Start your engines….

It’s spring again on the homestead. Or, it’s almost spring on the homestead. We’re still getting regular frosts but they’ve been interspersed with beautiful, sunny, 40-6*F days in which I go out and start doing work. Most of February is boring and uneventful… We’ve been folding a lot of seed pots and doing a lot of cleanup, but otherwise not much happens until the end of the month.

Now that we’re getting those few warm and sunny days, the ground can start to be gently worked. Compost can get mixed into beds, chickens begin to lay again, beds can be tilled and mulched to capture the last of the nitrogen from the upcoming snows, cages can be cleaned from their frozen winter layovers. Rabbits can be bred without the fear of cold. Dead weed stalks can be pulled. With the absence of both greenery and snow, lawns can be cleaned of any trash, broken pots, loose bags, small tools etc that were previously covered up, consumed by grass and time or otherwise forgotten about.

We moved a bale of straw out to start rotting for our potato boxes this year (rapid mold growth from lack of previous decomposition was a big problem last year), re-tied the trellises as needed, and plotted out new garden spaces. It’s our hope to dig a rain garden in the back lawn and plant it in such a way that it helps drain water from the rest of our lawn. Despite all of our work, the lawn is frankly lacking in drainage. We are living on former swampland, after all. We’re where the water stops and we have to deal with it. Thirsty plants that need a lot of water in a slight depression in our lawn will have lots of water for a long time. And with their water uptake, storage and filtration, the rest of our lawn might be a little less mucky. We also have plans to put in a more permanent pathway for walking on down the center of the lawn. We’re all sick of our boots sucking into the mud.

For me, all of this happens rapidly. A few days of beautiful sun with no rain, and then back to being bundled up indoors while the ground freezes so hard that it cracks and breaks apart. On these warm days with nothing growing I also allow the chickens to range across the entire lawn. They love the opportunity to eat the bugs out of the garden beds and compost that I till up. When the cold weather and snow sets back in they won’t even want to leave their coop, let alone venture across the entire lawn.

This early spring management is especially important for us this year as last year we had a lot of trouble with some little monsters known as wireworms. They devoured our potato crop and made a small dent in our radishes as well. They’re common in lawns across the US and are the larval stage of the click beetle, a fun little bug enjoyed by children that is fairly harmless but makes a solid snapping sound when threatened, handled, or laid on it’s back. The larvae, however, devour root vegetables at an shocking rate and is a demon to a gardener/farmer like me. My goal is to manage them effectively without pesticides. One way to do that is to till the soil frequently in cold weather as they do not like cold, regularly disturbed dirt. By keeping the soil cool and chilly and mobile, they may migrate out of the beds and into other spaces. We also have a “grub buster” globe filled with beneficial nematodes that might prey on the wireworms as well as the fleas we dealt with over the fall that we fear may return in the spring and the white grubs we sometimes find in our beds. When it warms up and the tilling is no longer beneficial to deter the wireworms, we will spray the nematodes on the beds and across much of the lawn and hope for the best. We don’t have a lot of other spaces in which to plant potatoes.

The rats are also becoming active again with spring. We’ve moved all our feed bags into metal bins, we set out various baits for much of the winter as well, but there’s only so much that can be done to exclude. We’ve never left feed sitting out for the chickens and rabbits either, the rats don’t seem to mess with the compost and we cleared out the majority of their living spaces. Yet there they remain. We are determined to be rid of them.

Fleas, rats and worms. Such is the nitty gritty of farm life.

But at least the sun is absolutely wonderful feeling these days. I will desperately enjoy it until it becomes so hot that I crisp up like a lobster.

Next week it will be cold and snowy and wet again with very little sun to be seen. Then I will be back indoors, starting seeds in pots under lamps in my basement like the grower of illicit goods. Currently I have leeks, basil and thyme sprouted and growing with celery, parsley and oregano planted but not yet germinated. Next it is a massive number of paste tomatoes and several varieties of peppers. Before you know it many of these plants will be going into the ground. Wish me luck!

Yuletide Eve

Tomorrow is Yule. We finally have everything together. I have accidentally baked five pies (I was trying to make 3), and we have two young rabbits in a marinade in the fridge. Two chickens have mostly defrosted in our sink and are ready to have citrus juice poured over them for tomorrow.

The portabello mushrooms have been selected, ready to receive their cashew and chickpea stuffing. Tomatoes have been purchased for the tops.

The sun breads have been baked. Two normal breads, one sweet. The chickens eggs have been stockpiled for the ‘nog. We drink raw eggnog on yule made with eggs from our chickens.

A crate of beer is sitting in the living room. An extra table has been brought in. The presents are wrapped and under the tree.

The most important part, the Yule log, is outside. It’s sitting, suspended off the ground so it stays dry, in the middle of a Goddess spiral. This year Dan will be joining me for my prayers, which will be a little odd. I’ve never had someone to pray with me before. I hope I can remember the lines properly.

At dawn we bless the log. The Yule log is an old tradition with a lot of variations. Many Wiccans for example rely more on the symobology of the log and often burn candles in a log that’s been decorated with objects from nature, or use it as a decoration rather than burn an actual log. One old Nordic variation on the tradition is to cut down the biggest tree in the forest, and burn the entire tree in a bonfire for 12 or 13 days and nights.

But the Yule log has some rules that go with it.

First, the log must be collected from your own or public land, or given freely from someone elses. You may not buy, trade or exchange work for your log. It must be obtained freely and without debt paid or unpaid.

Different kinds of wood have different kinds of symbology attached to them. Ash is considered an old wood, used for protection, strength, good health and visions for the future. That’s our log this year.
This Page has a pretty good list of sacred trees and their meanings. Here are two other links to more comprehensive lists. Some heathen faiths recognize many trees as having sacred properties, but some other only hold a few in esteem. We’re more inbetween.

The log should be blessed. I do this at dawn on the day of the Solstice (the 21st). First, there is a cleansing of the air of evil spirits by burning sacred herbs or incense. Usually this is sage. (This will be awkward because Dan is allergic. Because of this I have to give him permission to enter the circle after it’s cleansed.) We call on Gaia, mother earth, The Goddess, mother of all things, whatever incarnation of her that you prefer, as well as the four directions and their elements to bless our log and guard our circle. Then we make a statement of intention, why you’re there that day (to bless the yule log), what you hope the outcome will be (letting go of the old year, welcoming in a positive new year), and a humble request to the spirits that you choose to invoke that they help those things happen. Then we say prayers, asking specific spirits and ancestors to also bless our log. We reflect on the old year and let it be cleansed from us. then we close the circle. There are candles and incense involved as well.

The log (or candles on the log) need to be lit with the remnants of last year’s log (or candle) signifying the old year giving birth to the new year.

As the log burns, we make wishes for the new year by writing them on a scrap of paper and burning them over the flames. (People who celebrate with candles often burn the wishes in a small brass bowl after passing them through all three candle flames.) The wishes have their own sets of rules. They must be practical, not fantastic, in nature. (Wishing for a million dollars is not OK, but wishing for a new well-paying job would be.) They must not manipulate others. (Wishing that your boss would promote you would not be OK, but wishing to do well enough to earn the promotion yourself is.) They must be ethically sound (wishing harm on others is a big no-no) and positive (Wishing something to happen to you is better than wishing something wouldn’t happen). In general, making a thoughtful and ethical wish is the way to go. Also, spirits are NOT fond of being sucked up to, so if you are disingenuous to earn their favor it will backfire.  Only wish for well upon spirits or other people if you really, truly mean it. It’s OK to make a wish for yourself!

Then the log needs to be burned from night, through to dawn… Either by burning the actual log all night long or letting the candles burn all night. The longer it burns, the better. If it stays lit until dawn it’s considered a very good omen. (Or for all 13 days if you want to cut down a whole tree!)

The Yule Log ceremony is accompanied by all manor of frivolity, exchanging gifts, drinking, feasting, and friendship. Being generous to friends, family, and to the poor in exchange for good blessings and carols are BIG parts of the tradition. The goal is to make the day seem so festive that the sun longs to return to earth. We also decorate with lights, candles and suns, evergreens and other signs of life and light, to remind the sun of what the world looks like when the sun shines on our land.

I know that this holiday means a lot to me. It’s one little part of my heritage that I claim for myself. Yule is a pagan tradition, but a nearly identical celebration is held by the Native Americans as well. In our household when I was a kid we celebrated the quintessential American Christmas. While paganism wasn’t forbidden by any means, it wasn’t what we celebrated. We went to midnight mass, we had a nativity scene cobbled together from several sets, we hung tinsel and angels on the tree. Now that I live alone I absolutely revel in the opportunity to celebrate Yule every year. We go all out for it.

After Yule I go on vacation. I’m looking forward to burning this year away with our log and starting next year off with a fun, happy, relaxed mindset.

Happy Yule everyone! I hope your holidays are great and your plants and animals grow well for you this year! I’ll see you all in the new year!

Yuletide Greetings

Hello! With the advent of December (if you’ll excuse the pun) my mind starts planning out my annual winter celebrations. In our household we celebrate Yule, a pagan and Wiccan tradition and one of about a dozen major religious winter celebrations in the US.

Yule is a really fun holiday, that was subject to heavy Christianization into the celebration we know today as Christmas. Many of the traditions were lost in the process and are hard to understand.  A lot of the history of this celebration has been lost to the ages and is slowly being pieced back together.

Modern celebrations have a few big elements in common with historical accounts of the celebration. The first being the purpose of the Yule celebration. Yule celebrates the spiritual embodiment of the Sun. Yule takes place on the shortest night of the year, and is a celebration designed to be so festive, happy, joyous and bright that it reminds the Sun itself of how wonderful the earth is, and begins the cycle of days getting longer again. This deep connection to the sun is intrinsic to ancient pagan celebrations of Yule, regardless of the specific faith that was celebrating it. In those times, celebrations were shared across cultures and many sects celebrated the same holy days in similar ways, just worshiping different gods. Because of this, nearly every major religion has a winter festival of lights, and it was this celebration that layed the foundation for Christmas as we know it.
The other thing these modern celebrations have in common with ancient ones are many of the broader traditions and symbology for the celebration. Filling the home with lights (in those days, specifically it was candles), and bringing a tree indoors to decorate with candles was meant to make the world bright and inviting and also depict the sun. The exchange of gifts and a grand feast was meant to make the season joyous and festive. Decking halls with boughs of holly, mistletoe and pines were a reminder of the beautiful green growth of spring. Wassailing was singing door to door, which evolved into caroling, but also was an exchange of song and alcohol from the poor for gifts and food from the rich. Usually, the poor also offered blessings to the rich if they received their gifts, and curses if they didn’t. This history lives on in some Christmas carols, such as “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and it’s references to carolers demanding a figgy pudding.

We celebrate Yule with these traditions in mind, and conveniently that’s pretty easy since most Christmas traditions are based off of old Germanic Yule traditions. We put up an evergreen tree (a fake one from my sister) and decorate it with baubles, ornaments, and lights. We hang wreaths of evergreens (Ok… They’re plastic too) over our bay windows, and put lights on the walls.
We also throw a big party on the 21st. This is my equivalent of Christmas, both eve and day, all wrapped into one. We invite a multitude of friends and family over to celebrate, 20 or so of our closest companions. At dawn I wake up to bless the Yule log (another old tradition we have a variation of) which is a massive chunk of wood. After that I spend the day prepping for the party. We enjoy a huge feast, an exchange of gifts, drinks, and a ceremony where we burn wishes for the new year over the blessed log in our fireplace, asking the spirits of the world to grant them to us.

Because of the nature of the celebration, it requires a lot of advance planning and a lot of resources. Like much of America these days, cash is in shorter supply than time, so we DIY many of our gifts. In the past we have given out trays of home-baked goods, home-made candies (including these really great caramels I made), some mushroom jars I made once, apple butter, etc.

Once again we will be giving out apple butter this year (we ended up making 3 gallons of it this year, after-all), but we’re adding some other home-made gifts to the list as well. This year we managed to make 13 half pints of home-made salsa, much of which will become gifts. There are other gifts we plant on making to give away that I will hopefully be detailing throughout the month.

We are also planning our feast and exploring options for our Yule dinner. This year we have two small(er) chickens we were planning on roasting, a pair of rabbits, and chickpea stuffed portabellas with pecans and carrots (for our vegetarian friends), roast veggies, stuffing, and deserts. But specifics are undetermined yet (beyond the vegetarian meal. We don’t eat holiday-worthy vegetarian meals often, so we pick recipes for that dish from the internet). Over the summer we made a Jamaican jerk chicken that was a big hit… Should we make that again? Should we go for something classic, loaded with sage and onions? Should we do a nice citrus pair of birds? Should the carrots be sweet or savory? The mashed potatoes plain and smooth, or lumpy and garlic filled like 2 Chainz famous mash? (We had those potatoes for Thanksgiving by the way, and they were excellent!)

There’s a lot of options but one things for certain, as the ability to leave the house recedes into freezing temperatures we’ll have more time to make those choices.

Do you have a favorite holiday dish? Share it with me! Yule is primarily about community and joy in literally dark times. I’d love to add a bit of your community and joy into mine!

Solstice Morning

7AM and my alarm goes off. There’s no rising before dawn naturally in a modern house, the sort in which we still live. Today I will be burning the candle at both ends, as it were, to keep my yule fire burning as late as possible. The dogs give me scornful looks as I slip out of bed. “What are you doing getting up?”, they say with their accusing eyes. “You’re interrupting our sleep! Go back to bed. The lights aren’t even on yet. Silly human.” Dogs simply don’t concern themselves with such things. Soon their stares were replaced with drifitng glazed eyes and twitching paws, chasing squirrels in their dreams.
The world is still dark but the snow, now a few days old, reflects every light, bouncing it around to give the whole neighborhood that early morning winter haze that makes seeing quite easy if one moves slow. And, in truth, it’s not as dark as it was just 10 minutes earlier. The first hints of color are just starting to appear on the horizon. The weatherman said that dawn would be at 7:15AM this morning, so at 7:05 I trundle off in my warmest pajama and gather my things. As the light went on in the garage, the rabbits eyes me with bleary eyes. I was never out at this time of day… What on earth was I doing up? “Go backto bed, silly human.” the rabbits told me as the shuffled in their boxes and nests, trying to stay in a nice, dark space. Dark makes rabbits feel safer, and more at home.
Tradition is such an important part of homesteading. Everything we do is seeped in it, and Yule most of all. Yule is one of the oldest holidays, the sort from which all the other ones stem. Trees, hats, carols, yule fires, gift giving, and even holiday lights came from this ancient celebration to welcome the sun. But the morning before ceremony is still all of it’s own. After assembling my candle, matches, sage stick, and saw (all waiting for me from the night before) I let the chickens outside. I couldn’t imagine a ceremony about nature and mother earth with my animals locked away in their coop. As they stepped outside and stretched their wings, I lit my candle. As the first bits of sun peaked the horizon behind our overcast skies, my rooster crowed. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate sound for the moment, loud, joyful, welcoming the sun. My sage was lit and burned, warding off bad spirits. Then everything fell silent. The wild birds were nowhere to be found and even the rabbits stopped their snuffling and held still. As if the world held it’s breath for a moment while I said my prayers.
I evoked the native American tradition of calling upon the spirits of the four directions and welcoming them to my ceremony, to offer their blessings. My great, great, great grandmother on my mom’s side was native american, but hid her heritage from everyone she could, as the time she lived was one where “injuns” were still persecuted with the harshest of racism. We have little ability to locaate the original tribe from which we came, but the culture has always resonated with me and their prayers are some of the finest in the world, coming from the soul rather than a rote passage.
Starting with the East, the direction I was facing, I welcomed the sunrise, life, and blessings into my home. To the south I welcomed summer, warmth, passion and glory. To the west I welcomed the sunset, wisdom, logic, thoughtfulness and introspection. And to the north I welcomed the winter, the strength to endure, to grow an (in the end) to be at peace.

I selected a log from my log pile as the birds resumed their morning racket. We have no trees to cut, so a precut log was my only option. Never purchased, but rather, a gift from the tree companies working on my street. A big log for our fireplace, a full foot across…. But somehow just the right length, and made of oak. I placed it on my haybale, with the candle just below and my saw in hand. I decided I would try to trim the edges, I took off the small branches coming out of it, and realized that the oak was so thick and heavy it would be very difficult to cut through the whole log… Even with my electric saw. Instead I cut a thick notch into the outer layers of the log and drilled a hole. This will be filled with alcohol and oil to help start the log burning the night. The cuts are ceremonial in nature anyhow, and it seemed that the universe had already gifted me the perfect yule log without my having to worry about it.
The world went quiet again as I picked up my candle and poured some wax over the log and asked the spirits for their blessings. I invited any other benevolent spirits to share their wisdom and kindness with us as the sky grew more and more day. I re-lit my sage, and began to cleanse the air again. I thanked the benevolent spirits for what they may bring, and asked with much politeness and respect that the bad ones avoid our home, and to only give us as much challenge as we could handle.
Then I said goodbye to the spirits of the four directions. I thanked them for their joys and strength that they brought our home each year, and wished peace upon them, sending them on their way, perhaps to another solstice log blessing somewhere else in the world.
By this point, the dawn sky had almost left us, replacing blues and husky greys with shimmering whites and bright light. I lifted up my log on one shoulder, and carried it inside to the hearth, as my rooster let out his last bevy of crows for the morning. He’s such a respectful bird, and never crows in the late morning, only at dawn. The hens resumed cackling and the rabbits began digging in their hay. Soon it would be time to get chores started, making sure everyone had food and water and clean cages… Everything was starting to sound busy again. But for the time it took the sun to rise everything was quiet, peaceful, magical. I was alone in an amazing world where even the animals respected the gravity of the moment. What a wonderful experience.
Good morning bloggers. Today I also sold one of my rabbits, one of Kibbles babies. We have a few new rex rabbits in the barn and so Kibbles can now have purebred rex kits, her first litter of them now being about 10 weeks. The smaller black otter buck went to a pet home for the holidays, somewhat unusual given my usual customers, but the man purchasing it seemed very eager to learn about the best rabbit care options…And every pet has to come from somewhere.
Tonight is my yule celebration. We’ll eat a roast duck, sing songs, wear Christmas hats and exchange some gifts. We’ll light the yule log and wish for the sun to come back into the world. It’s going to be here for such a short time today, and it will be such a long night after it leaves. The longest of the year.
I hope you have a happy Yule this year, regardless of what holiday you celebrate. I hope that today is a joyful day.

Getting the ball rolling!

With the first few glimmers of the hope of spring I have been getting started on some of the major work to be done on the homestead this year! The biggest thing of note is that I am adding a slightly more official and professional website and while part of me loathes the thought I am branching out into social media sites (wanna like us on facebook? Please Go Here and do so!)  to help expand my customer communications. Word of mouth is great and all but it is kinda hard to communicate that way so this should allow me to touch base more directly with my customers.

Another major project is cleaning up, hardcore! We have been shut ins this winter in regards to the homestead, what with the two or three feet of snow and the -40 windchills and all that it has been a struggle just to keep things warm. For a short window we had temps above freezing, as high as a whopping 56*F! So intent on our gardens this year I vowed to spread my compost from last year on the garden beds to let them finish rotting over the winter and build me a new compost pile by taking the top off of the old to get it started. How naieve! Tomorrow is our last day above freezing and the snow is not yet gone despite 50s and rain. Places in our back yard still have four or so inches of thick, icy snow on the ground (more ice than snow). I got the top layer off of the old compost but the rest of it is just a solid frozen block still. I did get my new compost pile built by chipping the top off of the old and mucking out the chicken coop but starting on the gardens is really a pipe dream at this point ddespite nearly a week above freezing.

I did see a breif glimmer of hope today after loading up the “new” pile with the deep litter from the chicken coop… As I chipped away at the older compost to load it onto the new pile a few determined seeds from the end of last summer had begun to sprout into green shoots and leaves. I am sure it was just some hay seed or perhaps a bit of leftover scratch but it was green and growing! In a world where we have had so much snow that the brown of mud is exciting that little blade of weed was a slice of heaven!

The deep litter from the coop and the hay from some rabbit cages as well as from on the ground in the chicken pen formed the start of our new compost pile and it is around 4′ tall already. It is an important step for the homestead since our location so desperately needs the soil to be raised up in order to grow anything! Tomorrow we will be adding even more to it as we try our best to take full advantage of the nice weather. I might be just a wee bit desperate to be outside right now!

By Wednesday we will be back into the teens and single digits. I am hoping against hope that the majority of the rest of the snow will go away tomorrow, our last day above freezing. But it shan’t and so the very wet, icy, slushy mud that lies on the ground right now and merely annoys, with its tendency to seep into ones boots and make ones toes cold, will transform. It will become a treacherous lake of ice that is uneven all over and is just right for catching ones foot on funny causing them to slip and severely twist an ankle. I am very ice-savvy having spent seven years of my childhood falling on a lake of deliberate ice while on skates in a rink. I dread and fear this kind of ice! I will probably be mulching our path through the back yard with the cleanest of the used rabbit hay tomorrow so that it will freeze into the snow and ice pack and become a much less slick surface to walk on! Then when we get a couple of inches of snow again I will be safe at last from the dreaded, awful ice!

In the meantime, though I am going to sit and pretend it is spring just a little bit longer! The Ameracauna eggs hatched out… They were shipped very poorly and so only 3/8 made it out alive. I am hoping against hope for 2 pullets. They are now growing out in my basement in a brooder and already are getting in their beautiful practice flight feathers! The brightly colored mice are due very soon, and Lucy’s litter of four are growing out beautifully! After that we have three more litters on the way, including another from Lucy! (We bred back early to try to kickstart her system into producing larger litters for us and get her used to having kits.)

So things are starting to move forward around these parts… Who knows what will happen during the next big thaw!

Lucy the Rescue and More Winter

Dear winter, can’t we be done already? Everyone says you are worse this year than for nearly a decade before! You have to speak to people older than me to have an accurate recollection of the last time winter was like this.
You see, most years we get one or the other; snow or cold. Which is not to say it’s not cold normally even when it snows, but “cold” tends to be low 20’s and “very cold” tends to be single digits to teens. So typically we get a few feet of snow when it is 20’s OR we get very cold and dry temperatures below 15 with almost no snow… One way or another all winter long.
Not so this year. Because before every cold snap we have gotten two feet of snow. And those cold snaps have been dropping below zero, not down to a mere high single digits.
The snow before a cold snap is a boon. It is actually warmer in the snow than the air, so if snow covers everything the temperatures stay warmer close to the snow. But the fact is this winter has been bad. Two or three feet of snow is a lot, but it is even more difficult to bear when the temperatures drop below 0 and the wind off of the lake is blowing the snow into drifts knee-high and bringing the windchills down to dangerous levels.

So once again we will be bringing the chickens indoors, because once again they are starting to show hints of frostbite on their combs and it is only going to get colder. The temperatures will not be dropping quite so low, so we will be leaving the rabbits outside this time, but they have fur coats and lots of hay to keep them warm!

Amidst the blowing wind, freezing cold and feet of snow, one of our rabbits gave us a very special litter!

This is Lucy. Some time back, a very nice lady at my mother’s church had picked her up as a stray rabbit and kept her as a pet. She is a sweet, but huge rabbit. At 13lbs she was finding it hard to keep her in an apartment. So she ended up bringing her to me.
It’s a rare occurrence for us to take in a rescue. People who are so eager to abandon their rabbit on someone else for whatever the reason often demand their animals live out cozy house rabbit lives and that is not how a farm works. Every animal must pull it’s weight in some way, from Nukka pulling a wagon full of cut hardwood from a downed tree to every rabbit being a producer. If a rabbit does not produce, that rabbit must be culled. We have a three strikes rule… You have three chances from your last successful litter to produce another or you are out. Once you have three botched litters, you are soup. This is not OK with most pet owners, but in this case the lady wanted her rabbit to live a happy, useful life surrounded by other rabbits and people rather than send her off to a shelter where she could end up somewhere horrible forever… Even if she became dinner in the end.

So I found myself agreeing to keep an older, unfixed doe of completely unknown stray origins. She is a beautiful rabbit with lovely calico coloring and spots. Her body is not that of a meat rabbit, being long and low, but she is quite large. And how could I say no to keeping a rabbit out of a rescue?

We proceeded to settle her down into a cage and try to breed her. We would adhere to the three strikes rule. Well the first breeding did not take but the second one did leading to high tension and nerves. Lucy, you see, could be as old as 3 years. She was kept as a house pet for 1.5 years. Typically a doe must be bred before they are one year old or they can develop serious complications from giving birth… Prolapse, stuck kits and ruptured uterus become more likely… Most of the time an older doe will simply produce bloody balls of flesh and no viable offspring. A doe can produce nothing, never develop the instincts to properly care for her kits, or even die. So we had our concerns, but knew the risks when we accepted her.

However, her litter was completely successful and it just goes to show that you never know until you try! On one of the coldest days of the year she produced four beautiful, healthy kits! One was out of the nest and chilled after their first feeding, but warmed up just fine. Four is a small number but is the smallest litter size we would accept from a rabbit and the kits are quite large. Future litters may well be larger. Lucy herself is doing great and is becoming a very good mother. The birth was very clean compared to many of my other rabbits and I barely even noticed that it had happened.

The neat part about this is that Lucy is a “broken” rabbit, a genetic pattern we have wanted around for a while. This just means a rabbit with patches of color along with patches of white, but it is very pretty. Beautiful meat rabbits are becoming more popular. The lovely golden steel patterns that Kibbles and Nutro produce are popular because people are raising rabbits more for self sufficiency than to market and if you can get a beautiful rabbit instead of a white one, why not?

So this litter is a big step for our rabbitry, and for Lucy! It means we now have a successful breeder of broken patterned meat rabbits, and it means Lucy gets to stay as a contributing member of the rabbitry! Way to go Lucy!

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;
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!?