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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First farm births

These are not our first baby farm animals (we had one-day old chicks this summer) but these are the first animals born on our little homestead. Our 2 caged New Zealand does both delivered kits today, one had 4 and the other had 7. This is a very exciting development for us!

Assuming they survive we’ll see if, in truth, we have the heart to harvest the ones we don’t sell or keep as additional breeding stock but for now it’s a wonderful shot of new life as we head into the dead times of winter.

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This one kit was wriggling a lot and was hard to photograph.
This one kit was wriggling a lot and was hard to photograph.
Oreo pulling fur for the nest pre-labor. A veritable fursplosion!
Oreo pulling fur for the nest pre-labor. A veritable fursplosion!
Blue Velvet started pulling fur later than Oreo but delivered sooner.
Blue Velvet started pulling fur later than Oreo but delivered sooner.

Homestead Update – The Only Constant is Change

We’re currently in the window where things are pretty much done for the year but the ground hasn’t frozen, so now’s the time to plan and make changes for the next season. Inevitably new ideas occur in the winter that trigger changes in the spring, but I find it is much easier to make major changes in late fall.

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The raspberry patch on the slope next to the sidewalk has been surprisingly productive this fall. I’m excited to see how it grows in over the years. I plan to put a trellis in so that the canes don’t droop so much.

The big change in this area, however, is for the grassy area. We used to keep our picnic table there and use this spot for parties but everyone gravitates to the backyard to watch the animals now. So we’ve decided to make this into additional growing space, primarily trees. It gets filtered shade from a large honey locust (see below) to the southwest but I’ve successfully grown things that nominally require full sun so I think dwarf fruit trees will be a success here.

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The other big change is that I’ve removed the perimeter fence from the main garden. Wild rabbits haven’t browsed much of anything outside the fence this year. The main damage has come from squirrels, which of course aren’t deterred by a fence at all. Instead of an ugly fence that limits access, I’m opening the area up. I’ll make little covers for the strawberries during the season to try and prevent squirrel predation but that’s it.

It looks so much better without the fence! I am considering a few trees here, and some sort of trellising to go vertical.
I dug out two of the paths to change the drainage and water flow. I did not like how the row of beds on the left was practically buried by the path. I may need to dismantle the beds and grade them slightly lower than they are now but we'll see how they work next year.
I dug out two of the paths to change the drainage and water flow. I did not like how the row of beds on the left was practically buried by the path. I may need to dismantle the beds and grade them slightly lower than they are now but we’ll see how they work next year.
Another shot of the dug out path. The blueberry in the foreground will get a little mini retaining wall to keep its raised mound from eroding onto the sidewalk.
Another shot of the dug out path. The blueberry in the foreground will get a little mini retaining wall to keep its raised mound from eroding onto the sidewalk.
Between the aggressively spreading rudbeckia, blackberries, grass that grew up in the old fence line, and the strawberries this is a wild edge in the garden. Haven't decided yet how I'm going to manage it.
Between the aggressively spreading rudbeckia, blackberries, grass that grew up in the old fence line, and the strawberries this is a wild edge in the garden. Haven’t decided yet how I’m going to manage it.
Some of the extra dirt has gone to filling sidewalk beds.
Some of the extra dirt has gone to filling sidewalk beds.
Need to come up with a better way to store the chicken wire. It's useful stuff for making small temporary fences so I don't want to just scrap it...yet.
Need to come up with a better way to store the chicken wire. It’s useful stuff for making small temporary fences so I don’t want to just scrap it…yet.

That covers most of the changes. Earlier this week I also planted 100 tulips and 5o daffodils. I have a small amount of garlic that needs to be planted too.

After posting this I need to make an updated map of the property and then begin planning my crop rotation for 2017.