Monday, November 29, 2010

Getting started with rabbits: Part #1

 So maybe you've been thinking about getting rabbits, but have no idea where to start, what to look for or what to do. I thought I might do a series of posts that might help those who are interested. In part #1 I think I will start out by covering housing...

Housing: "What should I put them in?" Let me start out by saying that this will be your biggest hurdle (as good cages are hard to find!); but once it's done, it's done! All wire cages are my top favorite. They are easy to clean, durable, light, and can be used for other purposes (such as a corn crib!). The only downside to using wire cages is that they are hard to find. Rabbit owners hoard these, knowing their value, and can be reluctant to sell them. I would suggest looking on Craigslist for cages. If you see an ad that says someone is "getting out of rabbits", or "selling the whole herd" ask them if they are selling any cages!

Wooden hutches are okay. They are much easier to find than wire, hanging cages, but tend to be heavy, hard to clean, and the rabbits gnaw on exposed wood. But if you are just starting out, and don't know if rabbits are something that you want to go further with, wood hutches might be a good thing to start with. When looking at used hutches, make that the flooring is not hardware cloth! I've had hutches with hardware cloth, and trust me, it doesn't pay in the end. Hardware cloth is not as sturdy as the usual 1/2"x1" flooring wire, and will eventually break from the strain of having rabbits on it. Rabbits also tend to get 'sorehocks' (infection in the feet) when on hardware cloth. Also check the hutch for cleanliness (they are never going to be perfect, just ask yourself "Am I really going to be able to clean this up?") and wood that has been chewed on.

For the meat breeds, cages should be at least 2' wide and 3' long (cages are usually 18" high). This will house a doe and her litter. Smaller breeds, that could still be used for meat (such as a Dutch, Tan, or Havana) will be fine in a 18" wide and 2' long cage.

The wooden hutches, of course, will be fine anywhere outside as long as they won't get the brunt of any bad weather. Hanging cages need to be inside a building of some sort. Be it a shed turned into your rabbitry, a barn, chicken coop, etc. Just someplace that is relatively draft free.

Where there's a will, there's a way

I was very blessed this past week by receiving a whole truckload of mulch from a landscaper! My garden is almost completely covered now! The only downside to getting all those lovely leaves, was that it had to be hauled by hand, on a tarp, all the way to the garden.... Hmmmm.
After moving half the pile (thankfully, I did have help for the most part!) I had an idea.

It's always scary when I get an idea.

Taking a belt and some tie-down straps, I fashioned a crude, but usable, goat-sized harness. I chose Capri as my victim  helper, since she is my only doe right now that is not pregnant. She did surprisingly well for her first time! She has always loved to pull and push things, so I figured she would be a good choice. I don't think I will try using any of my goats for draft work again, until I can get a proper harness, as I think my makeshift one was putting a little too much pressure on Capri in some areas. But it was fun working with her today!

Here, you can see Capri hitched up to the tarp. We had just dumped a load of leaves on the garden and were heading back to do more.

A closer view of my "harness". ;)


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Newbies around here

 Happy day-before-Thanksgiving everyone!! I know my family and I are definitely looking forward the upcoming holidays. :) What's new around here, you ask? Well, I'd say the newest of new would be that we got our first dusting of snow yesterday! Two whopping inches yesterday, and patches hither and thither today.  But brrrrrr, is it cold! Why is it that animals always get really thirsty right when the pipes to the barn freeze? ;)

Other items on the 'new' list..... We got two more goats! Well, more like we got one new goat and the second is here for a visit. 

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet 'Jasper'. 

Ahem, Mr. Jasper is here for a visit with our lady goats, and plans to stay for a few weeks yet.

He really does think himself quite handsome, and I have decided not to tell him otherwise. All I'm hoping for are some spotted doelings (female goat kids) come spring!

Second new goat is 'heidi'.

No, there is nothing wrong with her ears! ;) Heidi is 1/2 Saanen and 1/2 La Mancha, so she gets her big white body from the Saanen lines, and the ridiculous looking ears from the La Mancha side.

When I first got her, she looked to me like the ugliest goat in the world. She was shaggy, underweight, had a 6" long beard, and I couldn't help but compare her 1" inch stubs of ears to my Nubians, who's ears are somewhere around 8"! She has improved since then. Her small grain ration is helping her gain weight and is making her sleek, I trimmed the beard off, and have finally gotten used to the teeny ears. 

Oh yes, and she is due to kid in February! It will so nice to have another milker! The only downside, is that she was bred to a Boer (meat goat), so we will not be keeping any of her kids.

Okay, Poppy's not new, but she was so cute that I had to put a picture of her on here! ;) In the picture, you can see where I dehorned her.

I did finally get more rabbits too! I had finally given up trying to get some Blue American does, as I absolutely couldn't find ANY in Oregon or Washington, so I reluctantly started looking for some Champagne De Argents instead. While at the feed store last week, I was chatting with one of the employees (to whom I had sold some rabbits to a few years back), and asked her what breeds of rabbits she was raising now. Her astonishing answer was: "Blue Americans"! 

four days later, I came home with two Blue American does. :) 

I tried to get a picture of my new girlies, but was unsuccessful due to lighting outside. I named one 'Pennyroyal', and the other is 'Thistle'. I cannot believe how big and gentle these girls are! With luck, I will have two litters of baby bunnies (also called "kits") in a month or two! 

In the past, while raising rabbits, I have always kept them in a separate area from the chickens. And all I remember from those years, was shoveling the manure buildup, trying to keep the smell down, and all around wishing that there was a better solution to raising rabbits. Then, I recently read in Joel Salatin's book 'You Can Farm', about keeping chickens and rabbits together. Put the rabbits in hanging cages, in the coop, at about shoulder height, and keep a thick layer of wood shavings on the coop floor. The chickens scratch through the shaving and will compost the rabbit manure, any fallen grain and hay that falls onto the ground, while the rabbits use up otherwise wasted space.

It sounded like a good idea, so I went ahead and put my rabbits in the coop to see what would come of it....

The plan works beautifully!! It is so nice when I go into the coop and see all that lovely compost, ready to be put outside in the spring! The best part is that it smells really nice in there; very woodsy and clean, neither like a chicken coop, or like a rabbitry in need of a cleaning.

So that's what's been happening around here! You got to read a huge post only to find that we merely got two new goats and some rabbits. Sheesh, maybe I should learn to cut to the chase....;)

Friday, November 19, 2010

For the first time.... There's not enough.

 In the past, it always seemed like the trees would never stop dropping leaves. As soon as you thought you had raked up every rogue leaf, there were hundreds more all around! This year, I have been busy raking up the leaves, and putting a thick layer on the garden. Why is it, that when you don't want 'em, they're everywhere, and when you do want them, they suddenly become scarce!? :-/ 

The garden is halfway covered, and I desperately need to finish covering it before the frosts come. The half that is covered looks so pretty, much like a patchwork quilt in autumn hues. One square of fiery colored maple leaves, one of drab Cottonwood, a streak of apple here and there, and one purple patch of pear.... ;)

I've begun to look at trees differently lately. It's like another sort of harvest.... You watch the trees as their colors turn, and whoop with joy in the morning when you see a thick layer of leaves everywhere, like snow. Our property is surrounded by trees, I would have thought that there was enough to cover the garden area, but I don't know... We'll see. 

I love autumn....

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It made my day...

I was talking on the phone with a milk customer the other day, and as we were finishing up she said to me, "Oh by the way, my family and I want to thank you so much for the goat milk. For the past couple of weeks, the milk has been a lot sweeter than usual, and it has been so great! I don't know what you might have been doing differently, but it tastes really good."

Those three little sentences, made my day! I was beaming from ear to ear for the rest of the evening! I really have no idea why the milk is suddenly sweeter; the only thing I have been doing differently is getting the goats to eat more fresh forage, and am slowly weaning them off of their grain. But would that really make a difference?

 I worked hard all summer and early fall to try and raise the sugar content of our grass, and you can see the difference between one pasture that got a lot of attention, and another pasture that didn't get much. The one that I worked on is green, green green! It's very lush, and it has a lot of clover (it used to never have clover), while the other one has a lot of couch grass and other coarse plants. Maybe all my hard work is paying off with a higher butterfat percentage in my goat's milk?

Or maybe the goats have just been in a good mood.... ;)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Heifer International

You can give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. Or, you can teach a man to fish, and thus feed him for life. Heifer international is probably my favorite charity. They are really making a difference in people's lives....

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Now THIS is funny!

A friend showed me this YouTube recently and I thought I was going to die laughing! I hope you enjoy it!