Baby Steps…and Baby Invasions

So, before I fell super sick, we were working on about 2463 projects, all of which are in various degrees of planning or completion. Although most of the daily “stuff the Mama does” has gone undone in my absence, we have been making some progress on some other things.
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The tractor is once again operational. We’ve upgraded the starter and alternator to a 12 Volt system, and as a result had to put in a new ignition switch as well. Figured if we were going to replace it, we might as well prevent the problem from occurring again. Once my honey got all that done, the first of the produce beds got disced, so we are one step closer to planting!

If the weather would only cooperate a little more, it would be lovely. We had a series of unexpected crazy weather days last week. As in, literally 68 degrees one day and wet slushy snow the very next morning. We lost some plant starts, not enough to make me cry, but enough that it was a loss. One of our favorite local farms, Bennett Orchards, got hit far harder than we did. After a six hour stint of temps in the 20’s, despite smudge pots and helicopters, they lost their ENTIRE 2016 peach crop. We pick and buy bushels of peaches and blueberries from them each year for canning, I’ll miss them a lot this year. Thankfully, so far it looks as if the blueberries came through the freeze.
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And our Flemish Giant Rabbit doe appears to have some surprises in store for us as well. She has taken up fur pulling and nesting, and trying to rip my fingers from my hands when I feed, water and clean in her hutch, so it seems she may have already been bred and kits may be imminent. She’s not typically nasty, the rabbit growling and snarling are kind of scary.

The off-the-farm work boss called us last week to remove a large swing set from one of their rental properties, due to concerns about its age, insurance, and the potential for injury to some vacationer’s child. Since the components of the swing set were pretty well thrashed, we decided to save the frame to build a new chicken coop / tractor. I’m hoping to get a jump on that project this weekend, we’ll see how I feel.
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Ryan’s personal 7-egg incubator that he waited so patiently for has epically failed to hatch anything at all. It will likely be trashed after one more attempt with just a couple of eggs to insure that it’s incubator error and not ours. That was a disappointment, but he took it in stride. Having new babies hatching in the big one softened the blow. The season’s next large incubator hatch is due Sunday.

We’ve been peddling a few chicks from home, it’s been nice to have clients and visitors to the farm again. With me being sick, that extra few dollars here and there has sure been a help, too. Our first two hatching egg sales on Ebay have been completed (with a third preparing to sell in just a few moments)  and Ry’s birds now hopefully have offspring growing in Massachusetts and Oakland, California at a school!

We have some new breeds of chickens / chicks. Some Silkies, Lavender Aracaunas, and Blue Laced Red Wyandotte bantams have arrived! The first four of our Black Copper Marans chicks are doing quite well, too!

In our most exciting and happy news, one of my grown children’s families will be coming on the 7th of next month for an extended stay. The babies are invading! They’ve been toying with the idea of a permanent move up this way for quite some time, and recent events in the neighborhood they live in gave them a few more reasons. Dad’s already secured comparable work locally, and my girl and I are making plans for some much needed support for her, and possibly school. I’m excited to have a partner for the shop, and it looks like her artistic and crafty talents may get a pretty serious workout this year. Additionally, the extra hands around here will be a blessed relief, and I think we will make much more progress than I planned on for this year! Now, to figure out where to put six more bodies in this camp!

Hope everyone is enjoying the change of seasons, hope things are going well for all!

 

 

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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.