Category Archives: rabbits

Critters – Guinea Pigs and Rabbits

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Meet Fiona. She is the new companion for our previous guinea pig, Freddie.  Fiona is not AT ALL the type/color of pig I was looking for, but sometimes you just interact with an animal and know they are the one. She is more shy than Freddie, but equally sweet, and also likes to snuggle in against my neck, underneath my chin.

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Freddie is still getting used to her. Last time I had them out together, Fiona was snuggling under my chin, and Freddie came alone and bulldozed/flipped her right out of the way and laid down in her place. Interloping pig! This is MY human!

They are going to be moving into the garden roof coop outdoor soon – which will be their summer quarters. Lots of room to run and play! As a first step toward that, we moved my mom’s pet rabbits out of that coop and into a brand new pen of their own.

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Both sections of the top lift up, for ease of cleaning, and it has an access door on the front for feeding and litter box cleaning.

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I really enjoy designing and building these things – and this time it was easier than ever because I had my mom do the parts I hate, like cutting and nailing the wire to the frame (hey, this pen IS for her bunnies!)

My rabbits are settling into their life as colony rabbits. I have two does together, and although they are sisters, they did have some issues at first – particularly through their first pregnancies…when they turned into hormonal rage monsters.

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The only damage was little hair-pulling and chasing and growling – but now, even though both of them are pregnant, they are perfectly sweet with each other, enjoying grooming sessions and long cuddles in their litter box. Seems like they just needed to get their dominance issues worked out.

At almost nine weeks, I just moved Thistle’s last litter of kits into my separate grow-out pen. It is so cute to see two does and a passel of babies all happily living together.  Love, love, love the colony system of rabbit raising! Both does are currently pregnant for the last litter of the year, so it will be fun to see TWO litters playing together in the Bunny Barn!

And speaking of rabbits, thanks to them, I am able to eat meals that are entirely home-grown in my backyard urban farm: meat, veggies, and herbs – the only things on this plate that I didn’t grow are the salt, butter, and soy sauce!

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Rabbits and Other Critters

Let’s talk about the rabbits first. I wish I would have gotten meat rabbits years ago – they are fantastic! Such easy care, especially in a colony system, and I am discovering more uses for them besides meat. Sorrel, my buck, is such a tame sweetie, and his favorite food in the world is hedge bindweed…luckily enough, hedge bindweed is the greatest evil in my garden. I’ve taken to penning him outside in a bindweed-infested area, and letting him take care of the problem. This is pre-bunny:

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This is post-bunny (I removed the chair, once it was freed from its chains):

 

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In this pic, I’ve actually enlarged the area over to the left, so he can start cleaning the bindweed out of the compost/bucket storage area. He loves it! It’s amazing how quickly one bunny can make bindweed disappear! And for those of you who might have seen bindweed on the list of plants poisonous to rabbits, never fear. After turning the internet upside down and hearing from a vet with knowledge of bindweed, it turns out that there are two different varieties of bindweed: hedge and field. Field bindweed is the poisonous one. I have hedge bindweed, and it’s supposedly edible even to humans. I tasted a leaf, and while I was expecting it to be bitter, it was actually good. I’m still a little leery of eating it myself, however! It just seems…wrong.

We’ve had about five rabbit meals now, and each was terrific. I’m super impressed with how tender and good it is, and from six 5lb rabbits, I’ll be able to get around 19 meals for the two of us, counting things like liver and broth from the bones. I’ve heard you can even make rabbit bacon…I really want to try that!

In other critter news, the snowflake bobwhite quail pair has moved from one coop into another. They used to be in the ‘display coop’ in the center of my garden, but it’s really not a great cage for a flighty bird like bobwhites – too difficult to clean when I have to worry about them spooking and flying out. I put them into a slightly larger coop in the chicken garden.

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I’ve noticed that quail and chicken like to be in company with other; the chickens hang out around the cage and the quail like to watch them. Plus, the quail like to eat the fermented grain I feed the chickens, and in two days they’ve already learned what it means when I call the chickens to dinner, and they’ve started demanding their own share. Since they are so close, it’s easy to throw a little into their cage! They’ve also started building a nest. It would be nice if they decided to start a family – but they did try last year, with no success. The male has a slight leg deformity, and I wonder if perhaps he’s unable to mate her properly.

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The other reason I wanted to move the quail out of the display coop is because it’s difficult to wrap in plastic during the winter to keep out the wind and rain. The new plan is to keep part-time critters inside it, ones who will occupy it only during the summer, and in the winter will be moved inside. Specifically, a pair of guinea pigs!

I was not intending to immediately get the pigs, but I sort of accidentally-on-purpose wandered by the rodent section of a pet store, and they had this little girl.

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Meet Winnifred (also known as Piggo). I’ve had a number of guinea pigs during my life, and while most of them were nice, I’ve NEVER met a pig like this one. From the first instant she met us, she loved us. She snuggles under our chins and purrs and chatters happily the whole time we’re holding her. When she’s tired, she falls over on her side on my chest with her little legs stretched out and takes a nap. She likes Bundy, our cat, and isn’t frightened by our extremely excited corgi – even when he can’t contain himself and jumps or scratches at her cage.

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Now I’m keeping a look-out for a friend for her. I’d like one of the wire-haired ‘teddy bear’ type, but we’ll have to see what shows up.

Lastly, I tried the old cucumber trick on my cat. If you’re not aware of this, go to YouTube, and search for cats and cucumbers. It is hysterical.  Unfortunately, Bundy did not have quite the same reaction:

And I’ll end this blog with a couple of cat-in-a-box photos, because if there is one thing on earth Bundy is obsessed with, it’s boxes. When a package comes, he’s often trying to force his way into the box at one end, while I’m cutting open the other. This particular box…well, it was a bit of a tight fit.

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I’m not even sure where all of his body is!

Bindweed, and Other Stuff I’m Working On.

The big devil in my garden is hedge bindweed.

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It is literally EVERYWHERE. If I didn’t spend time continually pulling it, by the end of summer, I would have no garden, just a massive pile of bindweed. It winds up everything, pulling it down the ground and smothering it.

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Yep, that’s definitely not a currant flower….

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The only hope I have is that permaculture books say that if your soil improves enough, it goes away on it’s own. It certainly can’t be smothered under mulch, black plastic, or paving stones. The neighbor sprays his with roundup, and it laughs in his face as it pretends to die, then springs up from the ground again with the strength of ten men.  Supposedly, if you keep pinching it off at the ground every time it sprouts, it will eventually grow weak and die…but I simply have too much of it and too much garden. It would be full time job to pinch it all.

Recently, however, I discovered there are two kinds of bindweed. One is field bindweed (which, if you can believe it, is the “bad bindweed”). That bindweed is non-edible, but, as I discovered, hedge bindweed is actually an edible plant, with several nutritious benefits. I doubt I’ll eat it myself, but as my rabbits have always made a beeline for it, whenever they get out in the yard, I’ll now be feeding it to them. It will make me feel a little better, to have an actual use for the fiendish stuff! A British vet actually says it makes wonderful bunny fodder; those lists that have bindweed listed as a poisonous plant to bunnies are referring to field bindweed, so just make sure which kind you are growing before you feed it.

It’s actually been a wonderful summer so far here – not hot like usual, and enough glorious rain to keep everything watered. The past few years have been abnormal for the PNW: upper eighties temps, and no rain whatsoever during the summer. I hated that with a passion; I’m a true Washingtonian – there is nothing I love more than a summer rain! It is so fantastic to be outside in a summer rain, and smell the green, and feel everything all fresh and crisp!

But since there has been rainy days, I’ve kept up with my crocheting, which is normally just a winter activity for me. I’ve put aside the baby blankets, though, and am just making infant hats. Lots and lots of adorable little hats! So much fun to make.

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I also made the most beautiful egg bread yesterday. I do love making bread!

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First Rabbit Harvest

I am so proud of myself this week. There was a time, not so long ago, when I never imagined I could raise and harvest my own meat – even though factory-farmed meat sickens me, and I desperately wanted a way of assuring my meat was humanely and happily raised, as well as humanely killed. I also liked the idea of knowing exactly what my future meat was eating!

I started out by designing and building – entirely by myself (other than some help lifting the walls and roof into place) a colony bunny barn. You can read about that, here.

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From my first breeding, I got six kits, and boy howdy, were they cute!

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Twelve weeks later, they weren’t quite so adorable, and it was time.

I used my ballista, a captive bolt gun, which made the death entirely instantaneous and humane. The part that was hardest on the rabbits was the weighing before hand – for some reason, they hate going into the basket scale. The rest of the process was MUCH faster and simpler than chickens.  I let the meat rest in the fridge for 24 hours, and then cut it up into servings and froze them. Again, much easier than chickens!

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From six rabbits, I have enough meat for fourteen meals, PLUS a huge pot of extra bits to turn into broth. Several more meals, right there!

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We ate the livers fried – rabbit livers are even more mellow flavored than chicken livers – and yesterday, had our first official rabbit meal. I used two of the thighs, in an Asian sauce over rice.

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Turned out perfectly! I’m sold. These rabbits are going to work out really well on our farm.

A Garden Ramble

Sometimes I amuse myself in the garden. I like my garden moles. I like them even more when I move a hedgehog statue into one of their holes…

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I’ve been busy planting more things in the chicken yard. My mom read me an article that said the one thing that really improves a chicken’s wellbeing is not being able to see the entirety of their run at any given moment…they like having little nooks and corners to explore. My yard definitely fits that ideal!

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I should take you on a video tour sometime – would you like that? It’s basically a very long L shape along the east and south sides of my yard.  They sometimes spend weeks just in one particular end – and then they’ll spend a week at the opposite. It’s like they have vacation homes!

The Rex rabbit kits will be 10 weeks old this Saturday, and are such a lively bunch. I moved them out of the Bunny Barn colony at eight weeks because I bred one of the does (Thistle) and wanted to give them their own space to finish growing out.  Thistle has since had a litter of four very healthy kits! This colony system is really working out well.

Inside the house, I finally got my sourdough “mother” going so I can bake bread.

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I used Maryjane Butters’ book “Wild Bread” and I highly recommend it! Packed with info, cool pictures, and the easiest method of making a mother I’ve ever seen. One bit of warning, she does want you to buy $70 worth of brand-name bowls, etc, to get started, but you definitely don’t have to. I used what I had at hand, and it worked perfectly fine. So far I’ve made pancakes and waffles, and both were excellent. Sunday, my mother will be strong enough to try bread!

And I’ll end this with a few beauty shots of things growing in my garden. This is a water clover, growing in one of my pools.

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And these are calendula flowers. I love growing these intermingled with my vegetables because they attract bees, are so bright and colorful, and are edible themselves!

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Chicks and Bunnies!

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Just look at the feet on this little Rex fellow! He’s only about four weeks old.

They were much smaller such a short time ago….

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They grow so fast.

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Here’s a video when they were just about twelve days old:

And here’s another at four weeks:

We also have new chicks on the farm. Two are with Ophelia, and apparently I didn’t get pictures yet, so those will be for another blog. The other two are Dark Cornish, a traditional meat breed. We’re giving them a try, to see how it goes. They are fostered on Sansa, my 1 year old Cream Legbar. She is a perfect mother.

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It is so much fun to see chicks out in nature with their mother, learning how to be real chickens.

I’ve also been working in the garden. I got the roof on the meat chicken coop finally:

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Don’t you just love the metal duck? I also bought a metal chicken!

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She is hanging out in the brand new wildlife garden area. It’s still very much a work in progress.

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I also got the summer kitchen largely completed. The roof is on, the lights are installed, and I have a sink and counter, even if neither is *quite* finished. It’s usable, at least.

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I need to add a door onto this sink cabinet, at some point. And also install a faucet.

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I’m really pleased with my kale bed. Last year, it bolted, so I cut it off at the ground, and covered it in some mulch/rabbit poop. I was getting ready to replant, when to my surprise, the kale came back up from the roots, flourished the rest of the summer, and overwintered to provide some gorgeous kale in the very early summer. It’s just beginning to bolt again, so I think I’ll cut it off again at the roots and see if I can keep this bed going forever!

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Very early spring, before the roses and the peonies and the rest of the drama queen flowers bloom, is really my favorite time in the garden. Everything is SO beautiful.

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New Babies – Rabbits!

Last month I bred my two Rex does for the first time. About five days ago, one or both of them gave birth.

There are six of them, and I’m not entirely sure whether both does gave birth in the same nestbox (entirely possible in a colony situation like mine) or only one of the does was actually pregnant. Either way, all six kits are extremely fat and healthy, and squeak and try to suck on my fingers when I pick them up.

I’ll get good pictures once they are older – I’m trying not to bother them too much at this stage. One is solid grey.

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Two are black otters, and three more are white and black spotted.

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The does, which got EXTREMELY hormonal and feisty during the pregnancy (both of them!) are now calming down. I can actually pet Blackberry again without risking losing a chunk of skin. (I have a nice healing mark on the back of my hand where she managed to nail me while I was trying to put food in her bowl.) I kept hearing from people who said you can’t breed rabbits in a colony situation because the does will kill each other’s kits – or fight each other. I confess I got a bit worried when they turned so crazy-mean to me, but other than a bit of chasing around at feeding time, they continued to enjoy each other’s company. I’d see them snuggling together and grooming each other.  I think it helps that they are sisters, and have never known life apart from each other. They also don’t seem to mind me handling the babies!

At the end of April, I’ll have new chickens in the family, too. Sansa, my Cream Legbar hatched last Spring, has gone broody for me.

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I plan on giving her a couple of chicks from our local feed store. Probably a Speckled Sussex, and maybe a black sexlink.

And just last night, my proven broody mama, Ophelia, my frizzle cochin, decided she wants in on the action. As she never really cares about her children once they reach the age of self-sufficiency, I’m giving her the meat chicks this year. We’re trying three Dark Cornish as an experiment this year, and about 5-6 Freedom Rangers. She’s a big girl, so these larger clutches work out really well with her.

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Spring is busting out all over here…for the first time, my young pear trees are covered in buds!

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