Poultry Update

DSC_0021Yesterday I drove out to the Quennel Lake Livestock Conservatory and picked up these two beautiful ladies. They are a pair of Welsumer (or Welsummer) hens.

Since lately I’ve been selling a lot of eggs to my neighbors, I needed to increase the production around here. Although these girls are in their third year, they are reported to still be laying well and were only $5 each. They are in lovely shape and will be laying eggs the color of wet terracotta. I was also told that they may go broody, so in that case I’ll probably find some fertilized eggs to put under them and see how they do.

DSC_0013Poor white chicken is going through a hard molt, the first hard molt I’ve ever seen here. She looks pathetic and her egg production has slacked a bit. Since she was at the bottom of the pecking order, she was delighted to have the two Welsumer girls show up so she could give them a few good pecks and move up the ranks. Other than that there seems to be no real squabbling amongst the hens. The new girls are sticking together and respectfully keeping their distance for now. The duck and the pheasant seem particularly interested in them.

DSC_0015The pheasant cock is still doing very well. He is a very calm and happy bird and makes delightfully musical little chirping noises. I have read that he will probably go through a molt this summer and that’s when his adult plumage will really come in. I’ve also read that it’s common for their tail feathers to get wet and freeze in the winter and get stepped on by other birds, causing them to break. I’m hoping that since he is now being kept in a covered run, that this will prevent further breakage. The tails are very impressive so it would be a shame for him to break it again. I’ve also hopefully lined up a lady pheasant for him this summer, from the same breeder that he originates from. Very exciting!

New Bunnies Day

DSC_0044 Today was the due date for Esther, Samphire and Tuna; but when I went out to the barn for chores this evening, only one nest was furry and that was Sam’s. She kindled ten pink and healthy purebred Californian kits. Here they are next to my purple and orange cauliflower starts that need to get put in the ground ASAP.

As for Tuna, nothing. She just wanted her grass and treats and that’s that. I was a little surprised because I remember the breeding going very well. She hasn’t used her nestbox as a toilet yet though, so I’m still hopeful. Maybe tomorrow.

Esther sometimes kindles on day 32, so it’s not that unusual that her box was still empty. Once I had just about finished my barn chores, around dusk, I noticed her going into birthing mode. She was acting restless and breathing very rapidly and heavily. Then she started pulling fur. I sat down and watched her for awhile since it’s not something I usually see. She pulled it rhythmically from her dewlap and also from down both her sides. Then she gathered it all up and put it into the nest box. It’s nice that my rabbits have become comfortable enough with me that I get to witness these private moments more and more.

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Resting in between fur-pulling sessions

It’s been a few hours since then so I’ll bet she has a litter out there right now. I’m very excited to see what she’ll throw since this is my first Standard Rex/Creme d’Argent litter. I don’t think we’ll have any Rex-furred kits this generation, but I’m hoping for some interesting colors. I’m also interested in finding out how this hybrid combo compares to the others as far as grow out is concerned.

Here’s an idea of the amount of greens the bunnies get fed every day during this time of year. The grass is growing so fast they can scarcely keep up. I have one tractor of four bunnies who have a low roof and a huge bundle of grass placed on top for them every day where they can pull it down and eat it. These particular bunnies have eaten almost no pellets and have only made it through one quarter of a 32 oz water bottle in ONE WHOLE WEEK. I will be constructing more low-roof tractors so that I can capitalize on this. I love the more natural diet, the fact that it’s free, and the added health benefits both for the rabbits and for the eventual consumer of the rabbits. Me.

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Bluefin’s Litter

DSC_0031These little Standard Rex bunnies are nearly five weeks old. I am feeding all the rabbits a primarily fresh grass and forage diet right now as there is so much lush growth in my yard. Every day I go out with my little scythe and mow down fresh bunches of greens for them which they happily dive into. They all eat a lot less pellets this way and they all love it. Plus it’s free!

DSC_0050I took a little look at the tort baby and it seems to be a doe. I’ll know for sure next time once I’m able to do everyone. She is the runt of the litter but still doing very well and very friendly. Bluefin has done a great job raising everyone and soon they’ll be out in their own tractor, on lawn mowing duty with the other kits.

DSC_0032In other news I finally got myself a tattoo machine for doing rabbit ear numbers. I decided on the KBTatt pen which I ordered through Martin’s Cages. I’m excited to try it out on these little guys, it’s a skill I’ve been wanting to learn since I got into rabbits a couple of years ago. More info on that to come!

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Bunnies Move Out

DSC_0065The two first litters of the year are now seven weeks old and it’s time to move out!

Each group is now in their own tractor on lawn mowing/fertilizing duty. They will be moved each day to a new patch of grass and their mothers will finally have a break and some more room to themselves. Two hybrid bunnies have been sold, so there are six buns per tractor which is a good number. In about three weeks the bucks and the does will be separated out. From some preliminary sexing, I know that the hybrid litter is mostly does, but the sexes of the Californian litter are still unknown. I’ll probably flip them all over in the next few days to see what I have.

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Californian kits

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Hybrid kits

I also sexed the oldest Standard Rex litter today and we have four bucks and three does. Here’s one of the blue otter bucks.

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Sexing position

DSC_0087I also got a few pictures of the younger Rex litter, they are about three weeks old and at the very cute, cotton-ball stage. Bluefin is still growling every time I take them out, but I’ve been ignoring it and giving her an overdose of petting each time which has helped a lot. She’s such a bratty girl.

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Bluefin’s buns

The kit who I thought would be white has turned into sort of a tortoiseshell color. It has a tan topside, a white belly and white/greyish sides with a little grey dot on the nose. I’ve never seen a Rex this color before. Does anyone have any ideas?

DSC_0131 DSC_0129 Esther, Samphire and Tuna have all been bred again today so I’ll be expecting three more litters in a month. I’ll have purebred Rex, purebred Californians, and I bred Esther to Timmy for the first time, so there will be some Creme d’Argent/Rex hybrids. I’m excited to see how they turn out. Here’s hoping for some neat colors and coats.

After my last post about my struggles getting pedigrees for some of my rabbits, I reached out to another local breeder who was able to figure out Tuna’s pedigree for me, as she owns her parents now. One down, two to go! It’s so interesting to look back into her lineage, there are actually quite a few brokens in there. I wonder if she’ll ever throw any?

Baby Rabbit Update – Week 1

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Californian X Creme d’Argent agouti kit

The kits are a little over a week old, and I’m happy to say that my new DIY nest bedding method is working very well. Everyone has been warm and happy with no issues at all. I’m so pleased to have finally figured out the nest box situation here.

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Californian X Creme d’Argent black steel kit

Tuna my Standard Rex is due to kindle tomorrow morning. Her nest is well trampled and she hasn’t pooped in it, so I fully expect a nice little litter when I wake up on Saturday. Her daughter Bluefin is due on the 23rd. It will be Blue’s first litter so anything could happen. It will be nice to have some more Rex litters in the barn, they’re so soft and exotic even though they often have a lot of attitude.

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Californian kit, 1 week

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Californian kits in the nest

I actually also really like that the shredded paper adds great color! So cute.

 

Californian Kits are Here

DSC_0002On schedule, Samphire kindled seven kits this morning, one unfortunately was stillborn. I’ll have to monitor the nestbox closely from now on to make sure my new bedding experiment is doing the trick. I may add a piece of cardboard flooring if I find the kits burrowing down too much. It’s not that cold out right now but the kits need to stay extra warm for the first couple of weeks in order to develop well.

Homing Pigeons Going Nest Crazy

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The pigeons are now trying to nest in any spot they can. This hen decided a nice location would be right on top of a piece of metal on the quail cage. I also have a pair taking up a third of my chicken nest boxes. The hen on top of the quail is actually one of the first homers I got, and is one of my favorites because of her little white eye stripe.

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Making some adjustments

When I feed and water the quail, she just sits there and looks at me. At least I’ll be able to observe her squabs easily. I had been hoping that the white pigeons would pair up together, but of course every white hen seems to have chosen a blue cock. The first squabs to be born here have a blue mother, but also seem to have a white dad as they are feathering out mostly white with a few grey spots. Oh well.

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I have a much greater understanding now of why our ancestors raised pigeons for food, and also why they are so plentiful in the wild. They breed like nuts. When the current squabs are around 20-30 days old, the pair will start a new nest and brood another set of eggs. They do all the work for you, and you harvest the squabs at 30 days.

I don’t much like the idea of butchering pigeons, as I really have a deep connection with these birds, but it now appears that I have no choice. I simply won’t have room for everyone if they continue to breed like this. To be honest, I’m very interested in trying squab.

I think I may cull some of my blue cocks, as there are too many cocks anyways, and eventually pare down my blue bar/check flock to a couple of pairs. Then I’ll separate them from my white homers and have a flock of whites for my dove release business, as well as some blue homers if I want to do some racing. The whites get picked off too easily by predators for that and I do like the wild-type plumage of the blues.

It’s weird that wild-type pigeons are viewed by so many as disgusting, filthy trash birds; while white pigeons are considered almost (literally) godly, and used at sacred ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, etc. White pigeons are just regular pigeons wearing white feathers. Why do we like white things so much? An interesting consideration.

Help! My Meat Rabbits Won’t Breed

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One of my Standard Rex pairs getting ready to breed as the jealous Californian buck looks on

Are you having problems getting your rabbits to do what they’re supposedly so famous for? They’re just sitting there in your barn, lying around in the lap of luxury, eating bag after bag of expensive food and your freezer is empty? So frustrating! Here are a few tips and tricks that have proven useful to me over the past four years running my rabbitry in getting more bang from my bucks. Get it?

First, we all know to bring the doe to the buck’s cage and not the other way around. This is because if you bring the buck to the doe, often he’ll be too interested in sniffing out the new territory than sex. If bringing her to him doesn’t work, you can also try putting them both in a neutral area. I’ve noticed if I put my pair in a tractor/cage together outside on the grass, often they’ll get in the mood. You can also try putting them in a larger than usual enclosure and this added freedom and fresh air may inspire them. Of course, there is also the rare recalcitrant doe who must have the buck brought to her in order to get the deed done. Some people also swear by taking an unwilling doe for a car ride. It’s unknown whether this works by jumpstarting the survival instinct or simply the vibration.

Some does also require that the buck puts some effort into breeding and will refuse him if he doesn’t give her a good chase. If you have a lazy buck who just wants to mount and not chase, try your doe with another more energetic buck and see if she acquiesces so you know what’s up. You’ll also have usually better luck breeding a young doe, say between 6 months to a year old, as opposed to an older doe who has never been bred and may become permanently uninterested.

Light plays an important role in rabbit receptivity. Nature has built that into them so that there are less babies born in the harsher winter months when there is less food and more predation. If your rabbits get no artificial light, they might be reluctant to breed in the darker months. Adding a single lightbulb on for a few hours a day either before or after the sun rises or sets, will often make a big difference. You may also want to try breeding around dawn or dusk, when rabbits are naturally more active.

Temperature too can make rabbits unwilling to breed if it’s either too hot or too cold. Rabbits can even become temporarily sterile if temperatures are too high for extended periods.

Not her time of the month maybe? Nope, rabbits are induced ovulators that drop their eggs whenever successful mating occurs. This also means that you will have better luck conceiving if you always breed your pair twice. I usually wait for the buck to fall off once or twice, then separate them, then put them together again in a few hours. If you’re not sure what it means for the buck to ‘fall off’, don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it. Some bucks even scream when they do. I’ve heard different accounts of how much time is best to wait between breedings, from 1 hour to 8 hours. I generally wait between one to four hours or so. It’s also important to make sure the male’s equipment is in good shape. An injured or sore-looking penis or testicles may inhibit fertility or willingness.

Doe rabbits are more inclined to lift during certain periods and you can tell how receptive they are by checking the color of the vulva. A darker pink/purplish color is best for breeding, while very light pinkish-white is generally a no-go. I personally never bother doing this. If my does refuse to breed, I just keep putting them back in every day until they do. You will often also have better luck breeding a doe if she still has kits with her. A quick way to test receptability is to stroke your doe along her back and see if she lifts her hind end and tail for you. A doe who does this will almost surely lift for the buck.

Food. One trick I’ve learned is to wait to feed your rabbits until after a breeding has occurred. If she refuses, she refuses, and of course still gets fed, but if she accepts then they sort of start viewing the food as a reward. I also think they have more energy when they’re hungry and will sometimes just sit there like lazy bums if they’ve already eaten. Another important aspect to consider is that if your bucks are fat, they’ll be too lazy to breed. You want to keep them slim and trim. This goes double for does, who will sometimes have trouble conceiving if they’re too fat.

Something I use a lot here on my little farm is apple cider vinegar. One use is to put about a teaspoon in the doe’s water (32 oz) for a few days if she’s refusing to lift. I don’t know if it’s actually the vinegar helping or just coincidence, but I’ve seemingly had success with it in the past. You can also try giving your doe more fresh food. A very safe treat that I like to offer is blackberry bramble.

Cleanliness. I’ve noticed that if the barn is a bit stinky or I’ve been neglecting my chores, the rabbits get a bit depressed. I know I wouldn’t feel too frisky if I was living in dirty conditions, so I can’t blame them. Try giving your hutches or barn a good thorough cleaning and you may find your rabbits more willing.

Good luck!

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The Chicken Dance

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This is Black Chicken, accomplice to White Chicken who will be finding a new home together soon because they can’t shut up

I’ve wanted chickens for as long as I can remember. Finally getting some was a learning curve. You don’t just “get chickens”, you begin doing the chicken dance.

Let’s forget about all the stuff like coop building, basic care and maintenance, parasites or integration of different birds. I’m talking about the fact that laying heritage breed chickens have a window of productivity from about 6 months of age to about three years old.  Before that they are chicks and after that they taper off laying and are generally replaced. On top of this, there are certain other things involved in keeping chickens I never really considered.

I started with three Buff Orpington chicks. One was a roo, so he had to go. One pullet was killed by a raccoon before the coop was fully finished. Then I got a Columbian Rock and a Red Rock chick. Both grew into nice, reliable hens. I bought two huge Blue Orpington girls. They starting breaking all the other eggs in the nest from their weight so they had to be resold. I got three Black Copper Maran chicks, one was a roo and had to go. Then one of the two hens was sold because I was getting too many eggs. After that I sold my last Buff Orpington because she kept going broody to the point of near-death and bought a nice Barred Rock pullet instead. Then I hatched some Easter Eggers, out of which I got one nice little pullet. Now I’m trying to sell my Columbian Rock and Red Rock hens because although they are great producers, they are just too noisy in the mornings and I have to sleep with a pillow over my head.

Once these two chatty ladies are gone I’ll be down to three hens. This seems like a good number since it’s just me here now, although the dogs do help me eat the eggs. I haven’t had any hens long enough yet to retire them, although I’ve “retired” a couple of hundred spent layers and roos from other local flocks. I’m curious to see how productive my hens remain as they age, if I can ever hold on to one long enough. This has also led to wanting hens that all lay different colored eggs, so I know what’s up.

I’m at the point where I don’t really want baby chicks anymore. They’re incredibly cute, but they take too much care before they can become good producers, if they even make it that far. I’ll probably stick to buying pullets or hens at the local poultry swaps or from online ads if I need more eggs, or let’s be honest, more chickens. I do really enjoy trying out the different breeds and learning about them. I can always sell them right?

Simple Rabbit Liver Pate

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If you raise meat rabbits, you probably have lots of rabbit liver. I like sauteed fresh livers with crispy fried sage and garlic, but with a little extra effort you can make a delectable and creamy liver pate. The proportions are not so important, but I find that using my copper pan makes a better tasting pate than non-stick.

Rabbit Liver Pate

Fresh livers from 4 rabbits
2 cloves garlic
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1T butter
1T cognac

Add butter to a copper saute pan on medium high heat. Salt and pepper your rabbit livers on both sides and saute for about 1-2 minutes per side. The centers should still be pink. Slice garlic and add to pan when you have about 2 minutes cooking time left. Remove livers when done and set aside. Add cognac to garlic in pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add livers, garlic and pan drippings to a food processor. Pulse until very smooth and add more salt if required. Serve warm or cold with toasted baguette rounds. Can also be frozen. Serves 4. Enjoy!