Double Edged Sword

A year into raising meat rabbits in a colony setting, I’ve got a pretty good feel for the pros and cons, I think. I also feel like I’ve successfully tackled most of the cons.

First con, a colony pen is substantially more difficult to make escape proof than individual cages. We’ve both had to chase down rabbits more times than I care to admit. But when you’ve got an adventurer like Benjamin who thinks he is invisible, it’s not hard to find the weak spots. Stand there for a minute and he will show you.

Second con, any health issues spread much more easily when rabbits live together. We had a new rabbit introduce ear mites. Thankfully, there is a very easy and effective medication that is gentle on their system. Ivermectin is available at any veterinary office and most farm stores. The dosage is ridiculously low.

Third con, the rabbits will establish a hierarchy with some more dominant than others. This one is arguable. Many say that this causes additional stress on the rabbits. However, it is their natural social order. If a human child goes to school, they might have to deal with a bully. But if they never go outside, they’ll never develop into a functioning adult.

Fourth con, and this is probably the biggest one, it is harder to control breeding. At one point this last year, with three adult females, we had 27 rabbits total. That was tough. So for now, Benjamin is isolated from the rest, but his individual pen is inside the communal pen, which prevents him from feeling too alone.

But for all of that, I don’t think I’ll ever go to a cage style rabbitry. The pros are just too big.

First pro, the rabbits have more space. Having seen the rabbits run around in circles and get excited over new branches to gnaw or veggies scraps, it’s pretty obvious that rabbits like having room to play. And when it snows, they go wild. Backflips and rolling around. It’s adorable and entertaining!

Second pro, socialization. Rabbits are social animals. You’ll never find a wild rabbit living by itself. They always live in colonies, and always have company. To me, letting them have that in captivity matters. When it’s cold, they can huddle for warmth. When it’s nice out they groom and play with each other. I feel it makes for happier rabbits.

Third pro, ground beneath their feet. Sure, you can put cages directly on the ground, but that negates the easy cleaning that people use cages for in the first place. Our rabbits nibble grass and claw at dirt. They still have a wire fence barrier to prevent digging and escaping, but they at least get to feel grass beneath their feet any time they want.

Ultimately, it’s a personal choice. But we take these animals into our lives for our own uses, and we both feel that deserves the courtesy of the best life possible. Yesterday, I processed five rabbits for a total of 15 pounds of meat. It was a lot of work doing so many at a time, but we are now down to rabbits with names, one that is probably pregnant, and one that’s too small to process for a couple weeks. And that will cut down on the feed bill.

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Babies, babies, and more babies!

We are awash in babies here at Huckleberry Hills! On the 20th we had turklets hatch, with our miniature human coming the following morning.

Little Scarlett is doing quite well, though she’s driving both of us nuts the last two days. Apparently she has decided that she wants to eat. Not a lot, just all the time. Lol

Anyway, a few nights ago, we had a half dozen bunnies show up in a nest box. This happened literally the evening after processing three of the larger rabbits. So, guess what I’m doing this weekend!

And two nights ago, I heard the distinctive sound of cherps from the bushes along the side yard. At which point I made the declaration that Chipmunk would be returning shortly. She’d been missing for a few weeks.

I love being right about stuff like that. I count at least ten.

So, as far as babies go, we’ve got three turklets (some of them didn’t make it), ten cherps, at least six bunnies, and a mini human. That’s a lot of babies for October! Glad the mamma birds are good at keeping them warm!

Welcome to the world, Scarlett!

Huckleberry Hills has a new addition, or several! At 2:24 this morning, our baby girl was born! 6 pounds even, 19 inches, and with toes like a little monkey that tells me she will climbing trees almost as soon as she can walk!

Everyone is doing great, mommy is napping right now.

I’m very excited about showing her around and introducing her to our little farm. She’s always going to have good food, fresh air, and entertaining animals!

Had she been born just a couple hours sooner, she’d be sharing a birthday with a bunch of turklets!

Free bird! 🔥

Some time ago, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to stop the new generation of chickens from being free range. Their mother had taught them too well that fences were no barrier to foraging.

Well, some of them don’t even want to be confined at night anymore!

I do worry a bit about raccoons finding them, but not much we can really do to stop them at this point aside from clipping their wings, and we decided long ago we wouldn’t do that. So, I guess we will see just how survival oriented they are!

Also, I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Diane has layed another clutch. I don’t like the idea of turklets as it gets colder, but having watched how well the cherps did under their mother even on cold mornings, I think they’ll be fine.

At least the eggs are all doing great so far!

These will not be brooder birds. That’s just too much work considering that the human baby will be here so soon! We have been timing contractions and it seems like three days in a row I’ve set the animals up with two days worth of food and water, just to go to bed as usual. But we will have a new addition soon!

Rabbits, rabbits, everywhere!

We are up to our ears in bunnies!! Well, not quite. There’s Benjamin and the adult female we got at the same time, her five kits, the two surprise grey adolescents that turned white, and some new additions!

Meet the new momma rabbit we got from some wonderful homesteaders in Seattle! She came with six babies. They’re downsizing so yay us! But one of the babies is a ginger! We will probably save her for breeding to have more genetic diversity and some new coat color combinations.

They’re in a 6 ft by 4 ft cage inside the bunny pen right now so that the existing herd can get used to them. Hoping to avoid any territorial fighting.

Slightly unrelated note, the pasture test plot out back has been expanded. Not quite doubled in size, but close! With the help of my nephew, we essentially got that hammered out in one day. Based on how the adjoining plot (look how lush it is!!) went, I figure once this entire area is open, it’ll give us about two weeks of reduced feed costs before it needs a recovery period. I’m not sure if I’ll get another patch done before the cold weather rolls in, but I’m sure going to try!

Busy girl

Usually turkeys lay a clutch of eggs, hatch them, raise them, and that’s it for the year. Well, the weather has been so hot and dry that Diane has gone into a second laying cycle.

With our own baby coming, we don’t want brooder birds, a newborn, and weather cooling off all the same time, so we’ve decided to have Diane hatch them out herself.

Unfortunately, she insists on laying in the nest boxes four feet up. That won’t be easy for the turklets to get out of, and they won’t be able to get back in. So I scavenged the only mini coop for a new box on the ground. Of course she won’t use it.

At this point I think we need to let her go broody in the upper box, and then move her and the eggs down one night while she’s sleepy.

Anyway, depending on how much time she’s spent around Tom, we should have a bunch of new turklets soon! That’ll give us a nice head start for thanksgiving next year!

Meanwhile, the big pasture test plot out back has worked beautifully, but it needs a rest from grazing for a while. I’ll be expanding that area soon. Hopefully I can have the bulk of the yard done before it starts getting cold. The birds sure did have fun mowing it down though!

Also, please enjoy this random picture of baby bunnies.

The little things

This whole farm life thing has a lot of big things. Fences to build, irrigation considerations, gardens, crop planting density, creating new pasture on poor ground, and so on. But it's a lot of little things too.
The daily chores aren't huge but there are a lot of them. I know this. I knew this. But as we prepare for the arrival of our little girl, I'm slowly trying to take over or at least practice on the weekends. It adds up! And small mistakes can have huge consequences.
We had some chicken losses because I forgot to tell the house sitter to check a specific spot for some birds that stubbornly refuse to enter the coop each night and the dog wanted to play with them.
No ones fault but mine. But it reinforced that I need to spend more time acclimating the dog to the birds so she doesn't see them as playmates.
Primarily this means she goes on a very short leash and I try to keep her sitting as the birds come and investigate. The turkeys and geese are the only ones not afraid. And Christmas Goose is downright brazen!

I actually had to separate them because Vasi was only going to tolerate being bitten and body slammed for so long. She did nip half heartedly at him once and had to be told no but all in all she did really well. Eventually I had to bring her in because she got too excited.
While all this is going down, we've got a new litter of bunnies just opening their eyes!
I've got some ideas for reducing the feeding and watering chores, but so little time to build the stuff. I already know that next year I need to have some sort of irrigation system and better soil amendments.
The black oil sunflowers have started blooming but they're a bit short, probably a nitrogen issue. Still pretty though!
Anyway, just a short post to show I'm still here and get some pretty pictures out there. This heat is unbearable. We need rain!

Surprise!!!

Our black Easter egger hen has been missing. Naturally, there was some concern about this. I said she was probably fine. Actually, I believe my exact words were “I wouldn’t be surprised if she shows back up with a bunch of cherps in tow.”

Nailed it. 

A rather impressive number, too!

Sold out for the season!

The last of the turklets have been reserved for sale! We have three that we will keep for ourselves. One for more eggs next year, one for our thanksgiving, and one to sell for thanksgiving. 

I honestly wasn’t sure for a while there how many we would end up being left with, and I’d planned on keeping more of them. But for our first season selling birds, this isn’t bad at all. The animals have essentially covered 3/4 of their costs for this month and that’s a pretty big deal. 

I don’t expect Diane to lay any more eggs. She seems rather determined to sit on an empty nest for now. Though we are trying to break her broodiness. 

We’ve got more Bielefelder eggs set under Chipmunk, and the bunnies will do what bunnies will do, but I think beyond that we are done adding animals for this year. Time to focus on clearing and fencing the pasture and getting fruit trees in the ground and vegetable garden patches cleared. 

Small successes 

The incubator didn’t pan out (but I’ve got some ideas on that) but the Bielefelder eggs aren’t a total wash. After hatching the turkey eggs, chipmunk took some Bielefelder eggs. Some losses, not her fault. But we did get four cherps!

Had I thought the nest boxes out better, she would be raising the chicks. But it’s a tall wall and along way down so they went in the brooder with the turklets. 

Three cockerels of the four eggs. Not thrilled about that, but it’s three chicken dinners this winter! Note the overall light coloration and the yellow spot on his head?

One of the great things about this breed is the auto sexing. The females look quite different!

So, I’ve got a few little projects. Add nest boxes that are more conducive to hen reared chicks (front entry, ramp, not too high) and upgrade the incubator. It’s a still air, and that’s not ideal because the temperature isn’t consistent. But a small computer fan will help with that. 

We are going to try for another clutch of Bielefelder eggs, but that’s probably it for this year. Got a lot going on what with the human baby on the way and whatnot! In the meantime, check out this vogue chick!