Tag Archives: rabbits

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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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:

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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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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July 16 – August 6, 2010

In this post I will attempt to fill you in pictorially on everything that’s happened on the ranch since the Great Isolated Internet Earthquake of 2010.  There’s too much to relate in an extensive post, so please read the captions on the pictures. Enjoy!

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Livestocking Plans – Rabbits

Bunny Tractor

Lindsey has created a new recipe for Braised Kentucky Bourbon Rabbit.  I can’t vouch for the recipe.  I’ve never eaten it.  Neither has Lindsey.  Lindsey hasn’t even eaten rabbit.  But she should – it’s really good and really good for you!

Rabbit meat is low in cholesterol – much lower than chicken, beef, lamb, and pork.  It is also very low in fat, and most of the fat that it does have is of the unsaturated type.  Despite this, rabbit meat has the highest percentage of protein.  The meat also has fewer calories per pound than chicken, beef, pork, or lamb.  Basically rabbit meat is about the healthiest meat you can eat.  And it’s all white meat!

Comparison of Meats

Rabbits are also the ultimate in sustainability.  You can produce 320 pounds of rabbit meat in a year starting from one pair of breeding rabbits.  That’s more meat than a breeding pair of cattle can produce in a year, and the rabbits require far less of a footprint in terms of land, water, and food in order to produce the meat.  As more and more humans take up more and more of the space on the planet, meat animals able to be productive on small footprints will become more and more important.

Daniel Salatin has been raising meat rabbits at Polyface Farms for over 20 years now.  He claims that they could sell 300 rabbits per week if he could produce that many, so there’s no shortage of a market in their area at least.  We want to market our rabbits to the restaurants in Louisville, Lexington, Nashville, and Cincinnati.  We plan to follow the Salatin model of raising our rabbits on pasture in the spring, summer, and fall and then bringing them into a hoop house or barn in the winter.  We’ll have the rabbits living above laying hens.  The rabbit manure will fall through the floor of their enclosures and land on the floor of the building.  There it will be mixed with carbonaceous materials.  The chickens will scratch the manure and carbonaceous materials together to create a rich compost that we can then utilize in our gardens, orchards, and pastures.  Earthworm farming (vermiculture) can also be integrated into this system using the waste feed from the rabbits to enrich the soil and, in turn, feeding the chickens.  The chickens do their part creating the compost, laying eggs, and growing meat for the stock pot.

Rabbits are easy to start with, and we may take a field trip to Swoope to see Polyface and inquire about purchasing some of Daniel’s line of meat rabbits.  He has been breeding them for twenty years to increase their ability to utilize forage.  Why reinvent the wheel ourselves when we can help him profit from his breeding program as well as give ourselves the best possible kick start to our own rabbitry?

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