Tag Archives: rabbits

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.

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!

Babies, More Babies, and Baking (not the babies!)

The critters around here think it’s Spring. I have eight (possibly more) bunnies born yesterday, with second doe due on Sunday. This, I will admit, is my doing, since I did enable the affair. They were certainly enthusiastic participants, however! I still have three from the previous litter – one of them I actually sold. This handsome little buck is going to be a pet – and possibly getting a girlfriend later on.

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The Snowflake Bobwhite quail have decided to try for a family too. I’m not overly optimistic about success, since Buckbeak (my male) suffered a leg injury as a chick and has never had perfect agility since. I’m not sure he’s able to properly balance on Bellatrix in order to fertilize those eggs. They are so sweet, though.

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Buckbeak has taken to sitting on the eggs with her, and when she leaves the nest to stretch and eat, he moves over to keep the eggs warm. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’d love to see them manage to hatch out at least a couple of chicks!

I’ve also had two different chickens decide to go broody on me, too – despite me explaining over and over again that we have already had our allotted chicks for the year, and we really can’t have any more.

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So they are taking turns in the broody prison. I just released the last one this morning…I hope she’s actually changed her mind about babies and isn’t just going to sneak back onto a nest when I’m not looking.

I FINALLY got the girls’ musical instrument mounted in their coop, right above the oyster shell and grit where I know they can’t miss it.

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They are pretending it isn’t there. Not a single hen will touch it. I guess my girls just don’t have dreams of going on America’s Got Talent or the Kimmy Kimmel Show.

The guinea pigs have moved out into the large outdoor coop, and are loving all the space.

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Of course, their favorite activity is still coming up the wire to beg for treats. Both are especially fond of cherry tomatoes.

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It’s been too smoky from all the wildfires to do much work outside, so I’ve been doing lots of cooking and baking. You know how you tend to pin things on Pinterest but never actually do them? Well, I’m making a point of making the recipes I’ve pinned, and most of them are turning out! A pretty good percentage are actually keepers, and I’ve transferred them over to a new board “Recipes I’ve Made and Liked”.  Just yesterday, I made the Bacon-Wrapped Cornish Hens, and they were fantastic…and super easy. Besides the Cornish hens, I also made two apple pies with apples from my backyard tree (these apples make the most extraordinary pies…but I didn’t plant the tree, and have no idea what variety it is). One pie to bake immediately,

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and one to freeze for later.

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As you see in the background, I saved all the cores and peels to make three gallons of apple scrap vinegar. It’s so easy, and tastes just like store-bought apple cider vinegar. I use it for everything but canning. (Canning requires at least 5% acidity for safety, and I haven’t tested the acidity of mine.) Some apple scrap vinegar recipes tell you to start with yeast, or add sugar, or do all sorts of extra things. I do nothing but throw my apple scraps in a jar and add filtered water. Put some 90 grade cheesecloth over the top to keep out the fruit flies, and stir it vigorously at least a couple of time per day. You’ll notice it starts to bubble, and smell like hooch. Once the bubbles stop, and the apple scraps sink to the bottom after a few weeks, strain the scraps out, replace the cheesecloth and store the jars in a cool, dim place for up to six months. You’ll know it’s done when it smells and tastes like vinegar, and then you can bottle it up and use it like you would apple cider vinegar. When you make future batches, add a little of the dregs from your previous batch to kick-start the process.

In the same day, I also made Lemon Poppyseed Yellow Summer Squash Bread – you’ll find the recipe in my pinterest recipe link above. It’s a super way to use up those overgrown yellow summer squash, and you’d never know it has squash in it! I recommend cutting down the sugar by at least half a cup, though. Most comments on the recipe say it’s too sweet as-is, and I’m glad I followed their suggestion.

Dexter was glued to my side during all this baking frenzy, and boy was he ever exhausted by the end of it!

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It is hard work cleaning up all the scraps that accidently (and on purpose) fall to the floor. He didn’t even wake up during his close up.

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Finally, Amazon sent Bundy another cat bed in the mail, and this one, sadly, was slightly undersized.

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He did his best to make it work, though!

 

 

 

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!