Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rabbits, rabbits

I had kind of put our rabbit breeding project on the back burner since I knew it would require a great amount of building (hutches, shed) and purchasing (feeders, waterers, brooding boxes, etc.). However, I lucked out!

A friend of ours just happened to have practically everything I needed, and was willing to give it away to clear a space in her garage!

2 3-tiered wire hutches, and 4 suspending wire hutches (one unassembled)

Plus feeders, water bottles, brooding boxes with extra liners, resting boards and feed cups!

This blessing has moved our rabbit project up to the forefront, and I am designing and sketching like crazy. So really, once we build our rabbit shed and locate some rabbits, we're good to go.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about what kind of rabbit to raise.

Originally I was thinking New Zealands, mainly because they're easy to find. I also think they're kind of ugly, so I figured I'd have an easier time killing and eating them.

But the more I thought about it, the less I liked to idea of investing in a breed I really didn't care for. I've always had a heart for Heritage breeds, and really want to promote and perpetuate them. And really, good quality New Zealand breeding stock doesn't cost much less than good quality Heritage breed stock. All rabbits eat the same amount and probably taste about the same too. So now it comes down to deciding from a long list of beautiful and functional breeds.......

I've looked at everything from American Chinchilla, American, Beveren, Silver Fox, Creme 'Argent, to Champagne d'Argent.

I've decided that the Creme D'argent appeals to me the most.

They are technically "recovering" according the the ALBC, but I have discovered they are extremely difficult to locate. Leave it to me to decide on a breed that is impossible to find.

There are absolutely NO breeders in Tennessee. The closest breeder I've been able to get in touch with is 5 hours away in South Carolina. However, they are actively breeding and should be able to supply us when need be. And they have 2 genetically distinct lines.

The good news is, I would apparently be the only breeder in Tennessee, and that could create a high demand. So I'm going to make sure I invest in quality breeding stock, for the sake of perpetuating the breed.

The only problem I foresee is how disgustingly cute their babies are.......

I know all rabbit babies are cute, but there's something about that soft buff color. Ultimately the reason we want rabbits is for a healthy, home-grown, humanely raised food supply. Which means killing, skinning, gutting and eating cute young rabbits. Can I do it? I think so but we shall see.... If not, I have a husband who hunts and skins and guts, so if it comes down to the wire and I realize I can't handle it, I can walk away and leave him to do the dirty work.

We have basically no storage space at our state house. No basement. No usable attic. No garage. We bought a 10 x 8 storage shed, but that is already full (mostly of rabbit equipment now). With no other outbuildings on the property we will be constructing a shed to house the rabbits.

So far I'm thinking a 12 x 6 x 6 3-sided shed, building the framework from 2 x 4's. I would like to cover the frame in wooden lattice, and train grape vines on them to provide shade for the rabbits, and grapes for us. During the winter we will have some type of barrier to add to protect them from the cold (maybe a heavy curtain of some kind.

The proximity of the shed to the garden and the compost pile will also be really handy for moving around all that beautiful rabbit manure.

I'm ready to go to Lowe's right now to start buying materials, but I do tend to be a little hasty. Hubbie has to work sometime and I will definitely need his help with the project.

As for the ducks, I was too late to get Silver Appleyards. The one breeder I found is sold out practically until May, so I decided we might try for them next year.

For now, I went with the breed I think would be the second best dual purpose duck: Buff Orpington....

McMurray Hatchery has them available beginning in March. They are medium sized, attractive, good foragers, good layers, and make a good eating duck. I will be raising them at our place for a week or two before they get sent to my parents' farm to finish growing. One select drake will be kept to service the females, and the rest of the males will be for the table.

Hmmm..... I just realized, buff ducks and buff rabbits.

Overall I'm really excited about our upcoming projects. Farming has been a passion for me for years, and I feel like I am finally realizing that dream, despite the limitations of living in a State Park.

Oh, I have other long range plans: pigs and cows and maybe sheep and goats...........

..... but I think we have enough to keep us busy for now.

By the way, never put an egg in your pocket because you always, always forget about it.......

..... I do, anyhow.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Comeback

Let's face it. I am NOT a consistent blogger. Any few fans I garnered shortly after this page's debut no doubt moved on long ago. But this page isn't dead yet!

So many things happened between April 2012 and February 2013 that the longer I waited to post something, the more daunting the task became.

But with the imminent onset of Spring comes the fever to "do things," and with that come renewed energy and inspiration.

So I will try my best to condense the happenings of last year......

When I left off last April we had our 5 young chickens, and I was experimenting with traditional foods in the kitchen.

I named our chickens after the Steel Magnolias, but unfortunately, due to a series of unfortunate events (namely Mo'lynn and Clairee flying over the fence to join a bored, confined German Shepherd; then Anelle and Ouisa mistakenly left outside their coop overnight in a heavy rain) we were left with only Truvy. I simply grabbed a couple of extra hens from mom and dad's and the trio have worked out fine.

   The ladies in the summer
                                                                                     Each hen lays their own colored egg

The chicken tractor has been a success, though we let them free range whenever possible. Unfortunately they have to be confined right now with tender plants beginning to emerge and seed planting happening soon.

It was a much slower year as far as work was concerned. I still greatly enjoy presenting wildlife programs to children. There is nothing like seeing their faces light up when you pull out those big reptiles!

Unfortunately, the economy has taken its toll on schools and libraries, especially after the TWRF made acquiring the grant more difficult. So after I had only 2 months of work last summer, I decided that the stress of travel was no longer worth it. However without any other job prospects, I was unsure about quitting. Working in the park is still appealing to me, but the lack of hours is just too frustrating. Fall Creek Falls hired me for a few days in the fall to help with some school programs (mostly canoe floats). They really wanted me to fill their extended Seasonal Naturalist position, but that would mean either a long commute or a move. Neither one is realistic at this point.

Then one day, out of the blue I had an idea...... There is a family business just outside the park that runs a Canoe and Kayak rental service. I began to wonder whether nature tours on the Caney Fork River would be a feasible prospect. The area is lovely, and birds of many species abound. So I approached them about the idea. They loved it. They also need somebody to help them run the store and other businesses. So even if the Nature Tours idea doesn't take off, I will have a flexible job, just 2 minutes from our house. I will begin work next month.

Caney Fork river last fall

With so much extra free time on my hands, I had to find something else to do. I get far too bored just keeping the home (does anybody REALLY enjoy doing nothing but cooking and cleaning every day? If so GOD BLESS YOU). So this sparked a renewed interest in one of my most favorite past times:


a stringer of trout

a little Center Hill smallie

spotted bass on the kayak

a nice smallie
another nice smallie

a slab of a redear sunfish... and yes, he was fishing on duty

Obviously with Center Hill Reservoir and the Caney Fork River at our doorstep, we live in a fisherman's paradise. Growing up I never caught anything other than panfish, and was ready to branch out. With one of the nation's top trout fisheries right down the road, we finally took up trout fishing. I was always under the mistaken impression that the only way to catch trout was by fly fishing. Not hardly. We have had great success with spinning tackle and artificial lures. My most exciting catch this year was a 19.5 inch German brown.

Big Rock Market at the park entrance also happens to be a preferred Jackson Kayak dealer, and they tempted us every time we stopped in to eat (which was frequent). We finally broke down and purchased the Big Tuna, a tandem fishing kayak. It was a chunk of change, but we have already gotten so much use out of it. Every chance we get we float the lake and the river, and have caught many fish from it already. This thing is LOADED: comfortable, adjustable seats, rod holders, lots of storage and best of all: a livewell!

While the purchase has set us back a bit, I think it was worth it.

And yes, we've been fishing so much it's gotten ridiculous. Trout, bass, crappie, walleye.......

However a highlight this year was our trip to Destin, Florida. Naturally, we went out on a party boat (that would be a fishing boat, not a par-tay boat) and caught loads of reef snapper for the freezer.

We had so much fun the first time we went out again, and man, oh man, were we in for the surprise of our lives.....

... Mark happened to hook a 45-inch amberjack that tried to steal a snapper off his line. It was certainly a highlight of his life. The big fish got cut up into steaks and we have enjoyed eating him immensely.

We have continued improving our diet, gradually eliminating more and more processed food and eating a more nourishing whole foods diet. We have thoroughly enjoyed our raw milk share, and that weekly trip to the farmer's market is also a great chance to get some local, organic produce. We purchased a meat CSA from Peaceful Pastures, and plan to again this summer. My husband was unsure about eating so much butter, lard and full fat meats and dairy products, since atherosclerosis runs in his family (his father had a heart attack in his 40s). But I had done so much research on nutrition I was confident it was the right way to go. And after nearly a year of eating this way, he has lost an inch from his waist, and his LDL is down and his HDL is higher than it's ever been! He even ate a full plate of bacon the day before having his blood drawn! As for me, I've been able to gain weight, and have had less pain and felt better than I have in years.

I finally completed my hunter's safety course, and, once I get more practice with various firearms, I would like to try my hand at killing me some critters.

So that pretty much hits the highlights.....

I put my hubbie to work tilling the garden, and we will hopefully get our early season veggies in the ground (even though they really could have been planted weeks ago).

We still want to raise rabbits, but that will depend on when we can afford the time and materials to build hutches. Once that's out of the way, we should be good to go. While I would really like to raise a heritage breed (like American Chinchilla or Silverfox) I think we will start out with New Zealand or California. At least until we get through the initial learning curve. They are much less of an initial investment.

I will probably add a couple of more chicks to our flock to have extra eggs, and will also be raising a flock of ducks this spring for my parents' farm. They had a flock of Indian Runners for years, and we all greatly enjoyed the eggs, until a newly introduced dog killed them all. (Sad, sad day.) Duck eggs are amazing, by the way. Better than chicken eggs.

Our beloved blue runners

I am also going to take this opportunity to raise our first meat animals. We usually order a straight run, since it costs less. You typically end up with 50/50 males and females. You're always faced with the task of what to do with the extra males. Last time we managed to find a home for them. This year I want to get a dual-purpose breed, and slaughter the excess males for the freezer. So far I've narrowed the choices down to:

Silver Appleyard

or Welsh Harlequin.

They are obviously very similar in appearance, but the Appleyards are heavier. Both are good egg layers and good meat birds. Harlequins lay more eggs and have a smaller carcass, whereas Appleyards yield a meatier carcass and lay fewer eggs. Both are good foragers but the Harlequins are more active. Most importantly, both breeds are critically endangered according to the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.

So we shall see. Both breeds are rather hard to come by via hatcheries, but I managed to find one good hatchery with reasonable prices: Holderread Waterfowl in Oregon. I would really like to start our ducklings next month, but unfortunately they won't be available until April.

In the past we have used Murray McMurray Hatchery with good success, and they do have Welsh Harlequins available to ship next month, but at twice the price. I really like supporting small time farms anyhow.

This will be our first venture into killing something we have raised, but after reading about it and wanting to do it for years, I think I am finally ready. It will still take courage on my part, but I know I can do it. And ducks sure are damn tasty.

A few other random highlights from last year....

I got an awesome chaco tan,

our German Shepherd, Tala grew up,

I got immortalized into a coloring page by a very talented librarian,

I caught my first bass,

I rescued a severely constipated tegu,

we bought a vacuum sealer,

I finally found a Yonahlossee salamander in the Appalachian mountains,

we processed our first deer at home,

and we visited the Biltmore Estate.

(Not necessarily in that order.)

Spring wildflowers are making an early appearance around the park again this year. I will end this lengthy (and long-belated) post with a couple of photos..... hopefully it won't be another year before I post again...


purple cress