Saturday, February 28, 2015

Our First Taste of Rabbit


I'm about to admit something that may come as a bit of a surprise.

Up until last night, I had never tasted domestic rabbit.

I suppose that makes it a little risky to wade chest deep into rabbit raising, without even knowing whether you like rabbit.

Even though I have never tasted a meat I didn't like - from store-bought to wild game - there was a part of me that was afraid I wouldn't like it.     Ha! What then?

Not to worry. It was excellent!

And yep - it REALLY does taste like chicken!

After much deliberation I decided to go with this recipe:

Braised Honey Mustard Rabbit Or Lapin au miel et à la moutard  (with chicken option) by Spicie Foodie

While it had great flavor, I thought the meat was a little too dry, and a tad bit tough.

Maybe it was the age of the rabbit? The pictured recipe was for a store-bought fryer, probably a week or two younger than the one we butchered. (But then, the author lives in France and they may butcher them later there. Not sure.)

Maybe too, I didn't allow the meat to rest long enough in the fridge (even though it was in there for 24 hours.)

Next time I roast one, I will keep it covered to help it stay more moist. I'm already planning to butcher our next round of fryers a couple of weeks earlier than the last batch.


All things considered, it was fantastic! And I can hardly wait to cook our next one!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Five Week Weights

It was a nice, mild afternoon yesterday and the hubby took off early, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to do some weighing.

One of these days I'm gonna get my crap together enough to weigh consistently at 4, 6 and 8 weeks.

But for today, five-week weights will have to suffice.

So I got out the ole hanging scale and the bunny bag...



Waiting their turn in the hay bin
So here are my results:

(Remember, all 10 are Cardamom's, but I split the litter to give everyone a better chance)

Cardamom's group:
  • broken chestnut buck: 2 lbs, 1 oz
  • broken chestnut doe: 2 lbs
  • broken chestnut buck: 2 lbs
  • broken red buck: 1 lb, 14 oz
  • broken red buck: 2 lbs, 3 oz
Acer's group:
  • broken red doe: 2 lbs, 1 oz
  • solid red doe: 2 lbs, 1 oz
  • solid red buck: 2 lbs, 1 oz
  • broken red buck: 1 lb, 12 oz (the runt)
  • broken red doe: 2 lbs, 1 oz
I think they're looking pretty good!

I also finally weighed the brood does, since they are between litters. I meant to do it last week when I bred them, but I don't think one week should make too much of a difference.

Both does are about 8 months old.

Acer: 9 lbs, 8 oz. That's a little small for a New Zealand, but then I knew she was.


Cardamom, on the other hand, is a whopping 11 pounds!!

I knew she was a big girl but, WOW! She is now officially my largest rabbit.

It's funny how things have changed, now that I've seen them both perform as mothers.

I used to be so sure that Cardamom was destined for the crock pot. But now, she has become my favorite! Her attitude has improved greatly, she has thrown two big litters and she is a great momma. 


All the babies are doing well, with the exception of the runt with the chronic eye problems. I've treated him so many times, and given him every chance, but I think I'm just going to have to cull.

Everyone else is fat, sassy and friendly.

Interestingly, Cardamom's group is more laid back than Acer's. While Cardamom has become more placid since raising a litter, Acer has become more skittish. It's pretty apparent that their personality traits are influencing the kits - especially considering they are from the same litter.

Acer's group huddled in the back. Granted, I had just grabbed them all and dunked them in the bunny bag.

Cardamom's. Even after weighing the kits were still approaching the cage door.

I am planning to go ahead and wean everyone by next week. They are all eating and drinking on their own, and doing quite well. They would probably be fine weaned this week, but I just ran out of hay, and feel I should make it available to them to ease the transition.

Unfortunately, all the farm suppliers are cleaned out of hay, after the severe cold snap last week. Looks like I'll be paying a ridiculous sum for a compressed bale from Tractor Supply.


Just when last week's snow had melted, we got another one.


This time it was gentle and fluffy, nothing like the nasty ice storm from last time.

It lasted a few hours, but the temperatures reached the mid-40's so it melted pretty quickly.


In other news, I have my first rabbit thawing in the fridge! Today or tomorrow I will be cooking our very first home-grown lapin meal!

Be well.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Setback


So remember a couple of posts ago when I mentioned we heard a loud noise in the middle of the night? Yeah, it wasn't ice sliding off the roof...


Nope. It was the roof of our grow-out pen collapsing.

Luckily, there are no rabbits in it currently. Although we will be weaning 10 babies soon, and they will need a place to go.

Granted, the makeshift roof wasn't exactly of the sturdiest construction...


... but then, we weren't thinking it would need to stand up to an ice storm, either.

Oh well. It really won't be that expensive or time consuming to fix. Just need to buy another tarp and some more deer netting. I just hope we can get around to that before the kits turn 8 weeks old.


The snow is long gone now (some ice remains), but a couple of days ago it was still quite lovely...



One of my favorite things about snow is following animal tracks.


Opossum. They get confused with raccoons frequently, but the big difference is in the hind feet. A raccoon has an elongated hind foot, while a possum's is shaped a lot like an ape's.


A beaver interlaced with a small whitetail.


Whitetail and bobcat.

Sometimes I think it would be cool to live somewhere there is heavy snow all winter long, like Maine or Alaska.

But then I remember that that involves freaking cold temperatures and long, dark winters and decide that I'm pretty happy in Tennessee.

In milder years, the first wildflowers have made their appearance by now.

No doubt the cold temperatures will postpone the bloom by a couple of weeks. Maybe this means there will be more variety for the park's annual Celebration of Spring. Most years, an early warm-up means most of the early spring wildflowers have already bloomed.

On that subject, and since I'm tired of snow and ice and bleak winter days, here are some wildflower pictures from years past to help whet our already voracious appetites for spring....

Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicenta cucullaria)

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Yellow Wood Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Dwarf Purple Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne)

Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum)

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Hmmm.... this gives me an idea for future posts. Stay tuned. :)


Monday, February 23, 2015

Pros and Cons of Feeding Hay to Rabbits


To feed hay, or not to feed hay? 

This is a choice every rabbit raiser is faced with once they decide to plunge into the wonderful world of raising rabbits.

So what are some good reasons for feeding hay? How about some good reasons NOT to?

Let's explore the pros and cons of offering hay to your rabbits...

(For our purposes today, we will be discussing the feeding of GRASS hay as a dietary supplement. There are natural feeding methods where LEGUME hay comprises a large part of the diet, but this isn't really recommended as a supplement to pellets, because of the excessive amounts of protein.)


First off, what is hay exactly?

Hay is basically dried grass or herbage that has been cured for the purpose of animal fodder.

It is typically harvested just before the flowers open, when the plants are at their most nutritious. 

The trick to curing hay is to dry it in the sun to help preserve its nutrients, but not so much that it leaches nutrients. Hay must be kept in a dry, well ventilated location (like a barn loft) to preserve it.

Good quality hay is green, flexible and sweet smelling. Look for "horse quality" hay, if at all possible. 

Poorer quality hay (typically marketed for cows and goats) is usually yellow and brittle, and sometimes dusty and full of weeds. (If this is all you can find, don't sweat it. Yellow, stemmy hay still provides necessary roughage.)

BAD hay is moldy and full of trash. Do NOT feed moldy hay to anything. Use that as compost or mulch.


PROS

1. Roughage

Rabbits are what are known as hindgut ruminants. Their intestines, and especially their enlarged cecum. are colonized by a menagerie of bacteria that are designed to ferment and break down low energy plant matter into usable calories for their host. This takes the form of a soft fecal pellet known as a cecotrope, which they ingest a second time. So rabbits, like true ruminants, aren't feeding themselves so much as feeding the bacteria in their gut.


The dry, fibrous stems and leaves of hay are just the kind of food stuff these tiny critters crave. Thus, hay is excellent for helping to keep a rabbit's digestive system in top working condition.

Making hay available whenever a rabbit is going through a transition is a great way to prevent digestive upset. It is especially useful when weaning baby bunnies, or when introducing rabbits to a new feed.


It is also helpful after the fact. Whenever a rabbit's digestive system is out of whack, feeding only hay for a couple of days is a great way to set them straight. Sometimes hay is all they will eat when they are sick. So it's great to have on hand for times like these.

2. Alleviates Boredom

Let's face it, caged rabbits don't exactly live an exciting life. If they're lucky, they get to get out every day, run around and do rabbit things. But that's not always realistic. So munching on hay gives them an energy outlet, and can help prevent unwanted behaviors.

3. Satisfies the Need to Chew


Just LOOK at those chompers!

This sort of goes along with the previous topic, but rabbits are big chewers. In the wild they feed on lots of woody stems and fibrous plant matter. To compensate for all of this wear and tear, their teeth grow continuously throughout their lives.  While it's certainly a good idea to provide them with branches and edible wooden objects for them to gnaw on, hay also helps satisfy this need. Without anything to keep their mouths occupied, they tend to chew up things we don't want them to.

(*Side note: it is a common misconception that rabbits must have things to gnaw on to keep their teeth worn down. As long as their teeth align properly, they will stay worn through the simple act of chewing. If their teeth are misaligned, this is a disorder known as malocclusion, and is caused  either by poor genetics or injury to the jaw.) 

4. Emergency Backup

Sometimes, life happens. We are in a car accident, or we have to rush somebody to the hospital. Or there may be other things that prevent us from getting home to feed our rabbits. If their hay feeders are kept full, they will always have something to eat if we can't make it home for a feeding.

Now, that's certainly not to say we should go on vacation and leave them with a full hay feeder, expecting them to survive, but you get the idea.

5. Double Duty

Some rabbit raisers keep other livestock that also eat hay: horses, goats, sheep, alapacas, etc. You may already purchase hay year-round, and can set a side a few bales for the buns. Hay is good for other things besides just a dietary supplement, however.

You can also use it to stuff nest boxes for kindling. It isn't really the preferred material for nest boxes, but if you can't find straw (like I couldn't last month), it makes a satisfactory substitute.


Be warned though - hungry preggars rabbits tend to EAT their nest box full of hay as fast as you can re-fill it, so be sure to supply them with plenty of hay on the side as well.

Hay can also be used to line the rabbits' cages on those really cold nights. Again, straw is really better for this (large, hollow stems are better at insulating), but hay will certainly work in a pinch.

A box of hay helps keep these babies toasty warm on cold nights - and doubles as a snack
Lastly, a wad of hay can also double as a broom or a scrub brush in the bunny barn, if needed.

6. Compost

In a perfect world, rabbits would eat every stem of that beautiful hay you provide for them, but unfortunately that's not the case. Sometimes when I walk out to the rabbit shed, I stand there and wonder if any of that hay actually makes it into the rabbits' mouths.



Of course, how much is wasted depends largely on the quality of the hay and your method of feeding it to them. They tend to waste less if it is fed in a rack of some sort, rather than just tossed on the cage floor.

However, there is an excellent by-product of all this wastage: COMPOST!

Hay mixed with bunny berries and urine is great tossed onto the garden, or thrown into the chicken coop for the chickens to process further (adding their own poop to it, in the process, of course). Or you can just heave it straight onto your compost pile. Damp hay tends to make a pretty hot compost, which breaks down quickly, and also leads me to the next rather unexpected benefit...

7. Supplemental Heat

I decided to perform a little experiment this winter.

Instead of forking the wasted hay onto the compost heap, I decided to let it pile up and compost right under the rabbits. I wanted to see how much the pile would heat the rabbitry.


We placed a remote temp/humidity gauge in there, and have watched it closely. It tends to remain at least 2-3 degrees warmer inside the shed than it is on the outside. Now, I'm sure part of this is from the heat given off by the rabbits themselves, but I'm convinced the composting hay is also contributing to the higher temperatures. 2-3 degrees may not seem like much, but it makes a world of difference when it stays above freezing while there is frost on the ground outside. Freezing water is the bane of any rabbit raiser's existence. It's a pleasant surprise to walk out to the rabbitry when it's 30 degrees, expecting to have water bottles to thaw, and then find it won't be needed. (I make sure to check the water is till flowing through the spout, as well.)

Another added benefit of letting the hay pile up under the cages, is the lack of SMELL. All of that carbonaceous material is excellent for absorbing all of the nitrogen in rabbit urine.


So, while there are some excellent reasons to feed hay to rabbits, there are also some good reasons NOT to...

CONS

1. Messy

This tends to be the deal breaker for most rabbit raisers who decide to forego hay feeding; and I must admit, I've thought about ditching the hay for this very reason.

Like I mentioned before, rabbits tend to waste a LOT, even if it is the finest, greenest, sweetest hay you can find. And it gets EVERYWHERE.

This can be especially annoying if you house your rabbits indoors. It isn't the easiest thing to suck up with a shop vac, and can be frustrating to sweep up, as well.

The presence of hay on the floors and in the racks may encourage the presence of rodents, who like to nibble on the little seeds.

Another big downside to all of that wasted hay is separating out the bunny berries, for those of us who sell them to gardeners. It's much easier to rake up the manure, dry it and bag it, without the presence of hay. Otherwise, you will have to spend a great deal of time shaking it through a screen to filter it out. Even if you take the time to do that, the grass and weed seeds in the manure will make it less desirable for gardeners, who won't really appreciate all of those little weed seedling popping up in their flower beds.

To sum up, MORE MESS = MORE WORK.

2. Availability

Hay isn't always easy to find. Good hay can be even harder to find. Availability will vary widely depending on the time of year and the region in which you live. The farmer you got it from last month may not have any left, or it may just be a bad season for hay - too wet or too dry. Even if you do find a great farm to source it from, they may decide to stop growing hay, for whatever reason. Then you are left needing to find another source.

Prices can also fluctuate quite a bit for the same reasons.  While it may be cheaper to buy directly from the farmer, a lot of us can only use or store a few bales at a time. Some farmers would rather not take the time to deal with customers who will take less than a truckload.

3. Quality Can Vary

It's great to find a farmer or feed store that carries great quality hay all of the time, but more often than not that isn't the case. The person you sourced those beautiful, sweet-smelling bales from last time, may only have stemmy, dusty, yellow hay this time around. 

4. Risk of Contaminants

Along those same lines, you can sometimes get hay that is hiding mold, trash or poisonous plants. If we fail to notice these things, we may risk losing rabbits to a bad batch of hay. 

Pesticides can also be a concern. Most farmers spray herbicide to help deter weeds in their hay. Rabbits can be especially sensitive to these chemicals. Organic hay will probably cost you more, and may be very difficult or impossible to find.

5. Storage

This has been a big problem for me, and can be an issue for a lot of backyard rabbit breeders. The only outbuilding we have at our house right now is a metal storage shed. Unfortunately, it stays far too damp in there to store hay successfully. Hay requires a very dry and well-ventilated storage space in order for it to stay fresh. Keeping wild birds and rodents out of your stored hay can also be a headache.

As a side note, this is the solution I came up with for now:



I got this storage bin with a locking lid at Walmart. I was really looking for a big garbage can, but decided this would work for now. It can hold about 3/4 of a square bale, and does an excellent job of keeping it dry (it also doubles as a table!).

CONCLUSION

When it comes down to it, whether or not to feed hay is just a matter of choice. 

I, for one, am an avid hay feeder. I feel that the health benefits far outweigh the mess and other challenges hay can provide. 


Do you feed hay to your rabbits? Why or why not?


Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Thaw


We are slowly watching our cocoon of snow and ice melt away.

Our winter wonderland is ending the same way it began, only in reverse: from snow to sleet to rain.

It's still hovering around freezing this morning, so it's just cold enough for the ice to cling, but it's supposed to reach the mid-40's, so it will eventually succumb.

Last night we were awoken by a very loud, startling noise - kind of like a resounding SCHLUMP-SPLATTER!

It was nothing more than sheets of ice and snow sliding off the roof.


Mark visited the beaver pond, yesterday, just to see if it had frozen over.


Not quite, but it was getting there.

Not to worry, the lodge makes for a cozy retreat under the ice.


The beavers are happily snuggled inside, munching on twigs they stored over the summer and fall.



I haven't mentioned this yet, but we have been mulling over a pretty big disappointment during this snowy week.

You may remember that the park manager retired three months ago. Mark was appointed the interim manager until a new one could be hired on.

He's been a ranger for 12 years now. He's known for the last several years that if the opportunity arose to apply for park manager, he would take it - even if it meant taking on all the necessary headaches.

I watched him flourish under his new leadership role. He took the responsibilities of interim manager in stride. I've never seen him more confident or self-assured.

When the time came to submit his application and interview for the position, we felt pretty good about it. We were supposed to find out last Friday who they selected, but it was such a close race they ended up deliberating until Tuesday.

Then we found out who they selected. It wasn't Mark.

Jacob is an awesome person, an incredible manager, a phenomenal ranger, and a good friend of Mark's. Despite him being a few years younger, he has already had managerial experience, and had a little more leadership training than Mark, which is ultimately why they picked him.

It was a bit of a blow for us. We were looking forward to the possibility of a pay raise and him having weekends off, with all the work that needs to be done on our new house.

More than anything though, I know he was eager to move up in the ranks and become the park leader.

I've spent a great deal of time in prayer about it. And I knew that whatever happened, it would be God's will.

So here we have His answer. It's not what we wanted, but that doesn't mean God wasn't listening or didn't feel like we deserved what we wanted.

He just has something else in mind - something bigger, something better.

On the flip side of things, it will be nice to have neighbors again! For the last few months we have been the only ones living on the park. One ranger retired, the manager retired, and the other ranger and his wife moved off the park.

Of course, our new neighbors will be about a quarter mile away, but neighbors nonetheless!

Plus, they have young kids that Ian will enjoy playing with.

Another positive I have considered, is that it might open up an opportunity for me to work at the park again.

If Mark had become manager, he wouldn't have been able to hire me on - nepotism, and all.

I would really love to work as a park naturalist again, if that becomes a possibility.

I know Mark and Jacob will make a fantastic team, steering the park in a brave new direction.

It is the dawn of a new era, and I look forward to seeing the positive changes unfold.


Watching the ice melt away, we are reminded of the changing of the seasons.

Things can change in an instant, and often in ways we do not expect or wish for.



But we adapt and change with them, becoming stronger for it.

I love this man.


He is a great husband, an awesome father and an incredible ranger. He is brilliant, driven and talented. I know there are still wonderful things in store for him.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Three Litters on the Way!

In case you're wondering what that big ugly curtain is, it's actually one of those car liners you get to protect your interior from mud and dog nails. It got vomited on a couple of times, and left out in the elements because I never got around to washing it. Then I finally decided it would make a good windbreak. It's heavier than a tarp, and waterproof too! Great solution. :)
I took the camera out to the rabbit shed with me yesterday with the intention of getting some good photos and videos of rabbits doing the nasty. But alas, I realized in the hot and steamy midst of things that I had forgotten to put the memory card back into the camera, so you'll just have to use your dirty imagination.

[insert photo of mating rabbits]

Oh well, the important thing is all three does got bred, successfully.

I wasn't sure how receptive they would be, with the bitterly cold weather; but I soon found out that they were H-O-T TO TROT! I have never seen them randier. Even first timer, Babette was riding the experienced Turn around like he was a kid's pony. It took forever to get them all bred because there was so much circling, with the does trying to mount the bucks.

Yeah, I'm really wishing I had pictures, now. Maybe next time I'll be ready.

I'm excited because this time I'll be getting my first litter of pure New Zealands (Ichigo + Cardamom) and my first litter of pure Creme d'Argent! (Not to mention the fact that I'll have three litters at the same time! I'm really glad we have that grow-out pen.)

I bred Acer to Colbert again, since I really liked the outcome of that litter (with the exception of the rather slow growth rates).

All three girls are due March 21st.

Everyone did fine with the subzero temperatures last night. I made sure they all had plenty of fluffy straw in their cages, just in case.

Babette digging in her bedding. Think she has enough straw in there?
So, no photos of rabbits mating, but I have plenty of exciting photos of rabbits drinking...

slurp-slurp
slurp-slurp-slurp

slurp-slurp-slurp-slurp
. She doesn't wait for me to finish pouring the water and gets her head soaked every time.
In my last post I was bemoaning the fact that the bungees weren't doing much to keep their crocks from flipping over. Well, Mother Nature solved that problem for me: the spilled water is freezing and holding them in place! :)

OMG, look at that little bun with his eyes closed. They are SO CUTE at this age! Or should I say, KAWAII!!! (squealed like a Japanese school girl)
The wood stove has still been serving us well, even though we ran out of our seasoned wood. The newer stuff just doesn't burn as long or as hot, but it still burns.

The wood stove has been far and away the best purchase the state has made for our residence (well, it was technically bought with a grant). The other "green initiative" projects have been a dismal failure.

First there was the window, debacle. The new "energy efficient" windows don't amount to much if they don't fit in the dang frames. There were gaps so big you could literally see outside. The contractors came back like, 3 different times to "fix" things and didn't do diddlysquat (unless you count slapping on untreated pine boards). We ended up pumping several cans of spray foam around the edges, but there is still cold air leaking in.

The "green" dishwasher just sucks. I guess it saves water by NOT WASHING anything. We usually end up running it twice.

The water heater may save energy, but we never seem to have enough hot water for what we need to do (think cloth diapers).

(I know, I know - first world problems, and all.)

This past summer we got an all new "energy efficient" H-VAC system, complete with new duct work. The unit would probably work great if there was insulation anywhere in the house. Or if the windows were airtight. (Of course, we also had an episode with Wood Rats, a few months ago.)

Even after the duct work was patched after the rat damage, we were still noticing how hot it was next to the picture window. When it turned cold, there was a draft in the living room and we could not figure out where it was coming from. 

Until today:


The lousy contractor hadn't even bothered to nail the duct work in! It was literally just hanging there, with icy air blowing in all around it from under the house. NO WONDER it was so blasted cold in there!

We fixed it though! We pulled it up where it was supposed to be, hammered in some roofing nails and caulked it with foam insulation.



Afterwards, Mark went around and checked all of the vents in the house, and all of them had gaps. Not as bad as the first one, but none of them fit right. 

Maybe it wouldn't matter so much if we weren't paying the friggin' electric bill!!!!

Can you believe these clowns actually got PAID for this job?! It's laughable. Can you say contracted out to the lowest bidder? Your tax dollars at work, people.

End of rant.

[fumes]

Here, I'll share some more snow scene pictures, courtesy of the Ranger Man, to help take my mind off that. [deep breath]





Yes, that's better. :)

Peace out, friends.