Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our Future Homestead

I almost hesitate to share this, because a place really isn't yours until the key is in your hand, but we do have a closing date set, and things appear to be coming together.

So here it is, in all it's fixer-upper glory!

This is taken from the driveway on the, er, bridge (more like dirt poured over a culvert). This will need to be replaced in time.

It's really nothing all too special - just a double wide on 8 acres. The house needs a substantial amount of work, but we got it for a good price. It's been sitting empty for over a year, now.

Here's a look at our neighbors! The little red cottage belongs to my younger sister, and the white house to my parents. Their place sits on 40 acres.

The little hillside pasture.

I LOVE this little barn! It needs some work too, but not nearly as much as the house.

This is where my new rabbitry will go. It's a good-sized space, at 10 x 20 feet. I have plans to fully enclose it.

Here's the inside of the barn/shed. It has insulated walls (peeling on the left side from water damage) and electricity.

The back of the house. We have plans to build a wrap around porch. The roof needs to be replaced as well.

I didn't include any pictures of the inside, because it's really nothing spectacular. But it is over 1700 square feet, with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Our current living space is about 1400 square feet, so it will be nice to have more space.

The old rickety chicken coops left behind. Not sure if there is much I can work with here, but we'll see. (Yes the roof is a bank awning.)

The little creek spilling over the property. It is spring-fed, and the source is only a mile or so upstream. This creek (I'm not sure what its name is), flows into Wolf Creek, which then flows into the Caney Fork River.

The front of the house. That bent tree almost hides the refrigerator in the front yard.

View from the pasture.

The hills beyond.

So there it is! We feel that it has a lot of potential, but BOY do we have our work cut out for us!

Our closing date is set for December 9th.

Fingers crossed!

Friday, November 28, 2014

More Baby Pictures

... because I just can't help myself.

Four days

And I just can't get over how  FAST they grow!

They are also surprisingly difficult to photograph. You'd think they would just snuggle up and sleep, but these boogers already jump around like grasshoppers!

While I originally thought these guys were fawn, now that they are getting their fur they are clearly red, like their mother. I'm excited to see if they get the silvering from their Creme sire.

The little fostered chestnut kit didn't survive. It was just too small and weak to compete.

It's probably just as well. I will more than likely be culling Cardamom from my breeding program, anyhow.

Now one of Acer's kits is starting to fall behind. When I checked on them yesterday, I noticed one of them was looking pretty thin with an empty belly. So I brought Acer and the kit indoors and held her while it nursed. 

I'll do this daily, in the hopes that this little guy gets his share.

I will try to get pictures of our (hopefully) new place this weekend. 

Enjoy your Black Friday!

Monday, November 24, 2014

We Have Babies!!

It's been quite the weekend, I must say.

Saturday evening Cardamom was gathering straw, so I knew she would kindle that night.

The next morning I found 10 beautiful kits - scattered all over the wire.

She had made no attempt, whatsoever to pull hair or build a nest.

Six out of ten were alive, but quite chilled. I stuffed them all into my bra (yes, you read that right), and warmed them up while we got ready to make our trip to Asheville to pick up my Creme d'Argent doe.

I pulled some fur from Cardamom's belly, built her a nice nest, and placed the kits in it. I left her to her own devices, hoping her instincts would kick in while we were gone.

We returned late that afternoon, and she still had not pulled hair or tended to them.

They were chilled again, and one more had died.

I took them back in and warmed them up again. I pulled a TON of hair from her belly to line the nest, and returned the five kits, placing them in the fluffy down.

Again, I was hoping her instincts would kick in, or that they would at least be fine until the following morning, and I would hold her over them to let them nurse.

Unfortunately, she pulled the ENTIRE nest out of the box, scattering it over the wire. Most of the kits were covered in bite marks and squished against the floor. Only one showed any signs of life, but I warmed them all, just to be sure.

Meanwhile, the other doe, Acer, had kindled a healthy litter of seven, and had built a beautiful, fluffy nest for them.

Just look at those plump bellies! No worries, here!

She gets an A+, in the first time mama department. Cardamom, I will give an F-

The one surviving kit I placed in Acer's nest box for her to foster. It is a chestnut (or appears to be at this point), so it will be easy to tell apart from Acer's fawn-colored litter.

There's already such a huge difference in size.

Proud little mama! I can't give her ENOUGH parsley to reward her awesome mothering skills.

I thought I might give the bumbling Cardamom a second chance. It's really not out of the ordinary for first time does to get it all wrong. I decided to re-breed her immediately, since female rabbits are at their most receptive right after kindling.

Much to my frustration (and the buck's) she was STILL unwilling.

Ichigo is checking her out, next door. Believe me bub, she is NOT interested

So now I'm faced with a decision:

I either keep attempting to get her bred, OR just decide that I am done wasting my time with her.

Her disagreeable nature, bad mothering skills and un-receptiveness are all traits that can be passed down. I may be better off just cutting my losses, and preparing her for the crock pot.

Thanksgiving IS right around the corner, after all ....

In other news, this precious little doe has joined the rabbitry:

Meet Babette: quite literally, the future of my Creme d'Argent breeding project. She is a sweet little girl, and I can hardly wait to breed her.

She will be ready to breed by February or March of next year.

I just learned yesterday that the Creme d'Argent is now the 6th rarest rabbit breed. I'm looking forward to making more, and really promoting them in my area.

In OTHER, other news, we have been approved for our loan, and will begin the closing process this week on our (our??? could it be??) house.

It hardly feels real, at this point. On the one hand, I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much, since it could still fall through. On the other hand, I'm eager to get over there, take a ton of pictures and start planning my new rabbitry, among other things.

We shall see!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How a Songbird's Taste Buds See it Through the Winter

There has been so much wild bird activity around our park residence, this week.

Our winter migrants are all settled in, and our year-round species are flocking right along with them.

With the breeding season behind them, territoriality pretty much goes out the window, and they find more safety by traveling in mixed flocks.

They are so busy! But what on Earth are they doing out there?

Well, eating, of course!

Birds are small animals with fast metabolisms. When the weather turns cold, they spend every waking moment in search of the calories that will literally keep them alive through the night.

This is especially true of the really small birds, like chickadees and kinglets (incidentally, when it turns really cold, kinglets go into a state of torpor to stay alive).

We often don't give the birds much thought, even though we enjoy watching them and listening to them sing. It's really quite miraculous how they can survive the bitterly cold winters.

One interesting method of survival, is simply a matter of taste.

Just like humans, birds have their favorite foods. This varies depending on the species and the region they live in.

Around here, the big winter food sources are hard mast like acorns, hickory nuts and beech nuts, seeds from Elms and Maples, as well as over-wintering moths and caterpillars.

But what about fruit? We tend to think of fruit as a warm season food source that perishes quickly, but it is also crucial for winter.

Fruits like blackberries, raspberries and black cherries are big favorites, and usually get eaten up as soon as they're ripe. They are juicy, and full of fats and sugars. While this makes them really nutritious, it also means that they spoil quickly; offering a feeding bonanza for a short period of time.

You may notice, however, some types of fruit are left untouched, and seem to just rot on the plant.

They actually just dry out over time, preserving them for later in the season.

A few examples around here are Viburnums, Buckthorn (Rhamnus sp.), Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefoloia).

If you pay attention, you'll see these are all eaten in turn, depending on the birds' preferences.

They save the least tasty fruits for last, and may not even eat them if the winter isn't harsh enough.

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) comes to mind.

Even though it looks similar to American Beautyberry, it must not taste very good because we have NEVER seen anything eat it. Does that mean it's useless? Of course not! It's, quite simply, insurance.

If the cold weather drags on longer than usual, they will still have a food source to depend on.

While these emergency rations aren't very tasty or nutritious, their low water content means that they stay preserved much longer, sometimes even into early Spring.

In some cases, the ripening fruit of a certain plant coincides with groups of migrating birds, fueling them for the rest of their journey. Some species come to depend on this food source, and plan their entire migration routes around these crucial locations. Each new generation of birds is taught where to find them. If the food source becomes unavailable for whatever reason, they adapt and try to find another one.

In late fall, we get mixed flocks of thrushes: Veerys, Wood, Swainson's, Hermit and Gray-cheeked have all been recorded in these groups.

Hermit Thrushes are another winter resident. When they begin to sing in early spring, their song will make your heart skip a beat
They seem to fly through when the fruit of the Black Gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica) is ripe. All of those thrushes feeding, flitting and singing in one tree is a sight to behold!

Nyssa sylvatica heavy with fruit.  If you zoom in, you can see at least 4 thrushes in this photo
A closeup of a foraging Wood Thrush and below him a Tennessee Warbler

American Robins, another thrush, are actually an uncommon sight in the park, during the spring and summer months. Once winter rolls around, they appear in flocks of hundreds, sweeping through the woods feeding on different types of dried fruits.

Robins feeding on sumac berries
Another little-known important food source came as a bit of a revelation for me.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are the only warbler species that stay in the park throughout the winter. Warblers are primarily insectivores, but insects can be pretty hard to come by, this time of the year.

One day I saw a flock of Yellow-rumps flitting around a tree trunk, flipping upside down eating the fruit of of a plant a lot of us wish didn't exist: poison ivy!

It's not like I'm the first person to ever see this; it's well documented. It was just exciting to discover it for myself!

Nature is full of surprises, and these little discoveries never lose their luster.

If you are looking for a good book to curl up with this winter, I would highly recommend this one:

You can see it's suffered its share of abuse
It is such a fascinating read, and it will blow your mind. You can find it for a good price on Amazon, here (by the way, I'm not affiliated with Amazon in any way).

Watching the birds throughout the winter is a great way to pass the time!

Here's to the birds of winter!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nest Box Day!

Our New Zealand does are due to kindle this weekend, so I gave them their nest boxes, stuffed to the brim with hay and straw...

Cardamom wasn't very impressed. But then, it was 19 degrees when I took this picture, so I guess I can't blame her.

Acer with her nest box.

I stuffed the boxes as full as I could get them, and punched a nice burrow into the straw for them.

Of course, they will rearrange the contents to suit themselves. Since yesterday, Cardamom has already dug it to one side. As long as they build a good nest for their kits, I can forgive them for messing up my perfect design.

Cardamom is due the 22nd and Acer the 23rd. We'll see how things go! First time does don't always get it right, so I'm not expecting them to excel at their mothering abilities. I could be pleasantly surprised though.

I'm eager to see the color outcome of these litters. I know I can expect fawns out of Acer and Colbert's litter, but Cardamom's could produce just about any color, with those chestnut genes thrown in there.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Good News, Bad News

I wish I only had the good news to share, but you know how life goes.

Let's get the bad news over with...

I lost this little old man a couple of days ago:

It's hard to believe, but I was only 17 when I brought him home with me. He was my first "little dog," even though he certainly didn't think he was. Which was probably the reason for his sudden and tragic demise.

We aren't really sure what happened. We just found him out in the yard. Just like that. Dead. 

He had blood on him, so we think he must have fought with our 100-lb shepherd over some deer bones that were out there. At 9 pounds himself, he didn't stand a chance, even if she wasn't trying to hurt him.

So that makes three dogs in three years, for me. All of them my own.

First my majestic Anatolian, Aslan.

Then my ever faithful Cleo, after 15 years.

And now my little Rikk-tikki-tavi.

With the first two dogs, I was at least able to prepare. And when the time came we made a conscious decision to end their suffering. This was a real shock.

So now we are down to three dogs.



 ...and of course, Ian's pal  Lucy

Now, in accordance with the unspoken Law of Dogs, once you've attained a certain number, you can never stay below that number for very long.

We currently have a deficit of two. So now we're just waiting for the next drop-off  to come our way.

It's inevitable, really.

Until then, we have something else to occupy our time.

Which, of course, would be the GOOD news.

We finally met at the bank yesterday, and it looks like the ball is finally rolling on our house purchase!

If everything pans out, we could potentially be home owners in two weeks' time.

This is an old snapshot from the add. I guess we haven't taken any pictures of it yet.

This is pretty exciting, especially in light of all the problems we've been having with our park residence, lately (which is really funny, considering it's probably in better shape than the place we are trying to buy...).

But.... that's another story.

Winter has finally arrived, and with it a whole new set of challenges. Namely, trying to feed and water animals in below-freezing temperatures while toting a willful toddler. I swear it takes us 30 minutes just to get out the door. That's not including figuring out how to juggle water jugs, feed buckets and said toddler.

In the end, it's moments like these that make it all worthwhile.....

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sprouted Wheat Fodder: The Verdict

I'm very excited to report that the first batch of wheat fodder was a resounding success!

I decided it was ready on the 8th day - once the grass was about 6 inches tall, and just before it got its second leaf. This is the point at which the sprout has reached its maximum nutrition and protein levels.

It had transformed from 1.5 pounds of wheat seed, to a 7 pound mat of sprouted grass! Amazing!

I used a bread knife to slice it up into portions weighing about 0.5 pounds each...

I only served half of the fodder mat, since I was only feeding five rabbits, and tossing the sixth piece to the chickens to see if they would show any interest.

So what did they think?

Ichigo was the most eager to dive in, munching up roots and all.

Cardamom tucked right in too.

The others were a little more suspicious, but eventually began to nibble away.

I didn't really think the chickens would be very interested, but at least one hen stepped forward and began to eat it. I'll check later and see if they finished it.

Notice the uneaten layer pellets in their bowl. They have NOT been wanting to eat them, lately, even though I've tried two different brands. They'll pick through them, but then act like they are starving when I give them grain or turn them out to forage. I may just switch them to fodder as well.

I didn't linger outside very long to see how much the rabbits were eating, since dropped from 70 degrees yesterday to 32 this morning. Brrrrrrr!! Welcome to Tennessee, folks.

So it looks like, for at least five rabbits, one tray is more than enough.

I cut the rest of the mat into servings and put them in the fridge for tomorrow.

I can probably just plan to start one tray every other day, from here on out. 

Once I've ironed out any problems with my system, I'll post a full tutorial on the process, so look forward to that in a few weeks!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention....

I am FINALLY, at long last, getting my replacement Creme d'Argent does!

We'll be making the trip on the 23rd to pick them up! Yippee!

My rabbitry will soon be 7 rabbits with possibly two litters on the way!

We may be needing more cages soon.

I guess it's a good thing we'll be saving money on feed by switching to sprouted fodder!

Follow the chicken to join the Homestead Barn Hop!