautiful views and eventual summer shade for our picture window.

Early in the month I ordered our seed potatoes, quite a few fruit trees, and almost all of our seed order. I’m still on the fence about ordering some strawberry plants for the country garden or whether I should give myself another season to improve fertility and weed pressure before planting them.

The weather here has been incredibly mild. The past week has been in the 40s and almost 50s. The yard is very muddy and the rainy weather really revealed a weakness in our rabbitry: the scrap roof panels I was using to cover cages and the new hutches just isn’t good enough. I attempted to patch the holes in them but parts of the cages were constantly getting wet.

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New roofs for everyone

Last weekend Menards had roofing panels on sale so I bought enough to replace all the hutches and all the cages in use. I also took advantage of a mild Sunday morning before the awful Packers performance in the NFC Championship to built a fourth hutch. This one is a 3-hole version of the same design I’ve been using, which now houses our herd buck Stewie, our pet bunny Lion Turtle, and the third hole will house the black buck I’ll be saving out of our November litters.

I weighed those November growouts at eight weeks and only two make the cut I’ve established for our breeding progam (minimum weight 3.5lbs at 8 weeks, with good bodies), a black buck and a black doe. Our two REW bucks are very docile, so I’ve considered trying to sell them as pets, but not sure I want to go through the extra work when there’s not a lot of money to be made versus eating them.

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Speaking of eating, I processed my first rabbit this month! One of our original “free” rabbits was a doe that never took in colony and never lifted in cage breeding. I decided it was finally time to cull her. I found parts of the process (removing the head and skinning mainly) to be harder than what it looks like in YouTube videos but 15 minutes or so for my first time wasn’t bad at all in my book. It will be interesting to compare butchering a mature rabbit with the growouts I’ll be harvesting in the next couple weeks.

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Lastly, we had 7 little wrigglers born yesterday to our mutt doe Chocolate. There were two whites, two solids, and three brokens in the litter. There was also a learning experience for me that thankfully wasn’t too costly.

When I did morning check (5:30AM) on her I found a lone kit born dead on the wire. After a quick Facebook conversation with one of my rabbit mentors (the awesome Amy Gamble of Mountain Range Rabbitry) I learned that her nest was overstuffed with hay. I quickly went back out and removed about half of the nesting material and Chocolate was pulling fur again! An hour later I found 7 little babies born alive and well in the nest, just like they should be. Now I know to take action if I see an overstuffed nest box like that and I’m incredibly thankful we didn’t lose the entire litter!

The kits made it through the night last night but after our experiences with the November litters I am trying to have low expectations about the survival rate. I will, however, be curious to see their growth rates. Before we lost her colony litter to rats there was one kit that outgrew all of my purebred growouts by a decent margin.

There is another doe already past her day 30 but she has not shown any signs of pregnancy. I will give her until day 40 before rebreeding. In February we have our two purebred does due, including our first litter of purebred blue New Zealands.

Rabbits at five weeks old

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The rabbit kits turned five weeks old yesterday. I weighed them and did a preliminary sexing too just to get some practice.

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Blue Velvet has the following (consider the sexing very tentative): doe 2.0lb, buck 1.9lb, doe 1.75lb, and the runt (in picture above) is a doe 0.8lb. We’ll see if we get visited by what experienced rabbit folks call the “sex change fairy” later on.

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The two surviving black kits of Oreo both showed snotty noses yesterday and one had audible wheezing to their breath. Despite both growing well I culled them first thing this morning to protect the herd. Her two REW (red-eyed white) kits are a little slower growing but seem healthy so far. One is a buck at 1.59lb and the other was hard to judge but probably also a buck at 1.6lb.

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I will cull Oreo soon as the kits are at a weanable age. I placed an order for most of the supplies I will need to process her. Not sure if the kids will be willing to eat her. I will not force them. Once their mom is culled I will start a quarantine countdown for the two white kits and keep the best surviving one as I promised Maria we would keep an REW breeder if at all possible.

I love the ears on these rabbits. Both the black and the white kits are fascinating when backlit by the sunlight. The white ones were more cooperative so I managed a pretty good close up shot of its ear:

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Rabbits at four weeks old

 

Bunny tickles!
Bunny tickles!

From last week there isn’t much of a change in appearance, just size. I’m starting to track the kit weights now. Blue Velvet’s 4 kits weigh 1.29 lb, 1.18, 1.09, and a runt weighs only 0.51. Oreo’s surviving 4 kits weigh 1.19, 1.15, 1.04, and 1.0. Not sure how this tracks with wanting them to be ~3.5lbs at 8 weeks for 5lbs by 12 weeks but we’ll see.

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Weight gain in rabbits is affected by both genetics and feed program. I know our feed isn’t optimal as I have not found a brand of pellet available here that has the hallmark bright green color of a very fresh product.
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I finished a second hutch yesterday and moved Blue Velvet and her litter into one of the compartments. They have more space than the cage they had been in and the top access design of my hutches makes it much easier to clean them. Between rabbits’ tendencies to poop on top of their hay and the poop being frozen (though not so much in the milder weather we’re getting this week) it often needs a little encouragement to fall through the bottom cage wire.

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I’ve been attempting to breed this week too, to little avail. Stewie, our lone mature buck, lost his virginity quite quickly by getting one falloff but has not gotten any more. The does have not been lifting and most are growling at him. Being the winter solstice, it’s probably the worst time of year to try breeding because does are affected by hours of daylight. Not sure if I want to keep trying or give it a couple more weeks and try then.

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It’s been fun seeing how active the little kits are. Until I moved Blue Velvet and her litter to her new hutch, they were right next to Stewie’s cage, so I could watch them while keeping an eye on the breeding sessions. One thing that particularly surprised me is that they can climb the cage wire and get to the top of the cage!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas for those who celebrate it.

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