Thursday, April 19, 2012

To Bun or Not to Bun?

I commissioned a cage for one of my rabbits, just the right size to fit into the condo and hang nicely. It's here, ready to test out... but... now I'm on hold due to health problems. I haven't been able to do any yard work, chores, or even drive safely due to a never-ending migraine. It's been since March.

My husband and I are considering downsizing or eliminating the rabbit project as a result. It's too much work for one person with the dirt-burrow system as it currently is. Heheheh. Nothing like a few solid weeks of tending to the rabbits for him to finally understand how much work these ground-based burrows have been! I think what I would like to do is get rid of a doe or two, save my favorite and my buck, stop breeding so they're more like pets for now, and when I recover, I will retrofit the condos as I planned. If that makes it easier to tend to them, then we will start breeding again, and I'll look for additional does at that time, maybe later this summer.

That implies a solution to my current situation will be found in a timely fashion, and I will be able to resume some or all of my work.

Life requires of us nothing less than flexibility towards change, adaptation, patience, and humor. I'm still working on more humor. Got any good jokes? I need to laugh more!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Worms! The next step in building a healthy eco-system

I'm researching good composting worms right now, since I'm going to build some worm bins to place under the buns (see previous post on design alterations of the bunny condos). I found this easy to understand blog:

This supports other statements I've heard people make on the pros and cons of both worms. I think the Eisenia Fetida will be the worm I start with (commonly called Red Wiggler). I have them in the garden already, and they have been very happy with my varied and extreme conditions (and care). Despite me, they have thrived. That's a good sign. I inherited a worm bin last summer and they have multiplied and taken over the garden beds- yay!

Now I'm working on design. I've got a bunch of sites I'm checking out.  I plan on building my own, but I think you learn the most from seeing what other people have designed. Some of these sites sell the equipment, but I'm just looking for reference. I really like this one: because it takes advantage of red wigglers' tendency to exhaust their food source and then climb higher to find more- they are surface feeders. That means I can have a tray they start off in with plenty of food. Then I can stack a higher one with more food. As they process the lower one and run out, they will move up. Then I just pull out both trays, set the one from the top on the bottom with all the worms in it, and empty the bottom one out (all nice castings and some eggs to hatch directly in the garden later) and then when the bottom one is full of bunny poo, I stack the empty back on top. So I'm thinking I'll have two layers. 

This next site has lots of good information. I recommend perusing its pages. I like the DIY page the best: I could post all the information I'm finding, but I think it's better for you and me to link to the original sources of the information rather than have me regurgitate it, yes? ;)

More sites to check out:

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tanning hides- a spring project

I have 30 or so rabbit hides in my basement freezer right now, and it's time to make them into something useful. I also have two lambskins that I want to process. Here are the links I have decided to follow. I will do as they say, and then report back on my success:

How to tan rabbit hides
How to make sheepskin rugs

This next one looks wild- I am not sure I like it, since you don't actually treat the hide- it just all dries out and is, well, in my imagination, crispy. But I like the idea of the design. I might try it with treated hides, and maybe if I have too many hides to deal with, I could make one his way for the kids to have outside in their play house:

Make a rabbit blanket

All of these articles are from I just subscribed to their magazine, since I really like their 'DIY' and 'Homesteading' archives, and it's only $10 for 6 issues. We'll see if their current issues are as interesting as the old ones!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Zero Waste Achieved

The meat gets eaten. The innards and bones go to the chickens and ultimately to compost. The poo goes in the garden. The hides will be used to make neat things (more on that later). But... there are still other parts unclaimed!  What, might you ask, do I do with the feet and heads that remain? (the tails are cat toys for our outdoor mouser when he gets bored)

I am proud to say I found a willing partner in Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center who accepted the heads (and now feet!) of my harvested rabbits. My kids and I took them a large cooler of what we have accumulated thus far and they were HAPPY for it! They take care of predators, among other animals, and at this moment they have a number of foxes for whom they are caring. These 'waste parts' are perfect for them.

So now I just have to clear a safe space and a chunk of time to start processing my hides, and I will truly have used every last bit of each of our rabbits. Zero waste! Yay!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I must explain myself

I realize as I review recent posts that I owe my readers a bit more background story from this past fall and winter for you to understand why I went from "oh, underground burrows and dirt are so worth it with happy buns!" to "this is a pain in the butt and my needs matter too!".

I wrestled with whether or not to keep 'on topic' with this blog, or let folks know what external influences have been shaping my views lately. I think external forces are important to acknowledge, as we all have them and deal with them, and this urban farm experiment is not happening in isolation, but in conjunction with the chaos of modern life. The point is that you can do all of this stuff wherever you are, in modern life, with all that it throws at you. Sort of.

In November, my mom let us know that she was ill, and when we flew into town to check on her (she lived out of state) it became apparent that she needed 24/7 nursing care, and it had to be us girls. My 2 sisters and I took shifts living with her and doing what we could to tend to her daily needs and her personal affairs. We overlapped, taking 10-14 day shifts each, for 2 months. I barely saw my kids, and had to disengage from the farm during this intense time. She passed away early January. I returned to a dying cat, whom I proceeded to nurse for a month before accepting that she needed to be put down for her own good- I was injecting her with subcutaneous fluids and was administering 5 meds daily to fight off progressing kidney failure. It was insane. Towards the end of Foot Cat's life, I found the injured kits, whom I also nursed for over a week (as we put the cat down) before returning to help conduct my mother's memorial service for her friends and extended family. When I returned we had to put down a kit every other day due to the infections reoccurring while we were away for 2 days.

I tended to many beings intensively for three months, with varying degrees of emotional investment, the biggest being my mom, of course. I remember talking to a family friend and saying "This might sound selfish, but I really need to be done nursing sick and dying things right now. Like, no more."  He totally understood, and said, "when I was growing up in Kansas, I had family who had farms and ranches. Their approach to animals was very different than mine in Kansas City, where we only had pets. You have to decide if your rabbits are pets, or commodities. Are you going to shell out $200 to save a kit that you will eat a few months later in one meal? That's an expensive meal." He said it kindly, and non-judgmentally. And it really made me stop and think.

I tend to always put others first, to a fault. It's good to let compassion guide our judgement and actions, and to keep others' needs in mind for when you can accommodate them. However, when tending to someone comes at the personal expense of not being able to keep your balance, your perspective, then it's time to step back. Of course I would move heaven and earth for my mom. And of course I was going to invest in fighting for my pet cat so long as she wasn't suffering, and there seemed to be a chance for recovery. But at a certain point, that ceases to be the case. And at a certain point, we have to let go. For their sake. And also for our sake.

My rabbits, while I wish them greater happiness than industrial animals, I cannot make them into tyrants, nor treat their young as I would my own. They do have a better life. My breeders have space, interesting foods, a safe zone, they get to go exploring in the yard, they get petted. Their babies get all the food and water and company from each other and their mothers that they want their whole lives. They get quick, respectful deaths, and nothing goes to waste.

If I have to compromise on the dirt-vs-cage thing, for my own sanity, and also learn to even cull badly injured kits up front, that is animal husbandry on the tough side. I don't want $200 meals, nor rabbits that take extra hours of each day to try to nurse back to health. Is this selfish? Gosh, I'm sure some would say it is. But this winter, Mom really drove home the point that we have to cherish ourselves enough to actually follow through on taking better care of our own hearts and our needs. So in honor of the woman who advocated for me the most, I will learn to be my own advocate.

That means simplifying processes to free up time to spend with my family, and also on other soul-filling projects of my own- like sculpting, music, reading, exercise.

That's why my tone of voice changes some. There's been much afoot of late, and it's been life-altering.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Photo gallery update, March 2012

First, bathing baby bunnies. The soak is warm water with an antibiotic solution for topical treatment that was complimented by a daily shot in the scruff of the neck with a different antibiotic. The first kit has a lacerated back leg, the second kit has a cut front wrist. Both recovered.

Next I must show off our overall progress. A year ago, we were digging up rocks and frantically finding time to build like mad. Now we have this:

Two bunny condos, a chicken coop and run, and SIX raised garden beds. (Not in picture is the ugly hay shelter we built too) The garden beds are made from an old driveway- this we chipped away at last fall once the garden beds were done. I posted some early pics in October, I think. Just to review, I called a driveway company and asked them if I could have the next one they tore out, and they incredulously delivered the busted up cement and asked what I wanted it for.  I'll post some better shots of this. The bed you can see best here is only one layer tall since it's my butterfly and bee flowerbed, and doesn't need to be deep. The beds further back are three rows tall for all the veggies. I'm still accumulating fill dirt, but a lovely fellow with an organic nursery is trading me rabbit meat for dirt, and it's been great working with him. Check out Mikl at Harlequins Gardens.

Bunny Snacks

Something that worked really well for us this winter was our system of drying and storing foraged goods for the bleak winter months. These provide additional nutrition, entertainment, and are a moral boost to nature's little foodies. It's amazing how excited they get!

I went to the local thrift store and bought up all the random cotton pillow cases I could find. Each pillow case was for a different type of foraged good. One day I went to a lady's property (at her invitation) and harvested the alfalfa plants growing in her hay pasture. Those bags filled two pillow cases once dried. To dry them, I just set them out in old cardboard box lids in the garage, and the heat did the trick. Another day, we offered to prune a neighbor's damaged apple tree, and kept the branches for the buns in a pile. They adore apple bark! I saves a couple pillow cases of maple leaves, another favorite, fennel plant tops in another, corn stalks (not very nutritious, but they entertain), and one with willow shoots and leaves, and dried hibiscus flowers. These 8 pillow cases have been adequate for me to provide tasty nutritious treats that are natural foods for rabbits, and have kept their spirits up when they were confined by snow and bad winds this winter.

The advantage of the cotton pillow cases is that they breathe, and so they don't cause the contents to mildew. I put the willow and maple leaves in fresh and set them up off the ground, and turned the bags a few times, and they dried out just fine. They're really easy to transport and store. If you are short on space, you can just hang them up in the garage (just don't run your car in there, or the exhaust will compromise them- our garage is our shop, so it's no threat).

I will warn you to research the different food your forage for buns. There are some that are great, and others that will make them sick. Contrary to what you might think, rabbits have as sensitive a digestive track as horses, and if their gut flora gets off they can die quickly. Things like willows are right in between, according to the research I did online: If you give them too much they will get sick, so only give them willow 2 times a week. I opt for once a week, since I have enough other things to offer them. They get treats every other day in addition to the pellets, grains, and hay.

I also try to maintain some medicinals for them: strawberry leaves and raspberry shoots. You can read up on them on various forums. The two I frequent the most are homesteadingtoday's natural food for rabbits thread, and the yahoo group 'Meatrabbits'. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bunny Condo Design Adjustment

So, of course I review my last post and laugh to see I have to eat my own words.

We did *some* things right with our previous design, but as this is an experiment where we intend to improve things, I have come to the conclusion that we need to change some things to make this better. And alas, we must compromise our idealism somewhat. That perfect design for our condos is less than perfect at the moment... although it will get closer soon! Here's what happened:

Our doe that kindled 14 kits lost 5. Two disappeared. I never found them. And then I found 5 with lacerations one morning, when they were just around 2 weeks old. I checked all around the cage, and am left to assume that a random piece of glass must have been underground where they were digging, from the fill dirt I add to freshen up between litters, and they cut themselves where I couldn't protect them. We ended up loosing 3 of the 5 due to infection, despite me giving them shots daily and bathing the wounds for over a week. I was so disgusted and sad.

Our purpose in having the rabbits live on the ground was to give them a better quality of life, but this experience left me doubting that it was really a better life for them.  So my conclusion is partially for the rabbits' sake, and partially for mine: They have to go in cages above ground. Here is my reasoning:

1. The lacerations and disappearances could be avoided if they were in a finite space that I have full access to. The infections would have had a better chance to heal, and I wouldn't have needed to segregate the injured ones, giving them less access to nursing and thus being smaller than their uninjured siblings. It was very stressful for the doe to have me kidnap her daily and stick her in a box with the injured ones, which smelled funny from the baths and meds, and with whom she hadn't been able to interact most of the day/night.

2. My other doe kindled 8 and lost 5, so only 3 have reached maturity. Why? She wouldn't reuse her burrow, and birthed them right on the dirt. I put a nest box in her condo and the remaining three thrived. She is a horrible housekeeper, and makes it an awful chore to keep her dirt as clean as I desire- and she's always kicking dirt into her food and water, leaving me to clean her water continually in the winter (hanging bottles freeze here in CO so they're only for warm seasons).

3. I spend wayyyy too much time fiddling with their dang dirt. I need to be able to take care of the rest of our farm and my kids, for gosh sakes, and the rabbits are too labor intensive the way we're doing it. It's either change the system, or ditch the rabbits. Seriously. It got that intensive.

My solution? Keep our bomb-proof structures, and custom-outfit them with cages of the same dimensions that keep them off the dirt. That way, they still have the spaciousness they are used to. Also, by raising them up a foot (the condos are tall enough to do that without compromising their comfort) I can install worm bins underneath, and have worms compost the waste materials directly, and I just pull out the garden compost whenever it gets full. That way I don't have to clean poo daily, dig out urine-soaked dirt, fiddle with finding organic fill-dirt to replenish them with, and waste yard space on a separate compost pile. I can also give the rabbits a ramp to access the yard, so their overall quality of life will still be pleasant.

To accomplish this remodel, we have stopped breeding. Once our last two litters are grown and harvested (by early May), I'll have my cages built to spec, and it's just a matter of pulling one out at a time, screwing in the hooks, and hanging the cages. Then they go back in. I should have them all outfitted in only a day. Then I'll give them a week or two to adjust, and start breeding again at the start of June.

I'm still figuring out how to design the worm bins underneath to accommodate our condos' bottom lip under the door, but I think I can make them like drawers that just pull out, with the worms and fresh poo in the 'drawer' and the compost pilings falling to the ground for me to shovel out. There will be a fine mesh lining the drawer through which the pilings fall. More on that to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Satifaction come in many forms

Today I celebrate two things:

My favorite doe kindled successfully, giving birth to FOURTEEN kits! Half are black, half white (pictures coming soon!). All are squirmy, warm and happy. She is in good shape, and the neighboring buck, Bawb, the sire of the litter, is beside himself with excitement. He even built a nest on his side, hopeful that he'll get visitors once they're up and about!

The second thing I celebrate is being able to enjoy the fruits of having done something right the first time. We are experiencing our occasional gusts of wind along the front range, estimated to be getting up to 90 miles per hour tonight- hurricane force, minus the pelting rain. As I go check on the buns, top up water bowls, and give them their night-feeding, I am tucked into the lee side of the fence, huddled in calm air inside the bomb-proof condos we painstakingly reinforced for our rabbits. All is quiet for them, other than the wind howling inches away. The new, naked kits are snuggled in a shallow nest of straw and belly fur, right at the surface (she built her nest above-ground this time). They are warm and happy.

I am so glad that we not only took seasonal sun movement into consideration, but weather patterns and wind direction as well when we planned the layout of our structures. Those hours of chipping out river rock to sink cement-encased 4x4s two feet into the ground, our careful construction with no shortcuts in the woodwork, thorough roof reinforcement, and the seasonal plexiglass screwed over the chicken-wire (open-air) doors have resulted in an effortless haven for newborns even in harsh conditions. 

Even though the wind is scary-sounding and makes my eyes grow big in awe occasionally this evening, I can rest assured that my buns and chickens are cozy and safe. That's a nice feeling.