Our First Egg!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Kit progress

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend lost our runt, and found out that our doe Blueberry does not have a full set of working nipples. She almost developed mastitis in two teats, as she produced milk in the ducts, but lacked working nipples for the kits to extract the milk. She had to go to the vet, and get antibiotics to prevent infection in the two teats that are lacking a nipple. This is also the same day that our garbage disposal backed up, and I had pies to bake without working overhead stove hood lights, as those burned out that day too.

So our basket of 10 healthy looking kits pre-Thanksgiving has turned into a basket of four large, healthy kits, and three skinny kits, and two kits that are small and starving. 

We began supplementing the kits that were not gaining weight with this:
1/2 c. Evap. Goats milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 T. Cane syrup

It is really difficult to try to get a rabbit kit to nurse, and have to feed from syringe 1-2 drops at a time. We fed 3 times a day. Then, some kits developed diahhrea that we were supplementing. Not good. They cannot stand a loss of fluid that way. 

 So now, the plan is to feed the 1/2 of kits that are skinny/starving in p.m., withhold nest box through night, then feed big kits in a.m. Rabbits only nurse 1-2 times a day, so this way we are trying to encourage her to nurse 2 times a day and making sure all kits have a chance to feed, and are not being pushed around by the larger kits. We shall see if this works.
The big kits

The starving kits

A glimpse of cute tummies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The KITS have arrived!

Our senior doe (a female rabbit over six months of age) Blue(berry) gave birth to TEN kits tonight! When a rabbit gives birth, it is called kindling. And kits are the babies. So, now that you are all up to speed with the lingo, I can get down to describing them!
Blue's pregnancy began just 31 days ago, when she was bred to Winchester, our junior buck. That is a typical length of term for a rabbit pregnancy. No wonder the saying goes, "multiplying like rabits!" She was in the mood to get pregnant, too. She was very interested in him for weeks before I let them do the deed. At 28 days I made a nest box of wood and hardware cloth, and placed it in her cage (above).
Blue then got busy gathering large mouthfuls of hay and arranging it "just so" in her nesting box. I Then added some spare rabbit scrap/junk wool, like mats and kind of junky stuff that I wasn't going to use to spin. Then it was time to wait. 

Fast-forward three days. Rabbits usually kindle at 31 days, so we had been checking the nest box all day. But it was a very busy day, family feast at school, snow, a class tonight , etc. Still. No kits. I felt her stomach three days in a row, very, very gently. Just put my hand under her abdomen. Then just waited. All three times I felt little movements. Kicks. But what do I know, I have never done this before. Maybe I am wrong I thought. Maybe she is not pregnant. But she thought she was. She was grumpy. And did not want any rabbits near her cage. At times did not want me near her cage.

Even so, by the end of today I began to doubt the pregnancy, and began to dread getting up all night
to check on her, only to find no kits. Or so I thought. Ernie and I left tonight for a class we are taking, and left my Mom in charge of the kids and rabbit checking. She checked every hour. No change. But
between the last time she checked and the time we got home, Blue managed to give birth to 10 (!?!) kits, eat the placenta and sacks, clean them all, and pluck her hair off her dewlap and sides to cover and insulate them. What a champ! She was sitting outside the nest box when I got home, and the only way i knew they were in there was because she looked ragged from pulling all her hair out.
So, what are they like? They are very small, like the palm of your hand, a few inches long, and thin, like 1/3 of a palm wide. They are soft, like velvet or warm baby skin. They do not have a smell that I can discern. They make little grunting noises to find each other or their mother. They pile up atop one another in the nest box and thier warm fur. We have a runt. Some are dark grey, some medium, some light grey or white. Time will tell.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What to do with all the willow branches that fell in your backyard, when you have rabbits

So the snow from a storm of a few weeks ago is still melting in my backyard. We have had enough melt in the two days to expose two things: one, that my lawn looks like hell from all the wet leaves and sticks, and two, there are a heck of a lot of downed willow branches. Our backyard recieves shade all summer from a huge weeping willow tree, that I swear is getting all of it's water from our lawn. And as soon as a storm hits we have a lot of downed branches to clear away from this beloved, but messy, tree.

Now that I have rabbits, I have a use for all the mess: rabbit willow wreaths. I got the idea from a vendor at the rabbit show. She sold little wreaths of dried willow branches and leaves that she wove together for the rabbits to eat and sharpen their teeth on.  I could do that! Hers were dried, but fresh is ok too.

So what I did was to select a few long branches and cut from the main limb. This is easy, as willows like to weep and grow long branches. If you get to your downed limbs fairly quickly, they will be nice and green and pliable, making them easy to work with.

I then bundled and braided the long branches (covered in leaves) together, sort of like making
dandelion flower wreaths when you were a kid. I also like to braid, as with boys I never get the chance to do anything fun with hair. You could just bundle together branches and wrap into a round wreath circle with a longer piece to secure them into that shape. But, its prettier and tidier to do by braiding.

Once the branches are braided, I formed them into circles, wraping the ends around the circle to hold everything together. Voila! A rabbit eating and chewing wreath. I can now store the 20 or so wreaths that I made from this storm with the pine cones and sticks I am saving for them to chew on once the current batch is used-up. I put these in a tote box in the garage. The wreaths are a great boredom-buster too, for when it is too wet for an angora rabbit to be hopping in the lawn.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

We "Killed It" at the 4-H Rabbit Show!


We have been preparing for weeks for our first rabbit show. Evan has been working every night memorizing his script, and the moves he needed to perform with his buck Winchester. He participated in showmanship, which is performing a complete health check on a rabbit, checking for many of the diseases and abnormalities that rabits are prone to.

Showmanship Competition....

Evan competed as a novice in 4-H showmwnship. After his first year, he will also need to know how to evaluate a rabbit's body type, conformity to breed standards, and quality of the animal. He competed with many novices, and ended up getting fifth place! Wow!
Checking Winchester's eyes for redness or cloudiness.
Checking his back feet for broken or missing toenails, sore hocks, and leg straightness.
 Checking his wool for dirt or mites.

Double ARBA Show....

Pumpkin and Winchester also competed in a double ARBA show. In the first show both Pumpkin and Winchester won legs! Winchester won Best of Breed, Pumpkin won Best Opposite of Breed. Wow! In the second show Winchester won 1st place, Pumpkin would have won, but she was disqualified for being 3 oz. underweight. She is a young senior doe, so she is still growing. She would have been disqualified in the first show as well, but the judge did not weigh her.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What is the Cold Snap Doing to our Routine on the Micro-farm?

For our chickens: Well the first thing we do differently is provide oatmeal to the chickens and thaw their water dishes. We are getting electricity to the coop, but it is slow in coming. Oatmeal actually heats them up nicely in this cold weather. Chickens and life in general must have a source of clean, thawed water in the winter.

For the bunnies: we are in the process of 'show conditioning' them. This involves feeding them oats with coconut oil on them, apple cores, & black oil sunflower seeds with the hulls on. Some breeders also feed barley & a few other things. We started simply. Because they are in our garage in a triple-stacker cage, they don't need anything extra for colder weather. They are all kind of bummed out though, it is too wet to let them run in the yard. Also, Pumpkin and Winchester's coats cannot get dirty and matted before the show THIS weekend!

Winchester now weighs 6lbs12oz, Pumpkin 7lbs4oz, and Blueberry is 8lbs2oz. Ideally, our French Angoras should weigh 8lbs. All have put on weight at my house. Guess the cooking must be good. They must be at least 7lbs8oz and 6 months old to be registered with ARBA. It would be nice if Pumpkin would put on the extra 4 oz before then. Pack it on Pumpkin!

Backyard birds: In the backyard, our birds now get peanut butter coated pinecones and corn cobs, then dipped in thistle seed. We feed the same standard mix of seeds as in summer. The bluejays get whole peanuts to hide and eat. We put suet in our suet cage feeders. Birds need a source of fat for warmth and energy in the fall and winter months.

I must say, we love our winter birds. We get many more varieties in the colder months. My 14-15 regular/summer birds goes up to about 22-25 in winter. We get the black capped chickadees, white crowned sparrows, northern flickers, cedar waxwings, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, juncos, wrens, brown creepers, and yellow-rumped warblers back. Our goldfinches are eating much more vigorously too. We all enjoy watching them flit around the backyard, busy eating and socializing. We get front row seats into their little world from our living room. They are cheerful & happy on sunny days and grateful for the food on cloudy ones .

Yes, feeding the birds costs money, and to some degree time. However, they give back to us in entertainment value. The birds also provide a source of fertilizer (nitrogen-rich poop) for plants and trees surrounding the feeders. They drop sunflower hulls, which are a source of humus & mulch for the soil underneath the feeders. The birds also control insects in our trees and plants. They are great caterpillar & aphid hunters. The goldfinches in particular are also good at foraging for seeds in our backyard. They clean up and eat many varieties of seeds on our plants, which stops them from over-running a planting bed and spreading too much.

So should you feed the birds? Yes. As many varieties as you can. They are not as messy as people think. Just plant their feeders over gardening beds or from trees at the perimeter of your property line, and they will not even poop on your patio furniture.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Snow is (Finally) Here! More Fall & Winter Prep

So we all are super-excited (a word?) about the snow here at the urban micro-farm. We have been preparing for a wet (fingers crossed) winter for a few weekends now. This incudes clipping/mulching in dead annuals and veggies, picking up donated compost (thank you!), and packing leaves into our flower beds. Because:

I have an Early New Years Resolution: that not even ONE bag of leaves or clippings leaves my yard in a rubbish bin! All will be composted or left in flower beds as mulch.

It's nice to have a goal. But can I achieve it? For gosh sakes, we have 14++ trees not counting large bushes on only 1/3 acre. So far, I have only let the really bad things leave my yard in a trash bag. These include: pyracantha stems (huge thorns, lots of 'em) and tomato plants.

Why the dead tomato plants thrown out? Because I have always heard that you don't want to use something as mulch that you could use to kill insects with. And yes, you can actually make an insecticide from pureed tomato leaves and stems. They can also carry "black spot," a problem that I have never had until this year. Another post on controlling that some other time. Another reason is that livestock should not eat nightshades (tomatoes are a member of this group of produce), including chickens & rabbits. So I throw 'em away.

We are also preparing for the ARBA/4-H Youth Rabbit Show this weekend at Cold Springs. This is our FIRST ever rabbit show. We are entering Pumpkin (senior doe; fawn French angora) and Winchester (junior buck self-blue French angora). Evan is going to do showmanship with Winchester and has been practicing a script, as well as doing all sorts of things with a rabbit while speaking clearly and making eye contact with a judge. Go Evan! I am so proud of him! He really had it down pat last night.

And a final note. If you are ever thinking about a chicken coop in your yard, take into careful consideration whether to roof it or not. It is costly to roof, you can see, our chickens are warm and dry today. I feel good knowing they are not too cold or wet, or forced into the coop to keep warm instead of their run. So I can highly recommend a roof, or at least a large roofed area in which they can roam inside the run when it is cold.

How to pet your bunny nicely

For an example, my bunny Winchester likes to be petted between his ears. It helps him calm down so I can play with him. Do not pet your bunny roughly because it hurts your bunny and he will scratch you. Do not pet your bunny on his belly.       
by Evan

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fluffy Muffy attacked by neighbor's dog, the results are in! She will live....probably....

Our "neighbor" has a bad habit of walking his dog off-leash around our house. He brings his children to see the chickens from outside the fence, but has effectively brought his dog to eat the chickens as well, TWICE now. This second time he is getting a bill for first aid supplies, and received a very stern warning that this was not to happen again.

It is also partly our fault, as we are in the process of putting up a wire fence around one side of the "farm," and our yard is clearly not dog-proof yet. We recently sold our rooster, Rooster Cogburn, to a farm with a breeding program, and I regret his sale, as he would have attacked the dog and maybe our best laying hen would not have been damaged. Perhaps I need a new rooster for when our hens are free-ranging.

Rooster Cogburn, buff brahma. Now part of a buff orpington-buff brahma cross program on a local farm. He was an outstanding rooster.

However, the dog must have worked pretty hard at getting into our yard without owner doing anything about it, as our hedge-row fence is pretty massive this year and tangled with branches. We have been waiting for freezing temperatures and the hedge-row flowers would die before putting up a better wire fence on this side. That a way the bees would have a source of food into fall before hibernation at our farm. Our hedge-row is grown from Viburnum bushes that produce beautiful pink and white flowers in the spring that smell so strong! It is also made from Butterfly Bushes, in yellow, white, orange/purple, and purple varieties of blooms. One side is also Flotinia, which has white flowers in the spring as well, and new growth is reddish.

So back to the chicken. I got a little off-topic there. Apologies. Our chicken Fluffy Muffy was attacked by a dog. She lost a large number of feathers, and the dog was shaking her back and forth in its mouth before my husband beat it off with a log, which I hope hurt quite a lot. Not too proud to say that. I was at a 4-H rabbit meeting at the time this happened. Our neighbor came over to help find our other chickens, which had scattered to the bushes and trees, one in a neighbors yard across the fence. She found poor Fluffy Muffy behind a chair in the backyard. She was in shock. We put her into the coop and run with the other chickens to let them all calm down.

When I got her out to inspect her later that night, she was still in shock I think. I washed her wounds with chlorahexadine, and flushed the punctures as best I could. I did not want to do too much to her, as the shock was more likely to kill her than anything that night.

In the morning I reexamined her, and found puncture wounds and a large tear down into the muscle. I debated long and hard about stitching the wound closed, but it was not bleeding. I don't really have the skills yet to sew wounds closed. Therefore, I got some antibiotics at the feed store, and syringes, as well as Redmond Clay bandage, and a disinfecting wash that was safe to lick (safe for bunnies too), as well as some Blue-Kote for when I would add her back into the flock.

I gave her shots in her thigh for six days. She lived in our upstairs shower. She ate and drank, and although in pain, was not suffering too badly. I washed the wound, and dressed with the clay bandage. The clay bandage hardened and sucked all the nasty pus out when it leaked, as well as protected the wound from further contamination. I washed it off every two days.

At one point I thought she had gangrene due to discolored skin, and I almost culled her. But instead, I got on the Backyard Chickens forum and uploaded pictures. Readers said they thought that it was just bruising, despite green color. And that gangrene didn't mean green skin, just discolored dead tissue in living skin. It would also smell really bad and be very pussy. Her wounds just smelled like raw chicken. Dinner anyone?

The wound, looking really green and bruised. Wetness is due to the disinfectant spray I put on her.

About 6 days after I convalesced her in our shower, I turned her out into the BACKyard to be with the flock. She seemed depressed and stopped eating in the shower. She was lonely I think. She did good in the yard, but was tired. I took her in for the night. The next day I repeated the process, but left her with the flock when they put themselves to bed at night. My thinking was, that although she might not be ready, and was going to get cold, that she wouldn't live alone in the shower by herself anymore. She was sad. Plus, I had read that the quickest way to regrow feathers is for the bird to BE cold. are her new feathers! They are just growing out, and has been about a week since I left her outside in the coop. Her wound that I was not sure would even heal is scabbed over really well, and looks like it grew new skin over the top. The blueish color is due to the Blue-Kote, which I use so that the birds do not peck at the red color of the scabs, which they will do if allowed. Blue-Kote also helps protect and disinfect. A bonus! I think she is going to make it. Surprise, surprise!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Beginning to put the micro-farm to bed for winter.

Starting to put our micro-farm to bed for winter. Happy Hibernation!
We began the task of putting Mother Nature to rest last weekend, timely, as we have had much wet weather since in Reno! So what do we do to begin to get ready for fall weather and winter snow (fingers crossed)?

One side of our little micro-farm^
First we get our chicken coop ready.
We have a chicken coop that is 4x4 with deep litter compost began inside it. Deep litter is a method that is used to create compost and warmth in a chicken coop (or rabbit pen), with minimal maintenance. We had began with a pile of pine shavings & straw (sources of carbon) inside on the coop floor a few months ago. The chickens helped by adding poop, a rich source of nitrogen, to the mix. We then encourage them to scratch it around and mix the straw/shavings/poop up by adding in vegetable treats, and scratch feed that they dig around for. We assist by turning the mixture with a rake occasionally. Traditional chicken farmers would clean out their coop regularly of poop, and
compost it for fertilizer/manure in a heap or trash bin. It had to rest for 3 mos+. They would complain of ammonia build-up, harmful to chickens sensitive respiratory tracts, and stinky!

However, our deep litter method caused no odor and no ammonia build up. Before October we sealed all the cracks in our coop with caulk, because although you need fresh air in the coop, I don't want it to leak cold air like a sieve. We painted the coop at that time too. All it needs now are shingles, from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store in town. To be done at a later date. Maybe at some point I will do a post on building our chicken coop and run.
Our little coop and run, flowers partially dead already. Looked really cute in summer^

Getting the coop ready for winter:
We discovered that it was very dry in the coop deep litter, too dry in fact to make good compost. Why is this ultra-important? Because deep litter done wrong is going to be harmful to the birds in the long run. Composting inside the coop also keeps the interior 10 degrees warmer than the outside temps, which is nice in the winter.

Although there were no smells in our coop, it wasn't doing exactly what we thought it should be. You want it dry, but not so dry that nothing decomposes & microbes/beneficial bacteria can't thrive. Thus, this last weekend we added dirt to the mix. The dirt was slightly wet, so that composting can begin in earnest. Compost in general needs to be slightly wet-like a wrung out towel amount of moisture to work properly. Many people who do the deep litter method have a coop with a dirt floor on the ground. Thus, we had to add our dirt to the mix as our coop sits above ground on stilts. We used Dr. Earth dirt with soil microbes and bacteria in it. We area also planning on adding scoops of dirt from places around our yard that already contain things that compost needs to get started, like mites, insects, worms, bacteria, microbes, micronutrients, etc., just to make sure it gets a good start. We mixed in the dirt with straw/pine shavings/poop with a rake. Now we covered it with more straw. We are throwing in scraps and scratch in earnest to make the chickens turn it over like crazy.
The inside of our coop, after dirt added^
Our nesting box inside coop, Aunt Fanny laying inside^

Outside the coop in the run we are also doing deep litter. Why? Because it makes good compost with minimal effort on our parts in the cleaning department. I got the idea from Northwest Edibles Blog, in which all she does in her coop is open a bale of straw and her chickens scratch it around and make compost. It stinks less, almost not at all, as well.
Our outside run compost texture^

Our run is covered by clear plexiglass roofing panels to keep our birds from getting wet. The texture of our outdoor litter compost is dry, but not so dry that it isn't making good compost. I believe it is working well. Could be a little wetter, but hey, that's ok. We have not cleaned out our run since we
built the coop, and didn't do so at this time either. The compost is still mixing and breaking down, and the chickens are still moving it around. I added more straw on top of the deep litter compost in the run. I want the chickens to have plenty of access to straw that they can bed down into in the coming weather if necessary. In the spring, I will do a big cleanout of compost from the coop and run, and start over again. For now, the compost is still "baking."
We purchased five new aluminum trash cans to store our food for chickens & rabbits. We set up our chicken food can on porch. We hung a hanging feeder for the chickens. We moved our bag of scratch feed/meal worms inside the coop so the roof would protect it from elements. We use a reusable bag for this purpose, as it breathes well and drains water if necessary.

We need to devise a way to get a water heater into the coop, but don't have electricity run to it at this time. We could also use a light, to make our chickens lay more in the short days. Although, some people say this isn't healthy for them. It's natural for egg production to slow in winter. And really, we have too many eggs from our four hens already, so we may forgo the light altogether.

Flower beds:
We began spreading fresh straw into our flower beds. We will add the dead flowers, plants, and fall leaves into the beds too as soon as we get them/clip them. It froze a few times lately, so more leaves and dead plants to come! We will get our garden covered, and cut down annual veggies as well soon. We will pick up a load of compost from a friend to add to the top of the gardens in November as well. How kind of them!

Our hugelcultur bed containing a dwarf nectarine, blueberries, perennial cat nip, annual flowers ^