Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Rocky Start

The Bluetooth Hollow Rabbitry has hit a few bumps in the road from the get-go. It looks like everything is going to work out alright now, however.

The junior doe looked pretty stressed from the moment we got her home, displaying mild symptoms of shock. I figured if I left her in quiet she would eventually recover. She appeared to improve the next couple days, but then went off her food and water. I attempted force-feeding her liquids to try and get her going again, but she was just too far gone. She finally died Thursday morning. I've been in contact with the breeder, and she agreed it was probably just stress from the long trip. She said she would refund and replace the little doe, and all seemed well and good.

Until I noticed the senior doe sneezing a lot, and a thick white discharge coming out of her nostrils. Oh no, looks like pasteurella. A then noticed that the senior buck was sneezing some, and had a wet nose.  I had visions of losing all 3 rabbits. I contacted the breeder again, and she was surprised since she had never dealt with this problem before. It was undoubtedly brought on by the stress of traveling as well. I decided to try natural remedies first. So I dug up a few Echinacea plants to feed to them, and chopped up some garlic and added it to their water. They seemed to really like it, and I noticed them drinking a lot. The next morning, the buck had ZERO symptoms, and the doe looked better as well. She was still having discharge, so I decided to play it safe and take her to the vet. So now she’s getting Baytril for 10 days, and her prognosis is very good. It is supposedly safe to give her, even if she happens to be pregnant.

I was torn about giving her antibiotics, or even treating her at all. There are a lot of breeders who simply cull any rabbit that gets the “snuffles,” as it’s called, keeping only those apparently resistant in the gene pool. Some just give antibiotics routinely, every few weeks to keep it at bay. I tend to agree more with the cullers, but I hate to not give her a chance, especially since this hadn't ever shown up in the herd I purchased her from.

I think I will start using apple cider vinegar added to their water, as per the practice at this rabbitry. I just cannot bring myself to treat the rabbits with routine antibiotics, no matter what the most experienced rabbit raisers think. It may seem to help them in the short term, but I don’t think we are doing their immune systems any justice, and probably contributing to resistant strains of bacteria. This is the method used in just about any confinement livestock production model, to compensate for the stress of crowded, unsanitary conditions.

At least I am feeling more positive, overall. I was really disheartened yesterday about the situation.

Of course, in addition to all of this going on, my husband gets a stomach bug, and is down and out for a day. Aaaaand taking care of a four-month-old by myself, laundry, meals, and that presentation on herps I’m going to be giving in a couple of weeks for the Tennessee Naturalist Program. What a week.

COY will be ready for either a palpitation or a test breeding the beginning of next month. I may attempt to palpate her, but I doubt I’ll be able to tell anything, since even experienced raisers have difficulty discerning embryos from rabbit poop. We’ll see.

The weather has continued to yo-yo the last few days. It got down into the low 20’s a couple of nights ago. Then it was warm and windy and then cold and rainy… this weekend and most of next week, it’s supposed to creep up into the 70’s. C-R-A-Z-Y.

Yesterday’s rainy weather project was to make hay racks. I took some cage wire leftover from building the chicken tractor, and cut and shaped until I thought they would work.

And they do!


At least for now…

They love their hay. I just hope I can keep it fresh for them long enough. The shed isn't proving to be as rain-proof as I was hoping, but then the wind tends to blow from every direction, up here on the ridgetop.

I've also been very gradually introducing them to some wild greens. There are several things popping out now, and so far they have tried honeysuckle, violets, chickweed, toothwort, dock, and blackberry. They all have their preferences, of course.

They also really seem to like the Sherwood Forest pellets. I’m feeding the concentrated formula that is meant to complement hay. This way, you only have to feed them half the amount you would for a regular pellet. I’m still adjusting their intake, but so far they seem to be eating anywhere from a ¼ cup – ½ cup per day. We’ll see how fast I use it up before I decide it’s worth the expense. Wild forages will also help reduce pellet intake. As the rabbitry grows, I can’t imagine feeding this to large numbers of rabbits and it being financially feasible. We shall see.

The little buck, Colbert, is a very endearing little rabbit. He loves attention, and is very inquisitive. I hope he grows up to be a really nice example of the breed, because I’d love to keep him around for a long time.
So now we’re looking forward to warmer weather, and we can hopefully get our garden tilled! Spring is upon us!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Introducing, The Bluetooth Cremes!

Our rabbits are here!

Yesterday was a harrowing journey. Ian did about as well as he could have, I suppose. I think momma was more stressed than he was, at least for the first leg of the journey. He refused to nurse every time we stopped. He was either too interested in where we were or his gums were bothering him a lot (or both).

Me stressed, and Ian not so much

The senior buck had to ride in a cardboard box, since I only had 2 pet carriers. He did really well.

Ian stayed relatively happy for much of the way down

The ride home was much harder, and that last hour was ROUGH, let me tell you! But, we survived, just like I thought we would. And our four Crème D’Argent rabbits are happily munching hay in their hutches.
I went with Bob Bennet’s recommendation and bought 2 bucks and 2 does.

This is senior buck Star View Turn:

I was going to get another junior buck, but she offered him to me instead, wanting to free up the cage space. He’s a nice buck with one Best in Show under his belt, and lots of winners in his genetics, so I was happy to take him.

This is senior doe COY (I don’t remember her official name. The breeder is mailing me her pedigree.) She was bred the day before I bought her, and hopefully it was successful. We could have a litter of bunnies this time next month!

This is the junior buck, who has yet to be tattooed. I’m naming him Colbert. He is the friendliest and most outgoing of the bunch, and I’m looking forward to using him in my breeding program.

And last but not least, the junior doe, who I am calling Josephine.

Both junior rabbits have a lot of potential. They will be ready to breed in May.

None of the four rabbits are directly related (as in, not siblings or offspring of each other), so I have a lot of pairings to play with.

I am thrilled with them, and so excited to be the only “official” breeder in Tennessee. I need to renew my membership with the ARBA and get on the breeders list.

While the free standing cages are the easiest to set up (no hanging involved), I’m already discovering their drawbacks. Mainly the fact that there is no absorbent substrate underneath to soak up urine. Just a plastic tray. I’m thinking I will add a mixture of soil and pine shavings to the trays to help absorb the urine, and get a better compost going. I would much prefer to have them all as hanging cages, and make compost bins underneath. In fact, I’d really like to have worm beds. Perhaps in the future. I’ll just work with what I have, because you can’t beat FREE cages!

I’m going to order a tattoo kit and figure out an identification system. I read an idea in one of the books to put your initials before or after the numbers, to help identify does and bucks. There are also systems for determining date of birth, but I may not get that in depth. 

For now they seem to be settling in nicely, and already come up to me when I feed them. Very excited to have them!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rabbit Randomness

We’ve been busy with last minute preparations before our rabbits join us at the homestead.

Finally, finally bought one of these:

I have been dying for a wheelbarrow for years, and I’m going to need it now, more than ever, with all that rabbit manure I’ll be toting around.

I decided to go with Sherwood Forest brand rabbit pellets. Most rabbit raisers would probably scoff at this choice, believing one pellet is just like the next. I was really impressed with their ingredient list, and since we’ll be eating the rabbits, I felt justified in being choosy. Soy free, even! I don’t think rabbits were meant to eat animal by-product meal, anyhow.

We also went a little out of our way to source quality hay as well. We ended up taking five bales home, since we only had a 20 and I really didn't think the farmer’s kid had any change. So now storage will be a challenge. Considering we have no barn, no garage, and our storage building lacks a floor and stays damp from the rains. So that leaves our house or my parents’ farm. They don’t have a barn either, but they do have a dry storage building. Hopefully that will be sufficient to keep the hay fresh at least through the fall. I went ahead and bought a hay bag/tote to hang in the rabbit shed. It’s designed for feeding horses, but it seemed like a handy way to store and dispense the hay, rather than hauling it in and out of the house. I probably could have made something to use for this purpose, but I don’t exactly have plenty of spare time these days. It really needs some Velcro or something at the top to close it up and keep out critters (namely nesting birds and rodents). I might be able to manage that.

I’m planning on feeding the rabbits as much forage as possible. This is also kind of scoffed at, because everybody knows that green foods in excess cause diarrhea. It’s also thought that adding green stuffs to their regular feeding regime will detract from their overall nutrition, since they’ll be eating fewer of the “complete” pellets. I beg to differ. Domestic rabbits were doing just fine on grains, veggies, and forages before pellets came along, and wild rabbits seem to thrive on their completely forage based diet. I tend to subscribe to a more naturalistic way of thinking. Animals should eat what they were meant to eat.

Take dogs, for instance. As a culture we've come to believe that dry kibble, comprised largely of cooked grains and animal by-products, is the best thing for them. Despite the fact that bagged dog food has only been around for 50 years or so. Dogs are carnivores. Carnivores eat meat. I have fed my dogs a raw meat diet off and on for years now. They always do awesome on it. Even aging seems to be reversed when I feed it to my older dogs. Aches and pains go away, teeth whiten, coats glisten, and they are full of energy. The only reason we aren’t feeding it right now is because all that bagging, freezing and thawing is a bit of a hassle. And with an infant in the house I really didn’t want thawing chicken to be sitting around. But we may be able to get back on track when we have an abundant source of raw meat and odd bits to give the dogs. I really want to. Tavi is now 12 and starting to get a little stiff, and Lucy has developed arthritis in her hind foot.
It should make sense to us. It’s widely accepted that the more processed a food is, the less healthy it is for us. Which is better: a fresh salad picked from the garden, or salad that has been cooked, extruded and pressed into blocks? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

But, back to rabbits. I’ve followed a particular blog where breeders feed their rabbits a large amount of forages, even (GASP!) baby rabbits. They are working towards growing more and more of their rabbits’ diet on their own property, until they are not longer feeding pellets. So I’m looking forward to giving it a go. The rabbits I am purchasing haven’t even been eating hay, so I’ll have to introduce these new foodstuffs gradually.

Eventually I would like to build “rabbit tractor” pens, to grow out the fryers. That will take a little more designing and implementing than our chicken tractor did, since rabbits dig. Oh well, we’ll worry about that later. For now it shouldn't be too much of a hassle to take the forages to the rabbits. Especially with my new wheelbarrow!

We did a lot of running around town yesterday. It was the longest Ian had ridden in the car since he was a sleepy newborn. I was kind of using it as a test run, since he will be riding in the car all day on Sunday. He didn’t exactly pass with flying colors, but I’m trying not to stress out about it too much. It’s just one day, and we will all survive. And then we will own the world’s 14th rarest rabbit!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Sounds of Spring

Ahhhh.... open windows once again. It's so nice to have a fresh breeze pushing the stale, dry air out of the house.

The birds know spring is near, as they are becoming increasingly....twitterpated, I guess is the word (even though spell check doesn't acknowledge its existence).

There is much singing, calling and chasing going on outside our "cabin in the woods." Hearing the bluebirds sing as they build their nest is especially heart warming.

The warm air, singing birds and greening of the forest floor are all reminders that another winter will soon be behind us.

This winter has been one of the hardest, and yet one of the sweetest. I've come to realize over the years that I have seasonal affective disorder. Because of this I was especially concerned about getting post-partum depression, with Ian being born in November. I knew I'd have the whole winter to fight it.

The last couple of years we spent much of the winter getting outside hiking, bird-watching, kayaking & fishing. All that activity really helped to keep the seasonal blues at bay.

But this winter I've hardly been outside at all. Much of the time I have been desperately trying to make up for lost sleep during the day, stealing an hour here and there while Mark cares for the baby. Even now Ian still has his "marathon" feeding sessions, where I'm tied to the couch for hours at a time (right now, as a matter of fact). So warding of those heavy feelings could get a little difficult at times, and I'm not going to say I haven't been moody. Ask the husband. :)

All in all it's really not been that bad. It's helped to try and keep things in perspective. Life is seasonal, just as the world around us.

With the warming days I can now bring the baby outdoors with me. He still doesn't stay content for very long, but we'll get there, I'm sure.

I've been corresponding with the Creme d'Argent breeder and it looks like we're in business! It just so happens that they are coming to Tennessee to pick up a goat next weekend, only 2 1/2 hours from us. While that will still be the longest trip Ian has taken in the car, it sure as heck beats 5 hours one way. I think we can manage. I am so excited about this project. It represents so many realized goals I've set for the last several years.

We moved all the rabbit equipment from our storage shed to the rabbit shed. That freed up a LOT of space to store other stuff.

This won't be the final arrangement, by the way. Just needed to get them out of the way. All in all there are 10 cages - 2 3-tier and 4 suspending (one still in the box). I'm worried I may not have allowed for enough space........

And we'll need all the storage space we can get. Baby-proofing is in our very near future. We have one of the least "baby safe" homes you could have. Various weapons lying around (swords mostly), fishing supplies, books and magazines, dvds, electronics, houseplants, and on and on and on.

He's not crawling yet, but he's really starting to roll over. He thinks he can go somewhere until he flops onto his belly and gets stuck there. Soon enough....

I was happy to find that the dimensions I laid out for the rabbit shed over a year ago were correct. I was starting to worry about that after they began to build it. Of course I just read in the book that the cages really need to be 3 feet from the walls to keep them from getting caked in urine and manure. Unfortunately that won't be practical. Oh well, I'm sure we'll make it work.

My only other concern is predators. We've had chickens here for a couple of years now, and never had any problem with predators, even though we are technically in a wilderness area.  Perhaps that is the reason. Predators have plenty of natural prey to occupy them. Even with the chickens free ranging during the day, and us occasionally forgetting to close them up at night, we've not even had any attempted attacks.

The rabbits just seem so much more vulnerable to me for some reason. I'm thinking I'd like to make some sort of simple box hide for them to take shelter in. The only predators I could see having a go at them would be raccoons. They could reach in and grab the rabbits and do some damage that way. A box would at least give them a solid structure to hide in. We'll see.

 Our chicken tractor is still working quite well for us, even though the handles used to lift and move it broke off.

My dad is a big believer in building things to last. Which isn't a bad thing, but it certainly resulted in a HEAVY chicken tractor. We'll have to replace those handles with something so I can actually move it myself again. Also the roof wasn't built quite long enough, and rain can blow into the sides. The door has warped a little from moisture. So we keep this attractive tarp on it most of the time to try and keep the rain out. Otherwise it's still a good, solid structure and I'm pleased with the design. The chickens are probably going to have to actually spend more time in it. They never get into our vegetable garden, but they do a real number on my flower and herb beds. Not to mention my raspberries and potted blueberries. I like for them to forage and find most of their own food, but I would also like to have some berries for US to eat.

It looks like our Silver Appleyard ducklings will be arriving sometime later this month or in April. That works out fine for me. It will give us some time to adjust to the rabbits before getting set up for the ducks. I was trying to decide what type of container would work best to house the ducklings in for the first week or two I will have them. A cardboard box is out of the question, because it would be thoroughly soaked in no time. I was thinking a big rubbermaid storage box, but they are surprisingly expensive. So then I found this at Tractor Supply:

It's technically a livestock water tank, but has a lot of potential uses. They are really popular as ponds/habitats for turtles and other aquatics. It could be used for chilling poultry carcasess after slaughter, a drink cooler for outdoor parties, and of course, a livestock waterer in the future. It would be nice to have a galvanized metal tub which would work for scalding pigs, but they are a little cost-prohibitive at this time. For $65, I thought it was a good deal.

Another small project we (well, Mark) completed recently was building partitions for the compost pile out of pallets.

Pallets are great for building, if you don't try to pry them apart. I've even seen where people have built whole buildings out of these things. Takes some ingenuity, but it's possible.

That pretty well sums up my thoughts for the day. I'm eager to get back outside and enjoy what's left of the day before yet another cold front moves through tomorrow. Rain, rain....

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rabbits becoming reality........

Thanks to a lot of help from my beloved dad, we finally have our rabbit shed built!

We had to build something we could pick up and take with us when we move off the park, so we don't have it anchored into the ground yet.

So I started to sweat a little when the front moved through this morning and the wind started gusting to 50 MPH. Luckily we have it facing north/northeast, and we typically do not have wind coming from that direction. But we will try to anchor it down just in case.

The back of it is nestled against the garden for a reason. I wanted the shed to also serve as structure for my grape vine to climb on. I may even plant pole beans on the outside as well. Besides the obvious reason we are raising rabbits (succulent white meat,) I am beside myself with excitement about the rabbit POOP!

The soil on top of this ridge is thin, hard and rocky. I've made some very gradual improvements over the years with my compost pile (and not letting the maintenance workers blow all the leaves off the yard). Chicken poop has also helped some. But rabbit manure will improve our soil by leaps and bounds (haha, leaps and bounds...).

I've been in contact with the Creme d'Argent breeder in SC, and obtaining the rabbits will be a bit of a challenge (not that I didn't foresee this). There is no way we can make a 656 mile round trip right now. Not with a 4-month-old. No. Way. There is a possibility they can meet me in Newport, TN in the near future, but that is only a possibility. I'm not sure whether this will ultimately work out, so I am formulating a backup plan. The Silver Fox is next in line, and I know if at least a couple of breeders within 2 hours of us. I went ahead and contacted one of them to see if they will have breeding stock available anytime soon.

At least we finally have a place to put them. 

So yesterday it was sunny and 72, and today it is a cloudy, blustery 39 degrees. From work mode back into hibernation mode. I am BEYOND ready for spring at this point.

Ian is ready to burn up the roads with this baby!