Changes for 2017

One year ago we purchased and moved to our little farm.  I remember feeling very unsure that day of what lie ahead for us, but we both clung to faith that this was where we were being led.  Looking back over the past months, I can attest that only good was in store for us, even amongst the hard work and bumps we’ve experienced along the way.  Our ideas of needs and wants have been challenged, humbled and sifted.  True priorities and simple blessings have emerged.  We changed and grew right along with this farm and we look forward to another exciting year.

Rabbits

Raising rabbits for meat was something we started when we were on a city lot in a neighborhood that restricted all livestock.  We were determined to begin taking control of our own food production so we began a small garden and brought home a pair of rabbits.  When we moved to the farm, we were suddenly able to raise traditional livestock so we no longer had a need for rabbits. wp_20160712_14_07_07_pro

Our bunnies were the cutest thing on the farm and we enjoyed them thoroughly, but when the time came to butcher them, nobody wanted to mess with it.  We had our schedule full with projects and chores involving other animals so we made the decision to sell the rabbits and no longer raise them on our farm.  We were thankful for the extra time this created for us to focus on other livestock.  I still highly recommend raising meat rabbits to someone wanting to gain control over their food on a city lot.

Honeybees

This year we plan to add honeybees to our farm.  This will be a whole new world for us, one we’ll navigate as we go.  We’d like to begin with two hives, which must be ordered this month, and set up sometime in spring.  We would like to raise our bees as naturally as possible.  While we do have some crops within our future bees’ expected flight range, we are also blessed to have an abundance of natural areas.  In the spring we see numerous wild crab apples blooming throughout the countryside and all summer long we enjoy the ever-changing color display of wildflowers scattered around the farm. This is in addition to our own garden and fruit trees.wp_20160504_14_41_51_pro

Our hope is this will give the bees plenty of natural, pesticide-free sources of nectar.  With the health of bee colonies declining and the rise of systemic pesticides (pesticides that are engineered to exist inside seeds and the resulting plant cells), we want to ensure our bees will be safe and the honey we ultimately feed to our family be free of harmful chemicals.

A New Calf

This past summer we brought our Dexter heifer, Pearl, to a farm to spend a couple of months with a proven, purebred Dexter bull.  Getting her loaded into the trailer was one of the most stressful things we have done on our farm so far.  We tried luring her in with hay with no luck. She was very skeptical of that trailer and wouldn’t be led astray by her belly.  We ended up having to muscle her big body in, despite her best resistance.  I thought somebody was going to get a hoof to the face or possibly trampled.  Thankfully, nobody was hurt and she was transported safely to the farm for her “summer vacation.”pearl

She’s back at home now – safe, sound, and assumedly “with calf.”  Come June, we should have a newborn calf on our farm.  If all goes well, it’s sure to be a highlight of our year.

Farmhouse Projects

We have a few farmhouse projects slated for this year, but I’m very excited about one in particular.  We plan to convert our useless, unwelcoming, uninsulated side porch into a well-insulated, functional winter storage pantry.  This will be in lieu of our previous idea of digging a root cellar.  It was so frustrating bringing in the harvest last year and working to preserve our produce only to realize we had nowhere to put it.  The side porch will be gutted and rebuilt with lots of insulation to ensure the temperature stays above freezing, with shelving to hold all my canning equipment and those priceless jars filled with garden goodness. wp_20170105_14_02_57_pro

Underneath the shelves, on the floor, will be built-in bins to contain produce like potatoes, pumpkins, squash and apples. wp_20170105_14_03_25_pro

The winter pantry will be such a great use of the currently dysfunctional and messy space. I plan to put in a frosted glass pantry door that I can open and close to help control the temperature of the pantry, if needed.  There won’t be any windows as the produce keeps best in the dark.  Because this room is located right off the kitchen, it will be much more convenient and accessible, not to mention more affordable, than a new root cellar.  As the shelves and bins empty over the winter, I will have temporary space to house the piles of summer produce as well, keeping my kitchen island clear and retaining its original intended function.

The Poultry Flock

We’ll be making some changes to our poultry flock this year.wp_20170105_14_07_41_pro

We’ll be thinning our flock a bit to reduce our hen population, keeping the most efficient layers.  We’ve also been discussing trading in our heritage breed ducks for the larger, meatier Pekin ducks.

Pekin ducks are ready to butcher at about 8 weeks of age, meaning we won’t keep a year-round duck flock for eggs.  The main reason for this change is because how dirty the ducks make the pond water.  The chickens and turkeys use the pond for their drinking water so we’d like the pond to be clean.  With ducks, it’s very tiring to keep clean what they insist on dirtying.  What’s more, without the ducks, we could purchase a pond filter to clean the water for us, eliminating the task of bucketing it out on a weekly basis.  Pond filters don’t work with ducks because they will clog it up and cause it to break down.  Focusing on the Pekin ducks will allow us to still enjoy ducks on our farm for a couple months (before we send them off to freezer camp!) without having the year-long issue of filthy water and a labor-intensive pond.

We’ve learned a lot during our first year on the farm.  Through trial and error, we’re discovering what we enjoy, what works with our current set-up, how we can increase the functionality of our homestead and what’s simply a drain on our time.  I expect nothing less for year two.

Thank you for reading our updates and following along through our first year on the farm.  We enjoy recording our experiences and feel so blessed by those who’ve taken the time to tell us they are enjoying our story.  Whatever is happening on the farm is made that much more enjoyable for us by being able to share it with you.

Becca

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Raising Meat Rabbits

Last week, the rabbits delivered their second litters of kits and we are pleased to announce everything is going very well.

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Snowball’s kits at 4 days old

Stormy and Snowball are doing a great job taking care of the kits and we love to check in on the litters daily and marvel at how quickly they are growing.

 

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Stormy’s kits at 1 week old

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It’s exciting to have the rabbit department of the farm up and running.

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The kits will stay with mama for 5 weeks. Afterwards, they go into a “grazer.”  This is a bottomless pen, very similar to the broiler pen Ryan built, but the tarp will be unnecessary for the rabbits.  (In fact we may just repurpose the broiler pen for the rabbits…more on that later.)  Grazing our cows and sheep through our orchard would be problematic since they would harm the flower blossoms as well as the fruit and trees.  Running our rabbits through the orchard instead solves this problem.  They will provide a valuable service of keeping the grass in the orchard mown while fertilizing the soil.

The kits reach fryer size (5-6 pounds) around 12 weeks of age.

Why rabbits?  Isn’t rabbit a little unconventional?  Rabbit is not commonly found in the American diet, however in recent years, a movement has been taking place among urban and rural dwellers alike who are concerned about the health, safety, morality and sustainability of the commercial meat industry and would like an easy, affordable, healthy alternative.  When we were told by city council at our previous home we were not allowed to have chickens, we went right out and bought rabbits.

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Huck, our red New Zealand buck

Raising meat rabbits offers a number of advantages.

 

Rabbits are:

  • Noiseless. Prepping for the apocalypse?  Who isn’t, right?  Rest easy knowing the rabbits won’t alert marauders (living or otherwise) to your secret location.  Less importantly, they won’t elicit noise complaints from your neighbors. 😉
  • Odorless (with minimal hutch management).
  • Low maintenance.  Twice a day they need a one-minute check of their food and water.
  • Pound for pound, hands-down the most cost-efficient meat around.  There are a multitude of controversial topics in the world; this is not one of them.  Four pounds of feed = 1 pound of rabbit meat.  20 pounds of feed is needed per fryer. A 50 pound bag of alfalfa pellets is about $15, rich alfalfa hay (what we feed in winter) runs $4-$5 a square bale or they can eat for free on untreated grass, leaves, twigs, spent garden plants, veggie scraps from the kitchen, weeds, clippings from shrubs or fruit tree pruning…(I can go on).
  • Easy to process.  Much easier, cleaner and quicker than chickens, so we have heard. Local meat shops will process them as well.
  • A great substitute for chicken.  It looks and tastes like chicken and can be substituted in recipes calling for chicken.
  • A free lawn service.  In a moveable pen they’ll eat dandelions, mow the grass, fertilize and aerate the soil and convert the lawn into human food, all without chemicals, fossil fuels, and the ongoing calls asking you to upgrade your service plan.
  • Not dependent on space.  A yard isn’t required to graze rabbits on.  They can be kept in hutches and fed alfalfa pellets, hay and veggie scraps.  This makes home-grown meat production open to almost anyone.
  • A compost factory.  With rabbits, a separate compost pile isn’t necessary.  We run most of our veggie scraps through the rabbits.  The manure falls to the ground under the hutch along with any discarded hay, which brings us to another benefit…
  • Gold for the garden.  Rabbit manure is among the best for garden plants.  “Bunny berries” can go directly onto the garden without being composted first.  It doesn’t even smell.  Fo’ reals.  Every few weeks, maybe once a month, we shovel the hay/manure mix out from under the hutches for our veggie garden.
  • Hardy, disease-free and able to live outdoors year-round in most climates.
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Snowball

So pretty much no time, money, skill, land or experience is required to raise rabbits. 🙂

Find your sense of adventure and break out of the chicken/beef/pork mold!  Experiment with rabbit in your recipes!

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Stormy

Rabbits are a great way for anyone to get started being more independent from the current, problematic agricultural system and large food corporations.  If raising rabbits isn’t for you, purchase some fryers from a local farmer to sample.  You may find eating healthy, pasture-raised rabbit an affordable option.

 

Becca   

 

Bunny Flop

I hate to share bad news.  I wish every post could be happy with cute pictures of fuzzy animals and smiling farm kids.  But that’s not real life and it certainly isn’t farm life.  We always have good things and bad things happening simultaneously throughout life, like rails running parallel on a train track.  We desire to keep it real here and record both our successes and failures.

The good news is our first rabbit breeding went really well.  Both our does made a soft, warm nest lined with their own fur and delivered a perfect number of kits without any problems.  Stormy had 8 kits and Snowball had 7.  8 kits is average, so we were pleased with the numbers, especially for the first breeding which is typically small.

Now the bad news: within a day or two all the kits died. 😦  I was totally clueless as to what could be the cause of this.  Based on the nests it appeared they were following their motherly instincts and I had high hopes for this to be a successful experience.  I talked to a couple other people for some guidance and the word around the rabbitry is that a loss is common for does kindling their first litter.  Oh, such disappointment!  My visions of adorable, furry baby bunnies hopping on spring grass and cuddling with the kids have burst like a bubble.

So what do we do next?  We will wait a couple weeks and try one more breeding with these does, though now my excitement for babies has turned to apprehension.  I truly hope our rabbits can turn things around.    We thoroughly enjoy our livestock but they must be good mothers, productive and hardy or we can’t afford to keep investing in them.  If the next litters also fail we will need to begin again with new does.  Not every doe loses her first litter.  When the time comes for new stock, whether that is in a few weeks or a few years, I plan to seek does who either raised a successful first litter or come from a doe who has, rather than keep replacement stock from these two.  That way I can attempt to breed that trait into my rabbit program instead of continuing to experience a ruined first litter from each new doe I keep.

Even before this happened, we prepared the kids for the occasional loss on our farm.  For the most part, the kids have taken the failed litters very well.  Hannah got a little teary for a minute but I was expecting more emotion from the kids overall.  Most of them simply wanted to know why our two does didn’t take care of their babies.  That’s a tough one for me to answer since the same question remains floating through my mind.

Becca

The Rabbits are Movin’ on Up…

…to a deluxe apartment, in the barn! (Sorry, you’ll have The Jeffersons theme song in your head for the rest of the day.)

The rabbits have been living in cramped quarters since we picked them up last fall from a local farmer.  This week, they moved from this small divided cage:V__771A

to each having their very own large hutch, complete with nest box:WP_20160302_08_36_36_Pro

I found a couple of plans online and merged them into one while adding my own ideas to the mix.  Here is a quick overview of how I built them:

I assembled two frames out of 2×2 lumber, about 4′ long by 20″ wide.  I covered one of them with 1/2″x 1″ wire mesh.

I then attached 1/2″ plywood 20″ high around the bottom frame, slid the top frame in and secured it to the plywood as well.WP_20160224_19_09_08_Pro

I attached 2×4 lumber to the outside of the box to act as legs.WP_20160224_19_44_40_Pro

I added a couple of 2x4s about 12″ from one end to secure the dividing wall.WP_20160224_20_02_07_Pro

I then added wire mesh to the front and a small piece of plywood to enclose the nest box.WP_20160226_18_29_45_Pro

I cut a door out of a piece of plywood and nailed it to scrap 2x2s attached to the sides.WP_20160226_18_30_03_Pro

I attached the top using a couple of hinges and it was ready to go!  I put some hay in the nest box for bedding and moved each rabbit to their very own hutch.WP_20160302_08_41_18_Pro

They love the extra room to move around and seem to enjoy the spacious nest box.  Just in time, too, as we are expecting baby bunnies in a few days.  The new moms should appreciate the upgrade.

Ryan