Cleaning Up the Homestead

The past week or so has been a rough one. We have lost three rabbits (all kits thank goodness) due to various circumstances, two of our hens are broody, our garden is doing as well as any plant I have ever raised (which is to say poorly) and there’s so many things that need fixing, cleaning or replacing it’s incredible. And with me teaching a demonstration on harvesting rabbits for a college class in a week everything has to be ship-shape!

First the kits. We lost two from the litter of nine that Purina gave us and one of the boys growing in the garage. One of the younger kits decided to hide under the nest box and was crushed when all the other siblings got in it (or perhaps mom for feeding time). The second one died recently, we can only think it was from heat stroke but we’re not sure. It wasn’t even crazy hot out that day, but I just walked out to find it long dead in the back of the cage. We gave the rabbits frozen water bottles and we’re hoping we don’t lose any more.
The third rabbit we lost was the second smallest of the rabbits in my garage, all boys, growing out for meat. When I put together the grow out crates (Remember this?) I was in a pinch, low on cash, and needed a quick solution so I bought a $13 roll of the sturdiest deer netting I could find and slapped it on with my dad’s staple gun. Well, since then it worked for months. Then when I started getting baby rabbits consistently they started to chew through. None of the previous rabbits figured that out. Some of them would jump out, but not chew through! The last litter was the worst as they chewed about four holes in one cage. Then this litter began working their way through the other cage. One day after putting all the babies back I brought the dogs in the back yard. Nukka was loose as I went to care for the outdoor rabbits. The next thing I hear is a panicked squeal and I am running to the garage, dropping keys and anything else along the way shouting “NUKKA, NO!”. The wild baby rabbits had just been a few days prior.
Turns out the babies had chewed a hole I hadn’t seen and one felt the need to jump out again almost immediately. Nukka picked it up around the chest and shook it. Oddly she didn’t seem to have broken the skin but I knew right away that the rabbit wasn’t going to make it. I set up to butcher it to put it out of it’s misery and at least get some meat out of it. Nukka seemed rightly ashamed. She crawled out of the garage almost on her belly and lay down at my feet as I got close. She almost rolled onto her back to flash her belly, and she clearly knew (this time at least) that she’d made a terrible choice.
When I processed the rabbit I found the wounds; cracked ribs and punctured lungs filled with blood. I couldn’t find any breaks in the skin even though I tried. A few days later we had some roast rabbit for dinner and the chickens got the organs.

So thing #1 to fix; Grow cages. Actually I already did this. The walls are now metal chicken wire and there is a deer-netting roof instead. Since then? No escaped rabbits at all.

Additionally the baby rabbits somehow had been managing to escape the outdoor cages. I feel like there is a tiny gap in the bottom of the cage and they were deliberately jumping out (why can’t baby rabbits know that staying in one place is GOOD?) to explore. We swapped them into the cage above and moved Evo down below. No more escaped bunnies but that still needs to be sorted out some time.

Thing #2 to fix; Outdoor cages. Not actually sure how I am going to do this.

Our one broody hen started laying again just in time for a second one to go broody. That one should be laying again soon and I sure hope it’s today because a THIRD hen went broody just a few days ago. (Actually I think it was the first hen over again. She may be slated for the stewpot.) So we needed a way to confine her.
We also seriously needed a rabbit tractor. Our “broody buster” for the hens WAS our rabbit tractor, but it was also pretty small. Greg and I set down together and made an animal tractor.

Iams, formerly known as Purple, enjoying her time in the tractor. Iams is Purina’s kit kept over for replacing Evo as a breeder.

I just cut and screwed together some random pieces of wood we had lying around. The design is not the most sturdy; some 2X4’s, plywood, OSB and reclaimed cedar all with only 14 screws holding it in place… It’s wobbly but it works and it’s pretty big at 4’X4’X2′. Just a bit bigger than the cages the outdoor bunnies have. (technically theirs are like 46″X44″ or something.) We’re thinking of making a second, smaller one with what wire we have left or even getting more wire and making a bigger one.
At the end of the month our meat chickens will be coming in as well, so this will be essential to transitioning them outdoors and giving them lots of fresh grass to eat. I really want my animals on pasture more!

The lawn and garage are both a mess. I need to clean and organize both. I leave things scattered throughout my lawn as I work and so it looks pretty bad… A milk-jug here, a plastic bag there, a few random empty plastic pots… And the garage is just a bit of a nightmare with all the scarps of wood around!

I have to finish my strawberry bed. A very nice person got me some reclaimed garden brick edgers that make a circle and were foolishly being used for a square bed. I think they will do great around my strawberries. The strawberries have been the best part of my garden lately. They are ever-bearing so they have been blooming heavily for a while and are now starting to explode in big, red, sugary berries. Not enough to do anything with yet, but enough to enjoy. Additionally I managed to plant a few of the tiny, low to the ground wild strawberries in with my big, tall domestic ones and both kinds are spreading! I started with three plants (two domestic one wild) and now I have about a dozen. They have been sending out runners like mad and I am so delighted. Next year I may have enough to make something out of them!

How the berries looked a week ago. I picked the biggest one of these yesterday as it was already red and turning darker by the moment. Best strawberry I have ever had. There are also more flowers now.

The rest of my plants are only doing so-so. We harvested the peas a while back, and we’re hoping they’ll give us a second crop this year. Our arugula and kale are FINALLY coming in to the point we’ll be able to eat them. Our basil is doing fine and my mother gave me some sweet, mild, purple basil so we have a small forest of it. The cucumbers and zucchini are both blooming but the flowers keep falling off. Our big heirloom tomato is FINALLY blooming and I hope to get some big thick tomatoes out of it. None of the tomatoes I started from seed are more than about 5 inches tall. Poo. We went out and bought a whole bunch of discounted tomato plants recently, though, and we’re hoping to get a good fall crop from them!

The carrots are starting to really come in and the beet leaves are huge but I have no idea how the roots are doing. The onions I think are finally starting to grow their bulbs and most of my wild garlic has gone to seed. That’s good because I would like lots of garlic year after year!

Next year I think the garden will do much better. Come fall during the last days above freezing I will till in our brewing compost and scatter some of the worms I got earlier in the year on it. Then next year I will start my seeds early in more optimal conditions, and plant the seedlings in better locations (like the tomatoes in more sun and the spinach in the shade). Next year our garden will be epic. Live and learn.

The last thing that happened recently was the sudden acquisition of 1.5 gallons of mulberries and a whole box of over-ripe peaches. There was only one thing to do… MAKE LOT OF JAM! 😀

My sister and I sat down with half-a-dozen boxes of pectin, two grapefruits and three bags of sugar. By the end of this Monday we walked away with 10 jars of perfect mulberry jam, three jars of perfect peach/grapefruit marmalade, and 12 jars of somewhat runny peach jam. (All these jars are pints, not half-pint jelly jars!) We even tried re-processing the peach jam with more pectin, sugar and grapefruit juice to no avail. It’s just gonna have to be runny. Either way, not only are we set on jam for a year (or three) but we’re giving some to our parents and to the wonderful person that supplied the fruit to us completely free. It was a good (if hot and sticky) time. Next time I will post some pictures of our jam.

As a side note we ended up having to go to Wal-Mart for more jars much to my regret… The Mainstays Wal-Mart brand jars were just nowhere near as good as the true ball mason jars (they had ball jars there but not pints). We’re not sure all the Wal-Mart jars sealed correctly as some took overnight to pull down the lids… And the jars tried to leak air when we first put them in the canner. The ball jar lids pulled down within minutes every time and we didn’t have any such issues. Just don’t bother using anything but ball jars.

Let’s see how much work I can get done today. My demonstration is in one week. It looks like it’s going to be in-person but I could still record it or stream it if there’s any interest in this. I hope I can get everything finished by then! And after that the meat birds come in!

The work is never done…!

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6 thoughts on “Cleaning Up the Homestead

  1. I would like to see ur demonstration how its done, so please keep me in mind.,. As i stated b4 I suck at the rabbits, the other female had kits, same as the other one she refused to feed them,. I used a cat litter box with a lid to it and chopped it off at the opening for them but still did not work.. I do not know what im doing wrong but hope I figure it out b4 to long 😦 ….any thing you are willing to throw my way I will try so my bunnys live more then 1 or 2 days…

    • The best advice I could give is to know your rabbits. You need to know how old they are and if they have been bred in their first year. most rabbits not bred in their first year will not care for their young.

      I will try to get some sort of recording happening. :3

    • No, I don’t think she will. Some dogs are just like that. I finished repairing the garage cages this week and I’m getting to the outdoor ones in time… There shouldn’t be any more escaped rabbits for there to BE accidents.

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