Multiplying Like Rabbits.

Ok, so I mentioned that this week we found out that I had made a boo-boo last fall. It happens.

We raise Flemish Giant Rabbits. They’re not ordinary rabbits, these are one of the largest rabbit breeds in the world. You can read a bit about one vying for the World Record of longest rabbit here.  Longest Rabbit Contenderarticle-1199340-05AF2660000005DC-525_634x820.jpg

Benny, above, is that contender. Flemish routinely weigh up to or over 20 pounds and are bred for show, pet, meat, and fur, usually in that order. They can be over two and half feet (30 inches) long, and when they stand up on their hind legs, are really impressive. Below is our doe, Big Mama, sitting on T’s lap.

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T and Big Mama

Most of our buns go to 4-H or pet homes. I can’t bring myself to eat one, although we do eat rabbit, just not ours.  The remainder usually go to auction, where again, the show or pet buyers will drive the price up beyond what the meat buyers are willing to pay. Even so, I refuse to offer rabbits for sale in the spring before Easter. This prevents impulsive “pet” home purchasers from showing back up on my doorstep with the “I didn’t know what I was getting into’s.”

They eat. Like furry ravenous Vikings after a ten day sail…it’s astounding how much they eat. So, as a rule, we will winter ONE buck, and several does. Last year, we pared down so we kept one of each. And last week at auction, T picked up another doe.

More info on Flemish Giants Here

So the annual bunny breeding festivities began this week. Rabbits were removed from winter quarters in the barn, and put out in a row of Great Dane sized kennels on the lawn to graze grass and sniff test one another. (rabbits are “forced ovulators”…meaning the does release an egg when stimulated to do so by the presence of a buck.) We put them out 12-24 hours ahead of time for a little “Getting to know you / rabbit speed dating / hormone havoc.” This pumps them up like frat boys and sorority girls at last call and generally prevents any indecision. Then, like the above human creatures, ANYONE looks good at last call.  After breeding, the expecting does get moved to rabbit tractors like the one below, out on grass. This is good for both Mom and my feed bill.

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The rabbit speed dating singles bar.

We take the doe to the buck, then supervise to make sure she’s receptive and breeding takes place, and to insure that no injuries occur if she’s less than willing. You can generally tell that  breeding has been successful by what we call the “DFO” factor. This is a highly scientific (no, not really) thing imparted to us by a very experienced lady breeder of Flemish show quality rabbits. DFO is what happens when the buck has done his job correctly. He will visibly “Done Fell Over”. (Yes, really.) The entire breeding process is like 4 literal seconds, after which papa rabbit will (if he’s been successful) stiffen, sometimes squeak, and then fall over sideways, usually bonking his rabbit noggin in the process. Don’t expect any reaction out of the doe other than eyes cutting  to the side or a “Wait, that’s it? You’re done? Really? I can move on?” attitude. I’m dead serious, this is the rabbit way of things. There are probably a ton of youtube videos available if you’re a nonbeliever.

We normally let this process occur minimum of twice each “meeting” for two days straight. Then you wait. 30 days later, ideally, mama has lined her nest box with fur and popped out 6-12 naked rabbit kits. There are people who can examine a doe during this period and determine if she’s bred. I am not one of those people. So we wait 33 days, and of there are no kits, we try again. Here are pics of one kit from one of our litters. .  6578_652296578130543_641044128_n

So morning, we put Doe #1 in with Papa  , job was completed with minimal protesting on behalf of either participant. Afternoon, Papa was joined by Doe # 2. In the five minutes that followed, there was chasing and squeaking, several bouts of awkward attempts at copulating with the wrong end on behalf of both participants, and then some nippy scratchy wrestling and squalling that induced an emergency breaking up of the combatants by Tony, the rabbit bouncer.  An undignified inspection of the removed “doe’s” nether regions revealed a scratch injury to some very non-girly parts.

Oops. My bad. Rabbit sexing epic fail.

You see, sexing juvenile rabbits is not an easy task. I’ve really not perfected it yet. My batting average is pretty darn good, since this is only my second epic failure. Mostly it involves turning a squirmy, slippery, kicking, sharp clawed, uncooperative rabbit on its back, prodding at the business end of things until what is in peeks out, and there is a SLIGHT difference in the shape and mechanics of the peeking parts. Snap judgements are made, so you don’t get scratched to ribbons by surprisingly strong back feet. Apparently last year, during the annual separation of the remaining rabbits, I spoke too soon.

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Last year’s babies in one of the Rabbit Tractors.

 

Sigh, so we have overwintered an extra buck. I am still getting over being sick and took an out of character afternoon nap in my despondency about only having one doe and one possible spring litter (which won’t even cover the feed bill). While I did that, T posted a for sale ad and sold the spare buck with the now slightly scratched and dented male parts for 25$. In like 5 minutes of posting, because they don’t sell for that price unless you’re pissed enough to price them that low. Considering the roughly 175$ in feed and hay that misidentified beast has likely hoovered up over the winter, I’d call that a loss.

Oh, well…we’re expecting extra chicks this year, which should make up the difference. Sometimes raising livestock is more like forced savings than a profitable venture.

We’re expecting Flemish kits the last week of April.

Blech.

Blech. That’s the word for the week. After trying hard not to submit to the mystery bug that rolled through the house last week, my system finally said “That will be quite enough, foolish woman. I tried to warn you.  You will take to your bed and rest. Now.” Illness coupled with crummy gray cold wet weather, prepping to send my youngest on a weeklong visit with his father to VA with the usual dread, and the recent rash of mini-disasters didn’t help. Neither did my current financial status which doesn’t enable me to un-fudge said disasters…or the fact that we’re edging into the absolute busiest time of year here.

My egg eaters seemed to have slowed down. I hope I’m winning the war, which now requires at least four treks across the pasture daily to the new chicken casa to snatch eggs from under indignant hens before they get the chance to destroy them. My winter weight gain can certainly benefit from the extra mileage, but it’s no fun when you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.

We’ve temporarily put our new pride and joy out of commission. The tractor has thrown the starter and requires a new one. Technically likely our fault, since the bad battery was 6 volts and we were jumping her with 12. This resulted in some electrical bad juju that resulted in this glorious shearing apart of heavy metal parts. Lesson learned. Expensive lesson. She’s getting an upgrade to 12 volt status.

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That nice crack? Nope, no bueno.

Also in the user error department, I just found out today I’ve spent the entire winter feeding a buck rabbit that was originally mistakenly tagged last fall as a doe. Sexing juvenile rabbits is not a skill that I’ve perfected yet (Obviously), but this hit will insure I check again before wintering another buck I don’t need. Not a biggie unless you’re talking about 20+ pound rabbits that Hoover up feed like teenage boys ingest Mountain Dew. Plus this puts us one doe short of this year’s target number of litters.

A long planned and eagerly awaited trip to the feed store Friday resulted in mini-disaster number umpteen. As a result of an incorrect store website, we arrived thirty minutes AFTER opening to discover that the chicks Ryan has waited a month for had all been sold. In thirty stinking minutes. Apparently, the chick pirates were lined up in the parking lot at 6 am and we were not among them.

My middle son reached the magical age of majority (also Friday) which slaps one in the face with the reality that these lovely strands of gray glitter in my locks might not be premature. You start by celebrating your success that they’re now eighteen and you managed to not kill them! This is an epic parental accomplishment, as they send you home with them with absolutely NO instruction manual to refer to. It also provides equal amounts of terror and relief. You’re no longer legally responsible for their actions, and you can now no longer BE legally responsible. You have to hope and pray that you’ve taught them well enough to make the decisions that they’re frothing at the mouth to make.

Justin, below, as a grinning toddler on the beach, (enjoying his big bro’s entrapment) and just days shy of his independence-bringing anniversary of womb eviction.

 

I almost got skunked last night visiting the incubator shed to turn eggs. It’s a small skunk, and was as surprised to see me as I was it. However, it retreated to the safety of what appears to be his den after standing up on his front legs and wiggling and pointing a loaded rear weapon squarely at me. Unfortunately, his den seems to be directly UNDER the incubator shed. And the brooder. So on this week’s fun and games list is to live trap and relocate an angry and petrified skunk. Good times will be had, I’ve no doubt.

And to add the cherry on top of this S%it sundae of a week…Yesterday, as T was chainsawing down the line of adolescent trees that now front the property after the inattention of years past, he has hurt himself. Some sort of twisting of his knee that has now resulted in pain, swelling, hobbling about and clicking and popping noises that even I can hear. We’ve cancelled our plans for Easter sunrise church services in the first time ever in the history of “us”, and we will likely spend a good portion of the day at the Emergency Room instead.

I’m going to try and get my motivation back up and running over the next few days. Spring is definitely here and after working so hard to be ahead, it appears we are destined to be behind once again. Murphy’s Law prevails! I hope everyone is having a wonderful and blessed Easter Sunday if you celebrate it, and National Deviled Egg making week if you do not! 😉

~ Lisa

 

Liebster Award

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I was once again pleasantly surprised this week with a wonderful nomination for a blog award, The Liebster Award! Again, with our farm blog still a newborn by most standards, it’s very gratifying to be nominated by one’s fellow bloggers for such things. I owe today’s thank you to Raili Tanska over at Soul Gifts – Telling Tales. She is amazing, talented and very supportive of my efforts at this whole blogging business, and you can just never tell what’s going to pop up on your reader from her!

And being a kindergartner at all this blogging stuff, I have to look up the “official” rules for things of this nature. There is a great post here by Lorraine Reguly that gives several versions of the actions to take if you’re nominated and choose to accept. Wording Well

Ok, so down to the award to-do list…

What drove me to start blogging? Well, a combination of things. I wrote for a small local paper for a couple years, which dissolved when its publishers up and moved to sunny FL and defected from our little realm here in the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware.I really miss them, they’re still among my dearest friends.  I missed writing.  Many friends have suggested I do so in recent years. Or, maybe they were just desiring that I give my rambling Facebook posts a fresh new home and quit clogging up their news feeds. At any rate, there are so many people these days trying their hand at backyard chickens, gardening and canning for the household, and attempting to be more proactive in the production of their own food or at least more conscious and aware of where it comes from. Every time we have an egg, livestock, produce or meat customer we deal with, it’s a new friendship formed and there are always lengthy conversations and questions and new things to learn from one another. Add that to the fact that my blog is like a living breathing journal of our efforts, and provides me with a level of accountability mentally.

Some of my absolute favorite things? Books. All sorts. I must admit that I’m a purist on some levels. I enjoy online reading as much as the next gal, but there’s something less satisfying about a tablet or kindle than the feel, smell, and sound of an actual book in your hands. I am a very fast reader, and will devour anything and everything. I once spent a year going through every single Nora Roberts book at my library (including the J.D. Robb series) Coffee. I’m an addict, I freely admit it. I do not function without the stuff, even my family knows better than to interact with me until the first cup is on board, and we murder coffeemakers frequently because they are constantly running. I figure I have given up enough vices, I will carry on my romance with the coffee. Anyone who suggests otherwise has clearly never had the joy that is dealing with an under caffeinated yours truly. It’s un-pretty.  First we drink the coffee, then we do the things. Movies. Mask with Eric Stoltz, Cher, and Sam Elliot. Dirty Dancing. Silence of the Lambs. Tarzan. (Disney one, the music is awesome)

Where would I like to visit? EVERYWHERE. I’ve traveled pretty extensively within the United States, but never outside of it. I’d love to see absolutely everywhere. From the savannahs of Africa to the frozen tundra in Alaska, to the tropical islands. Ireland. Scotland, England (Castles are on my wish list)  The jungles in the Amazon. Australia. Paris. I guess now I can put Cuba on the list too. If I had an unlimited budget and a caretaker for this place, I would Never. Stop. Traveling. My Dad and Stepmother once spent a year in an R.V. and visited every state in the continental US, Alaska, Canada and Newfoundland. We only knew their itinerary after the fact by the postcards. I was wickedly envious and so very proud. I’m so grateful they had those traveling days before we lost them both. Two of the hardest working people I have ever known, they deserved every bit of it and then some.

And now for my nominees!

  1. Tamtoes over at Down2earthmama : I enjoy very much reading about her family’s dreams of a small farm, and wish them the very best of luck in their endeavors!
  2. Debc at There a chick who is a fellow chicken herder, and I’m much enjoying the photographic and fun diary of the newest additions!
  3. Martha Mims at Virgin Homesteader It’s been nostalgic watching her recent incubator adventures…I’m wishing her wonderful luck with her hatch.
  4. Julie Brown at Dysfunctional Family Stories who makes me laugh regularly and uncontrollably. This blog is not for anyone with an allergy to wine or F-bombs, but it’s pretty hysterical if you’ve a tolerance for those.
  5. Hannah Simmons at The Scientific Stickleback whose first posts have been very engaging, and I love the science and research that are put into them!

And there you have it, now you nominees are under no obligation to accept, but if you do, please pass on the love across the blogosphere and I hope everyone has a happy and blessed holiday today!

An Emmy for Emma?

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I told you guys earlier in the week about a high school schoolmate of ours that along with his wife, now owns and operates a super cool operation called Apricot Lane Farms. In addition to being a very talented filmmaker and the pair of them being new parents!

I just read on my newsfeed this morning that this piece they made about a pig on the farm, Emma…has been nominated for an Emmy!  Please check it out if you haven’t done so already!

 

The Creeping Crud and Mustard Mayhem

Everyone in the house has been down for the last few days with a wacky combination of strange sinus funk, headaches (mine have been nearly migraine proportion) and just the in general blahs. Hence my absence here for a couple of days. The Creeping Crud got me. I’ve spent them mostly horizontal and the percussion section in my head has made staring at a screen of any sort impossible. Although the Ry-guy hasn’t missed school, he has come home both days and gone to bed. Last night he slept through dinner.

It’s been an unpretty compilation of Pj’s and bedhead, kleenex and coffee chasing cold meds around here. Except for the critters. The have all been just dandy. Mostly. They don’t care when you’re sick. They are hungry and thirsty and demand to be fed.

So I’ve managed to drag my butt and my ten pound thumping head all across all eight acres and do what’s required to stave off the animal anarchy. Also, I can’t speak for everyone, but around here, if you’re not running at one hundred percent, this is the time our animals choose to completely go insane.

I’m not sure if it was my change in schedule, or boredom, or the icky weather, or the moon, or what, but my Rhode Island hens lost their minds. When I went to collect eggs Sunday, there were precious few. There was goop in the nest box, but no eggshells I could find. I thought maybe one of them laid a shell-less egg, or perhaps one got trampled and caused interest, or maybe a resident rat showed up for brunch. I didn’t see any tell tale egg yolk on any of the girls’ faces.

Monday there were NO eggs. We’ve been getting at least 10-12 per day from the Reds, and bam. None. Cleaned the nest box again. One from the Marans pair, for a total of four from this week. Ryan’s small incubator arrived, so we fired that up and got it prepared. I try to use the freshest possible eggs for incubating, and it’s not looking good for the reds at this point.

Yesterday morning, I dragged myself over to feed and got there just in time to hear one of the girls singing the egg song. I peeked over the wall and spotted one of the two Aracauna hens that keep company with the reds peering into the nest box. And she pecked the brand new egg! Then it broke, and what followed was absolute chaos. Suddenly nearly all of the 14 hens descended on that egg like the Mongol Hordes. Houston, we have a problem.

I grabbed that hen and tossed her in with the Lavender Orpingtons over in the new coop. There’s only one hen in there, and she had already laid sometime the night before. The Rabble Rouser wouldn’t get any eggs to destroy in there, and with three roos in there, it’s definitely the eqivalent of chicken prison. That’ll teach her.

I spent the next hour assembling the artillery for the war of the eggs. Time to refer to a method I’ve heard about from older folks for years, but never yet actually had to employ. Plain white wax candle, golf balls, mustard, I need a big needle. Oyster shells from the driveway were pulverized on the back step and put into a small feeder bin, in case this is not boredom related and they’re lacking minerals.
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I blew out several of last weeks eggs by poking small holes at either end. Scrounged for a large syringe, ended up using a turkey marinating injector. I filled all three eggs with mustard, and used a dab of melted wax to seal the holes at either end. And back across the field I went.

I dropped the oyster shells off and planted one of the golf balls and all three mustard filled eggs under the hen currently occupying the box. And waited. When she started singing and got off the box I dashed back in and grabbed the one good egg. Took about 60 seconds after they thought I was gone for a creeping ring of hens to make their way over to the box and investigate.

For a minute, I thought one was going to hop in and take her turn as usual. Instead, she turned around several times, shuffled the “eggs” around, and then she did it. She pecked at one of those eggs a couple of times and as soon as it cracked, there was a veritable riot. All the other rushed over, not wanting to miss out, like a little feathered mob…and one by one, everyone got a beak full of mustard.

Hens DO NOT like mustard. They dove in, got a dose, ran off, and immediately started trying to wipe off beaks on the ground, the roosts, each other. Heads were shaking and there was cackling and carrying on. Hens were running for the five gallon waterer. It looked like the chicken equivalent of pepper spray training day at the police academy. I might have felt a little bad for moment. But I was cold and trying so hard not to laugh because it would just make my head hurt worse. A couple of brave souls went over and took a second try at it, but mostly the chaos was over.

Once the cackling and head shaking had slowed to a mild roar, I went in and removed the soiled bedding and remains of my mean mustard bombs. I left the golf balls in, just to discourage any further pecking. Maybe a sore beak will quell any further investigation.

Here are the un-molested eggs from the rest of the day. I managed to save seven. The top fiver there were an unexpected surprise. We keep a dog run out back with roosters for sale for driveway customers. We put an older black Hen in there last week that we were sure wasn’t laying anymore. When I went in to neaten up yesterday, there were five eggs in one of the boxes!  I’d have let her set them, but she’s auction bound this week. I just might fill an incubator tray this week after all.
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I’m stocking up on French’s, just in case. I once discounted this method as an old wives tale. I have now seen it with my own eyes. Listen to the old folks. They know their stuff.

 

Apricot Lane Farms

I just want to share with everyone a project that I have adored watching the progress of over the last several years. Although we could never dream of doing anything on quite this grand a scale, it’s inspiring and amazing what they’ve been able to accomplish on their own little piece of the planet.

I went to high school with filmmaker John Chester. He and his beautiful wife Molly took on this mission several years ago. You can view a short film about the project that has been featured by Oprah Winfrey, along with others they’ve made at this link.  Apricot Lane Farms

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. 🙂

Happy Sunday!

The Mother of all Auctions

So today, my dear sweet other half decided to get up and make coffee and let me sleep. This is when I know that something is very, very wrong. That plans have likely been made for my day, and that I have not been consulted, and I may very well not be pleased. These plans normally involve climbing up a tree or getting bait all over my hands…but not today.

This morning in a pre-dawn fit of genius unfortunately accompanied by our current financially challenged-ness (because we just bought a new tractor), he apparently decided we needed to drive an hour to the Harrington Fairgrounds and the Mid Atlantic Equipment Auction. I should also mention that it’s on the day that our balmy 70 degree temps from yesterday have pulled an Elvis and left the building. It’s frigid and damp and the weatherman had the nerve to mention that dreaded S word this morning. I’ve never been to this one, but I know it’s a monstrous, twice a year affair that takes over the entire fairgrounds.

After everyone donned 3 layers of what turned out to be nowhere near enough clothes and rushed around like crazy people trying to get the horses in, and all the birds and bunnies and demando-lamb fed up and put up before the wet arrived, we hopped in the truck and off we went. I only managed to fire down two cups of coffee that didn’t even meet my very basic standards of drinkability and was concerned I wouldn’t have enough energy to do the grumbling this venture was going to require. I knew there would be every conceivable farm implement and tractor PTO attachment known to man. And that we could buy none of them. It was going to be like window shopping, which, even as a woman I find completely STUPID and a total waste of time.

I was not prepared. Even a little bit. Pulling onto the fairgrounds it was almost like the pickup truck twilight zone. All trucks, big and small, with every imaginable sort of trailer attached. Every hundred trucks or so, you’d see one lonely small car, looking totally out of place. page_bg - Edited.jpg

Then the walking began. I can now consume half the pan of brownies I just made guilt free, because if I did not walk ten miles today, I didn’t walk a step. Row upon row of every farm and construction and home and garden machine there is. There is an entire row of flatbed trailers filled with small items, tools, parts. ATV’s and minibikes. We lost Ryan there. No worries, I came back to that spot and he never moved. He found a friend of his and they were lusting after a 4 wheeler that ended up going over 600$. I was out at 75. They ran completely wild all over the fairgrounds for the rest of the day. Bouncing between sets of parents and staffers from the farm across the road from us. There was a constant stream of phone calls and texts between everyone as we watched and bid on items for each other in different places and kept tabs on all the kids. Children are awesome coffee runners when you bribe them with cocoa and cookie money.

There’s a whole section of plants and shrubs and fruit trees. I lost out on blueberry bushes I waited 30 minutes for. 17 each was too much for my current bank balance. And there are FIVE auctioneers making their way up and down each row in stands on trailers. It’s impossible to gauge what 42 other things you’re missing in that 30 minutes that you were interested in. You just can’t keep up alone. I lost count of the amount of times I had to turn to a companion and say “what’s that, and what does it do?”.

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Fencing. Miles and glorious miles of fencing in varying degrees of usefulness. Solar chargers (Sigh). Stall mats and hay racks and water troughs. Transport crates and kennel cages. Barn lights. Swamp cooler systems for barns and poultry houses. Disassembled greenhouses. Golf carts and Gators and UTV’s.  Stock and utility trailers galore. Boats and even an older RV that I’d have bought in a heartbeat if I could have. And entire car lot’s worth of fleet vehicles we have no use for. I want it all, and I can afford none of it. But I’m like a big kid in a toy store, bouncing around from row to row.

Concession stands and food vendors on golf carts. Four staffers in a trailer at check in and check out, who DID NOT STOP taking money all day long. I can’t even begin to fathom how many dollars changed hands today. More than I will ever see in my lifetime, for sure. Probably several lifetimes.

T and I watched countless bush hogs auctioned. From 2$ to over a thousand. He joked if he’d have had money, he’d have just bought every crappy bush hog he saw and sell them two at a time at a profit for continual income. We watched large equipment go 5 and 6 digit bids. There was a fellow joking he was going to be in trouble with his wife for spending a few hundred dollars and I wondered about the ones who have to go home and say “Didn’t do bad today, dear. I only spent 130K, give or take a 10.”

We didn’t have much of a budget, but I managed to score a 13$ triple candy vending machine that will have feed in it for the petting zoo pen I’ve planned for farm customers. T got a small outboard motor for resale for 70. And we both walked around drooling over all the things we’d have bought if we’d have been working with more than pocket change.

I was so totally unprepared.

I marked the calendar for the fall auction. We will be there. I’m already calculating how and where I can sock away a little bit here and there. We’ll dress better, and go to the preview the day before and bring extra bodies and all the walkie talkies we own.

Ryan’s buddy came home with us for a sleepover. I can tell they enjoyed themselves. As I write this they’re in Ry’s room auctioning off all of his toy trucks, tractors and trailers. Big day. I have brownies to eat and a vending machine to re-key. Hope everyone had a great Saturday!

~Lisa