Category Archives: Rabbits

2012’s First Internship Session

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For the last 3 weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having 5 interns from the International School of the Americas helping us out on the farm.  Allison Vigil, Jacob Klein, Rachel Seidner, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney have been absolutely wonderful.  They accomplished more than any other group of interns so far – and every group we’ve had has been outstanding!

Some of the things they accomplished while they were here:

  • completed the halfway done Haitian dwelling (separate post coming soon)
  • started and finished an urban slum for Lifestyles Lane (separate post coming soon)
  • planted our 3 Sisters Garden
  • planted our popcorn and sweet potato garden
  • worked with our pigs and got them loaded up to go to the processor’s
  • put the broilers and replacement layers out to pasture
  • raised the rabbits
  • taught the turkeys how to free-range boomerang (come back to roost at night)
  • caught all the goats, weighed the kids, trimmed all the hooves, and herbally wormed the adults
  • rotationally grazed the cattle (and goats)
  • hauled tons and tons of water
  • moved all the rabbit hutches into the shelter of the barn

These guys and girls were absolutely tremendous.  Their major accomplishments will be detailed in subsequent posts, but their presence will be greatly missed.

For more pictures, check out the whole album on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.374729892592146.88189.102369686494836&type=1 

 

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Rabbits Don’t Like Heat

In fact, they die from it.

Our grower rabbits are in movable tractors on grass but our adults are in raised hutches to help generate manure and compost for our gardens.  We deliberately placed the hutches on the north side of our barn so they would only get sunshine in the morning and would be near the chicken house so the chickens could stir the rabbit manure/straw mixture into garden compost for us.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

Even though the rabbits had plenty of water and were in a sheltered location, we lost 6 rabbits to the heat today.  It’s been over 100° F for over a week now and I think it was just finally too much.

We moved all of the hutches into the barn.  It will be cooler in there but there will also be less sunshine to sterilize everything.

This weather needs to break soon.  If this is June, I’m really not looking forward to July and August.

 

Sales and Availability Update

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Gloucester Old Spot/Duroc hybrid barrow. 

Just wanted to let everyone know about our sales and available meat products for the 2012 season.

Pork
Our first run of hogs have all been sold.  Thank you to Melane, Doug, Chastity, Rob, Kelly, and Bryan!  We have some interest in hogs ready for slaughter in the fall.  If you are interested, please shoot me an email or comment on this post and I will add your name to the list.

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This little Kiko buck is growing fast!

Chevon
We have sold our first goats – thanks Jennifer, Rachel, and Nick! – and we have two more available for 2012.  They are available for both breeding and eating.  Again, send me an email or comment below if you would like a goat so that we can work with you on the size you would like for eating or the characteristics you are looking for in a breeding buck.  If you are looking for a breeding buck, please contact us quickly, as the bucklings will be wethered when they reach 2 months of age.

Turkeys
The hens have hatched out 17 poults so far with 3 more hens still sitting on their eggs.  They will be ready for Thanksgiving and are really excellent!  Supermarket birds aren’t even close!  A $25 deposit will reserve a bird for your holiday meal and the first people to reserve get the first choice as to the size of bird they would like.  Please contact us to reserve your turkey.

Rabbit
Our first two litters have sold, but we definitely have more on the way.  Rabbits are $5 each if you would like to process them yourself and $10 each if you would like us to do it for you.

Chicken
Chicken can be ready for you from 6 to 12 weeks after you order it, depending upon whether you would like the Cornish x White Rock hybrids or the older, tastier heritage breed birds.  Contact us and we can have a custom-sized order ready for you!

Eggs
Eggs are pretty much always available.  They are $3.25 per dozen – $3.00 if you bring us an egg carton. Our chickens are completely free-ranging during the day and return to a predator-proof coop at night for protection.

Thanks to all of our great customers and we would love to welcome some new ones!

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Dodging Raindrops

Lately it seems the skies always look like this.

Supposedly April showers bring May flowers.  They did.

What do May showers bring?

I need to know because it has been raining for what seems like weeks on end.  The county farm data bank says that in an “average year” (what’s that?) the county has gotten 22.76″ of rain by this date.  So far on our ranch we have gotten 35.48″, or over a foot more than average.  It rained another half-inch last night during our latest round of severe weather.  So in a word, our spring has been soggy.  As I’m writing this it just started raining again.  Really hard.  So by the time I’m done with this sentence those precipitation numbers will be outdated.

Most of the garden plants seem to enjoy it so far.  The lettuces and broccoli and onions are all growing well.  All the greens are going like gangbusters.  The spinach showed its strength.  The garlic seems less thrilled, though.  The tomato plants have been repeatedly snapped in high winds even in their cages (no, we don’t have free-range tomatoes).  The corn has yet to come up because it was so recently planted, but I’m hoping that it won’t rot in the sodden ground before it has a chance to sprout.

Our philosophy about heritage varieties of animals and plants also extends to corn.  Some people in the local and sustainable food movement have unfairly painted corn in pretty bad light.  After all, who’s making the decisions here – a plant or the humans who propagate it?  Corn is an amazing plant with a lot to like.  First, it’s native to the Americas.  It was bred and developed by the indigenous peoples here.  It is a tough plant that will grow almost anywhere there is a modicum of water and fertility.  It stores almost indefinitely.  And it has been grown and adapted to so many varied locales that there is an incredible variety from which to choose.  In other words, farmers don’t have to grow #2 field corn for the commodities market.  In fact, if you want to eat it you shouldn’t grow that type of corn at all.

We got some old-school varieties of corn from neighbors and seed cooperatives to plant on about 1/4 acre.  I baled hay for our neighbor Joshua a while back in exchange for him tilling up the area where we had the goats deposit all their winter manure for us to plant.  He did a great job with the tilling and then Lindsey and I leveled it with shovels and rakes.  Finally, the weather cleared for 2 consecutive days and it dried out enough for me to plant it yesterday.  Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, Golden Bantam, Floriani Red Flint, Bloody Butcher, Reid’s Yellow Dent, and Daymon Morgan’s Kentucky Butcher corn all went into the ground.  Those links are not necessarily the sources for our seed, but they were the best pictures I could find of the varieties we planted.  The Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, and Golden Bantam are all sweet corns that we can eat or freeze.  We’ll plant more of those varieties every two weeks or so to make sure we’ve got fresh sweet corn all summer long.  The other corns are for drying.  The Floriani Red Flint supposedly makes the world’s best polenta.  Since polenta is basically fancy grits, I can get on board with that.  The butcher corns are for flour and decoration, and the Reid’s Yellow Dent will provide some winter food for our poultry.

I know 1/4 acre doesn’t sound like much, but that’s about the limit of what I think we can care for doing everything by hand.

In other news, the rabbits, turkeys, and chickens are growing quickly.  We’ve sold quite a few of the Black Australorps and Kentucky Redneck chickens to people who wanted to start their own flocks.  The rest we’ll grow out as meat birds or add to our layer flock in the Yolkswagen.  The rabbit does we have are really bad mothers, but hopefully in a few generations we can breed for good mothering instincts.  So far out of 4 litters we have only 10 bunnies to show for it.  The rest have been rejected or killed by their own mothers.

Guinea keets are hatching in the incubator as we speak.  This is especially good news because another rogue cat has been systematically eliminating the guineas one by one.  We’re down to 4 adult birds and 1 juvenile from the 18 we had 2 weeks ago.  Those last ones are cooped up at the moment to eliminate the food source and encourage the cat to move on.  This is a sneaky cat.  Usually I see them hanging around, but this one is either very wary or has some sort of cloaking capability.

Our Black Spanish hens have not returned yet.  If they were nesting, their poults should have hatched out last weekend.  Then I imagine they keep them in the nest until the poults are capable of following the hen around.  Every day I look forward to seeing them, and every day my heart sinks just a little bit when they don’t return.  Yesterday one of the chocolate hens that has been going off by herself a lot during the day didn’t come back to the turkey roost at dusk, so now we might have another month-plus wait while she sits on her nest.  Natural farming is stressful!  I want to let the animals nest on their own and raise their own young, but it’s so hard to sit and wait and hope that they are able to hatch out their eggs and brood their poults before a predator finds them.  We have so much financially and emotionally invested in them at this point that it would be heartbreaking to have them not return.

The last bit of news is in the Lifestyles Lane department.  We should get a good start this summer with all the helpers coming out to the ranch and we plan on completely 2 of the more intricate structures this summer.  Hopefully more, but 2 is the definite attainable goal.  Our friends Adele and Bonnie are visiting, my brother and his friends are coming out, and we have 9 interns coming to the farm in June, July, and August to help build the structures and learn about sustainable farming.  We will begin introducing them to you as they arrive on the ranch in mid-June, but we are getting excited for their arrival.

Early Spring Update

The year's first asparagus. 200 feet from plot to pot.

Ahh, early spring on the farm!  The cherry trees are full of blossoms, the grass is bright green and growing quickly, the garden is planted, and the chickens are brooding eggs for us.  It’s a great time to be working outside.

The rabbits have been breeding for a while.  Unfortunately, our rabbits are not very good mothers.  Two of them abandoned their litters right after birth and would not take care of them.  The other two rabbits that had litters were good mothers.  One had a small litter of 3 bunnies that have done well.  They are 3 weeks old now and busily hopping around their pen exploring.  The second mother was doing fantastic.  She had a litter of 8 bunnies and they all survived and were growing rapidly throughout the first week of their lives.  Then we had a big storm.  We got a couple inches of rain the night before last and all through yesterday.  We did not know that the roof of that rabbit’s cage would not hold up against the storm.  It started dripping water right through the back half of the roof where the rabbit had made her nest.  All the poor bunnies got soaked and too cold.  None of them made it.  Those discoveries are always hard, and the blow is especially severe when the bunnies came from our two best rabbits and were doing so well.  We even had them sold!  Setbacks, setbacks…

Thomas and Not Thomas enjoying their first romp on the new spring grass.

On a brighter note, all the Black Australorp chicks we hatched out are doing great!  The first two (the only two that hatched successfully from our frozen January egg clutch) got to go out onto pasture today in their very own chicken tractor.  They are enjoying exploring the outside world, catching their first bugs, and tasting their first grass.  They’ve got all their feathers now, so they should be fine unless we get a really cold snap come in.  If that happens they can go back into the brooder for the night.  The second clutch is so vibrant!  We had 30 successfully hatch, and all 30 of them are doing wonderfully!  The chicks we got from the hatchery last year had a few problems with weak chicks and chicks who developed pasty deposits around their anuses.  These home-hatched chicks have had NONE of those problems whatsoever.  It’s really remarkable.  Hopefully the last batch of chicks we just got in will be the last chickens we have to order and we’ll be able to hatch them all out on-farm from now on.

Speaking of which, we just picked up our (hopefully) last ever chicken and turkey order from the post office this morning.  52 Naked Neck chickens (we’re calling them Kentucky Redneck Chickens) and 48 Narragansett and Bourbon Red turkey poults have joined the Black Australorp chicks and Magpie ducklings in the broodhouse.  We had 2 of the turkey poults DOA, but so far everyone else seems healthy so hopefully they’ll prosper in their new locale.  The video below shows the new chicks, the old chicks, and some footage of the greenhouse and garden.

Lindsey’s family came in last week and they helped us transplant the seedlings we started in the greenhouse to the garden so now our garden is full of our cool-weather crops: broccoli, sweet peas, Amish snap peas, radishes, 3 kinds of carrots, turnips, 5 kinds of lettuce, spinach, chard, onions, mustard greens, and kale.  The little seedlings have adjusted well to the outdoors with a minimum of hardening off.  We’ve been picking salad greens for a while and are now waiting on our first peas and radishes to be ready.  Yesterday we got to eat the season’s first asparagus.  So good!  I don’t really like asparagus from the grocery store too much, but the fresh stuff is to die for!  The strawberry patch that we’ve worked so hard to revamp by removing the weeds and old plants, mulching, and fertilizing with rabbit manure has really taken off.  Lots of new leaves and plants loaded with blooms.  We are looking forward to a good crop of strawberries in another few weeks if we can fight off the birds and pick our fair share of them.

In other news, the Eggmobile we’ve been building for the chickens should be finished this weekend so check for a how-to post on that in the near future.

We also revamped the Good Life Ranch website to make it more informative and easier to navigate.  Check it out and let us know what you think!

Enjoy the update!  I’ve got to get back to work outside!

Money, Math, and Movie

Part of the money from our very first sale. Lindsey says we should hang it upside down like Chinese restaurants do so it won't run out of luck.

We made our first two sales this weekend!  On Friday we sold one of our “pet type” lop rabbits to a couple who wanted a bunny for their grandson.  They came by the house around 7 pm and picked out a nice black and white lop rabbit.  We boxed it up and off it went to live with a (hopefully) loving child.  The $5 bill above is part of the $15 from the sale of that rabbit.

Then on Saturday we made another sale.  On Monday a customer from Campbellsville called and placed an order for 2 of our meat rabbits.  She wanted to pick then up on Saturday, which is good because after processing they need to chill (literally) for a couple of days to age the meat.  Since we’ve only raised these rabbits for half of the normally required grow-out period of 12 weeks I did the math and figured out that $2 per pound of liveweight would give us a profit and provide us the hourly wage we’re looking for from our farm endeavors.  Because these rabbits dressed out at 60%, that means that we’d be charging $3.33 per pound dressed.  I think that our price per pound will go up on those rabbits that we raise from birth, however.

The customer bought the live rabbits from us, and I dressed them as a courtesy for them.  So on Wednesday I had to process rabbits for the first time.  The processing went smoothly and the rabbits did not suffer, but it’s still a little graphic for me to describe in writing.  If you want to know how to process rabbits there are lots of good books, internet articles, and videos that you can google.  After processing the rabbits and composting the remains, the meat went into the fridge to age until Saturday when the customer picked it up.  I felt like an actual businessman writing up receipts.

Receipt from the first food we sold!

Now here’s where more patience comes in…  I figure that I work around 11 hours a day for 6 days of the week and for 2 hours on the other.  That means I work roughly 68 hours per week.  We’ve been here 14 weeks so far.  That means I’ve worked about 952 hours so far.  I’ve made $39.  That means my hourly rate is…….  4¢.  And that’s without subtracting the expenses yet.  Ouch.

This week has been really busy, as usual.  I’ve chopped and cleared out our bamboo patch to a more reasonable and aesthetically pleasing arrangement.  Tomorrow I’m going to cut all the leaves off of the chopped bamboo to make poles to dry and use for the garden and building Lifestyles Lane structures.  The leaves will go into the gardens to compost for spring plantings.

Fall plantings are in place and finally sprouting after a small rain this week.  We’ve had several weeks without precipitation, so it took a little while for the seeds to sprout.  The plantings include spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, peas, carrots, onions, and parsnips and are all growing now.  Hopefully they can evade the feet of the turkeys who come by every day to debug the garden.  They’ve really dented the squash bug populations.  The butternut squashes are now curing in the office for a couple of weeks until they go into the basement for storage.  Then into pies and soups!

The turkeys also do lots of other fun things.  See below.

They are doing well and their growth rate really seems to be taking off now.  They are also getting bolder and will explore further from the poultry house every day.  They will go all the way up the hill behind the house and halfway out into the front pasture, so their range is now about a half mile from their “base.”  Now we just have to see what we’re going to do with them.  One has been committed to fill an order (thanks Aunt Sheila!) and one will be our Thanksgiving supper.  We have 1 male and 2 females of the Chocolates and Black Spanish turkeys, so if no one else places any orders we may save them until spring and try to breed our own turkeys for next year instead of ordering them.

On to the caprine kingdom!  The goats seem to be doing great!  They are making short work of the  brush behind the house that was too thick to chop down or bush hog.  The goats have changed that.  Each section that they go through is eaten down to the point that I can now go through there with the machete and clear the rest of it out.  They really enjoy the brush and eat it preferentially over the grass they have available.

Maggie, the goats’ livestock guardian dog, is doing a great job watching over them.  She does take a little getting used to, however, because she watches over them at night by announcing her presence with authority.  That means a lot of barking.  🙂  Unlike the other livestock guardian dogs we’ve been around, Maggie really enjoys human attention.  I went into the goat paddock the other day to fix the shelter that the goats had broken a part of and I could barely accomplish any of the repairs because Maggie kept sticking her basketball-sized noggin in between my arm and my body wanting to be petted.  She really is sweet.

So it’s Sunday.  The dogs are sleeping on the couch, the goats are playing king of the mountain on the gravel pile, the turkeys are catching grasshoppers, and the chicks are cheeping.  Good day!

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Exercise ‘n frustration

Dear readers,

I hope that both of you will forgive me for what follows.  In general the last 2.5 months have been a wonderful experience full of learning and enjoyment.  This last week, however, has been trying…

I’m posting this not to gripe but in service of the reason I am keeping this blog in the first place – a map of where we’ve been so that we can remember our successes and failures and so that others can replicate (or not, in the case of this week) what we’ve done.

Where to begin…

1.  The dogs keep murdering guinea fowl.  Every time I think I’ve got the dogs trained to stay away from the birds, they kill a guinea.  At this point the mutts have one last chance or else they are relegated to the small backyard instead of having freedom to romp around.

2.  Did you read about the small chickens?  Man, you follow every pastured poultry guideline to the T and the birds just don’t grow.  Extremely frustrating.  At least we can eat them, because we sure couldn’t sell them.

3.  Our little broiler experiment is not going the way I had hoped.  The Cornish X chicks are already literally twice the size of the Buff Orpingtons.  We will just have to see the experiment through to the end, however.  Right now the 25 Cornish X chicks average 9.3 ounces each while the 50 Buff Orpingtons average 5.1.  However, the 25 Cornish X chicks have eaten over 8 pounds of food while the 50 Buff Orpingtons have eaten only 5.5 pounds.  We’ll have to see if the Cornish X are more expensive even if they are ready sooner.  The Cornish X sure are boring though.  They just sit there unless they are eating.  The White Rocks and Buffs run all over the place playing and investigating.

4.  I can’t keep weight on.  I eat all the time and I keep getting smaller and smaller.  I know that any women reading these does not feel bad for me, but not being able to maintain my weight makes my mood go up and down, makes me get dizzy in the heat, as well as makes me take breaks more often because I get tired more quickly.  My weight’s been the same as always up until 2 weeks ago, now it just plummets.  Even with taking the day off yesterday to rest and eat all day I’m still 12 pounds below my ideal weight.

5.  The Machinery Blues:
A.  Weedeaters.  We’ve gone through 2 of them so far and the third one is now on the fritz.  We’re NOT scrimping either – these are possibly the only thing other than the poultry that we’ve actually bought new.
B.   The mower is out again, and the online manual only says that an authorized dealer should make the repairs I need done.  Grr.  I can see the large bill now.  I know what needs to be done and have the ability to do it, but the company doesn’t make the parts available except at authorized dealers’ shops.
C.  I bought a bushhog mower for a steal, then found out why.  This is actually a cause to celebrate a little at the end, but hours of frustration led to the ability to smile at the end.  The mower seemed to be in good shape.  Then when I got it home I found all of the temporary solutions the previous owner had implemented.  The wheels literally came off the wagon, along with 2 belts, a chain, and half the sprocket.  In the end, though, I got it fixed myself for under $14 and began mowing our shoulder-high front field.

6.  I worked for 2 whole days bushhogging that front field.  It’s a little less than 15 acres of 5-foot tall grass, brush, and weeds.  I was hot, I was sweating, I’d gone through 15 liters of water.  I was making progress and was about halfway done.  Then my neighbor David drove up on his $30K tractor and disk mower and did most of the rest of the field in an hour.  David’s a great guy and it was a super nice gesture that saved me two more days of work.  It’s still frustrating, though, when someone when more “stuff” than you shows you how silly your way of doing it was.  And, yes, I was out-technologied by an Amish man.  In the future, I’d rather mow with goats.  They don’t need gas, you don’t have to push them, their disk mowers don’t break and get left in the field, and you can eat them when the job is done.  Anybody wanna get me a goat?

7.  I have a dozen free-range, heritage breed turkeys running around and not one order from a customer that wants one.

8.  The rabbits are getting bigger by the day, and so far the only people who have shown interest in them only want to come by and “look at them.”  Rabbit window shoppers.  Who knew?

9.  My lovely wife is sad and I don’t know how to help.

10.  The roof starting leaking.

11.  I’ve been working 10-12 hour days for a long time, and always seem to have more work to do than time to do it.  I’m trying to put systems in place that will make the workload diminish with time, but it sure is frustrating to fill in the gaps myself that the animals will take over in the future.  It’s also expensive and I’m worried about whether we can afford to fix the roof, build the greenhouse, buy fence posts and wire, and start building Lifestyles Lane.

I will survive.

It will get done.

One day at a time.

Sorry for that,
Geoff

Rabbit Moving Day


The migration formation of the rabbit scooters, each scooter containing 2-5 rabbits.

We got the rabbits put into their scooters for pasturing yesterday.  Almost all of the males went into the tractors grouped by size.  The only exceptions are the males that we are saving for breeding stock.  The females stayed in the hutches for now.  We’ll select breeding stock from them as well, and the remaining rabbits will be sold for food or pets.  Most of the females were separated so that only 1 or 2 is in each pen.  All of the rabbits are maturing and beginning to fight a little bit, so hopefully this will minimize the fighting.

Lindsey makes fun of me for putting the pens into the formation depicted above, but there are good reasons for doing so and all of the animals in movable scooters will be in this type of formation.  Here’s why:
1.  It puts the pens close together without the sides rubbing (means repairs don’t have to happen as often).
2.  The pens are as close as possible to each other while still leaving space to maneuver around them.  This means that you can service each cage efficiently in a small area without tripping over them.
3.  If there is a slope to the land that the pens are on, staggering the scooters like this keeps poopy runoff from inundating the downhill pens during rainstorms.
4.  You can run the pens without leaving “space” between the sides so that all of the pasture gets the nitrogen deposits left by the animals.  If you put the cages in a straight line side-by-side, you have to leave room to walk between them in order to service the cages.  This means there is grass that doesn’t get eaten and pasture that doesn’t get manure.  Soon, you have a striped field.

The bunnies we’re pasturing right now are crosses between Flemish Giant bucks and various does (mostly Californian and New Zealand types).  Here’s the rabbits inside one of the scooters:

The inside of a loaded rabbit scooter. The 2x2s at the bottom run parallel to the way the scooter is pulled so that the grass stands up for the rabbits.

As you can see, the rabbits have plenty of room.  Additionally, since they eat a TON of grass, we’re moving them 3 times per day.  Though that seems like a lot, it’s really only 1 extra trip out to the area because the other animals necessitate trips out to the pasture in the morning and evening.  So I just go out there once more before lunch and move the rabbit scooters one length to fresh grass.  This seems to be worth the trouble, because they reduced their pellet consumption by at least half yesterday and today so far.  I’ll get solid before and after numbers for comparison and share them once they’ve been on pasture for a while longer, but that amounts to a $12 savings per week if that trend continues.

Why pasture rabbits at all?  The USDA already says that “domestic rabbit is the most nutritious meat available” and that rabbit has the highest percentage of protein and the lowest percentages of fat and calories when compared to veal, chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, and pork (USDA Circular 549).  This table comes from that circular:

SPECIES CALORIES PER POUND % PROTEIN % FAT
RABBIT 795 20.8 10.2
CHICKEN 810 20.0 11.0
VEAL 840 19.1 12.0
TURKEY 1190 20.0 20.1
LAMB 1420 15.7 27.7
BEEF 1440 16.3 28.0
PORK 2050 11.9 45.0

So if rabbit is this healthy to begin with, why pasture them?  Well, we believe that the compounds found in fresh green plants add vitamins and minerals (CLAs, carotenes, etc) that simply can’t be created in the meat any other way.  There are lots of studies that have been done on beef and poultry to verify the added health benefits.  I’d be really interested in seeing actual data comparing pastured rabbit to conventional rabbit, but I haven’t seen any such study anywhere.  As a science teacher, I would make the hypothesis that if pasturing beef and poultry increases the nutritional level of the meat, then pasturing rabbits would also increase the nutritional level of the rabbit meat.

There are other producers in Virginia and Tennessee that I know of who offer “pastured” rabbit.  However, they bring the pasture to the rabbit in the form of green-chopped materials.  I feel that this is more labor than moving a few rabbit pens.  Plus, having the rabbit scooters means that the fertility from the rabbit manure is placed directly on the soil without me having to haul it or compost it.  Second, and more importantly for us, the rabbit scooters allow the rabbit to act more like a rabbit, hopping around on the pasture, eating a variety of fresh grasses that change three times per day, and selecting what grasses they eat themselves.  So hopefully this system will work out.  If anyone reading this knows of advantages rabbit hutches have over the scooters (other than reduced labor for the keeper), please contribute a comment and let us know!

Other news from the poultry department (the USDA considers rabbit as “poultry” for regulatory purposes) is that the turkeys are starting to really act like turkeys.  They range far more widely than the chickens or the guinea fowl and eat lots of grass, seed heads, and insects of all kinds.  Watching them try to catch grasshoppers is extremely entertaining.  They are gobbling a lot more often now, and are losing most of the feathers on their heads and necks.

The turkeys are growing quickly and spend the day free-ranging. They explore the farm and "gobble" up lots of grass and insects.

The laying hens are doing a great job making compost for us underneath the rabbit hutches that are still occupied.  They are great labor-savers.  All I do is throw down some wood chips or straw on top of the rabbit manure and the chickens go to town on it, scratching through it looking for grubs, worms, and fly larvae.  In a couple days, I throw down some more carbon and they repeat.  Once it builds up in volume, I’ll haul it off to the gardens.

The broilers are in their last week on pasture. Next week is taste testing!

The broilers are almost ready for processing.  They go on Monday morning at 7:30.  Shhh – they don’t know this.  They are pretty large.  I got a little scale yesterday, so once it quits raining and the birds and rabbits dry off I’m going to go weigh some so we have an idea of how much chicken and rabbit we have in terms of poundage so that we can price things accurately.  I want to make sure we set a price that covers our expenses and pays us a decent wage per hour from the start so that we don’t have to have a price hike too soon and chase away our hard-earned customers.

Have a good day!

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Rabbit Stats*

*These stats are preliminary and are subject to verification over the next several weeks.  Any rabbit reproduction from rabbits now separated by gender will indicate errors in the data.

Lindsey was kind enough to help me sex the rabbits yesterday.  She opted for the position of “rabbit holder” while I took on the role of “gender identifier.”  My job involved prodding rabbits what I hope what a non-molesty way and occasionally getting scratched or pooped on.  Lindsey job almost entirely involved getting scratched and pooped on.  See the photo:

Lindsey displays her rabbit poo-covered shirt and rabbit scratch-covered arms and legs. Should worn jeans.

The older rabbits were easy to identify by gender.  Just push down on the tail and up on the area above the genitals and voilà – an easily identifiable rabbit organ appears.  All you then have to do is evade the kicking feet of the rabbit long enough to see it.

The younger rabbits are much harder.  On them, both male and female parts stick out just a little bit and appear pretty similar.  You’re looking for a “circle” or a “slit” according to everything I read and everyone I asked about this.  That sounds easy enough, but in real rabbits circles and slits sometimes appear on the same rabbit’s special place depending on how much you lift the skin up.  So, there may be some discrepancies later from the numbers coming up next.

At the end of the day, we have 12 adult female rabbits.  Six of them currently have litters of varying ages.  That much we were pretty sure of before we started.

We have 29 bunnies ranging from “juvenile” to “I’m bigger than my mama bunny” to “I’m not a rabbit, I’m a capybara” in size.  Of those bunnies, 19 are male and 10 are female.  That’s almost exactly the opposite ratio that I was hoping for.  I wanted lots of female rabbits so that we could have more potential does to select from.  Of those female bunnies, 3 of them are the white lops that are really only good for pets and 1 of the others is Gabrielle (aka Cody’s special bunny).  So really we’ve only got 6 new does to select from of the “meat type” body conformation.

The males, however, offer several good potential bucks.  One is a definite keeper – he is solid, friendly, healthy, and almost twice as large as his litter mates.  There are two others that could be really good herd sires as well.

So now all of the rabbits have been marked with a livestock-marking pen.  Blue for boys and green for girls.  We were going to put them into the tractors yesterday as well, but it was literally 104F yesterday and we decided that it would not be a good day to stress the rabbits further.  Luckily a cool front is supposed to come in tonight, so I think rabbits will go into their tractors on Monday.

Stay tuned!

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Rabbit Scooter

Here at Good Life Ranch, we want everything to be as pasture-based as possible.  Not everything can eat 100% grass, of course – chickens, turkeys, and pigs can only utilize grass supplementally, for example – but we do want all of our animals that can digest pasture forage to be doing so.  Therefore, we want to get our newly-acquired rabbits out of their elevated hutches and down onto grass.

However, we can’t just let the rabbits loose like we do with the poultry.  Rabbits don’t tend to come back inside when it gets dark.  I think the predators would also have an absolute field day.  Our rabbits do not run from new things – they investigate.  The coyotes would never have it so easy.  Electric fencing is also not an option because the rabbits could go right through it or dig under it.

So no free-ranging or fenced enclosures for the rabbits, but we still want them down eating lots of green grass and getting all of those nutrients into their system.

Here’s our solution in picture/caption form:

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Tomorrow we’ll determine the genders of all our rabbits and put a good number of them into the scooters in groups of 3 or 4.  The rabbits, for obvious reasons, will not have c0-ed quarters unless it’s breeding time.

I do anticipate some initial temporary issues with pasturing the rabbits.  Wild rabbits get nothing but pasture and do fine, but modern commercial and pet rabbit breeds are so far removed from the pasture that they don’t typically handle it very well.  They no longer have a digestive system capable of handling lots of fresh greens; they have a digestive system bred to ingest easily managed pellets.  We won’t be taking them completely off pellets right away, but I still anticipate a good number of rabbits with upset tummies.  These rabbits will have access to pasture at all times along with free-choice to eat the pellets they have been eating so far.

What we want to do is select the rabbits in each generation that grow best on pasture and use them to create each successive generation.  Over time that will hopefully create a line of rabbits that can get a high percentage of their nutrient requirements from the grass.  Daniel Salatin over at Polyface Farms (www.polyfacefarms.com) has been breeding rabbits for pasture for almost 20 years now and has come pretty close.  Hopefully we’ll be able to go over and buy some of their rabbits in order to add their genetics to our herd as well.  I’ll stand on someone else’s shoulders if I can – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time someone needs to go somewhere.

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