24 Carrot Rabbitry

City-fied Self-Sufficiency

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Archive for February, 2011

In our next major step toward self-sufficiency and greater preparedness for tough times, we wanted to have a garden.  Now, mind you, we could have saved ourselves great expense and just tilled up a plot in the yard for a regular row garden.  Except that we do actually want to grow something besides rice.

You see, this yard was engineered some 60 years ago as a kind of overflow for water coming down the neighborhood hill.  Why, I have no idea.  It would seem to make sense that you channel the water toward the street, and then into the big drainage ditch behind the neighborhood.  Of course, that would require that you put the right sized pipes in from the beginning (um… no, they didn’t… they ended up replacing them with larger ones some time ago), but maybe designing the drainage correctly so that somebody doesn’t end up with their yard being used as a detention pond makes too much sense.  Maybe there’s something more to this design that I just don’t know about and understand.  *sigh*

(Oh, and making sure that the big drainage ditch is maintained well enough that it doesn’t have trees growing in it would help.  My grandmother spent many an hour bending the ears of the local officials trying to get them to do their jobs.  Especially since their lack of action periodically flooded people’s homes.  Eventually, they did clean the ditch out, and the larger drainage pipe keeps the bottom of the hill here from flooding as badly as it used to.  But I digress.)

So what happens here when it rains heavily is this:  for a while, all looks normal.  It’s raining, stuff gets wet, water puddles and runs down driveways to the streets, water runs down the streets from the top of the hill to the streets at the bottom of the hill.  It takes a while, though, for the water to collect in the yards at the top of the hill enough for it to start flowing.  You look out of our back window to see wet grass, and you move on.  The water reaches the channel at the side of our yard, and, once it reaches a certain depth, it suddenly breaks through into the back yard.  You pass by the back window again five minutes after you looked before and glance outside, and you now have a lake where the yard once was.

Our last heavy rain was almost two weeks ago.  Yesterday was our first rain at all since that day, and it barely rained enough to get everything damp.  Yet the yard has just dried out to the point at which you no longer sink into it as you walk.

So now you have a clear idea of the challenge of having a garden in our yard.  Well, unless, like I said before, we want to grow rice.  I have no doubt that rice would do very well here.

Not to be deterred from self-sufficiency (and fresh veggies), I began looking into how to have a garden in an area that holds water.  The key to it, apparently, is to build a raised bed that is 18-24″ in depth.  Wow, that’s big.  And… *sigh* it’s expensive.

One of the highest points of the yard is right beside a fig tree.  My uncle had built a grape arbor there some 20 years ago.  It was roughly 4′ x 19′, and the grapevines had not survived but a few years (maybe because they still got too much water — it is one of the highest points, but it still floods).  So Shay decided to turn the structure into a raised bed for me.

I looked at different methods of raised bed gardening, and settled on Square Foot Gardening.  I got the new book, which is updated and easier than the original method that the author developed some 35 years ago.  I have read that not all of the plant information in the new book is as accurate, though, as one would like, so it is recommended that it be paired with a book like the Garden Primer, which I already have, thanks to my mom and my uncle.

This method has many great reviews.  People can’t seem to glow about it enough.  There is the occasional person who tries it and doesn’t care for it, but the vast majority love it.

Unfortunately, I can’t build the 6″ deep raised bed that the method calls for.  Mine has to be 18-24″ deep.  So mine will cost significantly more.  But we’ve been selling stuff on eBay, and pooling unexpected checks and such, to build up enough money to do it.

So we went and bought the lumber, screws, twine, and other supplies for the garden.  Shay handpicked every piece of wood for it.

Our nice, fresh-cut-wood-smelling pile of lumber. The box held parts for the wheelbarrow we bought that day as well. Boy, is that thing going to get used!

I know about the debate about treated lumber for vegetable gardens.  That was because of the arsenic compound that was used to preserve the wood.  They don’t use it any more.  The new copper azole preservative is supposed to be safer.  Still, many home vegetable gardens have been built with lumber treated with the arsenic compound, with no ill effects.  It’s my understanding that it doesn’t leach out very fast or very far, and, just because it is in the soil, that doesn’t mean it will end up in your bell pepper.

When Shay took another look at the grape arbor, and found out how old it was, he decided it would be better to replace it than to use it and have to start replacing parts of it in a few years.  So we tore it all down.  Shay figured since we weren’t using the original structure, he could make the garden to the largest dimensions allowed by the wood he had bought.  This turned out to be 5′ x 20′.  The author of Square Foot Gardening suggests that it really shouldn’t be more than 4′ wide (for the sake of easy access), but it isn’t that hard to reach in 2 1/2 feet rather than 2 feet. Adding one foot to the width and one foot to the length adds 24 square feet to the garden, while using an additional 16 linear feet of wood (one foot per side, four planks deep) — wood we already had; we would just be cutting it longer.  Adding 24 square feet to the garden without making it one foot wider would have taken an additional 48 linear feet of wood (six feet on two sides, four planks deep) — wood we would have to buy if we wanted that space.  That was pretty hard to argue with.

Anyway, then it was time to lay out the garden.  With Shay’s construction experience, he was able to get it square and level, in spite of the fact that the ground is quite uneven.

Four lengths of hot pink twine marked out the plot. The holes you see already dug are four of the six holes that held the posts for the grape arbor.

Getting it all level. Shay didn't go for absolute perfection, since this was a garden, not a shed or something. But he came as close as he could without sacrificing a lot more time.

We used old arrows that had been given to Shay as stakes. They were bent or missing fletchings. They turned out to be perfect for use in the wet clay dirt -- they would stand straight unless the twine was disturbed. Instead of being pulled over like a wood stake, they would bend, and then stand back up once the pressure was back off of the string. Yet they could stand up straight under enough pressure to keep the string taut. Shay put a small piece of Duck tape on the arrow to keep the twine from going out of level.

Getting it square. This appears to be out of square, because the long side of the square is running downslope, while the twine is level. If you look straight down on it, though, you could see that it is indeed square.

Then it was time to erect the posts. Unlike the arbor, which had less structure, the garden would not need cement. The rest of the structure will keep the posts in line. As Shay cut wood and we began attaching cross pieces, Mom and I also furiously began emptying old flower pots into the old grape arbor holes. We eventually had to raid my uncle's pile of dirt to finish off the holes, but he still has enough to fill the other yard holes we have.

The top is finished, and the first set of 2" x 6" lumber has been attached. The height of the garden is not necessary or even suggested in the Square Foot Gardening book. It is a mirror of the arbor, and will support more climbing plants for us, and will also support clear plastic sheeting in the winter (we could use hoops, but this should be easier for my mom), as well as netting in the summer. We have incredibly determined birds around here. It also will support hanging baskets, which hoops would not. You can see we finally got all the holes filled in! Shay realized around this point that he had made a mistake in measuring. Forgetting to take into account the thickness of the wood for the sides, the resulting garden space will actually be 4' 9", rather than an even 5'. He said it helps keep him humble when realizes he's made a mistake like that. It really won't affect the garden much, though. I love my Shay!

The three full 2" x 6" layers are in. Additional 2x6s were added inside to take care of the quite variable distance from the ground to the bottom of the first level of 2x6s. The depth of the garden ranges from 19" to nearly 24", because of the lay of the land.

A closeup of the inside. You can see how the bottom 2x6 is angled to meet the ground. The one at the opposite end is actually a 2x4, because it was so close to the ground at that point. Shay initially wanted to dig channels for the bottom layer so that it would be level with the rest, but that would have taken a lot of time and effort, and gained only a little in the way of aesthetics.

The full length of the garden. You can see how the bottom layer is inset, like a kitchen cabinet. This tends to hide the fact that those pieces are angled rather than straight, like the three upper courses are. I think it looks just fine!

Short one length of 2x4, Shay reused a piece of the old arbor as the center crosspiece.

Meanwhile, Bunny-Wan Kenobi used my uncle's dirt pile as a place to try out his John Deere tractor with plow attachment. The little booger really works, too... miniature furrows! Pretty funny. Oh, and that is a medical bracelet he is wearing.

Now that most of the building is finished, we can start filling it.  We’ll put down newspaper first, then chicken wire (for moles), then line pretty much the whole thing with landscape fabric both to keep the mix in, and to keep weeds out.  I then need to put at least six inches of sand in it, to allow ample drainage for the garden.  Excess water needs to be able to drain out, something that would most certainly not happen otherwise.  The rest I will fill with a concoction known as “Mel’s mix” — a 1:1:1 mixture of compost, coarse vermiculite, and peat.  I may go deeper on the sand, depending on the prices of everything involved.  For now, it appears I will need approximately 2 cubic yards each of the sand and the three ingredients of Mel’s mix.  Cha-ching! Now I get to start calling around…

Six down, six to go…

With two litters of six, one Pearl’s, one Squeak’s, reaching 12 1/2 weeks of age, it was time to send them to freezer camp.  We got Squeak’s litter done today; we would have gotten both litters done, but we are also building a raised vegetable garden.  So we’ll take care of Pearl’s litter tomorrow after Shay gets home from work.

It went more smoothly this time.  This was only our second time butchering rabbits, so we’re still getting the hang of it.  It certainly is no fun, and it shouldn’t be.

We did learn that they are probably ready at 10 weeks.  I’m sure they gained weight in the last 2 1/2 weeks, but most of it had to be fat.  They had just as much fat on them as the first ones we butchered, which were at least twice as old.  They were certainly eating a lot, so we don’t need to keep feeding them so they can produce a bunch of fat.  The skin was also already starting to stick to the meat.

It is a privilege to be producing some of our own meat for our family.  We are grateful that we can do it.  Butchering day is sad, but knowing that we are putting meat on our table that is well-treated, unmedicated, and clean is priceless.  It is also a bit of insurance against a troubled economy, as well as any other anxious times that may come our way.

A raccoon? A hobo???

Each morning, ILoveBunnies and Bunny-Wan Kenobi go out to the rabbitry and check on the rabbits, and fill the water bottles.  This morning, they came back in and told me that Fluffy and Nibbles’ bottle was off of the cage, as was the hanger, and both were on the boardwalk inside the rabbitry.  If it had just been that, I would have thought it quite odd, as a very interesting fall would be required in order to give that result.  If it’s going to fall, it’s likely to fall on the waste chute or into the gutter.  If it makes it past the gutter, it should be on the ground just outside the gutter.  So how did it make it all the way to the walkway — and the hanger, as well?

But it wasn’t just that.  It was the fact that the cap was unscrewed from the bottle and lying separately on the walkway.

This isn’t the kind of cap that barely screws on, and so it could have popped off from the impact.  This cap screws on well, and we tighten these things pretty well, too.  It isn’t coming off by accident.

Okay, so what can unscrew a cap from a bottle, that would be something you would see in a rabbitry?

We’ve been battling a couple of rats lately.  They’ve been perennial visitors to that area, which we learned when Shay emptied the storage room and cleaned it.  Maybe it’s one rat.  I’m not sure.  We got a rat yesterday, that succumbed to the rat poison we had set out.  It was kind enough to be visible when it died, so that we could know that it had died, and so that we could dispose of it.  I figure the battle with rats is not over, since I’ve heard that if you have outdoor animals, you have rats.  That’s just the way it is.

We have mice, too.  I hate rats, but I’m mostly okay with mice as long as they’re outside.  I know we have mice, because of the evidence Shay saw in the storage room, and evidence we’ve seen inside.  One night, as my mom and I were feeding the rabbits, I reached up above the top cages to the frame, and a mouse bounded down my arm to my shoulder, through my hair, and hopped off my back.  Freaked me out at first, since I didn’t know what it was, and my first thought from what I had seen of it was that a pecan had fallen onto my wrist and bounced down my arm.  Except, that’s not the natural sort of thing a falling pecan would do.  And then there’s the question of why a pecan would be falling inside the rabbitry anyway, especially since there is no pecan tree around for one to fall from.  So then I figured, what’s about the size of a pecan, and would be capable of bouncing down my arm?  A mouse.  So then I laughed, and my mom, who had seen my freaked-out gyrations and now was seeing my laughter, looked at me like I was nuts.  Of course, once I told her, she thought it was hilarious.

Anyway, so I know we have rats and mice.  Or, at least, rat and mice.  Or (maybe) ex-rat and mice.  That would be good.  But that doesn’t really help me with how the bottle cap came unscrewed, and the whole mess ended up on the boardwalk.  I’ve seen Ratatouille, but I kinda doubt rats really do very many of those things Remy was doing.

We have opossums, too, but they don’t unscrew things, either, as far as I know.  The occasional stray cat or dog.  Well, with the cats, it’s more than occasional.  But they can’t unscrew things.

The one animal I know has been around here that can unscrew things is a raccoon.

Raccoons are serious rabbit predators, from what I’ve read.  So the idea of a raccoon in the rabbitry is very serious, as it could kill or seriously harm rabbits even from outside the cages.  Even if the coon doesn’t get to the rabbits, the rabbits could die of shock and fright.

But if a raccoon was in the rabbitry, could it have unscrewed the cap?  Like I said, we tightened it pretty well (I put it back on myself after adding some more water to their bottle, which had gone down considerably since the kids had filled it in the morning).  Could a raccoon have loosened it?  I don’t know.  If it was a coon, why was the hanger on the boardwalk?  Wouldn’t it be more likely that it would have ended up in the gutter, or on the chute?  And why did I have no dead rabbits, no scared rabbits, no injured rabbits, not even a drop of blood?  Two of Pearl’s little kits were out of their nest box last night, and would have been relatively easy prey.

That’s the only animal I can think of that lives around here and can unscrew a cap.  The only other thing I can think of is that we have a hobo.  I have read of a couple of other people who have figured out that they have hobos staying in their rabbitries at night, so it is not unheard-of.  I know that 4 or 5 nights ago, my mom and I went out to tend to the rabbits really late, and I felt very strongly like I was being watched.  I shrugged it off as just being nervous because we were outside so late, but now I’m not so sure.  It also might explain why the lid keeps coming off of Fluffy and Nibbles’ food dish.  I was at first blaming them for that (they do chase each other occasionally), and then I blamed a rat (once I found the lid 2 or 3 feet away), but now I wonder.

“What’s a hobo?” asked Bunny-Wan Kenobi.

“A hobo is a homeless person,” I answered.

“Oh.”

“A hobo would be looking for shelter, and food and water,” I continued.  “A hobo might have decided the rabbitry is a good place to sleep, and he’s also drinking their water and eating some of their food.”

“Well, what’s so bad about that?”

“It’s bad because he would be a thief.  He would be stealing food and water from us (we bought it) and the rabbits.  If the rabbits keep having their water bottle taken off, they could dehydrate and die.  The hobo would also be coming onto our property and staying in the rabbitry without permission.  What makes it really bad is that most people like that could work and earn money for food and a place to stay, but they don’t want to.”

“Oh.”

“And if we happened to go out there and startle someone like that, there’s no telling what he might do.  He could get dangerous.”

“Oh.”

:(  I wish I didn’t have to tell my kids stuff like that.  Unfortunately, I have to slowly reveal to them what the world outside their safe, happy home is like.  I would love to raise them up among rainbows, unicorns, fairy sparkles, singing birds, flowers, and perpetually baby chicks.  But if I never teach them what the world is like, they will be incapable of coping with it later.

“Maybe we should padlock it,” ILoveBunnies volunteered.

“We are planning to.  But tonight, I dust.”  ILoveBunnies gave me a quizzical look.  I just smiled a little.  She thought.  Then her eyes lit up and she grinned, “Oh, like a CSI!”  (Let me clarify right here that my kids have never seen the show CSI, and, with all the violence and sexually suggestive scenes, they won’t be anytime soon.)  The kids thought that was very cool.

Shay, though, wanted the rabbitry padlocked sooner rather than later, and searched for a lock and key that he could supply me with immediately.  So, rather than dust the walkway inside the rabbitry, I dusted the small entry walk with baking soda.  We’ll see if anything comes of it.

The first cycle is in full swing!

So, Pearl’s most recent litter is now just over two weeks old, and they’ve just opened their eyes (okay, yeah, I should have taken another picture, now that they’re all furred out).  Squeak will get a nest box next week, and, when Pearl’s are about 3 weeks old, she should have her litter.

Wednesday, we bred Fluffy for the first time!  I was a bit concerned, because she (as a New Zealand) is significantly larger than Pearl and Squeak, and therefore more powerful and capable of inflicting a world of hurt on the poor human she gets upset with.  And she did get a little spooked and managed to scratch my mom through four light layers of clothing!  (Like most rabbits, she doesn’t particularly like being held.)  But, on the whole, she was much less combative than Pearl and Squeak.

She was quite receptive to breeding, though.  Since she’s 9 1/2 months old now, I was concerned she may be a little past her prime first breeding age.  Some breeders find that after 8 – 9 months of age, does can be less receptive to a first breeding than they would have been around that age.  She had also put on a little weight.  I hadn’t had an issue with any of the rabbits we have had.  They all seemed to self-regulate, pretty much.  They ate what they needed, and no more.  But a few weeks ago I realized I could barely feel her spine at all, and that is how you gauge a rabbit’s weight.

Basically, if you run your hand down the rabbit’s back from head to tail, if the rabbit’s spine feels spiky, like you are petting a small, furry stegosaurus, then your rabbit is too thin.  If the spine feels like a series of gentle, rolling bumps, the rabbit is the right weight.  If you can’t feel the rabbit’s spine, then it is overweight.

It can be impossible to breed a fat rabbit.  If the rabbit does mate, then there is a greater chance that the mating will not produce a litter.  This is true of does and bucks… a fat buck may not be able to father a litter, and a fat doe may not be able to conceive or carry one.  So it is in the best interests of a breeder to maintain good weight and overall health of his or her rabbits.

So at this point I realized that Fluffy does not regulate her eating on her own, so I’m going to have to do it for her.  Unfortunately, Nibbles is along for the ride at this point, whether she regulates her eating or not.  I have no plans to breed Nibbles, since I breed meat rabbits, and Nibbles is a dwarf.  I’d have to be pretty desperate in order to look at her as breeding stock!  So I may not be as concerned with Nibbles’ weight, but she and Fluffy share food, so…

So I cut down on their food, and, over the next few weeks, I slowly began to feel Fluffy’s spine again.  It wasn’t quite to the rolling bumps stage when I bred her, but close enough.  Now that she’s bred, she gets all the food she wants, haha!  Nibbles must be happy about that, and I know Fluffy is.

So anyway, I bred Squeak three weeks after Pearl, and Fluffy three weeks after Squeak.  Three weeks from now, I will breed Pearl again, when her babies are five weeks old.

Woohoo!

Pearl’s new litter of 8!

We’ve finally started the rotation with the does that we’ve been wanting to do.  I was thinking of a 4-week rotation, but I’ve settled on a 3-week rotation for now, which should give us 5 litters per doe per year.

Pearl and Squeak both had litters over 10 weeks ago.  When the litters were 6 weeks old, we separated them from their mothers, and re-bred Pearl.  Three weeks later, we re-bred Squeak, and three weeks after that, we will finally breed Fluffy for the first time.  Pearl just delivered her new litter two nights ago.  Squeak will have her litter in three more weeks, a week after Fluffy is bred.  Three weeks after we breed Fluffy, we will breed Pearl again.  At this time, her litter that is two days old now will be five weeks old.  One week later, we will separate the litter to their own cage, and Pearl will have three weeks of peace before the next litter is born.  That’s how it will work for each doe.  In theory, anyway!!! :D

There will be a little risk, in that I won’t have two does delivering at the same time to help with fostering needs if one should have trouble caring for her litter.  But I’m hoping it’s not a big risk, because, really, we have a pretty small rabbitry!

Here’s a pic of the new popples:

Pearl's 8 popples! Looks like the usual spread of white, red, and agouti. Always cute!

1,000+ Visits!

Wow… you know, I figured I’d start a blog, and I’d pretty much be talking to myself. Maybe I’d get a few visits from my friends at RabbitTalk, but on the whole, it would be pretty quiet. I wasn’t even going to bother with a counter, since it would only serve to show how few visits I get.

I am really glad I got a ClustrMap anyway! I started this blog on June 14, 2010. Since then, as of this moment, I have had 1,007 visits to my humble little blog. From 43 different countries!!!

And I must tell you that I love getting comments. Right now, I have it set so that anyone can comment, whether logged in or not, to keep it as open as possible. Normally, this would be a big source of spam, but WP-SpamFree is awesome, and has caught every bit of spam that has tried to invade my space. As long as it keeps working, I will keep it set like it is. :) Though I understand the practice, I don’t like having to join a site just so I can comment on something. More often than not, I just don’t bother.

Thank you, MidnightCoder, for putting all this together for us. I am really enjoying my little slice of cyberspace. :)

Of interest:

Several studies indicate that most blogs are abandoned soon after creation (with 60% to 80% abandoned within one month, depending on whose figures you choose to believe) and that few are regularly updated.

The ‘average blog’ thus has the lifespan of a fruitfly. One cruel reader of this page commented that the average blog also has the intelligence of a fly.

The Perseus report noted above indicates that 66.0% of surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months, “representing 2.72 million blogs that have been either permanently or temporarily abandoned”.

Jeffrey Henning of Perseus sniffed that

Apparently the blog-hosting services have made it so easy to create a blog that many tire-kickers feel no commitment to continuing the blog they initiate. In fact, 1.09 million blogs were one-day wonders, with no postings on subsequent days.

Perseus claimed that the average duration of the remaining 1.63 million abandoned blogs was 126 days, with some 132,000 blogs being abandoned after a year or more. The oldest abandoned blog surveyed had been maintained for 923 days. http://www.caslon.com.au/weblogprofile1.htm

10-Week Meat Rabbit Weights

Well, the two litters from Squeak and Pearl are ten weeks old today!  Or, maybe, yesterday, by the time I actually hit “Publish”.  Since meat rabbit fryers are generally processed between the ages of ten and twelve weeks, I wanted to get a good idea of how they were doing weight-wise.  With your actual meat rabbit breeds producing ideally 5-pound fryers at that age, I was naturally hoping that we might be close to that weight.  In reality, though, these are not actual meat rabbit breeds; they are the offspring of, initially, a minilop (hey, he was a rescue, you have to start somewhere!) and a Flemish giant cross that topped out a little over 6 pounds.  Am I going to get 5-pound rabbits at 10-12 weeks from this line?  Uh…. no.  :D

So anyway, we weighed every bunny in both litters today, and this is what we have so far:

Pearl’s litter weighs 3 lb 1 oz, 3 lb 4 oz, 3 lb 5 oz, 3 lb 8 oz, 3 lb 9 oz, and 3 lb 4 oz.  Their average weight is 3 pounds, 5 ounces.

Squeak’s litter has been at the feed trough a little more.  They weigh 3 lb 7 oz, 3 lb 8 oz, 3 lb 9 oz, 3 lb 4 oz, 4 lb 3 oz (!), and 3 lb 15 oz.  Their average weight is 3 pounds, 10 ounces.  The little porker at 4 lb, 3 oz is the last bunny pictured in the post, “The two litters at 6 weeks!”.  Fittingly, it is pigging out on food in the picture.

One interesting thing about this is actually the fact that Squeak’s litter is heavier than Pearl’s.  Squeak and Pinto both have Thumper, the minilop, as their father.  Squeak is smaller than Pearl.  I would expect Pearl’s litter to be heavier, since only the father, Pinto, is a minilop cross.  With Squeak’s litter, both mother and father are minilop crosses.  I suppose I will never understand rabbit genetics!

The average for both litters is 3 pounds, 8 ounces.  Not bad, considering these are just mutts with no meat rabbit background.  :)  Guess we’ll weigh again at 12 weeks and hope they’re close enough at that point.  I really don’t want to butcher rabbits again that are old enough to have the skin thoroughly stuck to the meat!  That was difficult!