Rabbits at three weeks old

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It’s been a rough week in the rabbitry. The litter I’ve been photographing is definitely sick, with snotty noses on at least one kit so far (I culled it this morning). So we’re no longer handling that one (except for me to check noses) to limit the risk of transferring disease back to the rest of the herd. After talking with my mentors, the goal is to hopefully get some healthy kits that are immune to whatever their mom has (probably bordatella).

Following that, yesterday I found all nine colony kits dead. Based on the damage (they were eviscerated and some eyes were eaten) I suspect rats got in and ate them. I had hoped with all of the modifications that the colony was rat proof, but it obviously isn’t. I am abandoning colony style raising for now. The location I picked up against our garage is proving very difficult to adequately seal against predators.

The progress so far.
The progress so far. 

I was already planning on building some hutches to hold the growouts but with the deaths in the colony I will build more of them and transition back to all cages. Colony raising has a lot of pluses so I will possibly revisit it in the future. The hutch pictured above is 30″ deep and 96″ wide. Access will be from the top, which I’ve found much easier when needing to handle the rabbits. I thought about also installing a front door but I’m going to try top-only on this for simplicity’s sake. I can retrofit a front door later if I decide I want one.

So we’re down to 4 healthy kits and 5 maybe-healthy-maybe-not kits. Once the new hutches are complete and the colony does have a week to adjust back to cage life, I’m going to breed them.

Enjoy some more pictures of this litter as they turn 3 weeks old. These have an interesting size spread, one is over 400g, two are about 320g, and the last is barely over 200g.

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New Arrivals to the Rabbitry

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Our current rabbits are three does and a buck who’s partially paralyzed and can’t breed. So after finishing the colony I wanted to get some breeding stock in. I considered just getting a buck or two and breeding with our existing does, but I also wanted some does I knew the genetics behind.

I got several strong recommendations for Ron Barger of Countryview Rabbits in Carlyle, IL. It’s a 365 mile drive straight through the middle of Illinois which had me hesitant, but the recommendations were so strong I decided to go for it. Rabbits are something you want to start with the best stock possible so I’m hoping this ends up being a good decision.

Wanting something soon and at least some breeding age, we ended up with a little motley crew that will be interesting to see develop as we breed. They need to settle in a little but Ron said they’d be ready to breed in about a week. The senior buck and both does are proven breeders, but he likes to keep his own stock younger, so he was willing to sell them.

I’m suddenly having cold feet about putting these in the colony, and I’m hearing that chickens can’t be trusted around newborn kits, so I may breed these and keep them in cages for this round of litters. I will also breed our colony does and see what kind of trouble develops before going the extra step of sub-dividing the pen.

They’re in full molt right now so their fur is quite messy and off-color.

Our blue NZ doe "Blue Velvet". The red tint is something blues develop before molting.
Our blue NZ doe “Blue Velvet”. The red tint is something blues develop before molting.
Our broken black NZ doe "Oreo".
Our broken black NZ doe “Oreo”.
Our black NZ buck "Blackthorn".
Our black NZ buck “Blackthorn”.
Our junior broken blue NZ buck "Stewie" who did NOT want to be posed.
Our junior broken blue NZ buck “Stewie” who did NOT want to be posed.

Animals

13631586_10153747477011989_2605752100485494087_nMy wife Maria has always known she was an animal person, but my own realization has come rather late in life. Oh, I’ve liked other people’s animals and enjoyed having a cat – albeit briefly – but I never thought of myself as an animal person. The decision to get our current chickens and rabbits was mainly with a view towards their productivity – eggs, meat, and manure.

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The yellow puffballs today. The black pullets are a little more shy.

I had no idea how much they would feed my soul. I love watching them, even more so now that we have the chickens and rabbits in a shared colony pen. Unless it’s raining, I go out and do my physical therapy stretches and drink my morning coffee watching the animals wake up. Unless the flies are too bad, I put my chair inside and read without the fence obstructing my view. A couple of the chickens love perching on my knees.

30 seconds after taking this picture I realized the rabbits had a hole that was six inches away from getting them under a gap in the floor wire and through the fence. Ingrates! ;)
30 seconds after taking this picture I realized the rabbits had a hole in that corner that was six inches away from getting them under a gap in the floor wire and through the fence. Ingrates! 😉

Setting up the “raken” (Polyface’s terminology for a shared chicken-rabbit house) colony has been a lot of work but I’m really glad we went this way despite a few last-minute cursing work sessions when our most escape-inclined bunnies found gaps in my fencing. Being able to watch them interact feeds my soul far more than seeing them stuck in cages. Our separated buck is still in a cage but I’ll try and give him some extra space too, either via an improved separate day yard or by building a rabbit tractor.

Our close to pure New Zealand Red doe. We will be getting more New Zealands soon.
Our close to pure New Zealand Red doe. We will be getting more New Zealands soon.

Once I get a little more comfort with managing the colony we will be getting some breeding stock. Our buck is not capable of breeding and I also want some does whose genetics I know. Some online friends have highly recommended a breeder about six hours away and I’ll be contacting him soon.

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The kids are very excited about baby bunnies. We’ll have to cross the bridge of processing them and eating them at some point. I recently had the chance to learn how to process chickens, and eating chicken afterwards was a little harder, but I completely believe in knowing where your food comes from. So many of today’s ills come from having an impersonal relationship to our living space (what Joel Salatin eloquently calls our “ecological nest”) and our food, what becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. One homesteader I came across online said they not only name their meat animals, but label the freezer packages and specifically thank them by name before each meal, similar to the way many First Peoples thank the spirits of animals after killing them.

Rabbits are the only meat animal we can get experience with in our current city, though quail may be a possibility via an educational permit I’ll explore after we get comfortable with the rabbits. Gia, our middle daughter, is very interested in them so it may be a 4H or FFA project.

Have you unexpectedly become an animal person, or fallen in love with an animal you didn’t expect to? Both Maria and I are finding the chickens far more endearing than we’d thought. I kind of scoffed at the books that mention people loving to watch “chicken TV” in the evenings but damn if we don’t spend many afternoons and evenings watching the chickens (and rabbits, who love to chase the chickens around).

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