Friday, November 13, 2015

Still Here!

I took an unexpected break from the computer, but we're all still here and kicking!

The long and short of it is that we thought we were moving to Nebraska and had less than 3 months to get across the country into a new house. Then plans changed again and now we are staying in Georgia, but still listing our house for sale and moving to a different part, so things have remained very hectic. I feel like my life is made up of moving boxes and clearing out unnecessary stuff from the house. We are actively looking for a homestead or small farmstead to rent while we look for the perfect land to buy. We are also hoping to start our own family. :)

Of course the animals will be coming with us, though I am reducing the herd to only my very best keepers. We are trying to decide how we will be housing the rabbits on a new property, but it will not be in stackers so the excess caging will have to go once we figure it out. We are leaning towards colony-style housing for grow-outs and then extra large suspended cages with worm beds underneath for kindling does/kits and bucks so we have worm castings and compost for the garden still. They can have pasture time separately so we know exactly what they are up to and keep tabs on breeding, but still get fresh air and exercise.

We are also planning to add chickens once we get moved. Our goal in the next few years is to become as self-sustaining as possible. That means expanding the garden, growing feed for the animals, and eventually getting into dairy and other such ventures as well.

Anyway, HI! I'm still here and I'll try to make a point to be on the computer more these days as winter rapidly approaches. Hope everyone is doing well and having a nice autumn!

Friday, July 31, 2015

How few.. too few?

I've been trying to figure this out because it is looking more and more likely that we will be moving across the country. This presents a number of challenges such as:

1. We have to move there. I know this seems obvious, but we only have so much money and time.. and there is only so much space on the biggest moving truck. It won't be feasible to make multiple trips for animals.

2.  We will probably have to rent at first until we get settled in and find a new place. This means we have to find a landlord that will be okay with our critters.

I know I need more than a pair or two. But do I need 15? 12? 8? What do you think would be a good minimum number to maintain your own line? I don't want to try to move too many, but I also don't want to shoot myself in the foot if I end up moving too few.

Also, TGIF. Big time. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In Memoriam

Rest in peace, sweet Spock. I will never forget your gentle nature, demand for headrubs, happy binkies all over the house, and insistence that you be allowed to have a sip of beer on lazy weekend afternoons. Thank you for the lovely sons and daughters you provided us with and for being a wonderful ambassador to the Harlequin breed.

I always said that raising animals wasn't for the faint of heart and it is times like this that I am reminded of that fact. Spock fought the good fight, but was unable to best what ultimately turned out to be a fast-growing abscess or tumor in his upper jaw that grew up behind his eye. We let him go this morning and he is now buried beside my heart dog on a hill overlooking the house.

Until one has loved an animal,
 a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. 
-Anatole France

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kind of Funny

Yesterday my Mom was asking me about the rabbits. She asked if I was planning to still raise them if we move, to which I answered yes. She then asked me if I still had the kind of rabbits I had before. This is how it went:

Me: "You mean Harlequins?"
Her: "I don't know. The ones you had for years."
Me: "If you mean Harlequins, then yes I still have them."
Her: "I'm not sure. They are the ugly patchy ones that no one wants?"
Me: *dies laughing*

Yup. I raise Harlequins, aka "The ugly patchy ones no one wants." Just thought I'd share, haha.

Happy Sunday everyone! :)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Seasonal Breaks

I know a lot of different rabbit breeders have their own thoughts on a good breeding schedule for their barn. I've tried having litters year round, once a year, a few times a year, and only in the more temperate months.

Here's what I've found:

Does need to be bred more than once or twice a year or their litter sizes trend downward. This is not true of all does, but I've found it to be an accurate generality.

Older does, if healthy, can still be nice producers for you on a decent breeding schedule. Don't discount buying an older doe if she has exactly what you need to add to your herd. Many breeders will practically give an older doe away to make space for the younger generation. Don't assume the doe is wore out also- ask questions! Many hobby breeders never had their does on a rigorous schedule to begin with. You may be surprised at what an old gal like this can still do for your herd!

Does can hide their fat well! They may feel perfect across the ribs and hips, but be absolutely loaded with thick white fat on the inside. Gross, I know. But true! Does with huge dewlaps generally have a lot of internal fat, too. I know a lot of senior doe show rabbits have large dewlaps and some people consider it a sign of glowing health, but I've noticed a correlation in mine with reduced health. The evidence is apparent whenever butchering day rolls around and I haven't been vigilant.

It is better to feed more hay and encourage regular exercise than to rely on a complete pelleted diet and hope they move around enough. In thinning the ranks over the past two years, the lazy does that went berserk for pellets are the ones that either never got pregnant or it took multiple attempts before they would take. It is also less expensive to give your rabbits hay and cuttings from your property than to rely exclusively on pellets. Not to mention I wouldn't want to eat the same thing all day every day. Variety is the spice of life!

Breeding in the icy grip of winter or the humid heat of summer is a gamble for the doe and the kits. The heat and humidity is far more dangerous than the cold to the mother, but the reverse is generally true for the kits.

My preference is to breed more often and to limit the planned litters for the temperate times of the year, but I do plan litters through the heart of winter in some years as my rabbits are kept indoors. I don't mess with bad mothers and I do keep a 3-strike rule for all brood does.

Hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments! :)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Everything's Coming Up Roses the Midwest, that is. I have never seen such a fantastic collection as I did in Omaha. I was just wowed beyond belief. As most of you know by now, I love everything rose, so I found a little slice of heaven on earth in this garden.

Part II to come sometime over the next few days. I was not exaggerating when I said I took a lot of pictures. Happy Sunday! :)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Hi From Missouri! And Iowa! And Nebraska! Etc.

I've been traveling.. a lot! I hope to get some more updates coming along shortly, but in the meantime, here are a few of the critters I spotted on foot this week.

Wild turkeys:

Prairie dogs anyone?

And of course, rabbits. I saw them everywhere I went. Can you spot this one standing up?

How about the doe crossing the road at the botanical conservatory?

I enjoyed myself immensely. I love it out West. Maybe, just maybe.. if we are lucky and all our ducks line up nicely.. we might be able to live out there some day. But in the meantime, I have about 2,634 pictures to share with you. Thought I'd start with these. Hope everyone is having a great week!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sweet Spock

Our original foundation herdsire Spock isn't doing too well. I found him this morning with what appeared to be a torn eyelid. I was shocked because he was in his usual 30 x 30 cage with no new additions, changes, new toys, etc. He made it through the 4th just fine despite all the loud noises and then this happened somehow. I washed his eye out this morning and applied antibiotic ointment and gave him some willow to chew on because he was grinding his teeth when I applied the ointment. I wish I could tell him that I'm trying to help, but at least he is always a gentleman, even when he doesn't feel well.

At lunch I went out to repeat the rinse, ointment, and willow and he seemed a little bit better. I was hopeful and saw him nibbling on his pellets. I just went out to treat him again though and saw that under his eye is now swollen and he started grinding his teeth again with the cleaning. I gave him an extra helping of willow, but now I am wondering if it was something like a tooth abcess under his eye that he was trying to itch as it was forming. Or if the swelling is just from the trauma on the eyelid? I can't see anything inside his mouth that would account for the problem and he is still eating, so I'm not really sure what we are even dealing with. The eyeball itself looks normal at least.

Of course, I'm not going to be around at the house much the rest of this week (Murphy's Law). So, I'm going to treat him first thing in the morning and then try to get some help to tend to him while I'm away, but it's worrying. It's always hard to deal with health issues in the herd, but particularly difficult when it is a buck I've had for something like 5 years and am totally attached to. Hoping he will pull through for us- he is such a great fellow and herdsire.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Heritage Breeds

I saw this on Facebook from a Dairy Farm (Foggy Bottom). Thought it was interesting and worth sharing:

"We used to be a heritage breed proponents but now we are not. Conceptually the idea of heritage breeds have always been enjoyed as we see value in their novelty, potential as commercial outcrosses and the preservation of traditional agricultural practices. Unfortunately the term heritage seems to have become a marketing ploy to place value on low quality animals by claiming they conform to an "old standard". True livestock breeders seek to improve and progress their breed. To raise them to new heights and greater achievements and never do they seek stagnation. To turn back to these old types and scorn what the breed has become is to scorn generations of farmers life's work and the art in genetics they brought to life. Certainly each should breed what they like. With thousands of livestock breeds there is something for everyone and regional differences will exist even within a breed but that doesn't mean taking gigantic steps backward in type and production under the banner of "heritage". Preserving a rare breed is a noble task, proliferating animals with type faults and low economic value under the label of heritage is not!"

What do you think? I used to be 100% in with heritage breeds, but these days after all of my personal experiences, not so much. If you look at CL on any given day, heritage breeds listed for a high price tag do not usually look like animals with quality type, and some look downright unhealthy. I just saw iffy Silver Fox listed for $75/rabbit that appeared to have a mandolin body type like an English Lop. People can and should do what makes them happy, but a mandolin-shaped Silver Fox is no Silver Fox at all in my book.

Harlequins currently fall under the labels of rare, endangered, heritage, etc., but as you know, most Harlequins I see bred today have so much emphasis on markings that everything else has fallen to the wayside. This makes them almost exclusively a fancy breed, although they were originally multi-purpose for meat, fur, and exhibition and are supposed to have commercial type. I hope, for my own lines, that we are able to develop a Harlequin that has decent markings, but that also retains the traits they were originally developed for. Pipe dream? Maybe, but it can't hurt to try. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rabbits on Pasture

Let me be frank: I hate cages.

I realize they are necessary in domestic animals for safety and cleanliness in most setups, but I am just not a fan. Not for dogs, horses, rabbits, etc. I think cages are very widely available, convenient and overused.

To me, a much better choice is fencing. Animals, like people, need room. Room to exercise, room to eat, room to breathe. When I was at the vet yesterday with my dog for her annual shots and senior bloodwork, the people next to me were talking about how long their dogs can stay in their crate without fussing and it made me sad. It's one thing if a dog needs to be crated because you are having a child's birthday party and are worried the dog could knock someone over or get out the open front door. It is an entirely different thing when the dog crate is used to hold the dog out of the way for convenience day after day. I use my dog's crate for feeding them separately and when I need them in there for their own safety (ie we are moving a huge table out the front door or whatever). Otherwise they stay out with us as part of the family. And not to toot my own horn, but out of the 20+ dogs there, my dog was the best behaved and the most calm. She was a perfect ambassador to her breed, which are notoriously difficult to train and high energy.

So, our rabbits spend a lot of time in their cages out of necessity. We don't have a setup for them on pasture and there are a lot of problems with rabbits on grass from coccidia, toxic plants, escapes, predation, etc.

Despite this, I still want to start trialing pasture raised rabbits. It is one of my new goals for the upcoming year. Hopefully we will have additional acreage for them, but even if we don't, we will be building some modified rabbit tractors that will be a work in process. The goal is to keep mamas/new babies in their extra large cages because I have read that kits are most susceptible to coccidiosis when they are still nursing and shortly after. So I'll probably wean the babies (but mama can go to pasture) and then a week or two later move the babies to a pasture grow-out pen. The goal will be not to use the same spot of grass twice in a 12 month period, so they will be rotated frequently somewhere new. There will have to be slats or something on the bottom to keep them from getting out underneath and there will have to be a top or the hawks will make short work of my project (they nest in the trees on the hills behind my house).

This isn't all for them though- it is also for us. I hate cleaning trays. I also would like to see more muscle development and I think exercise will contribute to his more than anything else we could do with diet or care. I butchered an older doe last week and was absolutely shocked and appalled at how much internal fat she had. No wonder she wouldn't take when she was bred! She looked and felt good from the outside, but the inside was just fat with fat on top. She was only getting 1 cup/day of pellets and random hay/grass/garden extras, so now my adult does are only getting 1/2c and we will see how it goes. I think pasture raised rabbits will also reduce the feed bill and will contribute to better fitness overall.

We don't have our rabbit tractor design yet because honestly most that we've found for ideas were failures. One blog even scrapped the whole design after escapees and losses over the course of a year. We are hoping to have better results, but no way to know until we try! So for now we are researching and letting our rabbits exercise outside with supervision when we can, which is better than nothing, but still leaves us with plenty of room for improvement. Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Morning Exercise

This is one of my old boys, Apollo. He was born here in 2010 and has lived here his whole life. I could never part with him, he is a prized herdsire, but is also my baby and I luuurrrve him. <3

I don't know if you can tell, but he has grey hairs mixed all in his black sections. I'm sure they are in the orange also because he looks less red-gold these days, but they blend in a lot better on the light patches.

I've never posted a video before, so hopefully this works!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Like Red

Apparently I do, because most of the flowers blooming right now that I've planted over the years are some variation of the color!

These are daylilies. I am the worst and didn't write down the varieties when I purchased them several years ago:

But we have other red flowers (chrysanthemums), too:

And my very favorites. These are climbing roses (Don Juan):

They are huge!

I also snapped a quick picture of some of the deer damage (that was heirloom Spinach) before I ripped everything out:

Hope everyone is having a nice week. It is blazing hot here! As in 98 degrees.. I'm worried for when the true summer arrives if it is this hot already. Stay cool if you can!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Garden Fail

I've been around, just haven't felt like posting much. I have a big certification exam coming up, so a lot of the time that I'm not at work I've had to spend time studying.

On the homestead, we don't have any planned new litters and very unfortunately, the deer got into the garden. Our once luscious harvest has been pretty much decimated to the ground, so we didn't even get seeds from our lettuces, spinach, and warm weather planting etc. The picture above was taken one of the nights before they attacked. The radishes, snow peas, carrots, and blueberries survived at least and are going to seed, so I guess that's something we can save. Somehow a few broccoli and cauliflower are still trying to flower, which is bizarre at this time of year, but I'm all for whatever is trying.

If we are still here next year, I don't see that we have any choice but to run an electric fence around anything we plant. It will increase our cost, but so will losing entire harvests. In the meantime, I guess I'll need to go to Lowe's and get some new starts. ARGH.

On the bright side, more of our flowers are blooming and the butterflies are visiting in force. The hydrangea, daylillies, roses, and radish flowers are drawing them like I've never seen. It's nice to go out there and see them fluttering around. :)

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Welcome to Summer

Gah it's so hot already! And the constant rain is drowning everything! What in the world. I guess I'm happy we don't live in Texas, but still.. what a season so far.

Is it too early to tell summer its wore out its welcome at my house?

Also, I'm so happy I caught this cute picture. Hope everyone is having a good week! :)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Decisions, Decisions

My husband and I had a loooooonnnng talk yesterday about our rabbitry. As you already know, we are looking at a probable move, possibly as soon as the end of the year. One of our main goals is to ultimately have a larger homestead with more diversity and be able to provide for ourselves in as many ways as we can.

The rabbits are an essential part of our future plans for a bunch of reasons:

1. I love them. They make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry, but I really enjoy raising rabbits.
2. I've raised them for six years now and I think we've discovered and/or worked out a lot of kinks.
3. They produce white meat that is easily digestible, low in fat, and high in protein.
4. Their pelts are beautiful and useful for crafts and homestead projects.
5. They don't take up a lot of space.
6. They don't have an odor like pigs or cattle.
7. They are quiet.
8. They can adapt to a wide range of conditions and weather without ill effects.
9. My dogs love rabbit and do well on a raw diet.
10. My flowers and vegetables thrive on bunny gold.

There are a lot more things I could say, but in a lot of ways, I think rabbits are the quintessential homestead animal. 

As you know, the hubby and I have been going back and forth about my breed. He really, truly believes that Harlequins are just not a good choice for a working homestead. He told me last night that he thought even now that their meat qualities and pelts are significantly inferior to the NZ culls we brought home at the last Conyers show. I showed him how our type has improved and used Jack as an example as compared to our original herdsire and he just shook his head and pointed to one of the remaining NZ culls that we are behind on processing. Now I am really kicking myself for falling behind on culls!

To be fair, the NZ that is sitting here is amazing compared to my attempts over the last generations to improve on type. He makes Jack look long in the shoulder, low on the topline, pinched, chopped/undercut, and narrow in the loin. And I LOVE Jack compared to many of my others. The NZ looks like the Hulk compared to Jack, who looks like Spiderman in comparison. I can't really argue with my hubby when Jack and the NZ cull are side-by-side:

So I went last night and looked at pictures of Harlequins around the country. If I am being honest with myself, even the top show winner Harlequins had poor commercial type in my opinion. They just can't hold a candle to a good quality NZ or Cali. Breeders have had to selectively breed for markings at the exclusion of a lot of other factors for a very long time in order to have a chance on the show table.

I decided to make a Pros & Cons list here today as a way to sort through everything.

Harlequin Pros:
1. Temperaments. All of mine are sweet, friendly, and clownish. They beg for attention, lick my fingers, and headbutt my hands for rubs.
2. Litters are super exciting because I never know what I'm going to get.
3. I think all the crazy colors and markings would make for especially neat pelt projects.
4. They aren't heavy on bone, too big, or too small.
5. They are a French heritage breed and a rare breed- I've always wanted to support heritage over common/commercial types to ensure they are still around for future generations.
6. I have some animals that are generations of my name on their pedigree. I feel like I've made some progress, but if I start over, I'd throw it all away. 

Harlequin Cons:
1. Their type and resulting meat qualities are lacking. A Harlie dressed carcass looks less muscled when compared to a NZ one.
2. Their coats aren't as nice as other commercial breeds. They are molting right now, but even in top coat they aren't as dense, plush, or shiny overall.
3. I think they are more susceptible to health problems then some other breeds. I don't ever remember seeing a sick rabbit when I raised English Angoras and English Lops, but I've seen a lot of health problems in Harlies over the years- GI stasis, snuffles, glaucoma, etc.
4. SO annoying to get a nice kit that is an improvement only to find a white toe or foot.
5. Difficult to find any quality Japanese to add to the herd and my group is going to be completely inbred at some point.
6. I was completely screwed over by one of the Harlie show breeders in the SE (lied + sold me inferior/sick stock + risked my friend's herd + never even helped with the mess she created) and I still feel pissy about it to this day. It is a little thing, but getting into showing regionally would be a constant irritant.
7. Not much of a sales market for the breed. It is great to be able to eat everything that doesn't work out, but I do miss the days with Lops when they would pay for their own feed and cages, too.

This is really long, but here is my NZ list (my husband's choice):

NZ Pros:
1. Excellent meat qualities
2. Optimal litter sizes
3. Quality pelts
4. Exceptional type
5. Easy to acquire
6. Don't have to go far to find a sanctioned show with competition
7. There is always a market for NZ- for commercial, homestead, or show/breeding. I have a friend that used to raise them in Atlanta and his kits sold for $40+ each and sold out just about every litter. He was complaining that he didn't have enough meat in the freezer, lol. 

NZ Cons:
1. Questionable temperaments. My husband thinks it would make all the difference in the world if I raised them vs buying them already as teenagers, but I'm not convinced.
2. Nothing super special with the color- the local reds are junk, so we'd probably have black and broken black with the occasional white if they popped up.
3. Would be starting over completely and that makes me super sad.
4. Would no longer be supporting a heritage breed. NZ are the main commercial rabbit breed in the US.
5. I dunno. I just wanted to add a number 5 here because it looked less unbalanced.

I realize this is the longest post in the history of posting, but the decision time is upon us if we are going to make any changes before we have to deal with trying to move and get settled somewhere else. My inclination is to buy a few really nice NZ and see how they do. I also told my husband that I am not opposed to breeding NZ x Harlie if we could get all of the good traits from the NZ and keep the good traits of the Harlies, but it may go the other way where we get bad and more bad, plus color and pattern gets screwed up. It would be years until we knew how it would go for sure, so quite a gamble. Such difficult decisions ahead! Don't be like me- start off with something that makes sense for you and your family and then you don't have to go through this, lol.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Girls

Tough decisions ahead. I have way too many juniors and now with the extra Lannister litter, I will need to be culling some young and old from the herd so everyone has enough space once they are bigger. 

Doe #1


Doe #2:


Doe #3:


Doe #4 (I don't care for this one very much honestly):


Also, I just like this picture of doe #2, who is a cutie with a funny personality:

TGIF! Sorta. We have this super serious inspection coming up on Monday at work and I'm nervous about it. Plus I have a big exam coming up that I'm dreading. So basically I don't want the weekend to end. Can anyone arrange it so it can be weekend forever? Great, thanks!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Boys

The two young bucklings we have here are both lilac Japanese and I am a little bit smitten.

I have a problem with bucks though. They are always my favorites. They will overrun my rabbitry if I let my heart decide who stays.

But sometimes I get to keep my favorites anyway.

Not as deep as I like, but we are finally getting some bootay!

Sorry his legs are a little wonky, but you get the idea. And here is buck #2:

He peaks early and is just a bit more pinched/undercut, but is also halfway decent for Harlequin.

See what I mean? His profile doesn't look as good as the first, but his HQ is still none too shabby.

Also, I am obsessed with the eye color on lilacs. Aren't they gorgeous in their amber glow?

I look forward to our eventual move because I hope to expand the Harlequins so I can actually do what I want to do without so much regard for space. Worst case scenario, we eat like kings. Can't be all bad, right?

Hope everyone is having a great week!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Seeing Spots

This is Kurayami's kit, the only survivor that was fostered off to Tacoma shortly after birth. She is 8 weeks old in the picture:

She's kinda cute. Nice face split and color for a blue Japanese. Type ain't bad except for being pinched in the HQ. Shoulders and topline are decent. Except.. wait.. what is going on with that right front leg?

Gah! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Yup, Dutch spotting gene strikes again.

Just thought I'd share one of the many challenges of raising this breed. One of the other kits that didn't survive also had a full half Dutch marking, so it was clear that in addition to being a poor mom and having an eye problem, their dam wasn't meant to continue on as a breeding doe. On the bright side, at least you got to see a cute little doeling, right? :)

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Lannisters and Weights

GUYS. I've thought for years that Harlies with very light markings can produce heavily marked ones and visa versa, but the Lannisters (aka Jack and Pancake) are helping me prove it in my lines here. This has happened in other litters I've had repeatedly, but these two rabbits in particular have the most poor markings of any keepers before. Let's face it, Jack has like.. a butt stripe. And a few little black bits here and there. But that's it. No face split. No alterations. No banding or checkering. Nada. If I were to show him, he'd be immediately disqualified. I picked him as a herdsire soley to improve on type, but it helped that they had fantastic temperaments and an excellent base colors.

The bottom line is that they are outproducing themselves already in terms of color/placement. The markings needs to be more solid, but I can work on that over time. The rufus on these kits is also completely blowing my mind- they look like copies of their parents at the same age.

Don't take my word for it though. Look at these babies glow:

It looks like 2 chocolates and 4 blacks, so that's neat. Here is a choco next to a black for comparison:

I'm very curious to see how they grow up. Here is a lovely face split:

In the meantime, I did get weights on Tacoma's (with the 1 singleton from Kurayami) litter. Here are the 6 week and 8 week numbers:

1. Blue doe
1lb 9.6oz
2lb 3.0 oz

2. Lilac buck
1lb 9.1oz
2lb 4.6oz

3. Lilac buck
1lb 7.2oz
2lb 2.7oz

4. Chocolate doe
1lb 5.8oz
2lb 0.1oz

5. Chocolate doe
1lb 7.5oz
2lb 1.4oz

6. Chocolate doe
1lb 7.2oz
2lb 8.8oz

7. Chocolate doe
1lb 4oz
1lb 13.2oz

The weights aren't super impressive, particularly on the chocolate runt doe, but they are weaned now and being free-fed, so they should keep putting weight on. One of the lilac bucks looks pretty darn good and I'm fond of a couple of the chocolate does as well. I will be posting pictures of them before too long.

I'm also glad to report that Pancake is a great mamma. Look at these little fatties:

It is a very pretty day out today, so I'm trying to get as many pics as I can before the heat slams us again like it did the past couple of days. Hope everyone is staying cool and dry!