Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Benefits of Keeping Rabbits

The benefits of raising rabbits as small livestock are many, especially if you live in a neighborhood and dream of farming on a miniature scale.  The fact that they require very little space and are quiet is nice for your neighbors nearby, who may never even know you're raising  them.  If you have a fenced backyard you can also let them out to get exercise for a few hours while you're gardening and can keep an eye on them.

The nutrient rich compost gathered from under rabbit cages works perfectly into a small farm permaculture plan, used for top dressing beds and natural fertilizer for the vegetable garden.  It's nice to know that all the feed you buy is utilized and converted into a most useful product.  They also can be bred through much of the year and have short pregnancies of around 31 days.  Housing costs are minimal, you can either find new hutches through your local feed store or look on craigslist for nice used ones.  If you're handy you can easily make your own hutches.  Storing their feed is simple as you don't need a large area to put a bag of food and a bale of hay.  Buying rabbit food through the feed store in 50lb bags is economical, along with buying a bale of good grass hay like orchard or timothy.  These will both last rabbits a long time.

Finding the right breed is a part of the fun, and visiting different rabbit breeders allows you to view a variety of rabbits and their housing set ups, as well as talk with an experienced person who's been raising rabbits usually for some time.  My focus has turned from pet rabbits when my children were small to now raising American Chinchillas and Champagne d' Argents which are both  medium sized meat and fur breed of rabbit.  Typically meat and fur rabbits weigh between 9-12 lbs.  The main focus in our rabbitry is to raise quality purebred and pedigreed rabbits to sell.  I sell them for between $30 to $40 each, if I can sell them for that price they will not be for meat.  If however I have extra's they will be for meat.  We haven't quite gotten over the cute factor on our small farm yet, as you can see they are very cute and personable.  So my goal in our rabbitry is for a little side money along with compost, and an enjoyable hobby.  Will we harvest any we don't sell? The answser is yes, I think it may get easier with experiece.  I am going to research the different humane ways of processing them (I can hardly bring myself to say butcher) but that is the reality on a small farm, and the meat is one of the finest  meats and is very popular in Europe, I will share what I learn about the various methods.

It takes time to set up a rabbitry for breeding.  You can buy quality young stock at 8 to 10 weeks old, this is the most common method.  You need to allow them to mature until they're 6-8 months old before they're ready to be bred.  Study books on rabbits and find out all you can to be successful.  One area where I've really learned is regarding their feed, I was feeding them more like my goats with their daily ration of alfalfa rabbit pellets and alfalfa hay, I gave them dry cob (corn, oats and barley) as a supplement.  An older book on rabbits advised both of these things, since then I've learned rabbits are leaf eating animals, they do much better on a mostly leafy diet, they need to have a daily ration of  quality rabbit pellets, plus I give them additions of dandelion greens, lettuce, carrots, apples and many other fruits and vegetables, but the basic everyday feed should be a high quality rabbit feed around 16 to 17 percent protein, along with always providing grass hay for roughage in their diet, they need all three things, fresh raw foods, rabbit pellets and grass hay.  A good quality grass hay like timothy or orchard is better for them than feeding too much alfalfa, I give them alfalfa as a special treat, or if it's really cold outside.  What they don't need is a lot grain products like corn, which mine happen to love.

The litter of American Chinchilla kits in the photo below is from Serendipity's breeding to Tobin, the buck from China Moon rabbitry.  I kept one doeling and sold the other doeling and buckling to a nice young lady who bought them to start her own backyard meat production.  In addition I have several people now on a waiting list for the next litter, due in about a week. 

The American Chinchilla's I can't say enough good things about, overall I love their personalities and they have beautiful long eyelashes.  In my experience so far they're good mothers and have nice litters.  The ratio that is ideal for me is 3 does and 1 buck.  I keep them outside where they get fresh air and morning sun.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Some Big News!

I'm turning the page in the novel of my life and getting ready to enter a new chapter, one that is ushering in the next generation of our family! Yes, it's true... I'm going to be a Grandma and am I ever excited!   You can see in the picture above my very pregnant daughter Christina (due Nov.1st), along with all of my children.  This picture was taken at her baby shower a month ago.  Both sides of the family were there to shower the soon to be parents with gifts.

One of my gifts for our new grandson (we already know he's a boy) is a newly grafted baby apple tree that I will graft and plant just for him.  It will be a honeycrisp apple tree, and I'll do the tending of it.  He'll have his very own tree that only he can pick from, and I'm going to have a plaque made with his name and birth date and every new grandchild we have will get one too.

This year will be an extra special Holiday season for our family as we celebrate with our first grandchild.  All of the kids and Grandpa are as excited to welcome him into the family as I am.   Knowing that someday I would be a Grandma, I saved things over the years, things that I've either collected or kept, a cute little rattan chair for toddlers, old Disney movies my kids loved, dolls, legos, a tiny bicycle, and a whole treasure chest filled with the best Halloween costumes over the years.  I'm kind of a pack rat and sentimental, two things that cause one to save all kinds of things.  So now I'm glad I saved them all.

We're only a little over a month till her due date and I'll be on call to go to the hospital, because part of her birth plan is to have me with her during her labor and birth.  I remember well all of my birth stories and shared some more with her yesterday about her birth in particular.  She's my oldest child and is almost 22 years old, I'm so proud or who she is, and know she'll be the best Mom.  When I hear her talk and the words that come out of her mouth, I hear the same spirit and faith that is part of me. 

This holiday season we are going to be blessed with a gift from God, and I can hardly wait to hold him and give him a kiss from Grandma!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Milking Muscles

One year later and I'm still milking,  all because of  one goat "Lucky Star's Acceptance" aka Zolena, we haven't had to buy a drop of milk since bringing her home. It was a truly a lucky star that brought her into our life and our family got to meet the elegant and charming Lamancha's.   We have been so impressed with her milking ability that we've thought perhaps we'd just buy another Lamancha doe and buckling next Spring and focus primarily on this breed.  Zolena is so smart and inquisitive, we've had to double latch every gate and watch if something's amiss in the goat pasture, usually she's the little monkey behind all the mischief.

As you know we also have a sweetheart Nubian named Jersey, and the cheese girls, Joon and Snowdrop are Nigerian Dwarf does.  Right now we're at 4 does and one buck "Cowboy".  Both Stormy and Comet the two wether's went to a great home together and are sharing a pasture and barn with a couple of alpaca's, they're helping to eat down the blackberries.  I hear they're doing wonderful and have settled right down in their new home and are happy.

Over the past few months I've thought so much about who should stay and who should go as far as the does, now at this point in the year I've decided to keep all four since we love our goat family and it's diversity.  Jersey never was pregnant, if you can believe that.  I must have overfed her and she just got big.  I felt pretty silly after her due date came and went and I had been going outside at night to check on her night after night, then she never was pregnant.  I wanted to get her bred to a purebred Nubian and last year we went to the buck 3 times to get her bred.    This year I've decided to keep her and try one more time to get her bred and will breed her to Cowboy.

I've been milking Joon, our little black Nigerian since the middle of July when her kids were weaned.  I grumbled at first because she wasn't as easy to milk as Zolena, then after a couple of weeks my milking muscles grew and I adjusted, now I love milking little Joon.  She likes being a dairy goat, and she's a great milker, giving a full to the brim quart of high butterfat milk everyday.  I only milk once per day, usually around 9:30 AM, I'm sure both goats would produce more milk if I milked them twice per day.  With one milking per day, Zolena gives about 3/4 of a gallon right now and Joon a quart.  So, I'm still getting about a gallon per day.

My plan is to breed all the does to Cowboy, he's a Nigerian and has a champion pedigree, there are some gorgeous milking does in his lineage.  I've done research on miniature Nubians and Lamancha's and have decided to use him for breeding them all.  If you remember last year I was opposed to breeding miniatures.  Over the last couple weeks I've been getting the does and Cowboy ready by deworming them and giving mineral supplements, like copper, selenium and vitamin E, as well as writing down dates when each doe is in heat.  I will breed Jersey first then the other's, spacing them apart over 2 months.  

We also emailed Lucky Star Lamancha Farm and are planning to go visit them the first of October to look at their bucks and does.  I told Judy the owner that I was looking for a show quality doe in milk.  You never know I may want to show my goats next year at a couple of local events, I think Zolena is show quality and would do well.

Sorry I haven't been here writing on my blog over the Summer.  I've missed sitting down penning my thoughts and going onto other blogs I enjoy.  Anyway hello again and Happy Fall :)