Inspiration

Farming and homesteading is inspiring to me. I get so much joy at looking at things running smoothly and properly. I draw a lot of motivation from looking at other people’s goals, aspirations, and the extremely cool things that they do.

Sometimes down the line I loose track of that joy. I loose track of it amidst things like trying to manage animal pedigrees and planting row crops and producing enough to justify that I am a “real” farmer and balancing budgets. It can be easy to loose some of my inspiration in among all of the red tape.

So here’s a little compilation of some nifty things I plan to do this year that are inspiring for me!

Vertical Gardening and Plant Towers

I really like the idea of growing up instead of out. While some vertical gardening (such as hydroponics in a warehouse) strikes me as wildly impractical, a lot of vertical growing can be done in a back yard and drastically increase your growing space. Hanging pots, PVC planters, trellises and the like all make for an increase in growing space without an increase in growing ground. And this year, I intend to do more of that. As the strawberry plants recover, I will thin them and put the new plants in hanging pots. I will also be trying to get some herbs running in a hanging planter made out of re purposed two liters that will hang near my awning at the back of my garage. This year I will be growing UP!

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PVC strawberry planter Photo credit: goodhomedesign

Natural Beekeeping and Honey

This is happening and it’s great! I have my bees on order and my hive is in the basement, just waiting to be assembled! We are going to be keeping bees in a Warre hive. This is a smaller beehive that’s designed with topbars and minimal inspection. Unlike the Langstroth, whose design is based around what bees will tolerate, the Warre hive is based around what bees make when left to their own devices. The size of the boxes are smaller, the empty boxes load onto the bottom of the hive, they build their own comb for the frames, there’s a lot more airflow as well. It mimics a hollow tree more effectively than a Langstroth but gives much lower yields. My hope is that the bees thrive in it!

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Warre bee hive Photo Credit – Thebeespace

Pollinator and Bee Gardening

Pollinators are extremely important to our environment, growing crops, and plant life everywhere. If I’m going to have bees, I better be more aware about providing for these ever important critters. So I will be building bigger, better bee gardens this year with lots of flowers! The goal is going to be to trim up the Magnolia and put some flowers around it out front, as well as re-do some of the landscaping around the house and plant as may bee-friendly and pollinator friendly plants as possible in the next couple of years. It will even include safe water sources for local bees, one of the things they lack (and need) the most. The hope is to provide a pesticide-free buffet for all the local critters who will desperately need it in the coming months and years.

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A bee garden! Photo Credit – helpabee

Purebred Wheaten Ameraucanas

This year, we are going to begin moving out of Easter Eggers and into a purebred flock. Our rooster is a purebred Wheaten Ameraucana and I now have a dozen hatching eggs of the same kind on order. Later in the year (possibly early next year) we will be ordering a dozen more and hatching some of our own. At that point, by next spring we will be running a flock of purebred blue egg laying chickens (possibly with a couple Australorps or Marans for eating-eggs and fun mixes). It will be exciting to finally have purebred birds!

 

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Wheaten Ameraucana Hen (and rooster) Photo Credit – Paradisepoultryandwaterfowl

 

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Quarteracrehome’s “Will” Wheaten Ameraucana rooster

Fully Pedigreed Rex Rabbits

Early this year we invested in a new buck to replace Cassanova, as we have kept two of his daughters (Lady and Sage) and would like to start filling out our pedigrees. So we now have a new buck that came to us through happenstance that is actually Bean’s grandson! We have nicknamed him Porter (as in a Porterhouse steak) and he will be our new herdsire for our rex rabbits, lending his lineage and traceable pedigree to our operation.

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SkinnyAcres Rabitry’s Porter, our new Rex buck

Companion Planting and Interplanting

This year our garden has been planned, planned again, and then planned some more. We are going to have both companion planting and interplanting on the homestead this year. Companion planting is when you plant two plants next to each other (or in alternating rows) that compliment eachother’s growth or deter pests from one another. Interplanting is related and means to grow two plants in the same space that don’t interfere with one-another’s growth. An example of this is growing beans and corn in the same space. The beans fix nitrogen for the corn, and the corn stalk allows the beans to trellis up them. One example that will be in our garden this year is growing radishes pretty much anywhere a slow-growing plant is seeded. Since radishes grow so fast, they can be harvested before they start to compete with their too-close neighbors. We will be growing as many plants this way as possible this year. Gardening is still somewhat a struggle for us, but we’re always trying to get better at it!

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Crops interplanted Photo Credit thrivefarms

And lastly;

Growing Trees!

Quarteracrehome is going to be working with Western Reserve Eco Network (a local grassroots environmental group seeking to promote sustainability, which I happen to be a part of) to grow a whole bunch of trees in empty lots in the city. These will all be either native northeast Ohio trees to help restore native forestland or fruit/nut trees to help feed the low-income urban communities around Cleveland. Some of those trees fruit trees may come tagging along back to the quarter acre. Additionally, I have several branches from my father’s Queen Anne cherry tree attempting to root in my living room. Not to mention that two of the plants that have been on this property for ages are also fruit trees and I just had no idea. So I am excited to be “branch”ing out this year! Ahahah, tree puns.

And that’s about it. Things that are inspiring me to do new stuff this year, and things I’ll be trying out. Fingers crossed that it all works out!

A small update

My camera’s battery charger is missing and my phone is no longer sending photos to my email. I am quite put-out by this as it means no more good photos taken when I am home on my ownsies. I shall have to rely on Greg’s phone to take nice pictures as mine is not a smart phone. I am also missing my tablet cable which is a bit frustrating.

But my life with gremlins aside, myself and a few others spent Saturday and Sunday moving dirt with a gusto. We double-dug the garden bed, loaded it down with as much compost as we could, stirred in some vermiculite and sand, covered it with cardboard to shade and smother any weed growth from the now-improved soil and piled some wood chips near by for future mulching.

The wood chips came from my parent’s front yard where a pair of massive 50+ foot oak trees sat, fused and entwined at their base. Mom loved that tree and would be turning in her proverbial grave to see that dad had it cut down and the stump ground without a thought on what to do with all of the glorious carbon sealed away in those respectable old trees.

Luckily (through much beration of my father for not even bothering to MENTION to his kids that he was having the tree taken down when he knew I wanted the wood, and through many calls to the tree company) I managed to save some of it. A disappointing fraction of the whole. A few dozen massive logs from the top section of a pair of trees with trunks so large I could not wrap my arms around them and taller than my parents 3-story-house. A slab perhaps large enough to make an end table. And a substantial pile of finely ground wood chips from the huge stumps the trees left behind.

Those wood chips will become part of my garden bed, feeding microbes, worms and plants in turn. Those plants will go on to feed me (or my animals which also go on to feed me). And in some small way I will absorb some of the biological uniqueness of that tree into my own being… Or so some distant romantic part of me would like to believe. The chips will be the carbon to my over-loaded nitrogen heavy compost. They will be a mulch for the top to keep the water in. And a massive amount also went into the chicken pen where it will keep my birds happy and healthy.

What’s especially nice is that they are very fine wood chips, mostly being perhaps similar in size to those you might get if you hit a pencil repeatedly with a hammer. And they’ve been sitting in my driveway, aging, for a few months… Which means that they also are already starting to break down. Indeed, in many ways they look more like dirt than my compost does!

So my garden bed is ready. In a week, the cardboard will come off, the dirt will be raked, the mulch will be spread and the plants will go in the ground. Hooray! It’s a shame that in the meantime, the weather is cold and terrible.

I have been making a mad attempt to harden off my millions of tomatoes. They have been sitting on windowsills outside my few windows that get sun. Tonight it is in the 40’s so I tried to bring at least some of them in. In the process I dropped one of my plastic pots with 5+ seedlings in it off the windowsill and it broke. The tomatoes were damaged and scattered. Some may be salvageable. I replanted them all, so we shall just have to wait and see.

And we cleaned rabbit cages today. Our winter was late and only ended recently. The rabbit bedding builds up a bit in the winter because it often freezes and it’s hard to handle shovels with metal bits when it is 10*F outside. So today all the rabbits got moved into cleaner territories, and we also gave the water bottles a thorough cleaning with soap, hot water and a wee bit of bleach on the insides. One of my NZWs seems to be having some health problems with a back leg. I’m not really sure from what. It could be that she injured it in the cage bars or some other accident. It’s hard to notice because rabbits are often still when they are relaxed, but she hops a bit oddly and has trouble getting off her side. We’ll be keeping a close eye on her but it could mean a cull, which would solidify my desire to move solely into purebred standard Rex in several beautiful colors. I would breed in my remaining NZWs that have shown such robust health for a bit of diversity, and breed them out to be purebred Rex.
The only requirement for purebred animals in the rabbit world is that they meet breed standard for 3 generations. The majority of my rabbits aren’t purebred anyhow since I don’t know their history. To some people, meeting breed standard and breeding true is enough to be considered purebred, which my rabbits do. This method of record keeping actually benefits rabbits on the whole as it means that breeders can easily increase genetic diversity, health and production in different bloodlines. We don’t run into nearly as many pesky health problems from closed herdbooks as other “pure” animals do such as horses and dogs.

It would be a good shift, I think, to move into purebred Rex. I love their furs and NZWs are common enough that I could bring them back easily if I ever wanted them. We shall just have to wait and see.

Climate Change Sausage

Last month there was a major historical moment that passed in the blink of an eye. I doubt most of you know it, but this year our global average temperature exceeded 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era average temperature.
(And if you’d like to ignore this fact, please feel free to be an ostrich and just scroll down to sausages. Truly, sometimes we just need some tasty food, not a morose look at our reality.)

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/04/is-el-nino-or-climate-change-behind-the-run-of-record-temperatures
http://grist.org/climate-energy/global-warming-is-now-in-overdrive-we-just-hit-a-terrible-climate-milestone/

Most people don’t even flinch at a two degree difference because it’s such a tiny number to us. For those of us in America its about a 3.6F difference. What harm could a few tiny degrees of temperature do? Well, as it turns out, a lot since it’s not like we’re going from a high of 90F to 93.6F in the summer. That number (2C or 3.6F) is the global SURFACE temperature, but what typically controls the weather is ocean and atmospheric temperatures (such as  El Nino) where a change of 3.6F surface temperature can translate into changing the temperature of whole oceans, even well under the surface. That comes back up to the surface later, and with so much more warm water, absorbing even more of the sun’s energy it has an exponential effect on our surface temperatures in hot areas, translating to an actual change far greater than that of 3.6F. In truth, the gap between where we are now and a global average climate change is exponential. For example, an increase of 9F is not going to translate into Nebraska going from an average high of 88 to an average high of 97… It is going to take Nebraska from an average high of 88 to an average high of 130F or higher.
Imagine for a moment the north pole. This past December the temperature at the NORTH POLE reached nearly 0C. That seems like a low number, but that is 32*F. The point at which water freezes. Now do you know what’s under the ice at the north pole? Ocean. Ocean that absorbs heat from the sun and air, rather than reflect light and cool air the way ice does. You know what else is under the ice (or more specifically IN it)? Methane, which absorbs more heat from the sun than other air particles. So you know what happens if that ice starts to melt? A chain reaction, where the ice melting causes MORE heat to become trapped on earth, which makes more ice melt, which makes more heat become trapped…

Well, I’ll let this guy explain the very scary reality of it to you;

This is an older video, four years in fact. Average global temperatures will probably reach +1.5*C in the next decade and we’re close to that now. Now what this guy doesn’t mention is the SOCIAL impacts of these problems. And if you think they won’t happen you’re kidding yourself; we’re already seeing them.

In July last year, an area of Iran hit 163*F. What!? I mean, we can understand temperatures above 110*, where you don’t go outside because it’s too hot, where elderly and children may die without shelter, water, etc. Those types of numbers typically appear in deserts, places like Death Valley in CA may even hit up to 130*F, which we may be able to manage with good buildings and swamp coolers. But this is higher still. Ten minutes outside at 140*F is enough to kill a healthy human. But this is even higher than THAT. This is a temperature that will literally kill you, whether you have shade, shelter, water, or anything. It’s literally too hot to exist. You will literally be cooked to a delicious medium-well pot roast. And that is the reality RIGHT NOW in the middle east.

And that incredibly shocking number, that so many people claim is just people being silly liberal naysayers but is actually well documented science, is a symptom of a much larger problem which is the drought in the middle east. The lack of water in the middle east has become a huge problem and if you think that the whole “not having food thing” has nothing to do with people getting angry, revolting, and killing each other, one needs only look back on every war ever where people started starving and revolting and killing each other. Just imagine adding to that the concept that both sides think THEIR God is punishing them for allowing the other side to live or some other religious nonsense and the fact that the US and other countries have been exploiting the middle east for petty power struggles, money, oil and world dominance for 100 years and it becomes a no brainer that people there are violent, angry, aggressive, extremists who just wanna destroy the whole world and take everything they’ve been denied for decades for themselves. Is it right? No, but it is definitely real.

And if you think “Well they’ve always had their silly religious wars and they have always been a desert. That won’t ACTUALLY reach America.”, think again. We feel the effects of those conditions every day through recessions from wars, terrorist attacks, TSA searches and oil prices as it is. Those effects spread, they have a butterfly effect. The recession put my dad out of work, no money meant my mother wouldn’t go see a doctor as she got sick, it means cancer had a chance to run amok in her body for years, and it means that on March 15th I will be honoring the day she DIED because some guys I never met dozens of years ago decided America needed more money and oil and set the precedence for our foreign policy in the middle east and our environmental policy of “ignore everything”.

And if the effects of foreign bodies reaching into the US and having chain reaction events aren’t enough or are too vague, remember that people are killed and threatened for not following a particular religious belief in the US rather frequently as it is. One only needs to look at our current presidential election to witness divides between frustrated people in a poor economy. And the droughts and aberrant weather patterns? They’re here, they have been here  (for quite some time), and they will get much, much worse in the future. We are HOMESTEADERS. What happens when we get so little rain that we can’t grow our plants and animals any more? What will YOU do when your farm dries up to a crisp or is flooded under a foot of water for nine months of the year from these conditions? What will you do when people get fed up with being shot at for being different than “the norm” and don’t even have food and shelter and they decide to start picking up guns of their own? What will you do when it’s YOUR family being threatened by that instability?

The future is scary. It’s terrifying. I never thought I’d see the day when the conspiracy theories that my parents used to listen to on college radio would seem not so far fetched after all.

So what am I doing about it? Well, I’m trying to found an egalitarian Ecovillage here in Northeast Ohio, a project I feel like Wiki does a fair job of explaining. We’ll live sustainably, we’ll form communal supportive bonds, we’ll rely on each other, and try to live well and respect other people without the discriminatory, violent, hateful, exploitation that permeates our current societal structure… Care to join us? (No, seriously, if you’re interested, please let me know!)

But beyond that, global change is out of my hands. I can change myself, but after that it’s not really up to me. It’s up to all of YOU folks out there. Like the TEDx video says; if you see this, it’s now your mission to make the impossible possible. Because without it we’re all screwed.

And in the meantime… I will show you some delicious sausages.

I had some friends over recently to help me prepare some rabbit sausages that, I must say, came out rather deliciously. I did my digging and my research and here’s how we did it. Your results may vary.

We started by testing out the meat grinder that I received for Christmas two years ago. Because of how tumultuous the following two years were, I never got around to using it so this was the first time it had been out of the box. It works very well, so I will endorse it but it does seem to have some clogging issues during stuffing. Not sure if that would be better or worse on a different model. The most frustrating thing about this grinder was the very short cord on it. I sure hope you’re prepared to use this large contraption on a small counter right next to an outlet and not on a tabletop! Or you could, you know, buy an extension cord.

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Next, we deboned and cut the rabbit meat into chunks. the best time to do this is when the rabbit is still partially frozen but you can cut through it. Unfortunately this is VERY cold on our wee little fingers and difficult to deal with it. But we persevered and left a carnage of bones in our wake.Sausage2 - Copy

This was the hardest part. We also cut up some pork belly into it. Rabbit meat has almost no fat and so it makes a terrible sausage on it’s own. It really needs fat from another source so that it doesn’t turn into rubber when it is fried. Most people say to use half pork-half rabbit like one does with deer meat. Out of 9lbs of ground meat, about 1.5lbs were pork belly, so a much lower pork to rabbit ratio than most people suggest. I really didn’t want to use a lot of pork because I wanted rabbit sausage, not rabbit-and-pork sausage and this ratio of 1.5lbs pork belly to 7.5lbs boneless rabbit worked out just fine. It gave plenty of fat for cooking and retained the rabbit flavor of the sausage. The pork belly came from a local market and was from an Ohio hog.

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We ground the meat and mixed the batches together to make sure that the pork was well distributed. For grinding meat, the grinder worked like a dream. Then we split the meat into two bowls and let it rest in the fridge while we mixed seasoning. We made equal amounts of two types of sausage; Italian and maple breakfast links. We got hog casings from our local big-box grocery. They sold what they called enough “all natural salted hog casings” for 25lbs of meat (which is probably accurate) in a tiny half-pint container for about $2.50. It was right in there along with Sugardale bacons, Johnsonville brats and cured box-store hams, so if you’re looking to make sausage, casings may be closer than you think! The maple syrup was 100% pure Ohio maple syrup. My herbs come from a local Italian restaurant supply store where I can get them in bulk for cheap. All around I spent maybe $9 on outside supplies and perhaps $1.50/lb on my own rabbit meat, meaning perhaps $2.50/lb on high quality natural sausage. Is it a good price for the product? Yes. Could I make money on it? Probably nah. Could I have done it cheaper? Probably yeah. Around here, chicken sausage goes for about $4/lb, which I think is a good comparison and it’s not the same quality product at all. Some day we may be able to provide all of these things to ourselves and not have to source anything from off the farm.

For recipes we just looked up recipes online and created an approximation of a mix of them, especially those for chicken sausages. We put more maple in the breakfast than was called for, and used wine as our liquid in the Italian.

We decided to do the Italian as bulk stuffed and the breakfast as links. We would keep some loose from each batch. Stuffing the sausages was much rougher than grinding the meat the first time and so I didn’t get any pictures of the actual process.

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Ultimately we had some problems with the sausage meat clogging up the grinder and getting turned into mush. Every time we’d clean it out after this we’d get about 3″ of clean meat before it’d clog again. I suspect that a bit of oil and feeding it a bit more slowly and loosely may have helped with the problem but we were aiming for something with a lower fat content and so adding liquid oil seemed counter-productive and we really had no idea what we were doing. In the future we may add a little less pork and a little more liquid oils during the stuffing process; olive for the Italian and vegetable for the breakfast.

Breakfast links. The ones that stuffed correctly on the right and incorrectly on the left. You can see the difference between the correct "lumpy" texture and the lighter over-worked much texture on the left. Both still tasty.

Breakfast links. The ones that stuffed correctly on the right and incorrectly on the left. You can see the difference between the correct “lumpy” texture and the lighter over-worked much texture on the left. Both still tasty.

Tubes of Italian with the same problem. "properly" ground lumps on the inside, over-worked meat on the outside.

Tubes of Italian with the same problem. “properly” ground lumps on the inside, over-worked meat on the outside.

Ultimately we cooked it up and had some really high quality sausage and some lower quality but still delicious sausage. I gave some to my friends, helpers and family and kept back plenty for myself. We will not be buying store sausage again for a good long while! Yum!

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Some of the over worked breakfast sausages and some loose crumbles cooking in a bit of water as a taste-test. While the texture was wrong, they’re delicious and edible.

Hey, I’d eat it.

Rabbit Raising Myths

I have had a really hard time in the last few years with rabbit raising myths. Having cared for rabbits for more than a decade and been homesteading with them for nearly three years (with previous breeding experience before that) I like to think I have enough experience-based evidence to debunk most of the false claims people give about raising rabbits. There are so many out there that people repeat as if they were bible passages without having spoken to real breeders who try it and it just drives me batty! So here are some rabbit myths that tend to just be nonsense.

Rabbits Will Have Heart Attacks From Loud Noises

Nukka, a vicious killer, sitting peacefully right next to a totally relaxed rabbit minutes after barking at her.

I once heard a lady say that rabbits will keel over at just about anything. Why? She took in a rescue rabbit that had been so sheltered that it’s whole life it only ever knew one human person and no other living thing. She brought it home and her large breed dog barked at it. The rabbit immediately had a heart attack and died.
This goes to show that these things CAN happen. However, they are EXTREMELY rare. Every day my dogs are let out through my garage, they charge right past the rabbit cages at top speed, barking loudly. Once in a blue moon my husky tries to chase them through the wire for a few minutes until I can catch her and scold her. No heart attacks. I use my circular saw and drill within ten feet of them and they hardly budge. They even only pull their ears back if I am using a staple gun on a cage if they happen to be inside that cage. I know a lady who plays their local rock and roll radio station quietly in her rabbit barn. My rabbits have kept on being totally normal through seven different dogs roughhousing within 3 feet of them, cats trying to steal their kits, hawks and raccoons killing my chickens, construction work, the neighbor’s dogs, screaming children… They even made it through *gasp* fireworks near by on 4th of July and new years! Needless to say these things do not phase my rabbits and they aren’t about to die of fright just because there’s some thunder in the air… And wild rabbits have to survive frequent close calls with predators.
Rabbits ARE sensitive to new things and stress easily. I have even seen some of my rabbits have popped blood vessels from having an extreme fright. But it was REALLY extreme (running from the killer husky when she slipped out of her cage) and even then she lived and was fine and proceeded to have a healthy litter two weeks later. They are certainly not about to keel over because someone set off a set of firecrackers in their driveway next door.

Grains and Veggies will kill your rabbits

Baby rabbits, 2.5 weeks old, eating pellets with cracked corn and rolled oats.

Some people claim that the slightest shift in diet will kill off all your rabbits.
Personally, I have never lost a single kit or adult rabbit to a digestive issue. Ever. In the winter I feed cracked corn as 1/5th-1/6th of their diet. I know a lot of people who do the same. In the spring, summer and fall they get everything from bell peppers, kale, dandelions, carrots (both wild and domestic), fresh grass, deadnettle, sow thistle, basil, mint, lemon balm, collards, turnip tops, beet greens, plantago, chard… The list goes on and on! Wild rabbits will happily devour most of these things out of your garden as well! And yet wild rabbits are not exactly on the endangered list from this magical “restricted” diet they are supposed to get… In fact they are one of the most invasive species in the world and will absolutely devastate crops if they are allowed to get out of hand. The key to a rabbit’s diet is two things; fiber and diversity. Many plants that are supposedly “rabbit toxic” are fine in small quantities because they’re only “kind of” toxic such as oak seedlings and broccoli. They can both cause their own type of digestive issues if eaten in large quantities. But nobody ever killed their rabbit by offering them a tiny snack of either. The trick is to not feed anything in a large quantity very suddenly. As the plants start appearing again I start feeding out a few of the reviving leaves from the wild plants I know. As the garden grows they get some small snacks from the garden as the wild plants come in full-force and become a major part of their diet. As the garden then contributes majorly to their diet as well I start allowing them out in “tractor” pens to eat whatever plants they want and feed the occasional full meal of vegetation. I know there are no truly “deadly” plants in my lawn such a poison hemlock so I don’t leave them out all day (so they don’t have only stuff that’s bad for them left to eat out of boredom) and I don’t worry about it.
The other secret is maintaining a healthy digestive system. There’s so many suggestions on this from probiotics and ACV to feeding Grandma’s Concoctions of garlic and cayenne pepper… But the first and best way to a healthy digestive is lots and lots of grass hays. Tons of low-fat, mid-protein and high fiber (especially whole long-strand fiber) feed will keep them healthy as bulls (or bucks in this case!).

Handling New Born Kits or Strange Smells Will Make Mom Eat The Litter

One of our former doe Lucy’s day old kits in my bare hands. This kit is grown and in a new home, distinctly not eaten by her mom.

This is quoted to me so often it’s nuts. Most commonly it’s quoted in reference to not handling kits until they are 2+ weeks old and not to let dogs, cats etc. around moms with litters. Poppycock I say. Once again, my dogs run past barking every day, there are hawks that attack my chickens, on butcher days my lawn smells like blood, sometimes cats and coons and other scary critters come into my lawn… My rabbits just keep on having babies and not eating them. I have had one mom actually eat a litter (Tasty) and she was promptly culled from the herd. She was a bad production doe anyhow.
Sometimes first time moms will appear to eat their kits. This is an unusual phenomena that’s known as “over cleaning”. Does clean the blood off of their kits when they are born. If they are too rough it’s quite easy for those big teeth to cut open fragile skin. This then bleeds, which the confused does begin to try to clean “off” the kit, but are really cleaning flesh and blood “out” of an open wound. The result? Half-mauled kits in the nest, clean on one end, missing on the other. Sometimes it’s all the kits, sometimes they only nibble a “little” (a foot here, or an ear there), most of the time it’s only 1-2 kits that get badly beat up. But this is a very different behavior than just eating the babies because they are threatened and usually goes away after the first litter and the outside environment (predators, loud sounds, handling the kits) has pretty much no influence on this. It either happens or not and the doe either becomes a good mom or not as all does do (or don’t), irrelevant of this happening on the first litter. First litters are often flops.
I and almost every breeder I know also handle kits within 24 hrs of birth without incident. This lets us see if the mom HAS mauled a kit by accident, if they are getting fed, how many there are, any still borns, and birthing matter left in the nest, etc. While some does have attacked ME for doing this, the does are not like “Oh! You have my kit! Better go EAT IT OUT OF YOUR HAND!”. Once I leave the cage, the does normally just check the nest, sees that the babies are fine and life goes back to normal. A doe that eats her kits over disturbances that should be normal is an abnormal rabbit with an unhealthy trait and should simply be removed from the breeding program. They would never reproduce successfully in the wild.

Feed Your Birthing Does Bacon

What? No! Why this awful rumor even exists is sometimes beyond my comprehension, but here it goes. Some people claim that the reason rabbits occasionally eat kits is because they lack something they need in their diet immediately after birth, mostly proteins, fats, iron and calcium. Because of this myth about why rabbits eat kits, some people take a chunk or two of bacon and put them in the rabbit’s cage to kind of “give the rabbit what she needs” without killing her kits.
For starters, there’s no evidence that rabbits eat their kits due to nutritional deficiencies. Accidents or stress, yes, nutritional deficiencies, no. So the reasoning here is patently false. But far worse is the idea of feeding your rabbit bacon to fix it in the first place.
Some rabbits will actually EAT the bacon. But it’s not because they need the nutrients, it’s because they are desperately trying to clean up their nest site to keep it from smelling like meat and to keep predators away.
But this can make your rabbit extremely sick, usually from GI stasis or salt shutting down their kidneys, and runs the risk of creating a prion disease in rabbits. Don’t know what that is? It’s a disease that creates improperly twisting proteins in the body and brain. It’s mostly transmitted through strict herbivores eating meat infected with the disease. Still not familiar? In sheep, it’s called scrapie, in deer is’d Chronic Wasting Disease. In bovines, it’s called mad cow disease.
For god’s sake. Do not feed your rabbits meat. If they need calcium, protein, iron, fat, etc, just feed them some clover hay and give them a mineral block. Yeesh!

Hay or Death!

Nkkahay

Nukka on top of our hay bales during our first year.

There’s this crazy idea that some people who are new to rabbits are getting that if you don’t feed your rabbits hay that they will die. This rumor comes primarily from vets and others in the pet industry. It’s one I have perpetrated myself on occasion. Pet rabbits are very different than production rabbits. They are smaller, often times spayed or neutered, with no environmental stresses on them at all. And products for these rabbits tend to be marketed to “pet” owners. Look at “Beneful” with it’s brightly colored cereal pieces, openly advertising the “whole grains” they add, or “Fancy Feast”, which implicates that your cat is royalty to be spoiled like a princess. The pet rabbit market is no different. Rabbit feed filled with sunflower and thistle seeds, dyed sugary cereal pieces and nuts covered in honey are in most “premium” rabbit feeds and sell extremely well. These feeds are extremely fatty, fattier than most “complete” rabbit feeds marketed for meat production and are much lower in fiber. Additionally, many pet owners like to further “spoil” their pets by giving them sugary treats such as yogurt drops or dried fruits, as well as making sure they have a full feeder 24/7.
When you combine the idea of these extremely fatty feeds with the idea of a “pet” rabbit, usually living in a small cage in a climate controlled environment without breeding, it’s a recipe for disaster. GI stasis, heart disease and congestive heart failure are not uncommon among pet rabbits. Pet rabbits are in a state of severe decline in health among most pet owners. So vets and others in the pet industry, in an attempt to educate people in the 10-20 minutes they have to sell them a product or talk about their pet at a checkup, tell people that if they do not feed their rabbits a diet of primarily hay (or at least feed some hay), their rabbit will get sick or die. And for a sedate, over-fed, stress-free pet rabbit, this is true. And since rabbits CAN live off of hay and minerals alone, a fortified hay based pellet or a hay based diet with a mineral lick is ideal for a pet (and can be ideal for production rabbits as well).
But this is not always true of meat rabbits. These rabbits are big, covered in lots of muscle, exposed to outside environments, and breeding. A litter puts a strain on a body. Milk production is a huge fat sink. Calories are needed to burn in cold winters. Production rabbits make use of the extra calories they consume, and production feeds are not as fatty as the sugar-loaded “pet” rabbit feeds, focusing instead on protein. A rabbit can, and many millions do, live well on pellets alone.
Haying is a personal choice that has more to do with moving towards personal food security, offering a more natural diet, stability of the GI tract in a variety-based diet, offering quality of life based environments, etc. A rabbit can live happily on pellets, and happily on hay, but neither is a death sentence when balanced correctly.

If You Eat Only Rabbit You Will Die

Rabbit starvation is a real thing. It’s also sometimes call mal de caribou and if you are ever out in the wilds keep it in mind. If you ever eat so much protein with no carbs and fats to balance it out, the protein can build up in your system and overload your body systems and you can die. In survival settings, especially in the winter, this can be your downfall as wild rabbit is easy to find and wild veggies are not.
But to equate this concept to a typical-world homesteading or farming situation is extremely far reaching at best.

An adult rabbit, slow-cooked with onions and herbs. We ate this with potatoes and carrots on the side. Yum!

An adult rabbit, slow-cooked with onions and herbs. We ate this with potatoes and carrots on the side. Yum!

The only way rabbit starvation works is by eating extremely lean meat with no carbs and fats for days or weeks on end as your sole food source. If you eat a salad, a carrot, a slice of bread, some potatoes, green beans, or a glass of milk with your rabbit, you will never experience this phenomena. Almost every vegetable, dairy, or grain product has plenty of fats and carbs to balance out the protein in the rabbit and make a complete diet. In fact, if you eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and rabbit for dinner, you’re pretty much set right there. Experiencing rabbit starvation is very difficult in all but the most extreme of settings and isn’t practical to reference in almost any situation.

Rabbits are Silent or Always Quiet

Rabbits are generally quiet animals. They don’t make sounds… Most of the time.

Kibbles, one of our Rex rabbits, trying to dig through a hay bale.

Kibbles, one of our Rex rabbits, trying to dig through a hay bale.

Rabbits make some really quiet, really annoying sounds on a regular basis that will bother you quite a bit if you keep them indoors, especially near your bedroom. They like to dig and will dig at anything, even solid or wire floors. They will chew cage bars, scrabble in loud circles, and best of all they will stomp their hind feet as loudly as possible. And they do most of this at night.
But most people don’t realize that rabbits also vocalize. Many rabbits make grunting noises. This is mostly a mating call. But the real sound they make is a distress call, and can only be described as a scream. It’s loud, it’s piercing, it carries through blocks and neighborhoods. And it sounds distressingly like a human baby being brutally murdered with a knife. If you ever hear the most bone-chilling high pitched shriek of pain in your life carrying across your property, it’s time to book it to your rabbit barn ASAP and see what’s up!

I hope this clears up some common misconceptions about rabbits and helps you understand your rabbit’s behavior and physiology better! Good luck and happy rabbiting!

Brave new world

Last year at this time I was so very ready to get back into blogging.

I talked about my new animals, the Christmas presents I was making, how exciting waking up on Yule was for me.

The fervor of the holidays hit, and I got busy. When the smoke cleared I faced the hardest three months of my life as my mother’s cancer became no longer treatable. I won’t go into details, but to say it was hard is an understatement… And I hope that by the time I reach that point in my life, death with dignity laws are in place.

The worst spring ever gone, some new friends and I started work on a project I’d been dabbling in the year before. The concept of a new home, a new life… Even a new society and culture.

The concept of an Ecovillage.

Now that my world is no longer falling to pieces, we’re making progress on the project. A little group of ten people, with various levels of dedication and participation, striving for a brave new world. One where we are at peace with our neighbors, one where we are socially and ecologically responsible, one where we live in harmony with nature, science and the world around us.

Homesteading continues. 13 pints of apple butter, sealed in mason jars, went into my pantry this week. A gallon of dried apple slices sits in a bag on my counter. Dozens of hatching eggs were carefully packaged and shipped to other chicken fanciers across the United States. The biggest zucchini ever came out of my garden. And this week, a few cubic yards of mulched wood will go into my chicken pen.

But this new project consumes my time. Crunching number and figures for feeding people, making building plans, water collection, sustainable animals, balancing our ecological footprint… My mind is a buzz with ideas and plans The future.

I only wish there was one more person still around to hear them.

Winter is Boring

And I am quite through with it! After finding ourselves having gotten through our -13F night with-36 windchills coming off the lake two weeks ago, this week we dropped down to -6 over night (much lower wind chill this time) and will remain in the dastardly cold temperatures until further notice. In fact, for the rest of the month (and the past several days included) we will have seen temps over 20 degrees once. This makes walking to the grocery quite difficult and has inspired me to have a bigger, better garden this year and start lots of seeds… But to do that right now I would have to literally chisel the frozen soil out of my back yard with a pick axe and then bring it in to thaw. So I have been settling for a lot of absent minded, slow, boring projects this winter.

Of course, the rabbits keep me somewhat busy. We’ve had a fair amount of success in recent months, selling off pretty much all the does from the litters and really good breeding… Let’s hope it continues!

Cana and her seven kits at three weeks old

Tanning hides. I used a recipe consisting of battery acid and rock salt that can be found over at Rise and Shine Rabbitry‘s blog. I think I made two major mistakes. One, I did not wash the hides well enough post tanning. They smell pretty strongly of tanning solution after weeks now in a scented closet or out in the open air and it’s not cool. I also didn’t “break” the hides enough. I really need better instructions on how to do that to prevent the hides from becoming “papery”. I think it just takes a lot more time and effort than I put in. Lastly I need sandpaper to buff the skin side of the hides to even the skin out and give it a softer feel.

Making soup and changing our diet. I have been cooking a lot more this winter and I have found a deep love for soups with lots of vegetables. Now I am looking to reduce the amount of meat we consume so I’m going to try adding things like beans and chickpeas to meals. Hopefully by the time spring rolls around I will have three days of the week being vegetarian meals. No, I’m not going vegetarian… But with a greater understanding of the amount of work that goes into our meat, I want to eat it less! If I want to sustain myself on raising a few dozen chickens a year, that means eating a lot less chicken!

Making Glue. Self-sustaining means reducing our reliance on outside sources. I recently made an awesome glue out of just a few household ingredients. I used the recipe from a quick internet search and this page here; http://sustainableecho.com/homemade-natural-glue/
I wanted a glue I could make from whatever I had lying around and was completely edible. I tried this recipe and it works great and holds strong. I used it to make some minor repairs on out wicker furniture, glue a label to my jar of glue, and then made some rabbit toys and seed starters with it!

Making seed starters. I spoke to a nice lady who also lives on a quarter acre about 40 minutes from my house. She came to trade a delicious, cleaned whole duck for one of my buck rabbit kits and will be coming back later for two does. We also swapped seeds and talked gardens for a bit and she does a lot more gardening than I do! She raises out thousands of plants each year, and she said to me she kills the majority of the plants she tries to grow. I gave her all of our weird arugula from last year, some of the amazing kale we got and several other seed batches. She gave us quite a bounty of seeds in return, but also (perhaps by accident) pointed out a valuable lesson to me… Even the pros kill plants. Lots of ’em. So this year I will be trying to start three seedlings for every one plant I want. I do not have enough paper towel rolls for this, so I made tubes of glued newspaper (see the glue above!) and folded in the bottoms. I will probably be going crazy and trying to start hundreds of seedlings this year because I would like several of each plant type and there’s just not enough paper towel rolls for that around here! The newspaper rolls also allow for a bigger seed starter, meaning the seeds may grow better for longer indoors.

I have also been making rabbit toys. You all may have been to a pet store and seen the “rabbit toys” there. They are always made for a rabbit that is 4lbs at most. There are never toys appropriate to a rabbit keeper like me. My smallest rabbits are 8lbs. Of course, they are catering to the “pet” rabbit, not the commercial rabbit. Who on earth would give a commercial rabbit a toy, right? Well, I do because I find it helps a lot with temperament and wellbeing. I want my animals to live good lives and if a small rabbit likes toys, why wouldn’t a large rabbit? So I have been seeking out materials and designing scaled up rabbit toys for homestead meat rabbits that won’t collapse with the first nibble! You may find me offering some of these things for sale in the not too distant future! If you have any ideas for toys you’d like to see for your extra large rabbits, let me know!

This tube would be one of the smaller toys, at six inches across and a foot long. Hand made out of recycled tubing from a local business, locally grown timothy/orchard grass hay, my all natural glue and natural fiber twine!

Despite all these projects, the long and short of it is that I am bored with winter! The cold keeps me cooped in, and changing water bottles every few hours. Even the rabbits are quite done with it and ask that it please warm up so they can have fresh grass in their diet instead of almost-frozen kale from last year.

Is it spring yet!?

Rabbit recipe and Kibbles Kindles

Well, post-demonstration I have just been taking it easy. Mid-day I give the rabbits new frozen bottles and then wallow in the fact that my work load is majorly decreased and I have a break. I’ve been watching my rabbits in their tractor, playing with the dogs, watching some TV, and enjoying my brief moments off with nothing at all going on. It was a rough week but I made it through and we’ll be ready when the new chickens show up at the end of the month.

The night of the demonstration I made some delicious rabbit and I thought I’d share the recipe with you all! It’s sort of a Thai dish that I made some time back when we first got rabbit in the old apartment. We bought a half-rabbit from a local market and I fried some of it in a spicy sauce. This was trying to be a little reminiscent of that. I hope you enjoy it!

PRETENDING-TO-BE-THAI BARBEQUED RABBIT

  • 1 rabbit (2-3lbs) chopped into pieces (I cut mine in such a way that there was little meat left on the ribs and I removed the spine. Those bits will be boiled for broth later.)
  • 1-2 chili peppers of choice. I used Thai peppers before but I only had a jalapeno this time. Use more for a hotter dish or add crushed red peppers.
  • 1/3 C chunks of bell pepper, loosely measured
  • 1 C water
  • 1tbs Apple cider vinegar
  • 2tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tbs ketchup
  • 1 tsp Red Hot (or substitute some cayenne pepper for a more Thai flavor)
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tsp Fish Sauce or Oyster Sauce
  • 1/2 tbs flour
  • 1/4 C chopped green onions (We used the tops of the onions outside)
  • Black pepper and paprika

Cut up your rabbit and set it in a large skillet with the spicy peppers, water, vinegar and soy sauce. Sprinkle liberally with black pepper and some paprika. Let sit in this covered for a half hour or until you’re ready to cook.

Turn heat onto medium and add the ketchup, fish sauce, onions, bell peppers and red hot. Mix in the flour as the pan heats up. Cook on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes on each side. If the water cooks out too fast add more a little bit at a time. Keep the water level low. When the rabbit is cooked for 10 minutes on each side add the butter. Brown the rabbit in the butter and sauce until the sauce is gooey and sticks to the rabbit.
Remember to cook your rabbit to 160 degrees(F)  internal temperature.

Serve on rice with green beans and carrots for sides (or whatever really).

Additionally Kibbles kindled this morning. She and I are starting to build a better relationship. She knows it’s not bad when I open the cage and she’s OK with my scent. She still is aggressive when I try to pet her but we’re working on it. The past two days she’s done nothing but lie on her side, eat and drink. Her belly was so big it looked like she’d swallowed a melon. I was starting to get worried, and was changing her frozen bottles more frequently. If you looked close you could see the babies moving in her side occasionally.
Today she gave me TWELVE kits! They’re a bit on the small side but with twelve of them that’s not surprising! When I found them some of them were still having trouble stretching out because they’d been so cramped inside of her so long. I hope they all make it… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they did!? But I won’t be sad or surprised if we lose 1-2 over the first week. Twelve kits is hard for mom rabbit to handle, but Kibbles comes from a line known to be good mothers that produce early and raise huge litters to adulthood during their prime. We’ll just have to wait and see!

Until next time then!