Tag Archives: pastured

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 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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News from the Chicken Dept

Several developments have happened so far this week in the poultry department.

First, the Black Australorp laying hens have discovered the wonderful world of rabbit manure!  We put the chickens near the rabbits deliberately so that we could add carbon (wood chips, straw, whatever) to the rabbit manure and the chicken could scratch through it looking for fly larvae and such, thus making compost for us and eliminating the flies from the rabbit area while getting cheap protein for the laying hens.  Sounds great in theory, right?  What we’ve been lacking so far is chicken cooperation.  All of the poultry has been free-ranging for the last week or so, and the chickens have steadfastly refused to venture underneath the rabbit pens.

Until today!

The laying hens finally discovered all of the goodies hiding in the rabbit manure.

Here the ladies are scratching through the manure and grabbing up all of the fly larvae.

Over in the Meat Chicken Division, we built Chicken Scooter 2.0 and moved the broilers into it to test out the new design and so I could modify Chicken Scooter 1.0 and add the new features.  In the second generation, I made a feeder out of PVC pipe and attached it to the frame.  No more taking the feed trough out in order to move the pen every day!  The major design changes were to the ends of the scooter.  Each end is now fully formed by plywood.  At other farms that use this type of method, the weather tends to come from only one direction.  We’re in a valley with hills on the eastern, western, and northern sides.  That makes our winds swirl around and the wind and rain can come from either east or west, hence the plywood on both sides.  The most convenient new feature though is the door is now right above the feeder on the covered end of the scooter.  For Chicken Scooter 1.0, I wasn’t thinking about efficiency as much as I should have and made a design where I had to crawl into the scooter to grab the food trough on the far end, where I had to put it so it wouldn’t get wet.  While I was doing that, some of the chickens invariably escaped and I would have to round them up and return them to the scooter.  All this work because my brain wasn’t on the first time.  Hopefully, lesson learned.  Here’s some pictures of the newest chicken scooter.  As you can see, the design is still the same size and almost everything is the same, save the ends and the door!

As you can see, the designs are identical except for the ends.

Here is the major change. A door on the same end as the feed trough, and the feed trough screwed to the frame.

Finally, the broilers now have a date with the processor.  Eventually we want to do this step here at the ranch for many reasons (less stress on the birds, no gas used driving them to Bowling Green, $2.85 less expense per bird), but until we figure out all of the legal mumbo jumbo surrounding turning animals into food we are going to have to allow someone else to process our birds.  We chose SS Enterprises (http://aboutssenterprises.com) because they are relatively close to us, are family-owned and operated, and certified organic.  So on August 23rd at 7:30 am, the broilers and I will be pulling into Bowling Green.  Sometime after that, I will be leaving Bowling Green will several ice chests.  Any readers in the area, we will have chicken for sale!

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Chicken Scooter

The completed chicken scooter along with the previously completed doggie, Scooter.

Not too bad for a few hours work, huh?

This chicken tractor – or “chicken scooter” as we’ll be calling it – will be the home for our first batch of broiler chickens to move across the pasture.  It’s 12’ x 6’, so that’s 72 square feet of green pasture for our group of 25 White Rock broilers.  It stands a little over 3’ high in the middle of the arch.  Each day this pen (and soon, others like it) will be moved one length onto fresh green grass and away from yesterday’s excrement.  That means cleaner chicken for eating and a controlled amount of fertilizer put down on our pastures.

Here’s the recipe for one chicken scooter, most of which we found lying around:

Ingredients

2 12-foot lengths of 2 x 4

1 6-foot length of 2 x 4

4 6-foot lengths of 2 x 2

4 2-foot lengths of 2 x 2

4 scraps of plywood

1 50’ roll of 48” tall chicken wire

2 5’ x 10’ sections of remesh (concrete reinforcing wire)

1 scrap of corrugated metal

short length of rope

zip ties

wood screws

1 old license plate

carabiners

Tools I used

drill

hammer

screwdriver

staple gun

pliers

jigsaw

circular saw

Process

1.  Lay the 12-foot 2 x 4’s parallel to each other on the ground.  One foot in from each end, attach a 6-foot 2 x 2 to perpendicular to each 2 x 4.  Then place the other 6-foot 2 x 2’s equidistant inside the first two to make a frame like shown below.  I used an extra scrap 2 x 4 to help solidify the front where we’d be dragging it.

Braces attached to the skids.

Braces attached to the skids along with the front plate for attaching the door later.

2.  Lay one of your remesh sheets over the frame perpendicular to the wood.  Note where the tag ends on the remesh are and drill holes with an appropriately-sized drill bit so that these ends of remesh can be inserted into the holes in the wood.  Then repeat on the other side of the frame.  Put the tag ends of the remesh into the drilled holes on one side of the frame and tap them down with your hammer, then go over to the other side and repeat the process.  Use zip ties to secure the remesh to the wood.  When you’re done you should have a short tunnel of remesh that covers one half of your wooden frame.  See below.

Ends of the remesh inserted into holes drilled in the skids.

The remesh is bent and each end of it is placed into holes drilled in each skid.

Then zip ties secure the remesh to the wooden frame.

3.  Repeat step 2 using another sheet of remesh on the other end of the frame.  Then zip tie the two tunnels of remesh together at the bottom and at several other points to help hold the whole thing together.

Both sheets of remesh bent into the supporting hoop shapes.

Zip ties hold the 2 sheets of remesh together in several places.

4.  Use a jigsaw to cut some plywood scraps to fit all 4 corners of the chicken scooter.  Attach them to the wooden frame with screws and the remesh with zip ties.

Scrap plywood frames the front end for the door.

More scrap plywood frames the solid back end of the scooter.

5.  Now roll out your chicken wire and cut 3 10-foot lengths.  Put them over the remesh on one end and staple it to the wooden frame.  Then do the other end.  Save the middle part for last.  The chicken wire will overlap some in the middle, which is fine.  You want to get the ends perfect, though, so do those first.  Secure with staples to the wood frame and with zip ties to the remesh.

Chicken wire covering the front end of the scooter's remesh.

3 4-foot sheets of chicken wire are enough to cover the entire length of the remesh on the chicken scooter.

6.  Using the 4 2-foot sections of 2 x 2, put in your corner braces.  I recommend doing this WAY earlier, like between steps 1 and 2, but I forgot.  Almost as easy to do it now, but just requires crawling into the chicken scooter structure.  I found out it’s quite roomy and comfortable, FYI.  Angle cut the ends of the 2 x 2’s and screw them into the wood frame as shown below.

A scrap 2x2 length with angle cuts on the ends makes a serviceable corner brace for added stability when dragging the chicken scooter around the pasture.

7.  Put a section of tarp over the chicken wire on one half of the chicken scooter to provide some shade for the chickens.  Secure the tarp with zip ties.

The tarp provides shade and shelter from the rain for the broilers.

8.  I used pliers to cut the remesh for this next step, but if you have a linesaw it will probably make your day go faster and your hands be less sore.  The cutting of the remesh with pliers took more time than the rest of this project put together.  Anyway, cut the remesh to fit your openings on each end of the chicken scooter.  Cover the remesh with chicken wire using zip ties.  Attach the chicken-wire-covered remesh to each end with staples and zip ties on the back end (the end you won’t use for a door).  I then covered this with a scrap sheet of corrugated metal so that the chickens had one end of their scooter fully enclosed for protection from the weather and predators.  We hooked one of my old license plates to the back end just for fun, but obviously that’s optional.

The solid back end provides shelter for the broilers as well as a place where predators have difficulty getting to them.

9.  Do the same thing as in the previous step, just instead of attaching all of the metal to the remesh and chicken wire and tightening it down this side will become a door.  We tied the bottom of the door to the wood frame using zip ties.  Then we used carabiners to secure the top so that we could just unhook them and ease the whole front down to allow us access to change water, add feed, or gather chickens up for processing.

The poor-boy hinges made of zip ties allow the door to swing down. They are also cheap and fast to replace.

10.  Drill two holes in the 12-foot 2 x 4’s in the front and put a loop of rope through it to help you pull the scooter around.  It’s actually really lightweight.

11.  Pull the rope until you get your chicken scooter to the pasture you want your chickens to use.

12.  Add waterer, feed trough, and chickens.  Move daily.

Well, there’s your 12-step program for building a chicken scooter!

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