Tag 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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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!

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.

Silkies!

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The Silkies arrived two days ago, and they’re unbelievably tiny, fuzzy, and cute. It’s always a shock when you pick up a day-old chick after getting accustomed to half-grown ones. I got to choose my own and tried to get a variety of colors. I’m so excited to see what they’ll grow up to look like!

The chicken tractor is so close to being done. All that’s really left to do is attach the wire, and then I’m hoping Ben and I can get the wheels on when he’s off tomorrow. The BOs are enormous and more than ready to go outside, and I had to combine them with the SLWs yesterday to free up a brooder for the Silkies, so now they really need more space. But we’ve had a few cooler nights again this week, so I guess it’s good that they were still inside. Just a couple more days, girls!

My strawberries out front are growing like crazy, and many have a few berries ripening. I need to put some beer out for the slugs, though, because several berries I picked yesterday were partially eaten. The garden seems happy, too. The lettuce is up, and I’ve been building PVC and string trellises for the beans to climb. They’ll fit over pieces of rebar that will drive into the ground much more easily than the PVC.

After blossoming and leafing out beautifully this spring, one of our pear trees has been badly hit with fireblight. Oddly, it’s a Moonglow, which is supposed to be highly resistant to the bacteria, but it still managed to get sick. I cut all of the affected branches off last week, and it’s a sad-looking little tree now. There’s a spray to use on it, but I’ve read that it has to be done later in the year. Not sure if it will make it that long or not, but I’m hoping our remaining healthy tree doesn’t get infected.

I managed to get a few pictures of the younger bunnies the other day without being eaten by PsychoBunny. It’s clear from her body language that she’s acting out of fear, and it makes me sad. It also confuses me, because she’s never been frightened or mistreated, and her sister is friendly enough. Most sources say we should give her treats so she’ll associate us with good things, pet her (whether she likes it or not at first), and carry her around to relax and gentle her. I will first need some gauntlets, though, or I’m quite sure I’ll come away armless. We joke that she’s like the bunny from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail — all cute and harmless until someone gets within range and then, Pow! She sure does make cute babies, though.

Two other major developments this past week: The Boy learned to pedal his tricycle, and we got a piano. In fact, he learned to pedal his tricycle while Ben was gone to pick up the piano. It’s a 1950 Wurlitzer in need of a little tuning, but great for what we need. It’s been fun to pull my voice books out this week and remember some of my favorites.

So that’s what’s happening, and here’s hoping that tonight will be the last night I’ll have 27 chickens in my house!

Back to “Normal”

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Well, Ben’s vacation is over, so we’ve returned to real life, which is full of all the laundry I neglected last week, a little boy who wakes up every morning expecting his daddy to be here, and a daddy who wishes he could be.

We enjoyed every minute, though. The Happy Cow tour was cancelled because of the glorious rain we had on Wednesday — an exchange I was willing to make for the garden’s sake! But Ben really does want to visit the Creamery, so we’ll try to reschedule soon. The trip to Riverbanks Zoo, however, was really fun.

Around here, PsychoBunny is still psycho, but her babies are moving around enough now that we can see there are two black ones, two white ones, and one brown one. The other doe’s babies are ready to go, so I have to get them advertised. Ben’s grandparents brought us the “rabbits for sale” signs they used to put out, but I haven’t decided yet if I’m ready for random strangers to start coming up the driveway at any time of day…

Our hens had a few slow days again (8-10 eggs a day), but each of the past two days we’ve gotten fourteen. It always makes me smile when I go outside and the girls rush to crowd against the fence, hoping I’m bringing kitchen scraps. There’s not much they can’t have — raw potato peels, onions, citrus peels, and a few other things– and it’s so great to see them turn our food waste into more eggs. A few days ago, the Comets and Leghorns apparently decided to send out their champions for a little friendly competition, and the result was two eggs that each literally filled my hand.

(The egg in the middle is normal for us, approximately equivalent to an “extra large” from the grocery store.)

As for the babies, the Buff Orps are fully feathered now and ready to go outside as soon as their tractor is done. They’re so sweet and docile, while the EEs are completely crazy, going into full-fledged panic mode every time I reach into the brooder. The Silver Laced Wyandottes are like the Buffs, basically laid-back and more curious than frightened. It’s interesting how those personality traits are preprogrammed into each breed — they’ve all been well-treated and equally handled since coming to our house, and yet they respond completely differently. We’ll have to see if the EEs mellow out as they get older.

Here’s what the 3-week-old SLWs look like:

This little one is pretending to be an SLW, too, but I’m not sure it is. It has much more white on it, and it has a single yellow comb instead of the pea comb the others are beginning to sport. I’ve read that SLW roos sometimes have more white across the shoulders as chicks, so maybe it’s just a boy with a weird comb. Any ideas?


On a different note, I’m seriously craving strawberry-rhubarb pie. I think we might be making a grocery run today for just that purpose. My sister found a great recipe last year that I want to try for myself, and Ben never complains about coming home to baked goods!

But first, more laundry.