Rabbits


Things are going well for us right now.

My parents just left from a week long visit.  It was the first time I’ve seen my dad in 3 years, and the first time he had met R.  We had a great visit, and may see them again this summer.

JR’s rabbit doe delivered another healthy litter this morning.  Seeing as how we are technically considered in the “high-altitude plains,” we are still getting our fair share of snow from this latest storm.  Due to the cold factor, we haven’t bothered the nest to count the little kits yet.  The doe has proven herself a good mom in the past though, so hopefully she will stick with that trend.

I finally got the blood drawn on my last 2 does, to determine once and for all if they are pregnant.  I’m crossing my fingers, as they are definitely not cycling any more.  I’m about ready to dry up Faith, as she really isn’t producing much anyway.  I’m just keeping her going until I get those test results.

The sale of our house is moving right along as well.  The buyers have already begun the inspections process.  It has already paid off that we got the 5-year roof inspection warranty, as it had begun snowing when the first inspector showed up and he couldn’t inspect the roof.  The buyer opted to believe the inspection and warranty we had given them.  The rest of the house inspection seemed satisfactory though. We also already have title commitment from the title company.  We are hoping for a warm spell this weekend so we can do some outside paint touch-ups for the appraisal process.  The buyer is having a radon test run right now, and they are working on scheduling a well flow test for next week.  There isn’t much we can do except allow them to schedule the inspections and tests at this point.  However, things seem to be going well, and the buyers seem very excited with the property.  We are hopeful this will continue to be rather quick, easy, and painless, without too many expenses on our part.

The kids are in the final stages of their schooling.  They are on lesson 129 of 170.  That doesn’t leave much.  They have done so well this year.  I am just thrilled with the Abeka Academy video program.  It is very thorough, and the kids are learning far more than they would have had I tried to handle the teaching alone.

So that’s our latest.  Things are anticipated to start getting pretty busy here soon.  I will try to keep the updates coming.

It’s high time for a farm report!

Some of the hens going after a fresh treat of hay on a snowy day.

Some of the hens going after a fresh treat of hay on a snowy day.

Hens:  All our hens finally made it through molt, and all the chicks from last summer finally got big enough to lay.  Out of 20 hens, we are up to about 16 eggs a day–the most we’ve ever had!  Winter cold and short days interfered with their starting to lay quite a bit.  Originally, we installed a light in the coop, on a timer, to counter the short days.  Unbeknownst to us, though, it came unplugged at some point (I generally don’t make a habit of waking at 4:30 a.m. just to check the chicken’s light.  My commitment has its limits!).  So, the short days had its effect on the girls.  Nonetheless, a new one seems to be coming on line every day now, as the day length increases, and the weather warms slightly (we are up to 20* nightime lows!).  Five of the girls will soon be going to another home.  The other 15 are on a list with the state vet lab to be blood tested for Pullorum Typhoid (a particular strain of salmonella) when the testers come through our area in late March/April.  This test is required for any poultry crossing state lines, and since we are moving all the girls with us, it is required by law.  After all the testing and efforts we are going through to move these girls with us, I just pray the stress of the move doesn’t send them into another molt and delay laying by several months!  We might need to use eggs as bribes to our new neighbors as they adjust to our menagerie of animals and unique sounds that come from a farm like ours (nothing like a donkey braying for her dinner at 8 p.m.!)

Shiloh (front) and her jenny, Asha munching some breakfast.

Shiloh (front) and her jenny, Asha munching some breakfast.

Donkeys:  The donkeys are doing well.  They are probably the closest thing to pasture ornaments I’ve ever had at this point though.  Asha is a pistol at 9 months old–totally full of herself!  I haven’t worked with her as much as I’d like to thanks to the cold, but she is doing well despite that.  Shiloh seems to be enjoying her days, eating and caring for her youngster.  She is still very protective and will totally spaz out if Asha is taken from her (though she is fine with being taken away from Asha–go figure), but she gets better the more we work on it.  Asha is still nursing, so they are pretty close.  There really is no reason to discourage it at this point in time.  When I do saddle up Shiloh (maybe once a month right now–everything else is just bareback–she spends the first 30 seconds pouting, walking funny, and generally trying to convince me she’s never had a saddle on before.  When I threaten to make her trot a circle or two, she suddenly changes her mind and agrees to give rides to the kids.  She’s such a goof!  I love her personality–so gentle and sweet, yet so quick to let me know what she is thinking!  I am envisioning riding my draft horse (to be purchased after we move) down the trails at Red Gate, as my children follow closely on their donkeys.  I also have harnesses toward the top of my “to-buy” list, for after this CO house sells.  I hope to turn them into driving donkeys, so Asha will have a job until she is rideable in another 3 years.  I can also use them for smaller pulling tasks around the farm that way.  I recently trimmed both girls’ hooves.  I am getting increasingly confident with doing that job, and enjoy knowing that I’m saving a good $70 every two months!  It will probably save me more once I get my draft team (since most farriers charge more for the big ones).  For the sake of my out-of-shape and injured back though, I think I will have to learn to space hoof trims between the goats, donkeys, and horses, in such a way that I do about one animal a week instead of trying to pile them all into a day.

JR's colored buck, Jupiter, wanting out of his cage for some play time.

JR’s colored buck, Jupiter, wanting out of his cage for some play time.

Rabbits:  The original plan was to move 4 rabbits–2 does and 2 bucks.  Recently, however, a new doe that JR had raised (a kit of his favorite doe that died last year), was pregnant and contracted sniffles.  The day before she was due, she died.  JR was heartbroken.  We are down to 1 doe and 2 bucks now, and he is debating trying to get another doe out of one of his remaining litters, or just wait until we move and try a new line entirely.  He is really hoping to add some more color to his herd, so he is waiting to see if this colorful buck produces any colorful does in the next litter.  Our last doe is pregnant by him, due to kindle in about 2 weeks.  Her last litter is running free in the colony with Pelham, our American Chinchilla buck (the best babysitter anyone could want!), and they are due to be harvested in about 4 more weeks (we harvest at 12 weeks).

Faith (yellow collar), daughter Joy, and Latte in the back.

Faith (yellow collar), daughter Joy, and Latte in the back.

Goats:  We have our 3 Alpine does–Faith, daughter Joy, and Latte.  I am only milking once a day right now; Latte is producing about 3.5 lbs. a day (almost 1/2 gallon), while Faith is only giving about a pint.  I want to keep her going until I know she is pregnant.  Joy has been confirmed pregnant, and is due to kid around March 28.  She is our first scheduled, so we have a while yet.  I have asked S for a specific, 4th doe for Valentine’s (assuming the owner is willing to sell outright instead of trade like we had originally discussed).  Not sure if he’s taking me seriously.  After all, “goat” and “Valentine’s gift” aren’t usually too synonymous, I guess.  If that did happen to work out, the new doe is due to deliver about week after Joy.  I plan to blood test Latte and Joy next week, just to help me with my planning around the move.  After all our struggles getting them all bred and pregnant, I really hope they finally settled.  Neither has cycled since their last breeding, though, so I am hopeful.  I have my theories as to why they didn’t settle the first time or two.  IF they conceived, then Latte is due May 2–two weeks before we move!  Faith would be due June 7, meaning she would be traveling while pregnant, and then deliver at Red Gate.  That also means that, as hoped 2 breeding seasons ago, my former buck Stallion would be the sire of the first kids born at Red Gate!  It has also worked out that I have Joy and Latte, both daughters of Stallion, meaning that Stallion is essentially the foundation sire, and his line, Mamm-Key, will help build the basis of my dairy herd!  Other amazing lines in my girls include Harmody, Redwood Hills, Jailhaus, Cherry Glen, and Tempo Aquila.  If you know much about the Alpine lines, then you can understand how exciting it is that I have managed to tap into the hard work and careful breeding associated with those lines, all of which are known for high-quality, high-producing goats, many of which go on to win championships and/or milk stars.  I am just thrilled to be at that point as we head east where other lines are better known, and these girls will be considered “new blood.”

Athena, the ever-faithful, always-on-duty LGD

Athena, the ever-faithful, always-on-duty LGD

LGD:  Athena has a won a place on our farm for good!  In fact, she has probably won a place for livestock guardian dogs in general on our farm.  We have never had an issue with a predator when she was on duty, and we haven’t lost a single animal since S shot the rogue (possibly diseased) fox earlier this year.  In addition, we are pretty sure she has deterred a couple of humans possibly trying to steal a goat or two.  Her guarding brings us such piece of mind.  Back at Red Gate, there has recently been 2 sightings of cougar within 1/2 mile or so of our farm, and last year, a calf carcass was found in a tree not too far away.  We also just found out we now have a resident bald eagle, not to mention the surplus of raccoon, opossum, bobcat, coyote, fox, skunk, and deer–all of which enjoy at least one variety of the animals or crops that we plan to grow.  She’s a great dog, highly intelligent, and will likely have her work cut out for her there!  I am so thankful we took the opportunity to raise her here so she was ready when we moved.  Her only downside right now is that, at 18 months old and around 100 lbs., she still acts like a pup–albeit, a very large pup.  Her only playmates are the goats, who easily tire of her playful antics.  On occasion she also barks, we suspect, out of boredom. That fact, in addition to upcoming kidding season, in addition to the much larger acreage and increased wildlife she must patrol back east, we are considering getting her a playmate that will also help her patrol.  I am being choosy though, as I want a pup almost identical to her.  I am looking for a young (under about 4 months old) female pup that is 3/4 Great Pyrenees and 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd.  I LOVE this cross.  It has proven itself so well here in CO, that there are some folks trying to make an official breed out of it known as the “Colorado Mountain Dog.”  Unfortunately, their popularity here in CO makes their price outrageous.  I was very blessed to get Athena for the price I did, because the seller didn’t understand what exactly he had.  Therefore, if you happen to know of anyone selling a litter of this cross for an affordable price, and the pups will be around 2-4 months old AFTER April, please let me know.

A few live hives, and a few empty ones.  We are storing the empty ones outside just because we have no other area to put them at present, plus it looks better for home showings.

A few live hives, and a few empty ones. We are storing the empty ones outside just because we have no other area to put them at present, plus it looks better for home showings.

Honey Bees:  The bees seem to be hanging in there.  We have 3 hives that seem to have survived the winter.  I think we are past the danger zone at this point.  We are likely going to sell one before we move–a very hardy hive whose genetics have survived at least 3 CO winters (a VERY rare feat around here!).  Because they are so adapted here, we aren’t confident they would survive the heat and humidity of Red Gate.  We are probably going to move 2 other hives back east.  I have been working on getting more comfortable with the bees, as I replenished some of their honey stores, and learned how to handle some of the tools.  I will basically be having to handle them alone this summer and fall, so I want to be sure I have a clue what I’m doing.  Guess I will soon be able to add “Bee keeper” to my lengthy job description.

In other farm news, in preparation for moving, we bought our truck and have ordered our custom trailer, which will hopefully be here in about 4-6 more weeks.  I look forward to loading all the animals up for some trial arranging to see if our planned set-up will work for the move.  I am also working on a grain order to re-stock all our barrels prior to move.  I will lose my custom-grain source once we leave CO, and it is too expensive to ship.  I haven’t been able to find another source of organic grains closer to Red Gate, so I’m not sure what I will get when this is all gone.  Finally, we are still working on selling our house.  We have begun minimal packing to help eliminate any clutter and better stage the house.  We are continuing to work on needed repairs and improvements.  We show the house quite frequently, which makes us confident we have priced it right, and we have even received one offer.  Unfortunately, it was from a “city” guy who had no appreciation for the value of the land rights we have, as he didn’t care about animals.  He literally wanted to buy JUST the house, at a price just slightly above what we paid for it 2 years ago as a FORECLOSURE (which he got from public records).  S tried to explain that things don’t really work like that.  He is welcome to buy the place, and welcome to make a FAIR offer, but he couldn’t just buy the house and have us discount for everything he wasn’t interested in. In addition, he also wanted us to remove ALL fencing, shelters, and everything we had setup for animals.  That doesn’t bother us, as we could easily sell it around here.  It just didn’t seem to be a very good offer in general, so we declined.  We have had a couple folks return multiple times to look.  Most of the viewers are folks who still have to sell their house before they can get financing.  We have also had several requests to rent or to owner-finance, neither of which interests us.  We just want a no-hassle, easy sale and be done with it.  We are praying the right family will come along–perhaps even one that has dreams of taking that “next step” like we did, who can appreciate the work we did here, and who desire to be more sustainable and less dependent on the economy.  Who knows what God has in mind?  If we don’t get an acceptable offer by March, we will be listing it with our realtor (and raising the asking price considerably–closer to the realtor recommended–as a result).  We’ll see what happens.

Last year, we had to learn to work around a menace of a fox, who had a taste for our free-range chickens.  We lost a few, but between Athena, the donkeys, the kids playing, Will being outside, and other steps we took, we found a compromise that mostly protected our chickens.  At the same time, we always worried about our uncaged,”Hare-pen” rabbits, so we also took precautions there.  We installed fencing on the bottom of their pen as much to keep them from digging out as to keep a predator from digging in.  We also used the highest scrap fencing we had–about 5 feet high to be exact–as the perimeter fence.  Originally, we also hot-wired the outside of the fence at dog-nose height.  Over time, though, we never had any trouble with the fox getting rabbits, the wire shocked more visitors than predators, and it eventually came down.  Then, last spring, when the fox began acting suspiciously and approaching the children in broad daylight around the same time a rabies alert was sent out, we had to shoot it.  Problem solved, albeit temporarily.

Happy Hare-pen bunnies

Well, you can imagine our surprise late last night, when S stepped outside on the back deck (which hangs over the rabbit pen) to check on something unrelated and heard a noise in the pen.  He shined his flashlight down there, just in time to see a fox leap straight up and out, over the top of the fence, sort of using his paws to climb the upper portion of wire as he went.  Fearing my son would find his colony dead the next morning, I took the light, and went to inspect for casualties.  I couldn’t find any trace of blood or rabbit fur.  So, I began opening all the boxes.  I couldn’t help but smile as I found small groups of rabbits huddling safely together in about half of the underground nest boxes and in the community feeder box.  When they saw me, it was like they knew they were safe now, breathed a sigh of relief, and poked their little heads up for a pet or two.  I did what I could to re-enforce their lids and entrances (so they could get in and out, but hopefully a fox couldn’t), added some extra food and water in hopes they would have what they needed to remain sheltered for the night, and went on to bed.  This morning, I got up and re-installed hot wire, but this time, I put it along the outside of the TOP of the fence.  Since we now know the fox JUMPS, he would easily clear anything lower, but if his paw or tail so much as bump a fence wire at the same time he bumps the hot wire (I THINK it would be impossible not to do so), then he will get a zap he will never forget, which will hopefully cause him to forget about rabbit for dinner!

Notice the strand of hot wire across the top.

There are a few things I don’t really like about our current Hare-pen design, but last night, it proved it’s worth, that’s for sure.  There are some very friendly rabbits in that pen, including our only mature breeding buck and doe, and our last litter of weaned kits.  And we didn’t lose a single one!  Thank the Lord!!  Their shelters and underground tunnels proved (surprisingly) impenetrable to the fox, and I am hoping the failure to find a meal will deter him from trying again.  In the mean time, I am now considering other ways to improve our design at Red Gate.

A very relaxed Hope, with not a care in the world, just lounging in the Hare-pen, apparently having totally forgotten about her near-death experience less than 12 hours earlier.

We have been busy around the farm this summer, trying to find the balance between getting things set up for another frigid and long winter, living temporarily, and preparing for our move in the spring.  Unfortunately, my busy-ness has decreased my blog readership by about 60%, so I guess I really need to make blogging a priority again.  Since farm-related topics seem to be the main topic of interest, I will start there this week.

We had to purchase our hay in 3x3x8 foot bales this year.  Thanks to the severe drought, there just wasn’t much to choose from.  In fact, to give you east-coasters some appreciation for real drought, a 55 lb. bale is currently going for around $13.50, while 70 lb. bales are going for $15.  The 800 lb. round bales I used to buy in GA for $30 cost about $200 here.  It is absolutely insane!  Thus, anticipating steeper prices and more shortage as winter arrives, we calculated out how much we would need to get us through the move, with a little left over for weaning onto pasture.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a place to store bales of hay that big, so we built a cheap shelter out of cattle panels, t-posts, a tarp, and bulletin-board tarp.  It’s ugly, but it works, and can be torn down in about 30 minutes. I will probably do an separate post on the shelter for anyone interested.

Between the hay prices and the move, we have cut down on our animals.  So, our farm, which has done a complete turn around from the animals we had this time last year, now consists of 2 milking does and a spring doeling.  I recently submitted bloodwork from all 3 for several different tests, as these particular does had never been tested (just their parents before I got them), and, as expected, they were negative for everything–always a good thing!  I also plan to submit manure samples from them, just to see how our natural deworming regimine is working.

American Alpine, Latte, is a 2-year-old second freshener, producing just under a gallon a day currently. She peaked at 1.5 gallons. She is, coincidentally, a daughter of Stallion, our buck from last year, and a sweetheart to boot!

American Alpine, Faith, is a 1 year old first freshener, producing about 3/4 gallon a day this year.

American Alpine, Joy, is a spring 2012 doeling out of Faith (above) and Stallion, our buck from last year.  She is a very nice and correct doeling, and I am excited to see how she produces next year!

Of course, Athena is a keeper.  I am still toying a bit with improving her training slightly, but we absolutely adore her.  Her instinct to protect her animals and family are just fascinating to witness, just as her instincts to keep the peace are entertaining.  She always happily alerts us to any deer, squirrel, or fox that comes around (yes, that also means she is a bit noisy at times), but we haven’t lost any animals when she is on duty.  If the does start fighting over something, she is quick to break it up, either by grabbing a tail or leg and hauling the offender away to the other side of the pen, or just by getting in the middle and barking a scold at them.

Athena, the livestock guardian dog. She is 3/4 Great Pyrenees, 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd, and 100% sweetheart!

We also have Shiloh, the jenny, and her 3-month-old jenny foal, Asha, who we have decided to keep–seeing as how we do have 5 children that want to ride.  I have been slowly increasing the amount of time I work with Asha, teaching her basic manners, and Shiloh is getting ridden one to two times a week right now.  We are hoping to increase that to 3 or more.  Of course, it is my limited time that slows us down, as I have to bridle her up for the kids to ride.  I trimmed both girls’ hooves today, which I am quite proud of (and quite feeling it tonight–I’ve never done 8 hooves in a single afternoon!)

Shiloh and Asha, the standard donkeys (or burros, depending on which part of the country you’re from).

JR has had quite the rabbit enterprise this year, learning all about advertising, customer service, support-after-sale, dealing with difficult customers, and more.  He has sold about 15 rabbits this summer alone, some live, and some dressed. I have also perfected a couple of rabbit meat recipes that our family really enjoys, so I think the rabbits have earned a permanent place on the farm.  After we sold off all our extra breeders and then JR’s favorite breeding doe developed severe mastitis in one of her teats (I didn’t even know that was possible!) and had to be put down, we are down to just 4 rabbits, 2 does, and 2 bucks.  One of each is currently breeding age, and the other 2 are still growing as replacements.  The youngsters give us a back up in the event we lose a breeder over the winter, but we are hoping to move all 4 to give us a good start at Red Gate Farm.  The breeding doe currently has a litter of 5 week old kits, that will be weaned in the next couple weeks, and harvested after Thanksgiving.  We hope she will keep us supplied until we get settled and start breeding the new girl.

Pelham, our American Chinchilla, and current sire.

Hope, a Harlequin rabbit, and our current breeding doe.

Our up-and-coming buck, Jupiter.

Our still-growing doe, Mars.

Our current litter of kits. All are already reserved for meat.

Then there’s the chickens.  We lost all but 8 of our layers from last year to the fox (who has since been dispatched), then we were gifted 5 more layers early this summer, giving us 13.  Of course, half of them started molting mid-summer, so we have been getting about 6 eggs a day for several months now.  In addition, we were given 12 more chicks in early summer, most of which are pullets we are raising as layers.  Some of them are Americauna’s, meaning we could finally get a few green/blue eggs mixed into the batch.  Depending on how many wind up being roosters, I may sell a few of the pullets this fall.  I was hoping to take a few with us when we moved, to hold us over until we could raise a new batch, but I have discovered several states we will be driving through may require certain tests for poultry.  So, depending on the process and price, we may just sell all the girls next spring and just start over.

Of course, I can’t forget the honey bees.  We have 6 hives now, which we will maintain through the winter.  If all survive, then we will sell 3 hives, mainly to get rid of the larger sized boxes.  S has really spent this year focusing on regressing his bees and using natural, non-chemical methods.  While the process has been very successful in terms of producing healthy hives, due to the regression process, the severe drought (meaning minimal nectar flows), and the fact the previous owner harvested too much honey last year, we aren’t sure we will get to harvest any this year.  It’s kind of borderline at this point.

Finally, just for kicks, we recently had a visitor.  A very smelly, rutty visitor, who reminded me why I sold Stallion last fall.

Meet Marcus, a very well-bred American Alpine buck from Harmody Alpine lines. Notice the incredible bouffant hair do….

You see, this little buck was just born this spring.  Chances are, that hair will keep on growin’, until Marcus resembles his dad, Elvis….

Elvis was quite the king of the herd. Look at that hair!  And he was only a yearling when this pic was taken last year.  I borrowed this pic from a friend’s website. Our black Alpine doe, Onyx, was bred to Elvis last year, but we wound up selling her twin boys. I am rather hoping to keep a little buckling out of him if I can get my hands on one.

Don’t you just love the resemblance?

Well, guess that it’s for now.  Wait until you read tomorrow’s post about a quite unexpected adventure we had in the middle of the night!  Let’s just say it involved a drunk guy, several accomplices, our woods, Athena, and several sheriff’s deputies wielding spotlights and shotguns!

Last year, we began what we hope will be an annual tradition of hosting a “Farm Day.”  Essentially, folks come out to our farm for a day, and follow us around while we do our normal farm duties, teaching mini-classes as we go.  We have a cheese-making demonstration, give the attendees opportunities for hands-on experiences, have a potluck lunch, a discussion on the Biblical principles and life-experiences that have driven us to make the choices we have, and there are tons of activities for the kiddos such as a new bucking barrel, donkey rides, and much more.  At the end of the event, S actually gives a class on animal harvesting.  We have debated continuing this lesson, as butchering animals is certainly not the most pleasant of activities.  However, the requests continue to come in.  Attendees want the whole picture, as many are considering moving into this type of lifestyle, and I guess they just want to know everything that is involved in self-sufficiency.  The thing that never fails to amaze me is that most of the time, men are the ones initially interested while their wives insist they will not stay for the harvest.  Yet, when it comes time for the actual task, so far, EVERY SINGLE person that attends has gathered around to watch.  Most people comment on how surprised they are at how easy, quick, and completely painless the killing is, and how fast we can have meat ready for the oven.  It truly seems to get them thinking.  In regards to this portion, I love a motto we have adapted from natural farmer Joel Salatin, and that is “our goal is to give our animals an incredible, happy, wonderful, natural life that involves just one bad day.”  Of course, if all goes as desired, it is literally one bad moment.

Unfortunately, because we do run this event by ourselves, we were not able to take any photos.  We had over 20 people this past weekend, for a planned private event that we were asked to host for, and then next weekend, we are expecting around 60 people for a more public Farm Day.  I hope to have a volunteer I can ask to take photos for me.  In any case, though, I did manage to take a video of what I am most proud of…..7-year-old JR giving his first public speech, as he taught the rabbit class.  He had been asking to do it for some time, we practiced a couple times prior to the event, and we informed the family we were hosting that he would be doing it so they were aware and prepared.  There was no need though, as he did awesome (if I may be biased).  We allowed him to speak, and when he seemed stuck, S or I would just ask him a pertinent question to get him going again.  It’s about 10 minutes long, and somewhat far away as I didn’t want him to know I was videoing him, lest it distract or make him nervous, but I have to share:

 

 

Thanks to our experiment raising meat rabbits in a community environment, we are learning a great deal about rabbit social issues.

Granted, raising in a fenced-in colony is not completely natural.  In the wild, rabbits have far more space than a fenced pen allows, and tunnel systems can be quite intricate.  Nonetheless, after reading many seemingly successful stories of colony raising, we figured it was something we needed to try.  Even if we can’t duplicate nature in it’s entirety, we figured everything we could duplicate would only improve the lives of our bunnies.  The following is a totally random compilation of what I have observed:

Temperament:

I feared turning rabbits loose would cause their temperaments to become more skittish and wild.  To the contrary, every rabbit, of several different breeds, that I have turned out, has grown friendlier with time.  All I can figure is that they learn we are not trying to catch them every time we come in (like you do when you open a cage), and so they don’t anticipate or fear trouble as much.  Pelham, our AC buck, has been running free in this pen for about 8 months now, and he is the friendliest rabbit I have ever seen.  He will greet us at the gate, run along the fence with us if we are walking outside of it, sit there and allow anyone to pet him, eat from your hand, crawl on you, stand up on your legs, and so on.  At first I thought it was just him, but every other rabbit put in there has done similarly over time.  Visiting children love our rabbit hare-pen!!

Behavior:

It has been a blast watching the rabbits interact with each other.  They romp, play, leap, chase, dig, explore, hide, and lounge.  Pelham often tries to breed the does, and they are easily able to escape his advances if they aren’t ready.  If they are ready, they just sit there and allow it.  Growing kits love the extra space to be…well…like little kids running around or playing hide-and-seek in the tunnels all the time.  By having an assortment of obstacles, tunnels, lounging surfaces, and different heights, all rabbits seem to find a space they can claim as their own, and preferences are as individual as the rabbit.  Preferences also vary with the weather and temperature.

Health:

I have had few health problems with rabbits in the hare-pen.  I have had a couple of new rabbits that developed “snuffles,” a highly contagious respiratory infection, or other mysterious conditions, shortly after arriving.  Most were caged and in quarantine at the time.  Still, I feared my hare-pen rabbits might catch it, but they never did.  They are just healthy, happy, and seem resistant to common diseases.  I certainly don’t go looking for things to expose them to, but overall, they just haven’t had health problems.  It is possible that it is breed-based, as Pelham is the only surviving AC rabbit we have (after 9 tries), and I have only lost one of our Harlequin hybrids.  I know AC’s are weaker as a whole anyway.  Nonetheless, I also have to imagine that fresh air, being exposed to things on the ground, a cleaner environment sterilized by the sun, and a lack of intense smells caused by urine and feces collecting under the cages contributes to their health.

Breeding and Kindling:

Breeding takes place as nature intended.  The buck doesn’t require much to get in the mood.  A fluffy doe tail hopping by is about all it takes, and he’s ready.  If she isn’t ready, she runs or refuses to raise her haunches for him, and the pen allows plenty of space to escape. When she is ready, she allows him to do his thing and cooperates.

We have had three litters born in the Hare-pen so far.  The first was a pregnant doe we added, and shortly after noticed her waistline had shrunk a bit.  JR found a bit of plucked hair under the cages, so we went searching for her kindle.  We found her kindle neatly situated in one of the underground nest boxes we had designed.  At that time, our tunnel system was not completed, so there was a hole in the ground that went right to the entrance to the nest box, and we found she had filled this hole with dirt.  As we watched her, a couple times a day, we found she would dig the loose dirt out of the hole, go in the nest box, tend to her kits, then exit and re-bury the hole.  It was clear she was hiding her nest, and quite effectively at that.  Before the kits got too old, we actually sold the doe and her kindle to an individual trying to start a meat rabbitry of their own.

The second was more recent.  We were expecting the doe to kindle, again noticed the smaller waistline, found tufts of hair throughout the Hare-pen, but couldn’t find the kindle anywhere.  We searched all nest boxes, corners, dark areas, the community shelter, and even did our best to look in the tunnels, all to no avail.  After several days, we were puzzled.  She has proven to be a great mother in the past, but we finally concluded that she had either eaten them, or they were tucked away deep in a tunnel.  Either way, there was nothing we could do about it.  Then, S and I were out doing some work in the pen about a week later, and suddenly, the ground gave way under S’s foot.  As it turns out, she had created a perfectly hidden little den of her own in the center area of ground not covered by the fencing.  His foot had landed on the entry space, which she neatly back-filled with dirt.

This area looks just like the rest of the dirt ground, with the exception of bits of straw and slightly looser dirt. In fact, it contains the hidden entrance to the den.

It led down to a slightly deeper, perfectly dug little cove, full of a kindle of perfectly healthy kits which appeared to be about 4-5 days old.

With a bit of loose dirt dug away, you can see the entrance to the den.

With the camera stuck down in the entry-way, and the flash on, you get to see the hidden treasures. I haven’t counted them yet, but it appears to be a good-sized kindle.

With this kindle, my first question was “Why did she not use the nest boxes?”  My theory is that all the older, weaned kits use the tunnels and nest boxes frequently, so perhaps she sensed it wasn’t safe?  Or, perhaps she didn’t like the length of the tunnels, and felt she couldn’t bury the kits as tightly as she’d like.  The den she dug is very tight, so perhaps the small space holds in heat to protect them, and the tunnels don’t allow that.  Certainly worth considering.  I really didn’t know the answer at that point, but we decided to leave it and see what happened.  Unfortunately, before they were 2 weeks old, we lost 4.  As you could see in the photos above, the den wasn’t very deep, so when she would back fill the dirt into the opening, she would accidentally bury any kits that had followed her out a bit.  As a result, we finally removed them and placed the kits and mom into a cage with a nest box to try to keep the rest alive. They are still doing great as best we can tell.

Look closely and you might see a couple of kits around her.

The third happened just this week, with an expecting doe delivering in another nest box.  Again, we have decided to leave them, although JR, our resident rabbit manager, decided he’d had enough excitement and put Pelham (the buck) in a cage temporarily to see if that could decrease the stress of the does at all.  ( I don’t think Pelham causes any, but it isn’t worth arguing right now).  I have caught one of the older kits napping with the nest, so I’m not sure how long it will last, but for now, we’ll watch and see.

 

Nonetheless, I think we are going to make a few improvements to some issues that we have discovered because of this whole experience.  I’ll keep you posted.

Meat Production:

A few weeks ago, we decided to do some experimenting in regards to meat production.  I had two does, each with weaning-age kits that were born on the same day and within hours of each other.  I separated one doe from her kits, and put her in a separate cage, leaving her kits in their cage for typical weaning by separation.  The other doe and her 9 weaning-age kits were turned loose in the hare-pen.  It has been quite fascinating comparing the two groups of kits.  It’s a highly scientific experiment, don’t you think?! LOL!

What we noticed first was the behavior and development of the weaned kits.  In the past, I have found that kits will pester their dam (mother) trying to nurse even after she is ready to wean.  In a cage, she has nowhere to escape and either gives up and lets them nurse or runs herself crazy trying to avoid it.  Separating the kits from the dam has proven to be the least stressful way to do it, for her at least.  The family we turned out in the colony, however, weaned totally naturally.  From the moment I put them out, the kits were so busy running around, playing, digging, exploring the tunnels, and sampling all the hay and feed, that I never saw them try to nurse again.  The dam, on the the other hand, was almost as playful, and certainly more relaxed.  She just lounged wherever she pleased, and didn’t seem at all concerned about her kits playing nearby.

Now, you may think that’s a perfect solution for all, but as it turned out, there is a definite downside.  We found all that playing and running has resulted in beautiful, fit, lean kits as we approach harvest, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to meat production.  As a result of the calories they burn, they weigh about 2/3 the weight of the kits we left in the cage, who ate more out of boredom and activity was limited.

A bit hard to tell in the photo, but the rabbit on the left is one of the hare-pen kits, and you can see the caged-kit on the right is at least 30% larger. Sorry, you try to get two rambunctious babies to sit still and smile for the camera!

Now, for the most part, I would rather have leaner and lower-weight, but happier, healthier kits at harvest than fatter, less hardy, happy ones.  However, we haven’t tasted the meat yet.  I am interested to compare the tenderness of the meat when we harvest both kindles, as it is also very likely the hare-pen kits’s meat will be tougher due to the intense use of their muscles with their higher activity level.  We’ll have to see how that goes and decide how we want to handle meat in the future.

Effort Involved:

Colony raising in the Hare-pen requires, by far, the LEAST amount of work to raise rabbits.  We have all our cages full, plus this experimental group in the pen.  The cages require twice the effort and time, at the least.  Because of the colony set-up, we have multiple food and water spaces, all of which are checked twice a day just like the caged rabbits.  Unlike the caged rabbits, however, the multiple sources mean they rarely run out of food or water.  The caged rabbits do on occasion.  If you have a leaky bottle on a cage, and it runs dry, the rabbit is really thirsty before you discover it.  If that were to happen in the pen, they just use the other sources.  No big deal.  There is far less time involved in clean up, and the pen just looks neater than the cages as well.  Although rabbit pellets do get scattered all around the pen, for the most part, rabbits are quite clean, and choose a certain far-off corner to do their business.  The nest boxes, community shelter, and tunnels stay surprisingly free of excrement. Cages, on the other hand, build up waste quickly, and we find all our rabbit smells derive from the cages rather than the pen.

Well, I guess that’s it for Colony-Raising 101.  I am contemplating doing a few things differently in the next one we build (after moving to Red Gate), but we love it so much, we will absolutely have one there!  To give you an idea, we are considering not having large tunnels like this one, but rather having the entrance to the nest boxes go right to the box (thereby allowing the doe to backfill it more easily).  I still want to improve on our food an water set-up, as there currently seems to be a lot of waste of food.  I love the sifter-feeders, so I think we are going to implement those into the plan.  Then, I want to fence the entire ground and add a larger pile of dirt on top of the fence where they can dig.  Finally, I think I will have a few short (less than 18 inches) tunnels scattered around and/or partially build to be used more as hiding areas and fulfill their burrowing instinct, yet eliminate some of the difficulties our current ones cause.  I’ll let you know as we continue to develop it.

We believe we have finally finished the so-called “Hare-pen,” or our colony rabbitry.  For any of you who may be new to my blog, we have spent the last 8 months or longer designing an outdoor, fenced-in yard, where several of our breeding rabbits could run free and act as natural as possible.  Read this post for more information on that, as well as details on how we first constructed it.  To try to lay it out more smoothly, though, I will summarize all past posts here.

Like with other rabbitries, first we built the cages, or in our case, the bunny-condos.  Read this post for more info on the cage system we custom-built.  We planned to use the cages to gradually wean the rabbits out into the yard, and then later to separate breeding animals, quarantine new rabbits, confine rabbits scheduled for harvesting, etc.

Stage 1 involved building a large fenced yard, with the main fence being 5 foot tall 2×4 welded wire (aka horse fence), and lining the lower portion of the fence with chicken wire to prevent escapes by smaller kits.

Next, we built some nest boxes to simulate natural dens, and designed tunnels to simulate underground burrows leading to the nest box-dens.  Our first attempt at this failed miserably (read here for details on that), but we believe our most recent attempt will be better.  The same basic idea was used, but we designed a total of 4 nest boxes set up in a square (of sorts).  One nest box was located at each corner of the square.

 

 

Then, instead of using ducting this time, he used a bunch of scrap lumber to build 3-sided boxes (2 sides and a top), and then laid wire on the bottom.  The wire prevented digging and offered good traction, while the wood supported the dirt and weight of people walking over it while still simulating the tunnel.  Each box had a separate tunnel leading from it to join another tunnel, then both were joined to save time on digging.

 

For the record, after we move to Red Gate and re-make this, all tunnels will be made from 7″ PVC, with grooves cut on the bottom side and filled with dirt for traction.  We couldn’t find any in our local area, so we had to improvise.  Menards in the midwest carries the correct size PVC, however–in the event you happen to live in the midwest and shop at Menards.

Finally, all tunnels were designed to come up in the center of the square, into a community shelter.  The shelter was also recycled from an old shipping crate, so we simply found a way to make it work.  The shelter has a little opening on each end for the rabbits to get in and out.  It also has a water bottle hanging on the outside of each end, with the nipple going through a hole to the inside, and a food dish inside.

 

Because rabbits can be territorial and fight viciously if they feel crowded, we decided to divide the box into two sections, with each half basically mirroring the other.  So, the box was divided in the middle, and a shelf installed over the divider, covering half of each side.  This is simply to give the bunnies an area to lay off the ground (and they use it all the time, by the way!!).

 

The shelf on each side is located over the entrance to the tunnels for that side of the pen, with each hole accessing two separate tunnels.  In the photo below, you can see a couple of older kits resting in the cool dirt entrance of the tunnels for that side.

 

While we have no access to the tunnels themselves, all other structures have a lid to allow us to maintain and check on things.  This includes the community shelter and all 4 next boxes, with the nest box lids being the only part of the boxes you can see at ground level.   In addition, as a finishing touch, we laid a 4 foot section of 2×4 fencing on the ground around the entire perimeter.  We found early on that the rabbits truly love to dig, but for the most part, they tend to dig the largest tunnels near a upright structure like a fence, a building, or a box.  We have found that by installing the section of fence on the perimeter (which can just be seen in the next photo), the rabbits have mostly stopped tunneling with the exception of a small one that starts on the outside of the community shelter, and goes up under it.  We are currently monitoring the length of the tunnel to see what happens.

 

If tunneling begins to be a problem, we will simply cover the entire ground in the fencing, with cut-out areas for the openings to the tunnels and nest box lids only.   Again, we love the rabbits to be as happy and natural as possible, so because they do dig small holes in the unfenced dirt, should we cover the ground, we would put mounds of dirt here and there around the pen so they have a sand pile to play and dig in.

I realize it is very difficult to get the overall picture of this set-up, so I have tried to put together a sketch for you to show an arial view of sorts.  Unfortunately for you (but great for me!!), we just switched from the age-old Microsoft computer to an iMac, and I am still figuring it out.  In other words, no fancy semi-pro looking computer sketches, or even decent editing for that matter, for you this time.  You were lucky I figured out how to scan a document!  Had I not a had a few hours to spare on this day of rest, even that wouldn’t have happened!!

Well, that’s it for the new rabbitry.  We now have a regular colony of 2 does, 1 buck, and a litter of almost-harvest-ready kits, in addition to a week old litter (our 2nd hare-pen-born) that I will tell you about later.   Hope this all makes sense.  Just leave me a comment with your questions if not.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 92 other followers