Category Archives: Rabbits

Homesteading Update

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Well, let’s get the confession over with first. There is no garden this year. There was a garden, but through a program of careful neglect, we managed to ignore it till it went away.

I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle taking care of my children and getting things done outside. Obviously my great-great-grandmothers managed it somehow. It can be done. I just haven’t figured out how they did it yet. Babywearing is great, but it’s not particularly practical for working outside in a South Carolina July.

Anyway, as a result, I’ve been on a bare-bones maintenance program around here, and the garden paid the price. We had such a hot, dry summer, though, that even the gardens people actually remembered to tend around here yielded very little.

So, no vegetables, but we do have a few home-grown chicks. I’ve had multiple broody hens over the years, but none have ever stuck it out long enough to hatch the eggs. This year, though, two girls teamed up, sitting on the nest together most of the time and taking turns at eating and drinking. They managed to hatch out a total of eleven chicks, nine of which survived and are doing wonderfully.

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The only thing we’ve expanded in the last few months is the rabbitry. We still have (and love) our American Chinchilla trio plus their eight current offspring, but now we also have standard Rex. If you’ve never felt Rex fur before, there is no way to describe its softness.

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This is Julep, a young castor doe. We also have Moon Pie, her castor half-sister; Blackberry, a young black otter doe; Cassie, a mature castor doe who gave us six beautiful kits a few weeks ago; and Creole, a young silver marten buck. Later this month we’re picking up a little opal buck as well. Rabbit math. It’s worth than chicken math. Seriously.

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There is something really therapeutic about caring for them, though. They’re soft, quiet, and friendly, and I find the routine of filling water bowls and doling out pellets and hay very pleasant. Not that I linger over the process — I’m usually either grabbing a few minutes while the baby sleeps and the boys watch a video or else I’m waiting till Ben gets home and trying to get everyone taken care of between supper and darkness.

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One of Cassie's kits.

But I do stop to snuggle the occasional baby bunny. Wouldn’t you?

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Seriously cute.

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Prelude to Winter and Hens that Refuse to Lay

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Well, we didn’t get seven feet of snow here this week, but there are flakes on the forecast for Wednesday. For a place that’s usually sunny and seventy degrees on Thanksgiving Day, that’s pretty crazy. In fact, on the first of November, there were several inches of snow to the north and south of us, although my personal snow-free zone still seems to be fully functional.

I haven’t confessed to The Boy yet that it’s probably my fault he doesn’t get to go sledding when kids four miles away are building snowmen. For now, I’m just hoping that this snow-repelling power isn’t some sort of voodoo that I’ve passed down to him and his brother!

One thing I love about cold weather is how much more pleasant it makes the daily chores. I absolutely hate being out in the smothering humidity of our South Carolina summers, but on cold days, I can bundle up. My heavy Wall’s 12/8 jacket is big enough to zip over my growing baby belly, my Muck Boots keep my feet warm and dry, and with some work gloves, I get everyone fed and watered so much more comfortably than in the summer heat.

I’ve run into a strange problem this year. The pullets I hatched out on February 9 and the ones I bought the next day (in case I had hatched out nothing but roosters!) have never started to lay. They’re 41 weeks old, and I’ve never caught one of them in a nest or seen any evidence of eggs being laid and eaten. I’m really at a loss, but at this point, I’m seriously considering culling the whole bunch of them and starting fresh next spring. They’re eating laying pellets like there’s no tomorrow and we’re not seeing any return on all that feed. So we’re going to change brands and see if it makes a difference, and in a few weeks, we’ll make a decision. This is a first for me, so it’s hard to know what to do.

The rabbits continue to be wonderful. I just love them. I bred Anne, one of the California does, to the AmChin buck (George) last month in hopes of getting a better growout rate in the kits. She was due two days ago and hasn’t nested yet, but she’s made a little tunnel in the nestbox bedding and tends to put off pulling fur till the last minute. Based on her crankiness these past few weeks, I’m pretty confident she’s pregnant. Should be interesting to compare her litter (provided she has one) with whatever we get from the larger AmChin doe, Martha, who’s due on December 4. I’ll post photos as soon as I can.

Hope everyone has safe travels this week and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Six Busy Months

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Spring and summer have flown by this year. I’ve started a few posts without finishing any, and somehow half a year has passed since I posted anything at all.

The Baby is no longer a baby. Instead, he has morphed into an eighteen-month-old blur of energy, mischief, and fun requiring far more supervision than his brother ever has. Every obstacle must be climbed and every food must be tasted. Any cat sighting (window, television, pet store…) results in repeated and very realistic meowing. For whatever reason, his greatest ambition is to throw himself over the back of the sofa, something which I’ve managed to prevent so far. He loves to read books and wants to be just like his big brother.

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The Boy, meanwhile, started kindergarten last week. I’m homeschooling him, and he’s absolutely eating it up. Most days he does twice as many pages as projected and would keep going if I didn’t stop him. His favorite thing is cutting and pasting, and he’s very careful and conscientious with his work. He still keeps us in stitches most of the time with the crazy things he says. He loves “inventing” things, and he can build just about anything with either Legos or PVC pipes. And he is a serious people person — not always the easiest thing for this introverted mama to deal with, but I’m glad he’s so outgoing.

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And as busy as these two keep us, we’re expecting a third in March! The Boy says that it is “definitely” going to be a girl — while he adores his little brother, he also desperately wants a sister. This pregnancy is very different from my others, so maybe that means he’s right.

On the homesteading front, we built four raised beds and had a decent garden this year, but a serious lack of pollinators. The cold winter killed off a lot of honeybees around here. So our tomatoes, beans, crookneck squash, and butternut and acorn squash did pretty well, but the peppers and zucchini did nothing, and out of dozens of blossoms, my pumpkin vine only managed to set one fruit.

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The chicks we hatched are thriving and fully grown now. We lost two within two days of hatching to mushy chick disease, where the navel fails to close properly after the yolk sac is absorbed. It’s usually caused by too much humidity during the hatch or bacteria encountered in the incubator. I didn’t have a hygrometer to measure the humidity, but as far as bacteria goes, by the end of the hatch that incubator was pretty manky. Not really sure how to avoid that.

Anyway, as soon as I realized why the first one died, I immediately started applying iodine to the navels of all the rest to dry them up. One was already too sick to pull through, but the others with iffy-looking abdomens all healed up cleanly. After that, we lost one to suffocation when all of its siblings decided to pile up on it, but the rest grew up beautifully.

The only downside to hatching our own chicks was that some of the prettiest ones turned out to be cockerels, including Trouble, my funny little owl-looking baby who used to jump into my hand as soon as I reached into the brooder. My little chocolate fluffball, Godiva, did end up being a pullet, but the one that looked like its Cuckoo Marans mama and that I had hoped might lay olive eggs ended up becoming a gorgeous roo. Most of the extra cockerels will probably end up in the freezer. It’s just another way of providing for our family, of course, but you know, I couldn’t help hoping we would have a miraculous, 100% pullet hatch. ☺

We added several new rabbits: a California buck and a trio of pedigreed American Chinchillas. The oldest AmChins won’t be old enough to breed until October, but I love these rabbits! They’re huge, beautiful, and so sweet. They’re a critically endangered heritage breed, so there aren’t many of them around here.

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Add a few days in Charleston, a quick weekend trip for one of Ben’s younger brothers to get married on Pensacola Beach, several more home improvement projects, and a whole lot of laundry, and you’ve got a decent, if abbreviated, glimpse of our last six months. Hopefully it won’t be another six before I get a chance to write again!

Nesting

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This third-trimester “nesting” thing? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to have something to do with cleaning my house, doing laundry, putting meals in the freezer, and generally preparing for the arrival of Baby #2.

Instead, my nesting seems to be centered on… well, nests. And chickens. And by the time I’m done with that, all my energy is used up, and I collapse on the sofa and hope that I’ve solved all the problems and tomorrow can be about nesting for the benefit of the humans in my life.

While the front partitions have cut down drastically on the egg-eating, we’ve still found remnants of a broken egg here and there. Yesterday, I caught a Golden Comet who seemed a little too interested in what was going on in the nest boxes. She was craning her neck to peek over the front of the box while other hens were going about their business, and I was pretty sure she was the same one I’d found standing over a broken egg last week.

I grabbed her and put a zip tie on one leg so I’d be able to keep an eye on her, and sure enough, this morning I went up and found her sitting on a roost all by herself, watching a hen in the nest. While I stood there, another hen jumped out of a nest at the far end of the coop, and by the time I got there, the Comet was off the roost, across the coop, and peeking over the partition at the fresh egg. I grabbed the egg and put a golf ball in the nest, and she hopped right in and started pecking at it. Right in front of me. The brazen hussy.

So right now, she’s hanging out in solitary (also known as the compost bin) with food and water while I figure out what to do with her. I’m hoping that a few days on her own will be enough to break the habit. If not, I guess things will have to get ugly.

And of course, now that I’m getting close to having one problem solved, another one is cropping up. We have a hanging metal feeder with a 30-pound capacity under the front of the coop, and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been finding a lot of feed on the ground. I haven’t seen how it’s happening, but yesterday, Ben put 20-25 pounds of laying pellets in the feeder, and today, there’s about an inch left in the bottom. The rest is spread over about half of the run.

Obviously, when the feeder is full, it’s too heavy for them to spill by jumping onto it or bumping it. It swings freely, so I can’t see how they could scratch the feed out in such large quantities. I can’t raise the feeder, because it’s already hanging directly from an eye hook by a carabiner clip. And there’s nowhere else in the coop or run to hang it. I’m really at a loss as to a) how they’re making the mess and b) what to do about it.

For the time being, I’ve removed the feeder so that they have to eat what they’ve spilled. And I’m trying to decide if I can cut a piece of hardware cloth that will fit in between the tube and the outer rim. But if anyone else has any suggestions, please tell me!

The baby bunnies are as cute as baby bunnies always are. I suppose it’s because of having another baby of our own on the way, but we seem particularly susceptible to the cuteness this time around. So we’re hoping to find homes for these litters instead of putting them in the freezer. Lucky little critters — their arrival was well-timed.

Anyway, the animals are keeping me busy, but I keep hoping that tomorrow will be the day that I white-glove the house, fold all the clothes, and make a bunch of meal plans. And maybe this time, it’ll be true.

Catching Up, Starting Fresh, and Just a Little Bit of Showing Off

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The holiday season always flies by, but for us, anyway, it was especially crazy this year. We had a couple of pretty major projects going on in the house — finishing up the new room for The Boy and his soon-to-be little brother, turning his old room into a guest bedroom, and general touch-up, cleaning, and reorganization of the rest of the house, which has felt like a combination of a storage unit and construction zone since we started work on the new nursery.

From the moment we got the tree home, all The Boy could talk about was putting the star on top. He needed Daddy's help, but he got it up there!

From the moment we got the tree home, all The Boy could talk about was putting the star on top. He needed Daddy’s help, but he got it up there!

Christmas was lots of fun since The Boy was so very excited about it. We celebrated with my family the Friday before, and let me just say that it’s a good thing the world did not end that day, because I would have been very upset to miss out on my Mom’s famous standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. Then on Christmas Eve, Ben’s family (who were in town visiting his grandparents) came over to have dinner and to see all that Ben has been working on around here.  Christmas morning was nice and quiet with just the three of us celebrating together one last time.

So excited on Christmas morning!

So excited on Christmas morning!

Outside, we’ve been breeding rabbits, cleaning chicken coops, rebuilding nest boxes, and spreading what seems like half a ton of chicken and rabbit “contributions” on the garden area. Anticipating life with a 4-year-old and a newborn, we’re planning to keep things very small gardening-wise this year — mostly large pots close to the house for things we use the most (tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, etc.) and feed sacks for growing potatoes.

Egg production has been spotty for the last few weeks due to the frequent changes in weather. The girls also got into the nasty habit of egg-eating recently, probably because one or two eggs got broken around Christmas Day when schedules made it difficult for me to collect them as frequently as usual. This is why we ended up altering the nest boxes, adding a ramp and partition for the eggs to roll down and under, so that they end up in a nicely padded spot where they’re much less accessible to the hens.

Sweet, crazy Silkie.

Sweet, crazy Silkie.

We realized about a month ago (after moving the last of the bossy SLWs from the chicken tractor to the large coop) that two of the Easter Eggers we’ve raised this year are roosters. Crazy, right? Apparently they were too hen-pecked by the slightly older pullets to ever assert their masculinity, and honestly (maybe for the same reason), they didn’t even look like roosters until the past few weeks. Now, they’re making up for lost time and conducting multi-round crowing competitions anytime between 11:00 p.m. and dawn. At least one of them definitely needs to go.

The Boy snuggling with Dickens, his favorite cat. No, this photo doesn't "belong" here, but who cares?

The Boy snuggling with Dickens, his favorite cat. No, this photo doesn’t “belong” here, but who cares?

There should be a couple of litters of baby bunnies arriving this weekend, although we haven’t decided yet whether they’ll be ending up in the freezer or the classifieds. I haven’t been able to cook rabbit since getting pregnant — something about the tiny bones reminds me of dissecting things in high school biology class, and every time I try to handle one I end up smelling formaldehyde. Completely baseless and psychosomatic, I know, but I can’t seem to get past it yet. Hopefully the crazy will go away after the baby is born.

It’s sinking in now that this baby is coming next month. This pregnancy has flown by and lasted forever at the same time, and I’m ready to see his face. My first pregnancy was a surprise, and I was too naive to know what to worry about. I miss being naive. This time I’ve known from the beginning that I wouldn’t feel safe until I could hold this baby in my arms. We’re almost to that point now, and while I’m dreading the sleep deprivation I know I’ll be dealing with by March, I also can’t wait to hear that first cry and snuggle with another newborn.

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My sweet baby — can’t wait to see this face in person!

So, back to that new room we’ve been working on since last fall. I think we’re finally ready to post before and after shots! Ben has done such beautiful work, and I’m really proud to show it off. When we moved in, the room had old, funky-smelling, green carpet and this strange, indoor/outdoor feel, mostly due to the exterior siding on the walls. the old sliding glass door leading to the living room, and the window looking into our master bedroom. It had apparently once been a screened porch, and when they turned it into a sunroom, they didn’t change it much. (Nor did they insulate it much!) We ripped out the carpet and put down vinyl flooring, painted the walls a light blue, and basically put the whole room at the bottom of our priority list. So here are pictures starting with the “before-before,” through the “before” and the construction process, and a bunch of “now.”

The room when we moved here in October, 2010.

The room when we moved here in October, 2010.

Lovely view of the "Before" living room through the glass door.

Lovely view of the “Before” living room through the glass door.

Our temporary fix for the room. That window looked into our bedroom, by the way.

Our temporary fix for the room. That window looked into our bedroom, by the way.

Windows and door opening into the carport. Lovely.

Windows and door opening into the carport. Lovely.

Exterior siding partially down, drywall going up. The window's days are numbered...

Exterior siding partially down, drywall going up. The window’s days are numbered…

The two large windows into the carport had to go. They added nothing to the light or the view. The Boy was thrilled by the huge hole in the wall.

The two large windows into the carport had to go. They added nothing to the light or the view. The Boy was thrilled by the huge hole in the wall.

Look, no more window! Now I have a door directly into the nursery from our room.

Look, no more window! Now I have a door directly into the nursery from our room.

New floor going down. The Boy loved the sound underfoot and crab-danced back and forth.

New floor going down. The Boy loved the sound underfoot and crab-danced back and forth.

Flooring is down, light is up. Huge improvement.

Flooring is down, light is up. Huge improvement.

It's almost unrecognizable. Seriously, go back and look at the first pictures. It's amazing.

It’s almost unrecognizable. Seriously, go back and look at the first pictures. It’s amazing.

I wish my bedroom had these windows!

I wish my bedroom had these windows!

Cozy crib. I'm in love with the tree branch decal.

Cozy crib. I’m in love with the tree branch decal.

New French doors into the living room!

New French doors into the living room!

The Boy's "new" bed. The quote above it is from Thoreau: "All good things are wild and free."

The Boy’s “new” bed. The quote above it is from Thoreau: “All good things are wild and free.”

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Crib and tree branch again. Still love it.

The Boy's "new" dresser. I love this, too.

The Boy’s “new” dresser. I love this, too.

So happy. This isn't a huge space, but it's finally useful, and it's more beautiful than I ever thought possible.

So happy. This isn’t a huge space, but it’s finally useful, and it’s more beautiful than I ever thought possible.