Rabbits


Our new “Rabbitat” is coming together.  That’s the name we’ve chosen for the rabbit yard we are building.  We still have a lot to do before calling it “finished,” but it is progressing.  This week, I got the perimeter fencing up.  We wanted something that would blend into the landscape, keep rabbits out, and be easy for JR to get in and out of.  S found 2 foot tall rabbit-fence, designed to keep rabbits out of gardens.  We figured we’d try it.

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You can barely see it in the photo.  If you look closely (toward the bottom center of the photo), the bottom foot of the fence has small 1 inch mesh, perfect for keeping the young, weaned kits in.  The upper portion is just a deterrent to the bigger rabbits.  Could they jump it?  They probably could, but I think it is highly unlikely.  We stretched this wire out for 30 foot sides, and a 30 foot center dividing wall between the two yards, and each yard is 15 foot wide.  Although it currently has T-posts, which can see in the photo, that is temporary.  Eventually, we will either replace those with something shorter or cut them off at the 2 foot height.  We just want to make sure this fence will work first.  The height meant we didn’t have to create a gate.  It is tall enough to keep really little kiddos out, but short enough that JR and adults can easily step right over.

The bunnies love it.  JR has already taken a few out to exercise, and they romped, dug in the dirt, ran around, and literally leapt for joy.  They loved being out!  Since the yard isn’t yet rabbit-tight, they can only play while supervised.  When JR tries to catch the normally-easy-to-catch bunnies, they aren’t so thrilled about it!  They would much rather stay out and play!  In time.

I have decided I don’t ever want a “rabbit barn.”  Designated barns, sheds, and buildings just seem the way to go for so many rabbitries I have come across.  This summer, circumstances forced us to install our rabbit cages inside our barn temporarily, while new outdoor accommodations were figured out (you can read more in this post).  For the last 7 months, the poor rabbits have seen no fresh air (except what drifts through the little window and barn doors) or direct sunlight.  I watched as the cobwebs collected, shedding hair built up, and manure piled up in the corners.  I hated it.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t THAT bad, and in fact, the barn never even smelled like rabbit (which any rabbit raiser knows can happen VERY easily in confined quarters).  It’s just that it wasn’t up to OUR standards.  Then, one of our junior does came down with snuffles, a highly contagious cold virus that usually turns into pneumonia and often kills a rabbit within a few days.  We had worked hard to breed a line of rabbits that was hardy and resistant to this virus.  However, there was one big problem.  Rabbits use sunlight to synthesize their own Vitamin C, a critical ingredient to a healthy immune system.  Our rabbits were descended from a line of outdoor and colony-housed rabbits, who got all the sunshine they wanted.  Their immune systems were unbeatable.  By putting them into a dark barn, their immunity went down and made it more difficult to fight viruses.  Most barn-rabbitries use preventative antibiotics in the rabbits’ water to account for the decreased immunity.  We refuse to do that, however.  Thus, we wound up losing a rabbit.  The realization pushed me to get them out of the barn though.  While S was here for Thanksgiving, we worked on a new, more permanent, outdoor design.

The tricky thing about our property is that it basically consists of hills.  Every surface has some degree of slope.  It is also very hot in the summer here–like rabbit-killing heat and humidity.  I had to figure out what areas were sufficiently shaded for those hot days, where they would be safe from predators and goats, but the dogs could still have access to guard them, etc.  We really wanted both cages and a rabbit play yard, similar to what we had back in CO, but with a few modifications.  I decided on a slope that ran along a fence line.  It is tucked up nicely between a big silver maple and a couple of shady pine trees, so they get a good bit of morning sun, but well shaded from hot afternoon sun in the summer.  They get more sun for heat in the winter since the deciduous maple loses all its leaves.  It was a location I discovered I really didn’t use for anything, had no foot traffic so it wouldn’t be in the way, but was convenient and easily accessed.  Aesthetics mean a lot to me, too, and frankly, there just isn’t much you can do to make rabbit cages pretty!  In this spot, however, if built low enough, the entire rabbit cage and yard setup was pretty well hidden away from the main entrance behind what will eventually be a rose or vine covered fence.  The only downside was the slope, which drops about 18 inches every 8 feet.  Nonetheless, the decision was made, S agreed, and the work began.

First, S built a simple frame to hold the 30″ deep x 48″ long x 18″tall wire cages I built earlier this year.

A cage, complete with nest box for shelter.

A cage, complete with nest box for shelter.

Due to the slope and the fact we want separate yards for rabbit trios this go around, he had to build 2 separate frames, each holding 3 cages.

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Next, he had to install the frame and cages such that they were low enough to not be seen over the fence, but high enough that we could easily rake under them.  For the most part, this worked, though the upper cages are pretty close to the ground due to the slope.

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The left side shows the high end, where the cage sits roughly 18 inches off the ground. The right side doesn’t have the cage installed yet, but based on the side board (far right) you can see that the cage will sit only about 6 inches off the ground at it’s lowest point.

Because of the fact manure builds up on any solid surface the cages rest on, we decided to forego solid surfaces this time, and try wire as the support system.  I could only find 14 gauge in my area, so we tried that.  I am already seeing some bowing on the bottom of the cages though, so we will be swapping that for a thicker gauge that can be tightened more securely.  The wire runs through support beams which limits bounce and flexion, but the beams themselves are not contacting the rabbit cages, so hopefully the wire will prevent any manure buildup.

Look closely here, and you can see the eye hooks positioned on the side board, with the support wire running through them.

Look closely here, and you can see the eye hooks positioned on the side board, with the support wire running through them.

In addition, to prevent rabbits digging out of the yard once they are able to run in more of a colony situation, we laid 2×4 landscape fence on the ground before installing the cage frames, then cut holes in the wire above the pre-dug holes where the frame posts would go.  This prevented the extra work of cutting the wire to fit around the posts as we laid it–a potentially difficult job at best (you can see this in the above photos). I attached the ground wire to the main 2×4 perimeter fence with hog rings.

The cages are set about 3 feet from the perimeter fence so we can easily walk behind them for any reason.  Although you can't see it due to the bottom board, the ground fence is attached to the vertical perimeter fence with hog rings.

The cages are set about 3 feet from the perimeter fence so we can easily walk behind them for any reason. Although you can’t see it due to the bottom board, the ground fence is attached to the vertical perimeter fence with hog rings.

We will finish the yard area later, but this gives us our start.  To give you an idea, though, we will have a perimeter fence line around the rabbit yard, possibly lay some dirt over the ground fence, and allow grass to grow up to supplement their diet.  We will also have in-ground nest boxes and centrally located feeding stations similar to what we had in CO.   Because we will have multiple yards, though, rabbits can be matched up and separated into groups so all get sufficient exercise.

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I’ll keep you posted as this project progresses.  We only have a temporary roof on now (ran out of time before S left), and a few other tweaks we have mind.  Right now, though, I can’t begin to tell you how great it feels to have those bunnies back outside where they are happier and healthier, AND I get my barn stall back to use for other purposes!

 

Over Labor Day weekend, we harvested our first meat birds and rabbits since we moved.  We actually decided, based on our future goals, to go ahead and invest in a Featherman Pro poultry plucker.  Oh, that is worth its weight in gold!!  Not just because I may never have to pluck another chicken, but some of its features make plucking and clean up so much easier than the Whiz-bang version we used last year.    We are hoping to rent it out a bit in addition to using it around here to help pay for it.

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We harvested 25 chickens, start to freezer, in 3 hours.  I know that’s pretty bad compared to the pros, but considering we were having to figure things out and use a lot of make-shift and new equipment this year, as well as a new location entirely, we were pretty happy with it.

In addition, S and JR harvested his 5 kits born shortly after we moved.  JR has watched many times, and assisted a few times.  Since the rabbits are technically JR’s venture on the farm, S decided it was high time he take the next step in his little rabbit business.  So, S instructed JR on the first rabbit, and, except for the dispatching, JR did the next 4 almost entirely by himself.  He was so proud, and being the perfectionist he is (yeah, he gets that from me), he did an excellent job!

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Hanging and cutting around the vent

Skinning was a little tough....

Skinning was a little tough….

...but JR got the hang of it pretty quickly.

…but JR got the hang of it pretty quickly.

Nothing makes a boy feel like a man more than eviscerating.  Good thing I'm a woman, as I am more than happy to hand that job off to the men!

Nothing makes a boy feel like a man more than eviscerating. Good thing I’m a woman, as I am more than happy to hand that job off to the men!

The finished, frozen results of the day--shrink bags full of chicken (on left) and rabbit (on right).

The finished, frozen results of the day–shrink bags full of chicken (on left) and rabbit (on right).

Although we stayed small this year due to all the changes, we hope to increase our chicken and rabbit raising and processing venture substantially next year.  I am thrilled to report that it looks like we FINALLY have found an organic rabbit pellet, which we now have on order, so our entire farm will be only grass or all natural/organically fed.  We will work on all the necessary permits over the winter, but at this point, we are planning 3 separate batches of chicken, a batch of turkeys, and at least 5 batches of rabbits.  Based on inquiries I’ve already had, I am hoping they will all be pre-reserved quickly.  If you are local to our area in IL and are interested in reserving some for your family, let me know via the comments feature, and I will get in touch with you.

It has been another few weeks of busy-ness around here.  Sorry for the absence.  I realized I haven’t even taken any photos!  To catch you up a bit, though…

Building:  I built more shelves.  Lots of shelves.  I will die happy if I never build another shelf, but unfortunately, I have at least 3 more to finish, which means planing, installing, painting, you get the idea.  I got a little help on a couple of projects from an in-law who lives close by and is very good with construction, I finally have desks, shelves, and a reading closet in both the girls’ and boys’ room, plus a new “activity counter” with 2 more desks and some shelves in our loft.  I promise photos soon.  I have a little more tweaking to finish it all.

Unpacking:  I’ve been slowly unpacking for almost 4 months.  Every move in the past has taken 2-3 weeks, tops.  Every house in the past, though, has had shelves and not been a farm when we moved in.  This house had almost no shelves, hence all the building.  Trying to move a family of 7 with a large homeschool library into a 3 bedroom, 1900 square foot house with little storage was challenging to say the least.  I’m getting there, though.  My upstairs still has paths, but the paths are widening by the day.  I’m almost there.

Visiting:  Nana (my mom) heard my inner plea for help, and came to stay for a while.  She has been here about 2 weeks so far, and has been a tremendous help.  She is filling my normal domestic and mommy role to a great extent, while I focus on finishing many of these necessary outdoor and construction projects.

Homeschooling:  We started our school year the last week of August.  N is K4, A is K5, M is 2nd grade, and JR is 4th grade.  And I still haven’t taken their annual school pictures.  Add that to my list of “to-do’s.”  We are doing Abeka Academy again this year, and loving it.  N and A take a lot of focus, which Nana is mostly handling right now.  Once she leaves, the first half of my day will mostly be spent sitting beside them as they work.  JR and M are totally independent, though.  R is always into things, so that’s why God gave mommies (and Nana’s) eyes in the back of their heads.

More visiting:  S came home!!!  Only for a quick visit, but it was great!  I had a short list of projects he worked on for me, the kids got their “daddy-fix” while wrestling, jumping on the trampoline (oh, yeah, I spent 2 days assembling that thing!), and just being with him.  Then I got my time with him when Nana agreed to watch the kiddos while we headed over to a Bed and Breakfast for the night.

Goats:  I’m trying to sell my 2 remaining goat kids, but I’m finding dairy goats are not as popular here as they were in CO.  It’s a much harder sell around here.  In the mean time, I have had to move poor Pride (our buckling) out with the pigs, to ensure he doesn’t breed Caramel (our too-small doeling).  To reduce my workload, I’ve also gone to once a day milking.  I’m not exactly sure how the milk will hold up, especially since I’m considering milking through rather than breeding this fall, but I’ll just play that one as the time passes.

Cattle:  Red Bull finally went home.  He was sweet and never gave me a days trouble–unless you count the time he somehow got into an adjacent paddock to the cows, the other time when he bred my dairy heifer without permission, or the time when he decided to scratch on an old fence and succeeded in knocking it down, releasing all the cows into the pig forest.  No biggie, though.  They were still inside the perimeter fence.  I just set up a water trough down lower in the pasture so they had to come out of the woods periodically so I could check on them.  It actually made my day easier temporarily, and started some clearing in the next section the pigs will move to.  That all being said, the day finally arrived for the sweet bull to go home.  As soon as he saw his owner approaching with the halter, he turned into a beast.  He completely mangled a 5 foot cattle panel as he lept over it (trying to get AWAY from his owner), then easily cleared 3 hot wire fences.  Watching a 1,000 pounds of pure muscle soar gracefully over a fence without hardly touching it is a very impressive sight indeed!  I was finally able to halter my jersey, Abbigail, and lead her to a stall in the barn, and that finally got Red Bull distracted enough to follow her so he could be confined and caught.  Once caught, he walked out of the barn and hopped up in that trailer with a grace and timeliness that would shame any horse.

Chickens:  While S was home, our biggest project was harvesting our 25 Cornish Cross meat birds.  We used our new Featherman Pro chicken plucker too.  Can I just say, THAT.  WAS. AWEWOME!!!!!  Expensive, yes, but totally awesome.  We may decide to rent it to other home poultry raisers to try to help pay for it.  Otherwise, it’ll take like 50 years to pay the thing off.  But, then again, when I consider the fact that I will never have to pluck another bird, I realize it is priceless!  We did 25 birds in about 3 hours, but that includes all the stops and distractions we had with the kiddos and lack of preparation here at this new farm.  The replacement pullets are growing well.  They still live in the barn, but free-range the pastures all day.  Our layers are also doing well.  We’ve had one go broody on us, so I got smart and decided to get some fertile eggs from a friend.  Unfortunately, at the same time she went broody, another has become an egg-eater.  I have no idea which girl it is, but in addition to eating 1 or more of our eggs each day, she has also destroyed 6 of the 8 fertile eggs.  I’m not sure any will survive to hatch.  Other hens are randomly kicking the broody hen off her nest each day to lay their eggs, and one of them is eating some while doing so.  I tried moving the broody hen into the barn, but she refused the new nest, and after 24 hours, I released her, only to have her run straight back to her original nest in the coop.  Oh well.  I guess she’ll just have to go through the natural cycle for a while, and then we’ll try again next year when our new roosters can ensure all our eggs are fertile.  In addition to losing eggs to an egg-eating hen, we are also losing a few chickens lately.  The girls–both the older ones, and the younger replacement ones, have begun doing some foraging deep in the woods, outside of the main pasture and perimeter fence.  There are openings on one side of the perimeter where the hens can get through, but the dogs and other animals can’t.  Obviously, the dogs can’t protect the girls on that side of the fence, so some of them never seem to make it back up.  I remain hopeful that one or two may have gone broody and are just hiding down there.  Realistically, though, I’m pretty confident they were some wild critter’s lunch.  We’ve lost 4 older hens and 5 little ones.  There isn’t much I can do about it right now, except hope that the remaining ones will learn and stay in the fence.  Only time will tell.

Rabbits:  Nothing too new there, other than the fact that we harvested our summer litter.  That takes us back to our one mature doe, 2 mature bucks, and 2 young does that that we brought with us from CO, and will be ready for breeding in December.

Donkey:  The only farm vehicle I have around here is a 4-wheeler.  I use it to haul supplies down to the pig paddocks, to move my portable shelters, to haul wagon loads of dirt, to haul fence posts, and to have fun.  Before we left CO, S and I decided that Shiloh, the donkey would help earn her keep by becoming a work donkey.  We bought a little homemade driving cart to start out with.  After we moved, I ordered her a custom donkey harness.  With the number of projects I had this summer though, I never really had a chance to teach Shiloh to drive.  Then, my 4-wheeler–long over-due for a tune-up and basic maintenance–essentially died on me.  While it’s waiting for a ride to a shop, I’ve had to get creative.  There are still water buckets, feed, dirt, and fencing that has to be hauled.  Time for Shiloh!  I reviewed the basics of long-reigning I had taught Shiloh in the past, spent a few days reviewing all her basics and getting her accustomed to her new harness, and then took full and total advantage of her being a calm and laid back donkey rather than a flighty horse, and hooked her up to the cart.  Since Nana was here at that point, she offered some assistance for safety in the early stages, but Shiloh took to it with ease.  She still has a little trouble turning in the cart, but that is likely due in great part to the fact the shafts on the cart wound up way too big for her.  Now, I have my first real equine-power on the farm.  I can hitch her up to the cart, and then use the cart to haul all the buckets, feed bags, materials, etc, she can drag small logs, and more.  Eventually we will get new shafts that fit better, but I use these in the mean time.  Pictures will follow as soon as I get the chance.

Dogs and cats:  Due to the unintended and unexpected increase in cats around here, I wound up rehoming our barn cat, Katie, and her litter of 6 kittens.  A new farm was looking for a whole slew of cats to stock their barn with, and they jumped at the chance when they heard about her.  That leaves us with Sarah and her litter of 5 kittens, and she is much better mannered as a house cat, so I have a better chance of keeping her indoors until she can be spayed.  The only cat outside at the moment is Shadow.  Callie is still inside, as always.  Will, the house pet, has loved having all these cats around.  He has discovered there is always a dish of cat food sitting around somewhere, and has become quite adept at finding all my hiding spots.  As a result, he has gained somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds over the last 6 weeks.  At this point, my hiding places are getting higher and higher up on shelves, in an attempt to keep them accessible to the cats, but well out of Will’s reach.  Iris and Athena are doing great.  In fact, Iris has entered her fall heat cycle, and I am debating breeding her this fall or waiting until spring.  I finally found the (hopefully) perfect stud dog.  He is in the next state, so quite a drive, but he is of the Colorado Mountain Dog breeding and quality I am looking for, and has already proven himself as a guardian and homestead-type dog.  As usual, we’ll see how this plays out.

Pigs:  The pigs are growing well on their forest forage diet.  I continue to supplement with excess milk and eggs (though the eggs are few and far between with an egg-eating hen on our hands!), and occasional organic grains.  I am working on setting up their next paddock this weekend.  I estimate their weight to be around 100 lbs. now, so I think they are growing well.  I should research and find out averages for this breed so I have something to compare to.  Whatever the weight, they are big enough now that the kids don’t really go in the paddock unsupervised.  The pigs are very friendly, and in their quest for attention, plenty big enough they could easily knock a child down.

That pretty much brings you up to speed for now.  There’s never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure!!

We finally have our first rabbit barn!  Actually, that was not really the plan, and I hope it is very temporary until we get my “ideal” built, but that may be a year or so yet.

In any case, our 5 bunnies, brought with us all the way from Colorado, finally have some decent accomodations.  It took me a few weeks to get everything assembled, but they seem pretty happy with the accommodations for now.

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First, I custom built 5 cages (I’ll add a 6th as soon as I get some more wire) that are each 48″ long x 30 inches deep x 18 inches tall.  I like the rabbits to have the ability to move around, and since we lost our play yard when we moved, the cage has to suffice for a while.   Each cage has 2 doors, so we can easily catch the rabbits or even have the option of dividing them in half if need be.  Each cage is equipped with a pellet feeder, a free-choice hay feeder so the bunnies can satisfy their desire to chew, a water bottle and mineral salt lick, and a large square of wood to rest on and prevent hock sores.  I also added urine guards to these cages to prevent the messes we had at our last place, and since the cages are NOT equipped with permanent nest boxes yet, the urine guards act as a bit of a privacy barrier I’ve noticed.  When they are laying down and relaxing, they are not able to see the rabbit in the cage next to them, which seems to keep them much calmer then when they used to see each other.

The cages are suspended from the barn ceiling, in one of our roomy stalls.  There is just enough space all around that we can walk and work on things as needed, but it’s a bit tight as big as those cages are!  The chains are connected to recycled trampoline poles, and the cages just sit on the poles.  I use 14 gauge wire on the bottom of my cages, so for the short term, they do not need a middle brace as long as the weight is limited to the weight of one or two mature rabbits.  There are 2 levels, with 3 cages on each level.  Between the 2 levels, we used PVC corrugated roofing to catch the droppings and urine from the top cages, and direct it off, behind the bottom cages.  It seems to be working well.

One problem we had back in Colorado was caused by that center roof directing all the upper level waste into a big, smelly, mess of a pile behind the cages.  It was, by far, the most difficult part of our rabbit area to maintain, clean, and control odor (I love animals, but HATE odors!  In my book, unpleasant odors = bad farm management).  So, this go around, we are trying a technique I’ve come across several times in our research.

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Like Colorado, we start by putting lots of absorbant carbon material (pine shavings, in this case) under the cages to lock in the nitrogen (odor-causing substance) from the urine.  This begins a composting process when handled properly.  In addition, however, we divided our prolific vermicompost worms into several bins, and placed under the parts of the cages where the majority of the manure and urine spilled off.  To protect the worms, we gave them plenty of good soil and dirt, and covered that with a layer of old straw, followed by a layer of pine shavings.  The straw and shavings ensure that the nitrogen doesn’t get too intense and burn the worms, while at the same time, locking in the nutrient-rich liquid until the worms are able to break it all down.  If you look closely, you’ll also notice that the pellet and hay feeders are strategically located on the rear of the cages.  I did this so any wasted food and hay would also fall into the worm bins, which feeds the worms as well.  Oh, I do love to recycle and prevent waste whenever possible!!

So, my “ideal” future plan actually involves building an outdoor vine-covered trellis to allow lots of shade, fresh air, and natural light during spring, summer, and fall, and then move the bunnies into the barn in the winter.  Maybe.  I also plan to build 3, 4 foot by 3.5 foot vermicompost bins that will go under the entire cages and ensure the entire manure area is collected by the worm bins.  I hope to get that all done as soon as possible, but I am assuming that this barn set up will be it at least for this year.

So far it is working out great, though.  The rabbits seem happy.  Our oldest doe, Hope, is due to kindle (birth a litter) any minute now with our first Red Gate Farm litter.  The shavings and worms have done a good job preventing any bad smells, and the barn stays surprisingly cool on our hot summer days.  When it does get a little warm, the stall is equipped with a fan on one end and a window on the other, to get the air moving a little.  I’ve actually had only 2 issues with this setup.  First, it’s a bit darker than I would like, but there isn’t really much I can do about that.  The other fault was discovered when our new pigs were temporarily housed in the stall next door to the rabbits.  We walked out one morning to discover the pigs had dug under their stall and into the rabbit stall, dumped over a worm bin, and were happily munching on all the worms their happy little snouts could find.  Oops.  That fault was remedied when the pigs moved out to the forest paddock a few days later, and the worms can now compost in peace.  They’d rather eat manure than be a part of it.

We’ve arrived!  After many years of waiting, wondering, studying homesteading, preparing the farm, we finally made it!  I cannot express to you how wonderful it feels.  As you read, we had a few unwelcome adventures along the way.  There’s nothing like a leaking fuel line, an unexpected layover at a small-town repair shop, on a hot day with a trailer full of overheating livestock from a cold climate, and a loose and stubborn chicken running around a parking lot , being chased down by 2 kids and 2 helpful truckers, to get the blood pressure up a bit!  I drove the truck and trailer, and a girl-friend drove my minivan with the kiddos.  She was such a God-send through the whole ordeal, and for the whole week after!  What should have been about a 15-18 hour trip turned into a 22 hour trip.   We arrived at almost 2 in the morning, got the kids in bed and began unloading animals.  We had to walk each of the goats, dogs, and donkeys about 200 feet from the trailer to the barn, through the tall hay field.  The tall grass was so foreign to them, not a single animal attempted to take a bite!  They didn’t know what to think of this stuff brushing against their bellies!  Oh, what an adventure that day was!!

While Will, our resident house pet knows and seems to enjoy the place, he doesn’t leave the front porch much.

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The other animals, to the contrary, are still trying to figure out this place.  Some seem to think they have died and gone to a heaven far beyond anything they could have dreamed of, while others are still trying to figure out whether they are in heaven or some kind of purgatory.

Honey bees:  definitely think they've died and gone to heaven!  I've never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers' legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs.  The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

Honey bees: definitely think they’ve died and gone to heaven! I’ve never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers’ legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs. The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

When we first arrived, the chickens weren’t quite sure what to think.  Until today, they were living in the stock trailer, using it as a makeshift coop until we could get theirs’ finished.  Notice the rabbit cages are also still in there, until we get a permanent area set up.

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It took a couple of days for the hens to learn to go INTO the trailer at night, rather than hide out UNDER it.  It also meant that M has stayed busy hunting eggs when they decide to lay in the grass or under the trailer, rather than in the makeshift nestboxes we put in the trailer.

Look closely, they're under there, enjoying the shade.

Look closely, they’re under there, enjoying the shade.

Hens foraging the hay field.  They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven!  Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there.  Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

Hens foraging the hay field. They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven! Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there. Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

The donkeys aren’t sure what to think.  Probably depends on what time of day you ask them.  Most of the day, they hang out in their spacious stall together.  I added a few toys to keep them entertained.  In the late afternoon, they get to go out to the trimmed pasture as we wean them on to the rich grass here.  As long as the grass is short, they enjoy it, but if you ask them to go into the longer field grass, they get pretty nervous.  They don’t seem to realize it is food as well.  In addition, the bugs are driving them batty.  I have had to start using a bug repellent ointment in their long ears due to all the bites they were receiving.  After a few hours in the buggy, humid outdoors, they are usually standing at the barn doors waiting eagerly for me to let them back in to their cool, bug free stall.

Donkeys:  Too short to see over the rails!

Donkeys: Too short to see over the rails!

 

Dogs:  Totally in heaven here!  As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated.  The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.

Dogs: Totally in heaven here! As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated. The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.  The only problem so far is that my white dogs have turned a clay-orange color since we are in the midst of a very wet, muddy spell here. 

Like the donkeys, the goats’ thoughts seem to vary with the time of day.  At night, or when the donkeys are out, the goats are stuck inside a stall/alley area.  They have plenty of room, but get very bored.  Latte tends to bully Joy to no end during those times (hence the reason I allow them 2 areas to roam).

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Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds, and drinking almost a gallon a day of Latte's milk!

Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds free-choice nursing on almost a gallon a day of Latte’s milk!

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out.  They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first.  They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out. They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first. They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The only issue the goats have had is that the stress of the move combined with the heavy milking from Joy and Latte caused them both to drop a lot of weight.  To make matters worse, none of the goats were eating their portions of grain like they used to.  As a result, I was forced to purchase my first non-organic feed in the form of Calf-Manna.  This is a product that contains a load of B vitamins that work to stimulate the appetite, as well as high carbs to help with weight gain.  Despite the non-organic nature, it is a pretty good product for such issues.  It works.  Faith is due to deliver next week, so I am eager to see how that goes.  She also shrunk in size SIGNIFICANTLY, but I can’t tell if she has lost weight, if the baby shifted, or what happened there.

We also have 3 new faces around the farm.  Two days after our arrival, my friend and I were working on cleaning out the barn when we saw several mice run out of their hiding spaces. The next morning, I called the local small-town animal shelter and told him I was in need of some barn cats.  I told him I would take ferals or otherwise unadoptables, but couldn’t pay a lot of money in adoption fees since they were destined to be barn cats and I had no idea if they would stick around.  He told me to come on over for a visit.  M and I went over, and came home with 3 new kitties.  The added bonus is that all 3 are SOOOO sweet and lovable!  It’s a bit hard to milk with a kitty intent on helping, but we are getting by.

Sarah

Sarah

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Katie

Katie

A few other random Red Gate Farm happenings, and some of the projects that have kept us busy this week (in addition to the normal unpacking associated with a move):

My first hay!  My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage.  It isn't much at around 150 pounds, but I'm pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

My first hay! My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage. It isn’t much at around 150 pounds, but I’m pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won't cooperate.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won’t cooperate.

My garden!  I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March.  Many of the seeds sprouted!  We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more!  There are plenty of squares that didn't grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.

My garden! I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March. Many of the seeds sprouted! We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more! There are plenty of squares that didn’t grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.  We also plan to expand on these beds quite a bit. 

Chicken coop got finished today!  I will have better photos later.

Chicken coop got finished today! I will have better photos later.

Fruit in the orchard.  Some of the trees seem to be having a problem -- blight maybe?--so I treated with some copper sulfate.  Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Fruit in the orchard. Some of the trees seem to be having a problem — blight or leaf curl maybe?–so I treated with some copper sulfate. Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn.  She likes to know what's going on at all times.

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn. She likes to know what’s going on at all times.

That’s it for now!  I’ll post more as I have time.  Tons of work to do around here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a military brat who married military, I am well-versed in cross-country moves.  Packing, loading up a bunch of kids, and even living in a “TLF” (Air Force acronoym for “Temporary Living Facility,” which is really just a souped-up hotel room) until we find a home doesn’t scare me in the least.  I’ve never lived in the same house more than 5 years in my life.  I’ve slept at interstate rest stops, exercised my horse and dogs in gas station parking lots, and had more adventures than I can count.  Despite my past experiences, however, I am learning that moving a farm is a whole different ball game!

R holding Caramel.

R holding Caramel.

We had to trim down the number of animals we had, so we kept our favorites as foundation breeding stock to get Red Gate up and running.  Due to unexpected events with the goats, we wound up with more milk than we can drink now, so we wound up not buying the 4th doe I was wanting so badly.  All in all, we are moving 30 animals, including the house dog and cat.

Mocha, 2 weeks.

Mocha, 2 weeks.

In order to move, we bought a truck and trailer and had to begin planning our breeding and baby-delivery dates for all critters back in early fall, based on the moving schedule.  That turned out to be easier planned than accomplished.  I think the rabbit doe is the only one who cooperated.  I had to arrange for a ridiculous amount of veterinary and state transport permits for traveling with livestock.  Here in CO, equines and cattle must have “brand inspections” to prove ownership before you travel or sell an animal.  All goats must be registered, either through ear tags or ear tattoos, and there is NO exception for 5 lb., 2-week old kids.  Caramel’s ear was so tiny when we tattoo’ed that I’ll probably have to re-do in the future.  But it was that, or an ear tag almost as big as her head.  The poultry all had to have blood work done, the rabbits had to have their temperatures taken, the dogs had to have their rabies licenses inspected, blah, blah, blah…. Several hundred dollars later, the states and federal government have decided our animals are safe to travel.

Caramel, 2 weeks

Caramel, 2 weeks

Just as things were coming together, last Wednesday, the truck’s radiator spontaneously sprung 2 leaks.  On Thursday, it spent the day in the shop getting fixed.  On Friday, we walked out to find a truck tire going flat and the spare was totally dry-rotted.  On Saturday, we discovered the tire was unrepairable and had to buy 2 new tires.  On Sunday, the radiator sprung another leak, so it spent all day Monday in the shop again.  With just over 2 days before I am supposed to be driving this truck, loaded down with a 20 foot gooseneck trailer hauling 28 of my 30 animals, we are praying it is fixed once and for all.  I’m just so thankful it happened now instead of half-way through remote Kansas!

As if that wasn’t enough adventure, we had a bought of a stomach virus that bounced around the family, landing me in the E.R.  My blood sugars had plummeted, and because of the virus, the glucose I ate wasn’t working.  As my sugars approached the 30’s, I knew it was time for S to get me to the hospital for some intervention.  A bit of Zofran to calm my stomach did the trick, and my sugars were on the rise.  They went ahead and gave me an IV of saline and magnesium though, to replenish what I had lost.  It all worked out, but I wound up missing my going-away party at church the next day.  😦

One of the most frequent questions I have received lately is regarding how we are going to accomodate so many animals of so many different species in one trailer.  So, now that the trailer is almost set up and ready, I took a few photos to show you.

Our trailer, custom made with this trip as well as our future plans in mind.

Our trailer, custom made with this trip as well as our future plans in mind.

First, I built new, large rabbit cages, which will be our bunnies’ home for at least the first few months while we figure out what our long term rabbit plans are.  I bought the wire for several cages, but only built 2 for the trip.  Each cage measures 18 inches tall x 48 inches long x 30 inches deep.  It has 2 swing-in doors for easier access, a hay feeder, and plenty of space for feeders, waterers, salt licks, nest box, etc.

Rabbit cage

Rabbit cage

One of the cages will house our mature doe and her 2, 3 month old doe kits.  In the other cage, I inserted a section of wire to divide it in half, and it will hold both our bucks.  The divider is simply held with zip-ties so we can easily cut them off when I get the other cage built, and the dividing wire is cut to a size I can use on another cage.

The same cage, showing divider section.

The same cage, showing divider section.

I filled the gooseneck of the trailer, an area roughly 8 feet deep x 6.5 feet wide x 4 feet tall, with pine shavings.  This is where the hens and rabbits will travel.

There will be a cage on each side, though I left the other one out for the photo so you can see behind it.

There will be a cage on each side, though I left the other one out for the photo so you can see behind it.

Behind the cage are, in the very front of the gooseneck, we put a chunk of hay to keep the girls busy and a hay-filled nest box for any hens who decide to lay in-route.

Behind the cage, in the very front of the gooseneck, we put a chunk of hay to keep the girls busy and a hay-filled nest box for any hens who decide to lay in-route.

There will be just enough space on each side and in between the cages for a hen to squeeze through, which will hopefully prevent any dangerous corners where the hens could pile up and suffocate each other.  There is a “calf-gate,” or gate type panel that folds up to seperate this area from the rest of the trailer.  I forgot to take a photo of it up, but you can see it hanging down in the top photo of the gooseneck.

The next, front section of the trailer has access through the man door on the side of the trailer.  The goats and dogs will ride there.  First, I wrapped a week’s worth of hay in a tarp and tied it to the center gate.  The goats can jump on it if they desire, which is why I covered it with a tarp–to protect it from being eaten or peed and pooped on.  The rest of the area was filled with shavings and some straw for the babies and Faith, who is very pregnant.  They will have a hay bag to keep them busy, and a small bucket of water.

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The hay inside the tarp in the goat area.

 The rear of the trailer was simply bedded with lots of shavings for the donkeys.  They, too, will have a hay-bag and a bucket of water.  Because the donkeys are fairly small, I don’t plan to tie them in the stall.  They will be able to freely stand, lay down, turn around, and move a bit, which will hopefully reduce their stress load a little.

The donkey area.

The donkey area.

That’s the tour of the trailer.  Pretty simple and basic, but hopefully comfy, cozy, and stress-reducing for the critters.

Now if I could just reduce my stress!  I have packed about 80% of the house, and will try to finish the rest tomorrow.  We have another therapy appointment with the boys and I have to start loading the vehicles.  Another major challenge I discovered in regards to moving a farm is the fruitless efforts involved in trying to use up things that keep being produced!  For example, in an attempt to empty the fridge, we have been eating lots of eggs and drinking milk at every meal.  Just this morning, we ate 16 eggs and drank 1/2 gallon milk at breakfast.  30 minutes later, I went out to milk Joy and Latte.  I tried to use up some of the milk by feeding a pint back to each doe, and another pint each to the two dogs.  I still wound up filtering almost 1/2 gallon and putting it the fridge.  By day’s end, I will have at least another 1/2 gallon and 12-14 more eggs!  I never considered the fact that these high-production animals don’t come with an “OFF” switch to temporarily shut them down.  It’s all or nothing, and it’s up to me to find creative ways to use the bounty.  Eggs or milk, anyone?

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