Summer Cold

And no longer the weather kind. Dan has brought the sneezing-coughing sickness to us and though it’s a short illness it’s a bad one to have. I spent a few days with my head feeling like a bowl of soup, heavy and sloshing when I moved. Somehow things got done despite that. Greg and I are now starting to come out the other side of it, though I still have a bit of a cough left and the chores have stacked up in our absence of ability.

Although the summer has been pretty cold and it is now technically fall, it very suddenly heated up. It’s now in the 80’s… Right in time for the fall nectar flow for the bees. I have set out food for them, but they aren’t taking it like they were a month ago. All over the asters are in full bloom and the goldenrod is just on it’s way out. I wish I could have gotten the bees to build more comb before this, but now they are going crazy building hard. I swapped a bar of brood from the top box to the bottom about 10 days ago. They filled out that empty bar and just barely began to build new comb in the bottom box when I went to check on them this week. We swapped over two bars with a lot of brood on them to the bottom box and left the bars that were beginning to be built upon in the bottom box. The brood pattern in the hive is beautiful and the queen seems to be doing a great job, filling in the center of each brood frame in a tight consistent pattern. The top box now has two empty bars in it which I hope they fill rapidly with the good nectar currently available. It’s good because they desperately need the space to store honey. They NEED to put away food for the winter. If they don’t fill up both boxes, they could die. I will be putting in bee candy for the winter as well, but if they do very poorly they could end up needing to be fed next year again as well. I may feed them for 1-2 weeks in the early spring one way or another. While my late summer-fall flowers are well cultivated, my early spring blooms are lacking.

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These are the asters that cover my back lawn in the late summer. They are beautiful and they swarm with pollinators of all sorts. I have counted a dozen different species on them including 2-3 local bee species like small and large carpenter bees and bumble bees. We may also have mason bees, and mining bees. It’s hard to tell. But the plants swarm with them, alongside some species of flies, beetles and the occasional wasp.

Asters like this are native to my area of Ohio and they grow over 6′ tall in some cases. Asters are also one of the few native and heavy food sources for bees in the late summer and fall. Because of their size they are very much in violation of city ordinances. I had a nice talk this summer with one of our potential city council members about changing that but it seems unlikely. City councils, much like HOAs, were not developed to preserve freedom, but to preserve property values and restrict activities. Gotta love those free markets. Mine is the only lawn where they seem to be welcome because I believe firmly that the city ordinances are wrong and so the pollinators are welcome to congregate here. We also have a 6ft fence so our neighbors (mostly) cant see them. Sometimes we get in trouble and have to cut them down. It always makes me sad.

The raccoon continues to be a menace. We are now down to 6 birds in total. It’s been showing up during sundown instead of full dark, trying to pry open doors and nest boxes… Anything it can to get a fresh Chicken snack. We had an injured bird that was recovering, but Dan left the garage door open. Rest in peace little bird. The wildlife this year has been a nightmare everywhere. My sister had a deer break through some fencing in order to eat her tomato plants, my dogs managed to pick up fleas, the rats have been a nightmare, my other sisters tomatoes were equally ravaged, though they were on her front porch and the wildife has been breaking trashcans in the neighborhood. While it’s honestly tolerable as I was going to replace most of my flock this year it’s still a shame.

And the rabbits have been messy as well. We picked up a few rabbits from a lady who gave them away for free. They have been nothing but a disaster thus far. They were raised in wire bottom cages, and when we brought them home to our solid-floor cages the buck immediately had his feet deform. I suspect that the wire floors allowed his toes to grow at odd angles. With nothing but my usual husbandry, even with regular toe nail clipping, his toes turned at all kinds of angles. Within a month he was unable to breed or balance well and had to be culled. Now one of the does has given us a litter of 11, but keeps stepping on them, crushing them, and refusing to nurse them. That litter is down to 5. The other doe gave us a litter of 6, but two were stillborn with open wounds. Perhaps they got stuck during birth? But these unhardy rabbits make me long for Iams and Purina. I miss those bunnies, they were extremely robust. Because of their problems, I can’t in good conscious sell them as breeders. Every one of these bunnies is slated for the stewpot. They will each get one more chance before the does, too, are slated for dinners. Such a shame.

But the garden continues to grow well. We put eight jars of tomato sauce away, beautiful smooth like butter sauce that we sent through an old hand-crank food mill my sister gave me. It’s the best sauce I have ever made and tastes awesome. My hope is with this heat we will be able to put away another 8 jars before winter. Our second crop of radishes is growing extremely well and is coming out as big as my palm. The zucchini are growing huge as always, the winter squash have come in nicely and the beans continue to produce prolifically. Even the peppers have recovered, and are giving us several hot peppers and some small bell peppers each week. The garden is thriving this year like it never has before. I just wish the livestock were doing better as well.

We now have nine chicks who are thriving in my bedroom in an 80 gallon aquarium. They were bought from TSC when we went on a trip for feed. They were on sale and in all we spent $6 on the 9 chicks. Three are barred plymouth rock pullets and six are straight run buff orpingtons. Between these and the new wheaten Ameraucana chicks we are due to be receiving in a month I will have a brand new flock next year.

I also have fodder growing in my basement again. I purchased pet-safe tear-proof plastic window screening from Home Depot to line the bottoms and it’s been working very well indeed. This is for the chickens as they move into winter and lack fresh food options. They’re growing well but mold is still a problem I hope to find a way to resole that some day.

This week we spend cleaning to resolve the rat and flea problems. I can only presume they are interconnected. Hopefully we can get that done before winter and the need to order new hay. Fingers crossed!

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The Killer

Today I would like to tell you about my beloved monster, a husky named Nukka. Please note that this post contains some graphic imagery in both pictures and words, so carry on only if you are strong of stomach.

This is Nukka. And this is a story of a monster, reformed.

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Back before we lived on this property, Greg and I lived in an apartment. We’d been living together for about a year, and we had two wee little pet rabbits and one big ‘ol dog named Persy. Greg grew up with a Jack Russel as a kid that was a nightmare. It would bite him and literally eat his homework. He did not like dogs, but after a year with Big Dog he had grown quite fond of them, and we decided to get a puppy together.

There was some drama and a falling out with a very negligent veterinarian, but ultimately we ended up with Little Dog. Nukka is a 40lb AKC husky. People are surprised because she seems small for a husky, but she is breed standard. Huskies seem to have one of two personalities. Either they are graceful, serious, intelligent, devoted dogs…. Or they are absolutely nuts, mouthy, wild, neurotic, and not necessarily too bright at all. We were hoping for the first. Nukka was the second. Alas, but her love of live was infectious and we loved and love her anyhow. She was a permanent fixture of our home, from the moment we brought her home.

When we moved to this property, we acquired rabbits and then chickens in somewhat short order. And in somewhat short order Nukka devoted herself to destroying them. She would chase them through the cages and try to bite them. It was a monumental effort to keep her from killing everything in sight. Sometimes we won. Sometimes she did. For a bit, she seemed to be killing every kit that slipped it’s confines. It was a problem. I was heartbroken. How on earth could I keep animals without having her kill them? How could I keep her on a farm at all? No matter how hard you work there will always be something that slips up eventually and something will die for your negligence.

And I speak of this in casual or perhaps inoffensive terms, destroying, chase, bite, kill… But these don’t do justice to describing her shockingly brutal actions. She picks animals up and shakes them with extraordinary violence, snarling, beating them on the ground, biting them over and over again. It happens in seconds. Bones snap, skin tears, a drumming sound as the animal hits the ground while being shook as hard as she can. It’s a terrifying sight and when a rabbit is caught this way it screams. Rabbits scream, and it sounds so horrible and almost human. It’s like it cuts a hole it your soul. It’s heartrending. It’s painful. It must hurt terribly, though in reality it’s over as quickly as it starts and takes no longer than broomsticking or other methods of dispatch. Even large hens don’t stand a chance. Their hollow bones simply shatter and they fall with shocking ease as their rib cage simply collapses in her jaws. I will not shy away from this, it is a disturbing sight.

Over the years, we have kept our monster in check, with ever-increasingly tight fences, cages, leashes and ropes. We have a tie-out in our back lawn wrapped around a central tree that we can hook the dogs to in a pinch. We’ve had to use it on our monster more times than I can count because she could not be trusted to leave the animals, secure in their cages even, alone. We even purchased (though never used) an electric collar. We had to find a way to keep her from eating our animals. We were struggling. We were constantly trying to train her to leave the animals alone.

Then, a breakthrough, two years back. A chicken got out and Nukka charged. “NUKKA NO!” I shouted across the lawn in the most angry voice I could. She stopped. She looked at me. “Nukka! Come here!” I said cheerfully. She turned back to the hen… “NUKKA NO. Leave it. Come here!” This time, she turned around and came back. For the first time in her life she didn’t attack and kill my chickens. Many kisses and treats were given that day.

After that it was like something had clicked in her. To this day the rabbits are still a process, but the transformation was dramatic. Some animals are off limits. No chasing, no killing, no biting. She stops. She leaves it. She comes to me when I call.

She’s still a monster, though. The last year has been a brutal one for local animals. You see, last year we had a problem with a groundhog. Groundhogs are HUGE. They are hulking, massive creatures that you really don’t get an appreciation for until you are staring an angry one down, it’s massive front teeth chattering, both of them yellow and each one as wide as your thumb nail. A bite from those teeth could break small bones and will rend flesh as easily as any dogs. The rabbits have given me a healthy appreciation for teeth like that.

This groundhog slipped into our garage one day and we used a broom to show it the door. We like to be polite to animals who aren’t bothering us. We let the bluejays rip up our trees and pull strings for their nests, and we were happy to let the groundhog leave under the same fence it came in.

But little did we know we’d created a problem for ourselves as the groundhog began eating our garden to the ground. Heavy logs blocking gaps under the fence were insufficient to keep it out. And I watched with sorrow as my cayenne plants and corn were devoured by hungry jaws every morning.

Then, one day, the dogs went out at the same time as the groundhog. And our monster decided she had found her calling. She grabbed the groundhog and to my great distress began an epic war with even Big Dog getting angry and joining in. Together they tried valiantly (and in vain) to dispose of the hulking beast. They’re thick bodied and Nukka is not actually a big dog. No amount of biting or shaking deterred this hog. It kept coming back and the dog’s efforts to remove it got more brutal. At one point the whole chicken fence was torn down on one side as the groundhog broke through it and the dogs followed, straight through the whole flock. Chickens went flying in the air all around Nukka, the monster, the killer of chickens, yet she touched not a feather. She had had her eyes on a different prize, the groundhog pinned in the corner. Another time each dog had half of it and they were biting and pulling but it broke free. Yet another time Nukka flipped it over, dived in and tried to rip it’s stomach apart, earning some small, bleeding bite wounds for her efforts. Somehow the groundhog lived and still walked away. Despite being hurt she tried to dig under the fence to follow it. Groundhogs were now The Enemy. Nothing else mattered. When the dogs were let into the lawn to pee and play, their first order of business was scouting for the groundhog and attempting to kill it. Bathroom breaks only came after their lawn was secure.

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The groundhog ran into the back corner of the pen because it had dug a hole as an escape route. I had blocked the hole with logs and it became trapped. The dogs broke down this fence and another section to get at it.

Nukka’s rage did not stop with the groundhog, though. She also took on predators attacking the birds and simply any wild animal that dared cross our threshold. She dragged possums out from under chicken coops to drop (still very much alive, just playing dead) at my feet, and once I watched with horror from the other side of the lawn as she snuffed the life out of a stray kitten that thought my chicks looked like a snack. (The rest of the kittens got live-trapped and rehomed that month and the mother cat got fixed and returned to keep other strays away. Huge shout-out to the awesome rescue lady who helped with that when other rescuers turned me down.)

These incidents layed the groundwork for her efforts this year. And while part of me is heartbroken by the loss of life, I can’t help but be impressed by her. Her efforts have saved as many lives as they take.

This year, Nukka proved herself to be the most reformed monster of all. She’s killed more animals this year than ever before, yet just today she stood sniffing the ground for rodents while the ENTIRE flock of chickens loosed themselves from their pen not 3 feet away from her. I was terrified for them. I watched her. She saw them, she sniffed them, she knew they were there, and she just didn’t care. She wanted to find a mouse instead. I was so proud (and terrified). I called her away and she came right up to me, her tail brushing the chickens as she ran past. The chickens were put away, the fence repaired, and not a feather was harmed.

But the rest of the animals around the lawn…?

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They have not stood a chance.
My dog is a legend. Many dogs chase squirrels. Nukka catches them. Songbirds too.

And the groundhog saga? It continues as well. And the groundhogs are none too pleased about it.

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That is a groundhog, a baby one. The groundhog from last year was a mama. And she was back. My garden demolished. My peppers (once again) devoured. The dogs remembered, though. And they were angry. Both of them were enraged. I can only assume they remember being bit from last year. They killed two baby groundhogs and beat the mama groundhog up so badly that she hasn’t been back at all since. Even after the baby ones were dead they wouldn’t stop trying to rip it in half. Even Big Dog stood barking at the dead groundhog for minutes. Even after it was buried in the compost pile they did not give up trying to dig it back out to bite it some more. It took them the whole day to calm down. I have never seen them so angry.

And the tiny animals? Have you ever seen a dog throw a live vole eight feet across a lawn just for the joy of it? I have. That vole got away, I heard it squeaking still very much alive afterwards. Some of them have not been so lucky. Baby wild rabbits have also paid dearly for trying to eat our garden this year. Nothing is safe.

And lastly, Nukka has taken on another kind of monster entirely as of late. And she’s been getting better at it.

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We had 16 rabbit kits and 40lbs of wheat berries, until these monsters got to them. Now we have no wheat berries and 4 rabbit kits. We are waging a war, and our monster’s killer instincts have gone from being our greatest source of losses to our best defense against future losses.

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This one was MASSIVE!

So while Nukka is still a killer, a monster in her own right, constantly set on the violent destruction of other species, she has really found a place on the farm. I no longer question her role on the homestead. She truly is reformed, walking right past the farm animals, her brood, her wards, without a care in the world. They’re off limits and she has greater ambitions. Her face says it all. Her eyes filled with excitement, she destroys only the disease-spreaders, the garden-wreckers, the kit-eaters and the chicken killers. She does not even try to eat them. She just kills them quickly, drops them and leaves them for me to dispose of safely. It’s the hunt that she lives for, and loves. And it’s the hunter that we need right now.

She’s still a killer, she will never not be. But I love her deeply. And I couldn’t be prouder of my little monster.

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.

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.

Selecting a Rabbit Breed

Here on the homestead we only have three types of rabbits, but there are several dozen to choose from. When selecting a rabbit for your homestead, the primary goal tends to be meat, with secondary goals of fur or perhaps the occasional sale of a breeder or pet. Later show sometimes becomes another factor. That limits the options to breeds primarily grown for the commercial market, but there are still many choices.

The nice thing about rabbits is that no matter what breed you get rabbits are all made out of meat. I know someone who butchers her Netherlands dwarf rabbits for her dog’s food when she has culls! That is about as far from a production breed as you will get! But no matter what rabbit you choose you get rabbit hides and meat out of them. This is just a list of some popular breeds and their pros and cons!

New Zealand
This is our primary breed of rabbit, known for its excellent production. It is pretty regular to expect any New Zealand to give good litters with fast growth and reasonable meat to bone ratios. These are large, 10-11lb rabbits. New Zealand Whites tend to be the most common and the best developed of the colors, but they also come in red, black and broken varieties. Blue and steel are colors that are still in development but we may see on the show table in the future. This is THE all around production rabbit, is inexpensive and easy to come by.

Californians
These rabbits closely resemble New Zealands in quality. They are the number 2 production rabbit in the world and are a great choice for most people. The primary difference between this rabbit and a NZ are the color (Californians only come in white with black or sable tips) and meat to bone ratio. Californians are known for their lighter bones, but have a very slightly smaller overall size. If you were a commercial breeder the difference of a half-ounce or two per rabbit might add up but for homesteading purposes these rabbits are about the same as a New Zealand. It is very common to cross them with New Zealands to try to get some hybrid vigor out of the kits.

Rex
Rex rabbits are a primarily fur breed, but they have a good size (9lbs) and strong growth. Their fur is like no other, it is unmistakably soft and plush. It is extremely short and dense and has a texture almost like velvet. Rex furs are the most valuable and extremely diverse coming in a wide range of colors and patterns. Our own Kibbles is a Rex, and has proven to be a high production rabbit. Rex tend to be a bit smaller and slower growing than major production breeds, but are still a great choice.

Mini Rex
Mini or dwarf rabbits seem like an odd choice for a farm, but there are legitimate reasons for choosing them. They can fit in smaller spaces, can be classified as and more easily sold as pets for the homesteader trying to produce their own food in an apartment or restrictive neighborhood. Their conversion of feed to meat is the same as a full sized rabbit, they are just very small and that makes processing more time consuming. Mini rabbits often carry the dwarfing gene which is required for showing, but is bad for production. One copy creates a smaller rabbit, but any rabbit with two copies is a “peanut” and is born with fatal defects. This can reduce litter sizes, and can be avoided by getting a “false dwarf”, which is a mini without the dwarf gene as your herd sire or brood doe. Aside from this particular complication, mini Rex are exactly like standard Rex in a smaller package and are great pet animals too.

Palomino
Pals are a beautiful golden or dusty sand colored rabbit with a commercial body. They are known historically for an excellent meat to bone ratio, thriftiness, and very friendly personalities. Unfortunately this rabbit has become rare and most quality breeders no longer breed for production, but for show. There are still a few production rabbits around, however, and they can be a great meat breed. They are smaller than Rex, being around 8lbs.

Silver Fox
Another rare breed rabbit, these big rabbits are known for excellent growth, good mothering, fine temperaments and their beautiful fur that looks nearly identical to the actual animal the breed takes its name from. When purchased from a reliable source these are rabbits of extreme quality, but for many the pricetag may make them flinch as a young breeding trio may run $200 without batting an eye and can get much higher. Compared to a New Zealand, which can provide quality broodstock to most for $25 each, that is quite a chunk of change. Lower quality stock from this breed varies widely because the breed is not as well established with quality as New Zealands or Californians.

Flemish Giant
These huge rabbits are becoming more and more popular in the US, mostly for the pet market. At 15-25lbs, these rabbits are one of the biggest in the world and that leads many people to the knee jerk reaction that they must be the best for food. Contrary to that, these rabbits tend to grow their bones first and their meat later, producing less actual food for the same amount of feed. Their large size also means special care with reinforced floors, and extra large cages. However, many people simply prefer the huge size of the FG and still more find great success crossing a thrifty, light-boned meat breed like a Californian with them to produce an exceptional meat rabbit. FG rabbits tend to sport very natural coat colors with mottled tones, and are friendly animals.

Champagne D’argente
This beautiful breed of rabbit, with its beautiful light greyish coat, is another rare breed rabbit with high thriftiness and light bones. Similar to the Palomino in overall use, the rabbits sport a slightly thicker body, and a very differently colored coat, but share the smaller size and the reduced use in production.

Florida White
Originally created for laboratories, this small rabbit is similar in their use to Mini Rex. These rabbits are always white and are extremely consistent in their growth and quality due to their use in labs. These rabbits have not been bred for the pet market, and so temperament is closer to that of a farm rabbit. These rabbits grow fast, are thrifty, and can be kept in small cages.

American
This breed of rabbit does not have the classic commercial body, but is known for its great meat production despite that. Invented and popularized as a meat breed, this long, low and beautiful rabbit has retained its high production characteristics. Similar in size and growth rate to a Rex, this rare breed is a great production rabbit with a unique shape and extreme thriftiness. Its mandolin like shape leads to people passing up this breed despite its proven use for meat.

Giant Chinchilla
These rabbits suffer frequently from the same flaws that other Giant breeds do, but tend to be better overall for production. A smaller size than the extra large Flemish allows these rabbits a better meat to bone ratio and as a result are more thrifty. Reaching 5-6lbs at 8 weeks makes these rabbits extremely fast growers, very friendly, and their chinchilla colored fur is very popular. But specialized care and a still below average meat to bone ratios makes these a less popular rabbit for meat. They are also a rare breed.

French Angora
This is the only breed of angora (or wooling rabbits) suggested for meat production, although the Giant Angora shares all the characteristics of the other Giant breeds in regards to meat, with the added work of the angora coat. Angoras are, of course, a wool breed with a coat that must be brushed and maintained regularly. The French variety has a good size and a tight, commercial meat-type body. The added benefit of extremely high quality wool can be very appealing to a homesteader that does not have the space for something like sheep.

Other Breeds
Most breeds of rabbits that are not dwarf can be used for meat and the above are just “the best” or really, the most popular. Many people who raise rabbits of almost any breed frequently put their culls in the stewpot. Some people swear by these less popular breeds for meat, but time and experience have shown that to be the exception, not the rule. The nice thing about rabbits though is they are almost all thrifty animals that breed like, well, rabbits. Within a short time examining rabbit breeds you will find yourself capable of telling a rabbit that is just not worth the time to bother raising and butchering. In general, rabbits that are skinny, small or thick boned are bad choices. It is quite obvious that Holland Lops  have too much bone, Himalayans are TOO long and low, and Petite Britannicas are just too skinny and small. There are many other breeds out there that are all average to poor production rabbits but have become a favorite for individuals for various reasons. If you choose a breed not on the list for a preference of those traits, don’t feel like you made a bad choice. It is hard to go wrong with rabbits!

Mixed Breeds and Hybrids
Mutt rabbits are an excellent choice for production. Some mixes such as the Altex have grown in extreme popularity, are used commercially, and are favorable for their extraordinary hybrid vigor. Mixes can be very healthy, high production and beautiful rabbits that can shock you with their usefulness. Sometimes they can carry on bad traits as well. I find my Rex X NZW mixes to be very healthy, extremely fast growing rabbits that are all around quality production animals… But their dressage ratio suffers from the thick skin and coat that the Rex genes provide. That, however, can be a boon for tanning the hides. Many people mix Giant breeds into their lines for increased size, often crossing with a light boned commercial breed to reduce the impact of the heavy Giant bones. Cross bred rabbits often exhibit hybrid vigor and grow faster, healthier, which is why crossing NZW and Californian rabbit is extremely popular. Mixing rabbit breeds can be great for the back yard meat farmer that is not concerned with show. Mixed breed rabbit cannot be shown of course.

In Conclusion…
If there is one thing to take away from this, it is that rabbit breeds are diverse and flexible, offering a huge variety of choices and that everyone has their favorites! There are few right or wrong choices for the breed you select, although there are some that are generally better and some that are distinctly worse. It is important to choose the rabbit that suits your conditions as well as your fancy! Rabbits are an extremely enjoyable and sustainable hobby, and I encourage you to look into this extremely healthy food source for your own homestead!