Free Rabbit Food: Purple Dead Nettle

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This is the first post in a series where I show you the seasonal wild, free foods that I feed to my rabbit herd. It’s good for them and cheap for me, so it makes us all happy!

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Purple dead nettle, also known as purple archangel or Lamium purpureum, is a herbaceous flowering member of the mint family common to North America, Europe and Asia. It’s edible to humans both cooked and raw and contains vitamins C, iron and fiber as well as flavonoids and minerals. It’s known in the herbal world as an astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative.  It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal.  The leaves can be used on external wounds or cuts, or as a poultice.

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I have a whole field of this stuff popping up this spring, and the bunnies are loving it. I’ve been giving them all a great big handful each day and it disappears fast. Maybe your bunny would enjoy it too?

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Caraway is about to mow down this pile to nothing

Deep Litter Method for Rabbits

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Mathurine in her deceptively empty cage. She has just demolished a pound of wild greens and the remnants have been folded into the bedding

Lately I’ve been trying something new in my rabbitry, the deep litter method.

Many people use this method with chickens, pigs or cattle; but it isn’t something you would normally think to use with rabbits, unless they’re conveniently on wire like mine.

My cages used to be about a foot off the ground, and this meant I needed to do a thorough cleaning every week. More often if there were growing litters. Most of my bunnies are currently housed over a concrete floor, and I use pine pellet bedding underneath to absorb the urine. This works great because wood pellets require a good nitrogen source to start breaking down properly, and the urine provides that. It creates amazing compost in a very short time.

Not long ago however, I raised my cages up another foot. Not only did this make it easier to clean underneath them, but I noticed that if I just stirred up the litter daily with my garden hoe and kept adding more pellets to wetter areas as needed, that the bedding was beginning to compost under the cages. There was a lovely earthy smell in the barn and pellet use was cut down to about one tenth of what I was using before. The 6″ to 12″ thick layer is also much better at absorbing urine and water spills.

Another added benefit is it’s pretty much ready to go right into the garden once you do finally clean it out. I plan to leave a 2″ layer of old material underneath once I do this, in order to reinoculate the new bedding. I’ve read that commercial chicken farmers actually have a lower mortality rate for new chicks if they are introduced to well-aged deep litter bedding as opposed to a freshly sanitized clean environment, because the good bugs establish slowly and fight off the bad bugs, which establish more quickly. It makes sense to me.

Everything that falls into the bedding gets mixed in and helps the breakdown process along. Hay, straw, bits of vegetation that the rabbits drop, feed pellets, shredded paper and fur. Since I get a lot of free used coffee grounds from the local Starbucks, I sometimes sprinkle a few cups over the top.

In some areas, when I fluff up the bedding I find colonies of maggots. These spots have the blackest and richest looking compost in them, and I will sometimes scoop a bunch of it out and toss it into the chicken coop for the girls to pick through. The maggots are a great and free high protein treat for them.

Seed Starting

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I think I can say that this is the first time in my life I’ve started my seeds on time, and properly. I now have a seedling heat mat, and was happy to find small greenhouse flats at the dollar store for a buck each. I made free plant markers out of plastic yogurt lids, and the seaweed snack trays I’ve been saving fit perfectly six to a flat. Let’s go!

 

First to sprout was the curly endive and broccoli in less that 24 hours, followed by the marigolds, okra and thyme at about 48 hours. I have my tomato and pepper seeds going, as well as some herbs that I’d like more of. I go through thyme so quickly and it grows so slowly!

The tomatoes I have started are Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Prudens Purple, Black Sea Man and Green Grape. A couple of the seed varieties are older so I may have to start more. The Prudens Purple are from 2008!

For peppers right now I have Jalapeno, Poblano, Sweet Banana (thought it was hot),  and New Mexico 6 Chili. Planning to also do Habaneros.

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I went seed shopping today and got a bunch of fun stuff. Seedy Sunday is next weekend but I just couldn’t help myself.

Starting from top left we have mixed Iceland poppies, mixed violas, variegated nasturtium, tarragon, edamame, rhubarb, borage (I know it’s a weed!), rainbow carrots, daikon radish, collard greens, castor bean, shallots, scallopini squash (pattypans), golden beets, crystal apple cucumber, lemon cucumber, brussels sprouts, celery and bergamot. Phew! Did you know that some people hide seeds behind other seeds at the seed store? They do!

 

I also picked up a flat of Winterbor kale since there were no seeds available and it’s a variety I wanted to try. It’s the curly green kind most often found at the store.

Last I grabbed some elephant garlic and a canna since I’ve never grown one and I find them lovely. It will need to be lifted in the fall and stored in a frost free area for the winter, but I canna see that being much of a problem!

Controlling Rats in the Chicken Coop with a Weasel Box

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Eventually, unless your chicken pen/coop is built like a fortress, you will have rats. Especially in an urban setting like mine, where rats already exist due to human presence, the lure of eggs, chicken feed and sometimes even young chicks is too much for them to resist. A desperate rat will even munch on feathers and chicken poop.

The best rat control of course is always a good cat or dog, but some rats are too tough for the average farm cat or too wily for the average dog. My cat Parsley is usually the RCO around here (Rat Control Officer), but she will often come home very beat up from a rat fight, with scratches on her little face, neck and ears from the battle.

My dog will kill a rat if she can catch one, but she comes inside at night and that’s when they’re most active. Between them we’ve kept our minor rat issue under control until now, but now we have a special rat who refuses to be caught.

This extra intelligent rodent has decided to dig a maze of burrows underneath my chicken pen. It knows that the cat and dog can’t get at it if it comes out only inside the chicken pen at night, which is fully enclosed but does not have a wire mesh floor. It stays cozy and snug in its burrow by day, and raids the chicken and duck feed at night. The area around the pen looks like swiss cheese, and I never know when the ground beneath my boot will sink into a rat hole. Parsley has come home more than once with torn ears from battling this menace.

Now this particular rat has also developed the audacity to begin stealing eggs. Even though there is always an abundance of feed and grain inside the coop, this rat has cultivated more refined tastes. I have a basket hanging on the outside of my coop that I use to collect quail eggs. I usually bring them inside but some nights I forget. Just the other day, I noticed two quail egg shells laying on the ground that looked peculiarly like they had been nibbled open. He had climbed up, stolen two eggs out of the basket and eaten them at his leisure. Time to get serious!

The issue with catching rats inside a coop full of birds or in a yard with a lot of small pets around, is that you don’t want one of your cats or chickens getting injured by mistake. Rat traps are serious business and they could easily crush a delicate paw or feathered neck. I won’t even get into using poisons, as that can be even more dangerous for pets or wildlife who may later consume a poisoned mouse or rat. No, I want to use a good old fashioned Victor rat trap, but it needs to be used safely.

After doing a little research I came across the idea of the weasel box. A weasel box is a little wooden box about the size of a large birdhouse, that is used with bait and a trap inside to catch weasels. It has a hole at one end for the weasel to enter, and a smaller hole at the back covered with wire mesh, so air can flow through the trap, wafting the scent of the bait out and also reassuring the weasel that there is an escape route.

 

Now I’m lucky enough to not to have weasels where I am, but one day I plan to get a larger and more rural piece of property where they will no doubt be an issue. Until then, this seemed like a perfect solution for my rat problem. I built it in one evening, purchased my rat trap and set it up near the base of the coop, baited with two fresh quail eggs.

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I made mine with scraps left over from my fence construction, but you can easily build one with a single 1″ by 6″ wide , 6 foot long cedar fence board. Simply cut 3, 12″ pieces for the bottom and sides, one 17″ piece for the lid, and two 6.25″ pieces for the front and back. (Mine needed to be 7″ as my lumber was actually a full inch thick and 6″ wide instead of 3/4″ by 5.5″ like most dimensional lumber.)

The front piece should have a 2″ hole drilled slightly above center, and the back should have a 1.5″ hole drilled in the center, and covered with a square of 1/4″ wire mesh. I attached mine with a heavy duty staple gun.

It’s the perfect size to fit one of the large Victor rat traps. Put your bait next the mesh end of the box, and set your trap so the yellow or copper bait pad is next to it. This is so the rat doesn’t jump over the pad when entering the box, and also to keep the dangerous part of the trap as far away as possible from curious cat paws. If you have the kind of cats who like to stick their hands into hidey holes, you may have to attach an extender to the front entrance hole so they can’t injure themselves.

 

The rear of the lid should be attached with hinges, and the front can be fastened with a hook and loop type closure. I don’t have these parts ready yet, so for now my lid is held closed with a bungee cord. The trap is set up tonight for the first time, and hopefully I’ll be able to report its success very soon.

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Better, Cheaper Rabbit Pellets

DSC_0004There’s just one thing I like better than finding cheaper alternatives to necessary purchases, and that’s finding BETTER quality products for cheaper!

While picking up little MR16 last week, the topic of rabbit pellets came up and I was informed of a source of locally-made pellets that were non-gmo, animal product free, 1% higher in protein than my current brand, and $2 cheaper per 20kg bag. The breeder told me that her rabbit herd had made a dramatic change when she switched to these pellets; they were having larger litters, growing out faster and had better immunity. I was sold.

Today I checked it out. This magical place is Top Shelf Feeds in Duncan BC. Boy, what a fantastic store! It might be a 40 minute drive away, but this is definitely where I’m going to be buying all my livestock feed from now on. I was told they work closely with rabbit breeders to formulate their rabbit pellets, and almost everything they sell is a little, if not a lot cheaper than in Nanaimo.

For instance, for Coturnix Quail rations I normally buy 26% Gamebird Starter from Share-Kare, a shop near me, for $22.50 a bag. Compare that to 26% Quail Diet from Top Shelf at $14.50 a bag! Just one bag pretty much pays for the whole trip. I can also buy their original non-gmo layer pellets for about $0.75 more per bag, which is a very good deal. I may even switch to their organic layer pellets since I’ll be saving so much money on everything else.

They also have cool, real farmer stuff like replacement tattoo clamp numbers, stethoscopes (I bought one), scalpels, bulk bins of milk replacement powder, 20kg bags of baking soda, vials of medication that say for veterinary use only… As well as blocks of exotic frozen raw pet foods.

And when available they sell heritage, sexed chicks for a reasonable $3 or so instead of $10-15 at my local Buckerfield’s. I also bought a 50 foot roll of 3′ wide, 1/4″ hardware cloth for about $30 cheaper than I could find anywhere else. This will be used for my new pigeon loft/aviary. A bale of straw is currently about $12.50 there, but it’s $20 in Nanaimo. These are fairly significant discrepancies, especially if you buy in quantity.

To top it all off, you get to pull into a covered loading area and they pack all your feed into your vehicle for you. Love it!

How I save over 90% on Topical Flea Control for my Multiple Cat Household

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Jeffie in the garden, one of the rescued kittens

I don’t like using topical flea meds, but when you have two dogs and ten cats sometimes diatomaceous earth just isn’t enough. When I took in an abandoned cat and her litter a few months ago, they came with fleas. Despite my best efforts dusting with DE, washing bedding and vacuuming; after a couple months everyone had fleas.

Since I was rehoming Mama and most of the kittens once they were ready, I had to make sure they didn’t bring an infestation to their new homes. The only problem: A six dose package of Advantage for cats under nine pounds from my local vet costs $82.94 plus tax. This works out to about $14.50 per cat. A single dose works for about four weeks if you’re lucky. So, for ten cats, I was looking at $145 a month for flea control. NO WAY.

I decided to do a little bit of research. It turns out that the Advantage cat and dog formulation is the exact same thing. The active ingredient in both is imidacloprid 9.1%.

In other words, buy the package for small cats and get a total of 2.4ml of medication, good for 6 cat treatments. Buy the package for extra large dogs and get ten times that amount, a whopping 24ml of the exact same medication, enough for 60 small cat treatments!

The kicker is that the package for extra large dogs costs only a little bit more than the one for cats. At my vet, it’s about $100, dropping our cost per cat dose down to $1.60. That’s much better!

However, you really don’t have to pay $100 either. Since I’m in Canada, I discovered I can take “advantage” of the low price of Advantage in Australia by ordering online. (This particular product is not available to the USA). A bit more research later and I had found by recommendation what looked like a nice little online shop: Pets Megastore. A 6 pack of Advantage for extra large dogs there is $55.91 CAD and shipping is about $6.  I placed my order and they shipped that same day. My order arrived in good shape with no duty owing about two weeks later.

DSC_0013So now I have managed to drop the price per small cat dose down to $1.03. That’s a savings of almost 93 percent!

All you need to do is get a small glass vial and a syringe with no needle designed to squirt medicine into your cat’s mouth. (Note, you WILL NOT be squirting Advantage into anyone’s mouth! It is applied externally between the shoulder blades directly onto the fur.) Simply empty your extra large dog dose into your glass vial, and use the syringe to get the correct dosage out for your cat (or smaller dog). Here is a handy weight to dosage chart that applies to both cats and dogs:

0-10 lbs = 0.4ml
11-20 lbs = 0.8ml
21-30 lbs = 1.2ml
31-40 lbs = 1.6ml
41-50 lbs = 2.0ml
51-60 lbs = 2.4ml
61-70 lbs = 2.8ml
71-80 lbs = 3.2ml
81-90 lbs = 3.6ml
91-100 lbs = 4.0ml

An added benefit here is that you can tailor your dosages more precisely to your pet’s actual weight. This can save you even more money and is healthier for your pet. Keep your unused medicine well-marked and tightly sealed in a safe place that is also cool, dark and dry. Shake it up well before using again as the active ingredients may settle. It won’t lose potency until the expiration date, so mark this down as well. Be careful not to get this medicine on your skin, or wear latex gloves if you’re worried. Wash your syringe out very well with soapy water before storing. Do not use on kittens or puppies under 8 weeks of age.

If you have a multi-cat household, this tip has the potential to save you a lot of money which you can then spend on your lovely, flea-free friends. Consider a home with three small cats who get treated every month. The yearly cost of buying the small cat sized vials from the vet would add up to $522. The cost of ordering the extra large dog vials online would be $37.08. Throw in the cost of the syringe and vial and let’s say $40. You’ve just saved $482. That’s enough to feed those three cats a high quality grain-free canned food (let’s say $3 per can, one can a day) for over 5 whole months.

(I’d like to add that I haven’t been paid or reimbursed by any of the companies mentioned above. Just had a good experience shopping online and wanted to share. Also note, this information applies to Advantage and Advantage II products only. Do not use the newer, K-9 Advantix or Advantage Multi for Dogs products on cats.)