Category Archives: rabbits

Raising My Own Meat

I can’t do it, guys.

And what I mean is, I can’t bear to continue buying contaminated, unhealthy meat from horrifically inhumanely raised and slaughtered animals. And going vegetarian is not an option for me – I believe, absolutely, that a strict vegetarian/vegan diet is not the most healthy option.  And I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the taste of meat.  I used to think I could never slaughter animals myself, but it turns out that most of that fear was a fear of not doing it right, of screwing it up and causing the animals distress or pain. But with every animal I’ve killed, I’ve gotten more and more confident. I truly believe that the last two roosters I killed knew absolutely nothing was happening: one moment they were alive, the next moment, they were dead.

I would love to be in a place where I could raise larger animals like cows and pigs, but until that happens, I’m stuck in the city where “hooved animals” are not allowed. (Strangely enough, all other animals are fine…as long as they aren’t too noisy or stinky. Perhaps I should get ostriches??? 😉 ) These regulations mean I can have chickens, and I can have rabbits. This year, I’m getting 8 – 10 Naked Neck chicks to raise up.

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They are a heritage breed, bred for flavor rather than unnaturally fast growth. These birds won’t keel over of heart attacks at a few weeks old, or shatter their legs when they try to walk, as the industry Cornish Cross breed does.  If it goes well, I’m think of adding a small breeding trio of Naked Neck adults to my urban farm, so I’m not dependant on (or patronizing) the commercial hatcheries. I’m not technically allowed to have a rooster – but only because roosters crow. If I try keeping a rooster, I’d have to use one of the No Crow Collars. They have mixed reviews, but after reading tons of them, one of the major difficulties seems to be getting them tight enough without choking the bird. And the reason why they can’t get them tight enough, seems to be the problem of shifting neck feathers. Naked Necks don’t have neck feathers. Possibly problem solved? I think it’s worth a try. I can’t find anyone who has written about using a collar on a Naked Neck. Do you know of anyone?

They certainly cut out the noise, while still allowing the rooster all other normal sounds and activities.

And rabbits, of course, are going to be my other meat animals. Not my mom’s pet rabbits, that I’ve been writing about recently. These will be a breed that is almost exclusively used for meat production: the New Zealand.

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The adults are not especially cute. They will, however, have an excellent life with me, as I will not raise anything in tiny little wire cages. These rabbits will have a large space to run and play in, and lots of fresh food.

Although killing animals is not easy (and should not ever be), it is entirely natural and far more moral than supporting the cruel practice of factory farming.  It’s incredibly recently that all of us have lost the skill. It’s actually shocking to realize that having a flock of chickens, rabbits, or even a cow in the backyard was absolutely normal within living history.

The summer kitchen area (which will also be my meat processing area) is finally cleaned out and ready to build on.  (Well – ready except for digging out a few stray t-posts.) As you saw in the last post, I left a horrific mess of rotten fence boards and other junk laying about until I had time to finish it. While I was at my day job, mom came out and cleared almost all of it away for me! It was an awesome surprise, letting me jump directly to the more fun bits of re-attaching the bamboo privacy fence. It’s starting to look nice now.

And the old potting bench fits! It just needs a new counter. And where the potting bench used to be, is now prime seating area. It’s really warm and sunny in winter (Ellie the chicken and I sunbathed together there just yesterday) and in summer, it’s cool and shady.

I’m going to build an awesome arbor here, with fluffy cushions, and fairy lights. Stay tuned.

Rabbits and New Summer Kitchen Prepwork

The rabbits are moved into their new hutch/run, and they are so happy. Happy, happy rabbits.

Daisy and Dandelion.

I filmed a brief video hoping to catch them romping, but of course they didn’t romp on cue. I’m told that a few minutes after I left, they were tearing around in circles, chasing each other.

 

 

They have piles of raspberry, blackberry, and apple prunings to eat.

And a tub of dirt to dig in, if they wish. And hopefully, if they wish, they will contain their digging to this tub.

 

So far, they haven’t dug at all. The tub is just to sit and look cute in.

They are excellent at looking cute.

The summer kitchen progress is moving right alone…but so far, it’s all prep work. There is a lot of prep work. I dug out all the gravel from the former duck yard, and half of it went as a foundation to the meat rabbit pen, and half went to the summer kitchen. Gravel drains well, and is nice underfoot. The part you see in the back, is where the summer kitchen will be.

To the left, the bamboo screen needed to come down and be replaced. It was meant to cover a decrepid rotting fence – but the neighbor has since built a new one, but rather than removing the old one, he just moved his new one inside his property line. So I took down the bamboo, and tore out the old fence myself. It made a mess.

It made a BIG mess. Old rotten wood and rubbish everywhere.

Now that the fence is down, though, I gained about half a foot of space, and some firewood, since we’ll cut up the old fence boards to burn. I’m also putting the bamboo back up again, since the neighbor’s new fence is too low and too gap-y for my taste. I don’t feel private or content on my property if I have to see the neighbor’s yard all the time.

Also, I had a brainstorm. One thing our garden is lacking are quality shaded places to sit. See this potting bench? In summer, the honeysuckle tree shades it, and it’s the coolest part of the yard. And I never use it to pot anything; it’s purely decorative.

 

Decorative when it’s not full of winter mess and junk, that is. But I’m going to take it out, and put in a lovely arbor there. And the potting bench, if it will fit, will become part of the summer kitchen counter. All it needs is a new top; the base is still really solid.

Inside the house, mom’s been doing a lot of crocheting. Dexter and Bundy help.

 

Beginning the New Rabbit Colony Pen

Today was a lovely sunshiny day – very Spring-like. I’m betting that we are going to have an early Spring in the Pacific Northwest this year.  Although we will likely have a few more frosts, I think we’re past the hard freezes. I certainly hope so! But whether we are or not, these lovely days are giving me a chance to do a lot of yard work – including build the new meat rabbit colony house.

I think in my previous post, I shared a pic of the site where I’ll be building it, all full of pruned apple branches and various other messes. Today, I cleaned all of that out, and started preparing the site. Since it tends to be lower ground, and thus wetter, the first job was to raise it level. Since I have a former duck pen full of pea gravel that I want cleaned out, that’s what I did today. Shoveled gravel from here:

To here:

Since a very old apple tree is also here, I am working around it.  The pen dimensions are roughly laid out by the boards. The narrow end of the pen (closest to the camera), will have a gate, so I can divide off the buck if I decide he’s causing problems – or just doing his bunny-making job too well! The wide end, shown in the below picture, will be the doe’s quarters.

Over the gravel, I will lay hardware cloth to keep out rats, and then build the pen up from there. To increase the space, there will be various levels inside the pen, and I hope to allow the rabbits access to the rest of the east yard on a regular basis…especially when there are young rabbits in the colony. I will also have a “rabbit tractor”, to allow them lawn grazing privileges.

Speaking of rats… You know, guys, I do try to look on rats as ‘squirrels without fluff’ and allow them a little respect. Like everything else, they have their place in the world. But their place is not chewing holes in my studio wall, so they can get underneath the floor and and nest in the insulation.

I just found this yesterday, and needless to say, I am not pleased. Time to reduce the rat numbers! Last night I set out the Snap Trap, and bagged one extremely pregnant female. I’ll keep putting out the trap until I stop catching them, and then I’ll fix this hole…and perhaps add a bit of hardware cloth along this wall.

Yesterday, I also planted out a bunch of seeds. Brassicas, mostly…kale and cabbage…but also some early lettuce, in the cold frames.

And in the greenhouse, too!

I also started onions, which normally don’t do well for me. I never get large bulbs. But this is the year I will succeed, right? I’m trying Green Mountain Multiplyer onions, because you can leave any bulbs you don’t harvest in the ground, and they will reproduce naturally.

Last year, I started doing the Back to Eden gardening method, using wood chips as a deep mulch. Now the ground has unfrozen, I can see that the chips are already starting to improve the soil. So many earthworms! The chickens, granted access to the east yard “vineyard” are thrilled! You never saw such happy chickens.

Before I had the wood chips, I had to really restrict their access to this yard, because they would busily dig immense holes in the dirt, usually right at some poor plant’s roots. With the wood chips, the layers are so deep that they dig and dig, and before they reach the dirt, they have lost interest in that particular hole and moved on.  And like I said, tons of earthworms! Over the last couple days, they’ve been digging and eating…and then curling up together in a sunny corner to nap and purr with contentment. Yes – chickens do purr! If you search on YouTube, you’ll find quite a few videos. (Mine are too shy of the camera to purr on cue.)

As a result of this happiness, we are going to cover all parts of the chicken’s outside runs with wood chips. It looks much nicer than straw, and I won’t have to:

A) Buy the straw.

B) Run the risk of the straw being contaminated with pesticides, thereby contaminating my garden.

It’s good that the chickens have a new source of forage, because they are running out of the veggies from last summer. The kales are finally eaten completely, the bags of tomatoes I froze for them are almost gone, and the kohlrabi are down to the last few. And looking pretty nasty – though still tasty to the girls!

Thankfully, signs of Spring are everywhere!

New Rabbit House, Quail, and Parakeets

Daisy and Dandelion, our two pet rabbits and poop producers, have officially moved – out of the old duck coop, and into a smaller coop. Smaller, because they will now also have access to an outdoor run on a regular basis.

The coop is up against the east side of the chicken coop, where they will get morning sun and afternoon/evening shade, which seems about perfect for rabbits. This passage is neatly between the “dirt yard” (the main 24/7 chicken yard) and the rest of the east yard, which will eventually be the meat rabbit area. I also want to allow the layers access to this yard regularly, because it’s also where many of the fruiting vines/shrubs are, and I want them to be able to scavenge the fallen fruit.

This is the view, looking from the east yard into the dirt yard.

The gate is standing open in this pic, as to allow the layers free access, but I can close that gate when I wish to either restrict the layers, or release the rabbits. Notice the stones placed against the fence. This is to discourage digging underneath the fence – and because I noticed that rabbits LOVE cool stones to lie on during summer.

And here is the view from the dirt yard, through into the east yard. Two gates, total, to control who goes where, and when. So far, the rabbits are thrilled. The chickens are somewhat less so…since they learned that fences and gates frequently keep them from the places they most want to go. Like my spring-planted garden beds.  They also don’t entirely approve of rabbits, in general.

I had two columnar apple trees in wine barrels inside this new bunny run, but I decided to replant those in the ground.  I’m much more confident in my ability to control fruit trees now – using the methods in Grow a Little Fruit Tree. The chickens have an additional run along the back south fence, and I moved the apple trees there.

In summer kitchen-making news, I did manage to situate and fill the new veggie bed. It’s going to be some time yet until I manage to get anything else done here, though. First up is the construction of the meat rabbit colony house.

Surprising me (as the coturnix quail are feeling full of Spring vim and vigor and mating instinct) the Bobwhites are still entirely calm and contented. They are the sweetest things.

The coop they share with the parakeets has some pine branches in it, which they adore.

And now that I’ve mentioned the parakeets, I should give you an update on those. Remember I was attempting an experiment to see if they could live happily outside year-around? It turns out, they can. They saw the camera and promptly fled into their nest boxes, so I don’t have any photographs, but despite temperatures dipping down to 13 degrees, they have been perfectly fine – fluttering around, chirping, and acting perfectly normally. Little goldie (the yellow one and my favorite) did die, but as it happened at the end of summer, before the temperatures cooled, I know it was unrelated. I have no idea what killed her; but sometimes these unexplained deaths do happen, sad as they are. I’m just happy that the other three are healthy and contented!

Spring Plans 2017

Every year…every year, I have a list of things to build and do as long as my arm. This year is no exception.  Although it is still below freezing here, I’ll be starting my cabbage and kale seeds very soon. I’ve got all my seeds purchased and waiting…even the ones I won’t be able to plant for months yet. Two mail order companies I particularly love are Baker  Creek and Seed Renaissance. Both stock rare and wonderful heirloom seeds – sometimes ones you can’t find anywhere else.

Besides the seeds, I am making plans for parts of the property that have been neglected for years.  The colony meat rabbits will finally be coming this year. It’s perfect timing, because their housing will be paid for by a Victorian costume I sold to a Los Angeles “stylist to stage and screen”! I’m going to build it here, in this shady bit of space behind the old apple tree.

Before I can build this, however, I’m moving the pet rabbits out of the former duck house and into a place of their own. Here, at the side of the chicken coop.

The idea is, they will have a bit of outdoor space to run in, and – if they and the chickens get on together – they will be able to have access to the entire chicken yard, too. We’ll see how that goes…Antoinette is not a great fan of critters in her yard.

She chases squirrels out the coop, and once, when the rabbits were a lot younger and smaller, she jumped on one and attempted to thoroughly thrash it. (I’m not sure the rabbit noticed…)

Once the pet rabbits are moved into their new quarters, I’ll have the former duck coop available again…and this year, I’m getting a few Naked Neck chickens to raise for meat.

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Naked Neck, or “Turken”

I have decided against raising the traditional “broilers”, those unnatural frankenchickens. Instead I chose this traditional meat breed, partly because they naturally have 40% less feathers (and not just on their necks). Less feathers mean less plucking!

Since I will be butchering both rabbits and meat chickens here next year, I decided I need a sort of summer kitchen, with an outdoor sink and a place to process animals. I selected this corner, which has always just been a place to store excess junk.

One bonus, once I put up a new solid fence at the back, it will be very private and out of the way of nosy neighbors.

The frizzle cochins roosters are gone…into my freezer. Probably because of the time of year, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take them off my hands. It’s just as well, really. They were massive boys (I called them the “Turkeys”) and butchering them was good practice for what’s to come.  The larger one dressed out at just over 5lbs, and the smaller just under that.

I used my new Ballista bolt gun, and I highly, highly recommend it. Easy to use, and I loved how instant and humane the death was. I truly believe the roosters were dead without ever having any inkling anything was happening. Even mom helped with the plucking and gutting.  And one interesting thing I noticed while gutting them: they didn’t stink. It’s pretty commonly known that the insides of chickens smell pretty terrible – that was certainly the case with the one other rooster (belonging to a friend) that I butchered. Gah. Nasty. But because my chickens eat a natural diet of grains, bugs, and vegetables (plus some table scraps) their poop doesn’t stink…and so apparently…neither do their insides.

My hens were SO HAPPY to have the roosters gone. The girls generally would not put up with any roostery nonsense from the boys, but my shy little Barnvelder, Josie, was being terrorized by them. The last couple of days, she took to hiding all by herself in the back of the yard, and wouldn’t come to the coop even to eat or drink unless I was there.  Even after I saw this happening, and penned the roos up separately so they couldn’t get to the hens, she didn’t feel safe. Poor girl.  Today, the first full day the roos are gone, the hens are so relaxed. They are sleeping in the sun, stretched out and purring.

I am, of course, keeping their sister, the blue frizzle cochin Ophelia. She’s such a calm, pretty girl…and she loves having her picture taken. She’ll stand and wait, every time she sees the camera.

My little soulmate chicken, Ellie, hates the camera – but also gets extremely jealous of all the attention Ophelia is getting. She pulls on my pants legs, whining with increasing volume and anxiety, and if I still keep ignoring her, she stalks away and stands in the corner with her back to me until I apologize.

This is my life: fluffy frizzle divas and jealous Welsummers.

Frizzle Cochin Chicks!

Guys. GUYS. These chicks. I can’t even…they are just so fluffy and funny and cute.

When they first hatched, they were fairly standard chicks in appearance…other than their fuzzy hobbit feet.

Amerauca mom Booty did a great job with her hatch. I put fertile eggs under her, and in 21 days, out popped four fluffy chicks, like magic.

Despite the psycho side-eye she’s giving me here (all my adult hens hate my camera) she’s super sweet, and doesn’t mind me snuggling her chicks at all. Which is good for both of us, because you just gotta snuggle chicks this fluffy. The babies weren’t always sure about all these snuggles, but if one objected, all I had to do was hold her out to her mama, who would peck her on the head and tell her in no uncertain language that I was a trusted friend.  After that, the chick would settle down in my hand, perfectly happy (and often go straight to sleep!)

You can’t really tell in the pictures, but cochin chicks have THE SOFTEST fluff ever in the history of soft fluff. I was amazed.

Booty taught them how to dust bathe. And nap in the sunlight.

As they grew older, their wing feathers came in, proving they were frizzle cochins. See how the feathers curl out? This created the greatest look in chick feather-styling EVER, as they grew out the feathers on their feet and legs.

It also led to jealousy and hurt feelings from Ellie, my soulmate hen. WHY are you always in THERE playing with those little fluffy butts? I’m molting, I’ve got a fluffy butt too – nothing special to look at in THERE.

It’s okay. Ellie always gets snuggles too. She’s a total lap chicken.

We just finished (mostly finished) remodeling the chicken coop, and the mama and chicks have moved into the coop with the big girls…in their own private apartment. I’ll film a video tour soon.  I decided this in-the-coop-apartment will work better for future broodies, and so I moved the pet rabbits (Daisy and Dandelion) into the former duck coop/broody coop.

They have lots more room, plus they and the chickens can see each other, which both species seem to enjoy.

And what, you may ask, is going into the old rabbit hutch? Well, since it was originally made as a chicken coop, it’s going back to that purpose. It’s just the right size for a trio of tiny serama hens! Next Spring I’ll get hatching eggs! I’m so excited; I’ve wanted these mini chooks forever. I plan to let them out for regular free-ranging in the garden. They are so small, I don’t think they will destroy the garden like full-sized hens. We’ll see.

And a brief update on the Bobwhite Quail – I still love them. They are my favorite quail for sure. They are so personable and friendly.

 

Christmas, and Looking Forward to 2016

This Christmas was one of the best in nearly a decade. The extended family and their drama went elsewhere, and it was a quiet, peaceful Christmas with great food, excellent gifts, and an opportunity to attend our Christmas Eve church service. I actually made it through feeling relaxed instead of stressed out, and rather than being SO GLAD it’s over, I’m looking forward to next year.

This was Dexter’s second Christmas, and the first that he really understood what unwrapping was all about.

We also discovered the perfect way to apply flea medicine to a wiggly corgi…you use the sleeve of a sweatshirt to ardvark them!

It’s been rainy almost non-stop this fall and winter – we’ve set records for rainfall. Finally, though, we’re seeing the return of some sunshine, and it’s bringing on the desire to garden. I’ve been marking up my seed catalogs, and almost have my order ready to send. This year, I’m going to try to stick to tried-and-true varieties, because I’m making it a goal to grow as much greens/seeds for the animals as I can.

rabbitsI found this fabulous book on Amazon:Real Food for Rabbits: Raising Meat Rabbits Without Buying Commercial Feed.  Don’t be put off by the title if you only have pet rabbits – it’s all about feeding, and it applies just as well to pets. I’ve actually suggested to the author that she change the title.

I would LOVE to get all my critters off packaged, commercial food. The chickens are, but the quail and rabbits are (hopefully) being converted over to natural grains and veggies this coming year. I’ve seen so many benefits from the chickens being off commercial food. They are healthy and happy, and – biggest of all – their poop doesn’t stink. At all. I’m looking forward to having that be the case with the quail!

I don’t know if my meat rabbits will happen in 2016. I have a muscovy duck in the fridge ready to cook tomorrow, and assuming we like it as much as everyone says we will, I think I’ll be starting with a few meat ducks.  I’ll order the minimum order of 10 ducklings, save out the nicest trio for breeding, and eat (or sell) the rest. The nice thing about muscovies is how quiet they are, plus the females are terrific mothers.

muscovyI really like having the Indian Runner ducks in my garden. Other than a certain devilish attitude at bedtime sometimes, they are no trouble at all.  And every time I see them out the window, they make me laugh. I’ll be getting two more in the Spring. Either as chicks, or I’ll try hatching some eggs.

I’ll also be hatching more quail. I don’t remember if I told you guys, but I lost a female this Fall, bringing my numbers down to just four females and two males. I want to plump up the female numbers. And my friend lost all but one of her quails due to a predator attack. She didn’t wire in the bottom of her pen, and something dug through the rocks and gravel and killed all of them but one little male in one night. Put wire underneath your cages, folks. It might be a little more trouble and expense, but you never know when a predator will find your cage!

I’m keeping her lonely male with my females, until I get more quail hatched. Then she’s taking him back – I have enough males already!

So right now, that’s the big plan. Re-vamp the chicken yard area to make room for the muscovies, hatch more quail, and garden ALL THE FOOD.

Because seeds.

SAD

http://www.greensparrowgardens.com/2014/12/sad-seed-acquisition-disorder.html