Category Archives: rabbits

June 6th Urban Farm Update

This time of year is crazy-busy-fun on the backyard farm. The garden is growing so fast it’s hard to keep up with everything, and nearly every spare pen/coop I have has babies in it. I love it.

In the bunny barn, I have three different ages of rabbits, all co-existing happily together. I have my original two breeding does, plus babies from two different litters – born about a month apart.

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My favorite one from the most recent litter is this blue otter kit.

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I was hoping to keep it, if it was a doe, but sadly…I’m nearly 100% sure it’s a buck. Maybe in the next litter I’ll get a keeper.

Ophelia’s foster chicks, the four black copper marans, are growing up. They still sit on her back like she’s a massive pillow…and who can blame them, really? She’s so soft and fluffy! I’ve gotten lucky here, because out of the four, only one is a rooster. I’ll be keeping one of the hens, and the other two girls will be going together to a friend of mine.

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Sansa’s foster chicks have been cast out of the nest. They are Red Rangers, a meat breed I’m testing out, and they are already as large as she is. In the below picture, they are the two closest to the camera.

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The bigger darker red hen is Charlotte, one of my layers. Beyond her, on the other side of fence are the four Freedom Rangers I’m also trying out as a meat bird. The Freedom Rangers are definitely proving the best. They are larger, easy to handle, and just really plumping out well.

The other chicks are the bantam Mottled Cochins, and the two Silkies.

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I’m really falling hard for the cochins. They are so adorable. I have two roosters that will have to be re-homed, plus three hens: Milly, Maisie, and Molly. In the back of the photo, you can see the two silkies. Lucie is the partridge one, in front. I love her coloring, and I hope she is an actual hen. It’s super hard to tell for sure with silkies.

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The other silkie, Lola, is a buff color.

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In the below picture, you can see how easy it is to sex the cochins, even at this young age. The two on the right are the roos…see how much larger and redder their combs and wattles are?

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And then there are the Muscovy ducklings. Taking the advice of the Fit Farmer, I made a screened box for underneath the water, to keep the shavings dry and clean(er). Ducklings are horrifically messy, and wet shavings stink. This helps so very much!

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Here’s a video of the ducklings:

That video was taken a week or so ago. They are now MUCH larger, and have outgrown both my indoor brooder, AND the two intermediate secure pens. Their ultimate duck house is not yet finished and predator-proof, so they are currently spending their days in the unfinished duck house, but I’m locking them up in the extra coop at night.

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I can’t believe how fast ducklings grow.

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In the garden, everything is growing and flowering, including my favorite kitchen flower, the calendula. These self-seed throughout the garden is such a charming way.

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A few weeks back, I made a bed in the front yard for more raspberries.

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I intended to get the traditional canes to plant, but when I went searching for the variety I wanted, I discovered you can also buy rootstock, which is how the commercial berry producers do it. For a fraction of the cost of bareroot canes, they send you a literal envelope with some thin, cobwebby raspberry roots. You stretch them out in a line, bury with 1/2″ to 1″ of soil, then keep them well-watered, never allowing them to dry out. Unbelievably, they are supposed to grow faster and produce berries sooner than if you’d planted canes!

Mine are starting to sprout little raspberry plants!

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Will I really get raspberries this summer? It’s hard to believe, but they are doing very well, and for $10 I got enough rootstock to make a 5 foot row.

One thing already fruiting is the berry I wait for every year: strawberries!

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Berries shipped in from CA taste like cardboard to me, and even locally-grown strawberries, while vastly better, still don’t have the full taste they should. Most commercial varieties aren’t grown for taste, but how well they last on the market shelves. These are Shuksan, one of the varieties that is considered one of the BEST tasting berries ever grown. I can personally attest that they taste fantastic!

 

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The Garden is Exploding!

May is when the garden goes crazy. Green, lush, and – after the long winter – just so suddenly packed full of life. I could easily spend my entire day outdoors working, between the animals and the garden…and often, I do. It’s wonderful.

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Nearly everything is fruiting like crazy, too. I don’t know if it’s because of our unusually snowy winter, but the fruit trees and bushes are packed with blooms. Even the ones that normally don’t do all that well in my garden, like the blueberries. We have apples, currants, gooseberries, peaches and so many others, including figs.

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Cherries:

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And plums. This will be the first year I’ve gotten plums!

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That is, I WILL get plums, if Mama Short-Tail doesn’t get them first.  I couldn’t get her to show off her short docked tail (there has to be a tale of adventure there!) but this particular squirrel nests in the tree right against my fence, and spends a lot of her time in my yard. I saw her with two healthy youngsters just the other day. Sigh.

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There are some ornamental flowers blooming as well. Roses and Lily-of-the-Valley are two my favorites.

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Besides the numerous baby chicks running around, I also have a brand-new batch of baby Rex bunnies. These are about 5 days old.

This one is a blue otter. If she’s a doe, I may keep her.

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The pigeons have a new nest of two babies; I’m guessing it’s another male and female pair since one of the them stands up, puffs out its chest and tries to bite my fingers when I pet them, and the other shrinks down and tries to become invisible. The firstborn pair are fully grown, billing and cooing and falling in love, and trying to find their place in the dovecote. That is Esther with the purple legband, and Mordecai in the green. Watching a bit resentfully (he thinks the kids should fly away and find their own dovecote) is the father, Emerson.

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And they aren’t MY babies, but someone chose to make their nest in this house I put up in the chicken coop rafters. I love hearing the sounds of the babies screaming for their supper!

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I’ve been working on lots of projects. I added another box of commonly-used herbs near the kitchen door – I’ve just started really cooking with fresh herbs, and its unbelievably lovely to just open the door and snip off a few leaves!

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I’ve also been working on the future home of the Muscovy ducks.  It doesn’t look like much yet, but I have a plan! Speaking of the Muscovies, I will hopefully finally get them in about two weeks. It’s been a journey, getting these ducks!

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Mom also finished a project. We have this spot just to the left of our front gate that has always had the ugliest concrete floor. One of us had the idea of just getting cedar boards, cutting them to size, then laying them into the space. It worked, and looks wonderful. And super easy, too.

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I’ve also been sprucing up the garden. First, because a blogger friend of mine wanted to come film my garden and interview me for her channel Making It Home  (I’ll put the finished video she made at the end of this blog, if you’d like to see it) and secondly, because I have several tours I’m giving for various people, plus hosting a family party.

The interview Making It Home did was specifically about the method of gardening I use called Back to Eden, where you keep the soil covered at all times by a thick layer of wood chips. We didn’t get into it because of time constraints, but I really do only a modified version of Back to Eden these days. I have found that while wood chips works fantastically in the perennial beds (and in the chicken run!) it is less successful in the annual vegetable beds. And that is largely because the chips are too large. I scrape them aside to plant seeds, but invariably they fall back in and smother my seedlings – either because of the wind, or rampaging squirrels like Mama Short-Tail. So now I use bunny litter on my vegetable beds. It’s a mixture of wood shavings, plus bunny droppings, and it’s a perfect thing. The shavings are small enough not to smother seedlings, and bunny droppings can be used directly in the garden without composting, because it won’t burn your plants like other manures do. Look at the picture below:

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The left side is wood chips. The right is bunny litter.  I tell ya, I wouldn’t know how to garden if it weren’t for my critters. The bunnies are essential for their manure/mulch, and the chickens have absolutely saved my garden from slugs. I used to come out in the morning and find my lettuce destroyed under a tell-tale trail of slime. In the evenings, you could come out with a flashlight, and see literally dozens of slugs crossing the lawn, heading for the vegetable beds. Ducks are good slug patrol, but honestly, chickens are better. Ducks eat slugs, but chickens eat slug eggs. I let my chickens out free range into my garden for a couple hours a week during the winter and early spring, and they just ninja their way through all the slug egg caviar. Come planting time, there are few slugs left…just a handful of super tiny ones spread out through the whole garden. I see a few nibbles on a leaf here and there, but it’s generally not a problem. I don’t remember the last time I saw a slug larger than half an inch.

I love it when things work together in harmony, the way God intended.

Spring Babies

You know it’s Spring when all the critters are reproducing!  Before we get to the new babies, here’s an update on the pigeons.

Guys, we have genuine feathers! Below is the one I’m calling Mordecai (they were hatched on Purim).  Although these Kings are supposed to be all-white, this little one has black around his eyes. It would definitely disqualify him as a show bird, but as I don’t show, I don’t care. It makes him interesting. Notice I’m calling him ‘him’.  I don’t have any experience in sexing pigeons, but this one is much more dominate and feisty than the other. He acts just like his father, so I’m guessing it’s a male?

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And here is Esther.  Just like her mother, she is very calm and gentle. I’m guessing female, which is perfect!

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Look how much their wings have grown!

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Emerson and Peabody (the parents) are expressing considerable interest in the second nest I put in the dovecote for them, so I’m hoping another pair of eggs will be laid soon. When the first batch of babies reach a certain age, the male pigeon takes over feeding them, and the female starts sitting on a new clutch of eggs. Ultimately, I want a total of three pairs of adult birds, and then I’ll start eating eggs and/or squabs.

Now…onto to the new babies! I don’t have a picture yet, but one of my Rex rabbits (Thistle) gave birth to her first litter this year. A litter of exactly…ONE kit! Sigh. Rabbits have litters between 1-10 babies, and last time she had 8. So I was hoping for more. One kit can be dangerous, because baby rabbits can’t properly regulate their temperature and use the body heat of their siblings to keep warm. The mother rabbit only goes into the nest to nurse once or twice a day. She doesn’t keep them warm. I was worried, but Thistle made a massive nest this time with LOTS of hay and pulled hair, and the baby has been toasty warm. It’s going to survive. But it does put my breeding schedule off. I have gone ahead and bred my other doe, Blackberry, so hopefully she’ll come through with a large litter to make up for this one…though I’m not entirely sure she’s even pregnant. She was in a MOOD when I put her in with Sorrel, and I don’t know for one hundred percent he were successful in wooing her. I’ll have to re-breed Thistle in a week or two.

My cream legbar chicken, Sansa, went broody right on cue – it only took me a couple of weeks of asking “Do you want babies????” for her to answer “YES!!!!” I ordered a baker’s dozen of bantam mottled cochin eggs for her, and they should hatch sometime around the end of April. The adults should look something like this:

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And just for fun I also ordered seven silkie eggs for my incubator. I’ve only ever used the incubator for quail eggs, which are so small and often so darkly colored that you can’t really shine a light into the eggs and watch them develop inside the shell. Silkie eggs are white and considerably larger than quail eggs. The person I bought the eggs from has a jumbled flock of many colors, so my chicks could be almost any color, not just white.

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The problem is, he packed them in such a small box that despite the “live hatching eggs – handle with care” sticker on it, the post office didn’t see it, and threw the box in with the general mail. Which means it got thrown around a lot more than it should have. Which means my mail delivery person was very angry on my behalf (she has chickens herself) because she knows my chances of hatching chicks from these eggs went way, way down. Normal hatch rates on shipped eggs vary, but generally you get about 50%.

After four days in the incubator I candled mine, and only ONE is developing! So many things can go wrong with eggs, that I might not end up with any. But assuming this little chick manages to beat the odds, I’ll put her out underneath Sansa with the mottled cochins. They will all hatch out at the same time, and that way she won’t be lonely.

And that was supposed to be it for the chicks this year. But then I went to Tractor Supply to pick up some bedding, and they had a sale on Freedom Ranger chicks – $1 each.

I came home with four.

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These are a meat chicken breed, meant to be similar to the Cornish Cross grocery store chicken, only minus the health issues that breed has. We’ve been wanting to experiment with these guys, to see how healthy they are, and how fast they really grow. So far, I’ve had them a couple of days, and they are super strong and stocky. I think three of them are roosters, because they just act like teenaged boys. The fourth is slightly more delicate and I’m sure she’s a hen. Hopefully they reach butcher weight before they all start to crow!

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I’m still waiting on the Muscovy ducks. The person I want to get them from had a problem with her hatch, I think – but she’s got more in the incubator, so hopefully within a month I’ll have ducklings.

I love spring.

End of March

Pigeons grow INSANELY fast. Remember how small they were at hatch?

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Here they are, today.

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Such funny looking, prehistoric birds! And so calm. They don’t mind being taken out of the nest at all. The parents have differing opinions on that subject. The father, Emerson, would guard his chicks to the death when HE’S on the nest. He growls and pecks and slaps me with his wings. Peabody, the female, is pretty sure I intend no harm. She prefers I not touch, but if I do, she just gives me a precautionary wing-slap, then settles down and lets me pet her and the babies. Needless to say, I handle the chicks when she’s on guard duty…or when they’re both off the nest.

The first ten days of life, the parents feed the chicks with ‘milk’ produced in their crop. They are one of only three birds that do this, and it’s really cool. The crop actually changes to produce milk much the way human breasts do, then changes back after ten days. These babies are on solid food now. When I touch the thin skin of their chests, I can feel the crop’s contents and tell by the bulges that the parents are bringing them whole grains and peas to eat.

The mealworm farm is doing fantastic too. Most of the original worms are now either pupae or beetles. When the beetles first hatch, they are white, then slowly turn brown, then black.  Hopefully the beetles are laying eggs, and soon I’ll have a bumper crop of new worms – some to feed the critters, some to let grow into the next generation of beetles. They are kinda creepy, but definitely the easiest animals I’ve ever cared for. Put them in some wheat bran, add a few slices of raw potato, and let them do their thing.

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The Spring here has been fantastic. About 60 degrees during the day and sunny, in the 40s at night. The garden is exploding with life.

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I filmed a little video tour of my March garden. My camera shut off halfway through, so it’s in two parts.

Early March Doings

My garden has its own little microclimate going on. While other folks in my area are still complaining about the cold (and sometimes, still snow) my garden is totally in Spring-mode. Its was so warm and gorgeous yesterday. The birds were singing, the sun was hot, bulbs and leaves are coming out of hibernation, and the soil is bursting with life. I got some cold-hardy seeds planted, with more to plant this weekend – but before I did, I released the dinosaurs for one last free-range mission of destruction.

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The chickens adore this time of year. The ground is not frozen, the bugs are out, and since the majority of the perennials are still not up, they can’t do anything too severe in my garden. Mostly, they just throw the mulch out of place and take dust baths in the empty beds.

Letting them out like this really helps with slug control later on. They find all the slug eggs before they hatch! A little mild soil disturbance is good, too, even in a no-till garden like mine. This was their last grand hurrah, however. After today, I’ll have seeds planted, and perennials coming up, and their excursions into the garden will be limited to one or two hens at a time, under very close supervision. Mainly, I just let Ellie in to garden with me. She’s old enough not to be such a vigorous digger, and she’s pretty good at understanding I don’t want her in the actual flower beds, digging things up.

After I worked in the garden, I brought the new angora rabbits outside to groom them.

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Cocoa is super good at laying still and letting me brush her. And look at these adorable feet!

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Angora feet are the absolute best. I also let Sorrell, my Rex buck have a playdate with Thistle, one of my Rex does. So hopefully she’s pregnant, and I’ll have little kits in about a month. I love Spring on the farm, and all the babies!

Speaking of babies, the pigeons have settled in nicely. Although they have a large outdoor flight pen, they really enjoy the window in their dovecote.

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I see one of them there frequently, watching everything that’s going on. Usually it’s the male, Emerson, but this time it was Peabody.

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They are such gorgeous birds. I just love having them here. And they have exciting news….a few days ago, they started building a nest, and yesterday look what I found?

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First egg!!!! The hen will lay one more, and then start sitting on both to hatch them. Emerson is very attentive. Besides bringing her bits of straw, he’s been sitting on the egg himself. It’s going to be such fun to watch these birds raise young.

While I was researching raising pigeons this video made me laugh. Apparently mother pigeons have very strong opinions!

Angora Bunnies are in the House!

A blog post or two back, I think I mentioned that I was on the waitlist for an angora rabbit (due to be born this month). Well, that rabbit’s breeder was at the other end of WA state, and to get it here, I would have had to use an animal transporter, which 1) costs money, and 2) is always a little risky.

So imagine my pleasure when an ad popped up on Craigslist for a litter of satin angoras born in Bellingham, WA…just a short drive away. The owner was a lovely woman who had a few angoras for spinning fiber…and whose buck accidently got in with her does. Result? Two accidental pregnancies. I originally really wanted one buck (male rabbits seem to have sweeter personalities, in my experience) but she’d already sold all the bucks in the litter…leaving me with a choice between three does I could take today, and three more that would be ready in another week.

Meet Cinnamon. She’s a ten week old doe.

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Her wool has that gorgeous satin shine…what there is of it. She’s old enough to have had her first shearing, so her coat is clipped short and uneven. But in about 4 months, she’ll be absolutely perfect.

 

I really wanted Cinnamon for her beauty, but she was a little skittish, and the breeder called her ‘salty’. I think she’s just young, and she’ll settle down, but you can never be sure. Rabbits definitely have their distinct personalities.

Which leads us to Cocoa.

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She’s a week or two older, and her coat is less glossy…and in a color that I don’t find quite as appealing. However, she is the sweetest thing – such a calm, friendly personality. The breeder says she’s super easy to groom, and just a little darling.

 

So which one did I bring home?

Why, both of them, of course! What a silly question!

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The breeder really wanted me to buy two because she thinks rabbits do better with a friend – and I believe that as well. Her rabbits (all the does) were in a colony together, and it was so cute to see them snuggle together.

Sometimes rabbits bond for life, sometimes they decide they hate each other and start fighting. These two really like each other now, so we’ll see what happens. If they start fighting, or if Cinnamon turns out to be a difficult rabbit, I may end up only keeping one.

They seem to like their new home (a sectioned off corner of my sewing room with the option to roam the entire room once they are litterbox trained), and when I held Cocoa and did a little grooming, she obviously loved it. She relaxed, got sleepy, and started “purring” – which in rabbits means lightly grinding her teeth to make that sound. I can pick her up, carry her around, and even turn her over onto her back without her kicking or otherwise protesting. Cinnamon seemed to like being groomed too, but didn’t relax and seemed a little nervous still.

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In other news, my King Pigeons are settling right in. They seem very relaxed now…so relaxed in fact, that I caught them “billing” (a courtship ritual involving the male feeding the female regurgitated food – it looks like kissing!) and then actually mating. Pigeons tend to mate for life, so if these two weren’t already a couple when I got them, they obviously bonded during their voyage from Pennsylvania. This is excellent news. Hopefully, they’ll start thinking about starting a family soon. I’ll get some more pictures and a video of them soon, but until then, here’s another picture of Cinnamon!

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Of Pigs and Pigeons

The plans to get Muscovy ducks is moving along. I called the farm I want to buy them from, and confirmed that they can ship to me. Actually, they can’t ship to me, because my city is too small for one-day shipping, but they can ship to the larger city right next to me, and I can go pick them up at the post office there. I think I’ll have them sent in May. The weather will be nice by then, so I can move them asap out of my house (ducklings are incredibly messy) and out into the grow-out coop.

Brand new on the agenda for this year is pigeons! I have this wonderful pen that has never really lived up to its potential. I’ve had quail in it, rabbits, and most recently, guinea pigs.

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It’s wrapped in plastic right now because of the guinea pigs. None of these critters use the entire space, ground and upper flight areas, which is a shame. So I moved the pigs into a vacant quail coop that gives them ample floor room, freeing up this pen for pigeons. And I’m planning to wire over the rooftop garden, incorporating it into the cage as even more space for the birds.

I’ve long been interested in pigeons because I love pigeons, but I have a little hawk that lives in the field next door, and I’ve watched her take down the wild pigeons in my yard. While I definitely don’t begrudge her a dinner, I don’t want her dinner to be my animals, which has kept me from getting homing pigeons. The whole reason to have those is to let them fly free, which they couldn’t safely do in around my house. But recently, I stumbled across a website about utility pigeons – pigeons raised for eggs and meat. I had pigeon when I was in London, and really liked it, and I like the idea of having animals that are useful in several ways. Plus, pigeons helped many people make it through the Great Depression – and since we’re headed toward even worse times, another source of sustainable backyard protein is highly appealing to me.

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These are king pigeons, the variety I would most likely get. They are extremely domesticated, calm, and gentle. They are heavy enough that they don’t really fly well at all, so being kept in a pen is preferred for them.

And how are the guinea pigs doing? When I first got them, all the American websites said you absolutely cannot keep them outside. The British websites were full of people doing exactly that. So of course, I went with the British way of doing things…with the knowledge I may have to bring them inside during the coldest parts of winter.

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I haven’t had to do that. I wrapped their run in plastic both to warm it up slightly, and to protect from wind and rain, and they’ve been happy as two pigs can be. When I open the door, they come running for treats.

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So yeah. These are definitely outside pigs now.  I did, as I said above, moved them to a smaller pen, also winterized in plastic for the winter.

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You can just barely see Freddie in there.

We’ve been having some decent days lately, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been out working in the garden. Last year, I moved one of the quail coops out of the garden, and where it used to be, I built a small wall out of mason blocks, and added a new garden bed behind it.

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The wall both adds a bit of privacy and definition to the garden, and it also provides some protection for the mini fireplace in front.

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I also moved a couple of cold frames behind the greenhouse, and put in a larger raised bed where the cold frames used to sit. It’s a prime “hot” area, and will be terrific for tomatoes.

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All winter long, I’ve been dumping the rabbits litter boxes into the chicken’s compost area, and now I’ve started shoveling that out into my veggie gardens. It’s great stuff – even fresh, rabbit poo won’t burn plants, and this is partly composted and full of worms and other beneficial stuff.

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Just about a month left, and I’ll be able to start planting! The garden is ready for spring. The trees are budding out, the roses are sprouting leaves, and the bluebells are green.

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Now the race begins…which will happen first: spring or the rapture of the church? Hopefully the second, but at least if I’m stuck here on earth a little bit longer, I have ducklings to look forward to!