Saturday, January 31, 2015

6 Week Weigh-In

It's amazing how fast they grow! Here we are at 6 weeks already and coming up on 3lbs in some cases:

Sunshine's Litter-
1. 1lb 15.4oz (black runty doe)
2. 2lb 9.3oz (black eye patch doe)
3. 2lb 2.9oz (blue shoulder buck)
4. 2lb 4.5oz (blue? banded doe- I need to recheck her color. She has a lot of rufus, but is looking more choco-based, which is entirely possible genetically)
5. 2lb 7.1oz (black banded doe)

Tacoma's Litter-
1. 2lb 13.7oz (black doe)
2. 2lb 14.9oz (Jack- black buck)

I went ahead and BunnyVac'ed all of them after weigh-in. I was only going to vaccinate the keepers initially, but it was my first time using it on kits and I wanted to make sure there were no problems. So far so good, but I am keeping a close eye out for sneezing with clear discharge, sterile abscesses, etc. (which are possible side-effects of the vaccine).

While evaluating the kits, I was still most pleased with Jack, the buck I selected as a keeper. His sister is getting a body type more like Tacoma and she peaks early and is fairly low and long. She does have other positive traits though such as being larger, muscular, etc., so we will see what she looks like in a few more weeks. Some of Sunshine's litter have swapped places for who is the largest. Now the black eye patch doe has take the lead and I'm liking her type the best along with the banded doe. The smallest kit at birth is still the smallest one now, so it doesn't appear that the transition onto pellets/hay made that big of a difference.

Overall, I'm still seeing tons of room for improvement in body type with pinched HQ, long shoulders, etc., but it will take time and generations. Because Harlies are a marked breed, some breeders pick their keepers the day they are born to provide perspective of how type can be thrown to the wayside for generations. While type is a function of show rabbits, it also applies to those used for meat as a pinched HQ or low topline can translate to a loin and HQ that is less muscular and full on the dinner table. It also means the same amount of food is going into a rabbit that is sub-par for commercial use, so it would cost you the same amount of money to raise a rabbit with good type and good commercial qualities then one that is lacking.

In other news, I have some of my older adult Harlequins for adoption. I'd like them to become someone's pampered house pet, but I don't know that folks really look for anything that isn't young and cute. I'm trying to give them every chance, but when I thought I had to sell out a few years ago, I couldn't give them away for free when they were in their prime. People in my area just prefer smaller pet breeds like Hollands or Netherland Dwarf. I think it will be even harder to place them as I'd prefer for them to go to someone with no other rabbits. Realistically, it is entirely possible that there are still Pasteurella carriers in the older group as they lived here when I had snot problems after buying rabbits from the outside. I have no way to tell though because they have no symptoms and carrier rabbits are difficult at best to culture.

With this in mind, there may be tough decisions made over the next couple of months for the betterment of the overall herd. I do not want to expand at all and I will need housing for up-and-comers, so we will see what happens.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Due Date

So, it's been an interesting 24 hours here with the rabbits. Hikari prepared her beautiful nest days ago, but she only kindled 1 kit yesterday morning. I am hoping it is a replacement doe for her, but either way I will consider it a win as she is about 6 years old now and it has been more than 2 years since her last litter.

Kurayami, on the other hand, has never been pregnant before and it became very clear that she was having issues. She didn't start nesting until her due date yesterday and it was very haphazard. I left her alone as best I could except that I tried to ensure the nestbox was in the general vicinity of her last known nesting area (which seemed to change hour to hour). When she did finally kindle, some were still delivered on the wire. She didn't clean up the placentas and it looks like 1 was still in the sac when I found it. Another 1 looked like she had trouble during delivery and a 3rd looked stepped on for a total of 3 dead. At that point, I thought the whole litter was a loss, but amazingly, I did find 2 live babies in separate parts of the destroyed nest. They were still wet and were cool to the touch. Fortunately, Kari was willing to take them on and even clean them before they cozied up with her singleton. Kurayami seems no worse for wear, though she obviously had a time of it.

Today Valkyrie kindled and it was her first time also, but she actually did a very good job! She only had 2, but they both look clean, dry, and well-tended in a nest that was also finished just this morning. I am so thankful that everything went okay with her. I am quite fond of her type and clown nature as I've mentioned before. I try not to get attached because you never know what will happen (or what needs to happen to move forward in the rabbitry), but yeah.. I'm a sucker.

Anyway, I haven't seen Hikari try to nurse any of the kits yet even though she has done everything else for them. I moved them for a short bit to Kurayami's nest to see if she wanted to nurse them, but she seemed baffled by their existence and I started getting worried she step on the two survivors by bouncing in and out. I'm staying positive though as it has been less than a day. If no one steps up, I will try Valkyrie with 5 instead of 2. That is why I always try to plan for multiple litters at a time. Then if something happens, I can foster babies out to other does.

Even though it was sort of a disaster by breeder standards, I can't help but to think of this as a win overall. I realize 5 kits total from 3 litters is a poor outcome, but these are older does and 2 of the 3 had zero experience. If none of the does took the past couple of months, I would have needed to start over completely, so I am still thankful these old guys and gals came through. I can't help but to wonder if the number of kits per litter would increase or stay the same if they are bred again. I also wonder if Kurayami would get it together next time. I've never had a Harlequin that wasn't a good mother, but I have had poor Mini Lop mamas and if the first time is a disaster then they usually get it right the 2nd time. Not that they have much of a choice because that is a trait that I select for. I guess we'll just see what happens and go forward from there.

In other news, it is super windy and in the 40's outside. I'm sure it is much colder in other places- stay warm, friends!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dressing Percentage Formula

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the 3 does due today. In the meantime, here are some handy formulas for folks looking to utilize their culls to feed their family.

First, everyone talks about dress out on their breed, but what does it mean? The dressing percentage is basically the percentage of the live animal that ends up as the carcass. The general formula to determine this is:

Dressing percentage = (carcass weight / live weight) x 100

That's it!

The catch is that there isn't really a standard for rabbit dressing percentages. For most other meat animals, the dressing percentage is taken right after skinning/gutting (aka "the hot hanging weight). I'm thinking mostly of beef and pork when I think of this, but it does apply to rabbits. With rabbits, most people remove the pelt, head, feet, and viscera. Normally the liver, heart and kidneys remain with the carcass though and are included in the carcass weight. The catch is that some people apparently calculate the dressing percentage with the head still on, others calculate it without all viscera, etc.. so you can see it isn't really comparing apples to apples unless everyone is preparing the carcass the same way. Variables that can reduce the dressing percentage include muscle, fat, whether the rabbit has a full stomach before processing, and if the rabbit has a heavy coat vs. sheared angora, etc.

If you are really into crunching numbers and to ultimately figure out how many pounds of meat you get from each animal, here are some other formulas.

First, you would have to be willing to remove any extra skin or fat. The commercial term is carcass-cutting yield and it is just the percentage of the carcass that actually ends up as meat. Here is the formula:

Carcass cutting yield = (pounds of meat/ carcass weight) x 100.

The CCY seems to be more for higher fat animals like pigs and cattle because the number changes dramatically once the extra fat and such is stripped away. Rabbits have very little fat, but a more muscular animal would reveal a higher carcass cutting yield and ultimately more pounds of meat. Other variables that can change the CCY are bone-in vs. boneless cuts in particular.

Once you have that, you can figure out how many pounds of meat you were able to attain by:

Pounds of meat= (dressing percent x carcass cutting yield) x live weight

I think it would be helpful to figure out dressing percentage vs. pounds of meat when comparing different breeds. This is because the dressing percentage may be high, but if the rabbit has lots of dense bone and little meat, then it may not yield as much for dinner as a rabbit that is the same size with fine bone.

Mississipi State University has some great information about raising rabbits for meat or pelts for further reading:

They even compare New Zealands to Dutch:

"Dressing Percentage of New Zealand
and Dutch Rabbits at Different Ages
Age New Zealand
8 weeks 55.9% 60.3%
13 weeks 59.2% 63.3%
Mature 58.2% 62.8%"

Welp, that's enough math talk for one day. Carry on and thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Current Events

We have three does due to kindle this upcoming week (Hikari, Valkyrie, and Kurayami). Late last night Kari started hay-stashing, so I went ahead and gave her a nestbox. Unfortunately, she emptied it overnight and proceeded to use it as a litterbox. I cleaned it this morning and will give it back to her in the other corner where she stuffed all her hay. It has been a long time, but she used to be an excellent and attentive mother. Valkyrie and Kurayami have not given any indication one way or the other, so I'm just giving them extra hay and keeping an eye out, though it is still early.

So far from the December litters, we are planning to keep the buck (and possibly/probably the doe) from Tacoma's litter as replacement breeding stock. They are huge, healthy, meaty, have excellent rufus, decent type (as compared to other Harlequins, not compared to better developed commercial breeds), and great temperaments. Their markings are poor, but my goals for this year are focused on health, type, and utility and I will be more concerned with markings later on.

So unless something dramatic changes, may I present Hendricks' Flapjack (we just call him Jack):

I know the lighting sucks, but it was raining yet again outside so I had to do indoor pictures. Here is another pic from the top:

He is 5 weeks old and isn't positioned great in either of the two pics (his back feet are too far forward and in different spots), but it was nearly impossible to get him to sit still long enough for even these. His body feels smooth and muscular- which I want in my lines. I made the mistake of letting him play in a puppy pen before pics and he was wired up. This is how most of the rest of the pictures came out when I was trying to get him to stay still:

And a mugshot (hi Jack!):

The plan will be for Jack to replace his father Spock in the breeding line-up eventually so I am not overrun by bucks (cough, ahem, cough..yet again). I really like his sister also, but she has a tiny patch of white hairs on her nose that I am really hoping will shed out. Litters sired by Spock have had white feet before, so I know the Dutch spotting gene is lurking somewhere in that gene pool and I believe it is coming from the buck and not the does. I'm hoping these 2015 litters will help me determine for sure who the culprits are. Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 23, 2015

PSA: Annoying Feeders

About 5 years ago, I bought some used stackers that came with quick-lock crocks. They quickly became my favorite feeding dish because I could easily remove the metal screw and bleach the whole unit, run it through my dishwasher, whatever. I bought them for all of the rest of my cages. The thing is.. over the years some of my rabbits have figured out how to twist the bowls loose from the stand to play with them. This dumps ALL of the food directly into the manure tray. They have plenty of other entertainment, but a few of my does in particular prefer to kick their bowls around best. I've even tried putting just random plastic bowls in beside their toys and they ignore the bowls and go straight for the food dish. And I think it's catching. ARGH.

I also recognize it as a fire hazard at this point. If you must know, I know this because I've also melted the cup into the mount by accident when I was burning fur off of wire nearby. Dripping flaming plastic is not a good sign. Don't tell anyone how dumb I am. Please?

As a solution to my original bad move, I've been going back to J-feeders. I shouldn't have swapped them out to begin with because there was nothing wrong with the old way. I just liked the new way so much better.. for a while anyway. If it ain't broke, don't fix it and all that jazz.

They are made by several brands, but here are an assortment of culprits:

So learn from how dumb I am and don't make the same mistake. This has been a random rabbit public service announcement. Have a great night!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

BunnyVac Pasteurella Vaccine Update

Basically, I have nothing to report.. and that's a good thing!

I vaccinated my whole herd in November, gave them booster shots in December, and it has been more than another month since without any problems. I joined the Rabbit pasteurella vaccine group on Facebook and have been reading pretty much the same results for other breeders/breeds across the nation. One person said they had sterile abscesses develop at the injection site, though in the discussion, it came out that technique was questionable and there was a concern the vaccine had been injected into muscle instead of just under the skin (subcutaneously). Here is a link to information on how to properly give this vaccine:

 There have also been a handful of folks that have had snotty rabbits develop after vaccinating and the thought is that the stimulation to the immune system is causing some carrier rabbits (already infected rabbits with no symptoms) to show the active disease (become symptomatic). I actually think that is a good thing because carriers are a real menace with this disease, hiding in plain site with the potential to infect all of the rabbits around them. To clarify, it is NOT possible for the vaccine to give rabbits Pasteurella.

There was a recent discussion on the aforementioned group about breeding for a "strong" immune system, which I know is very controversial. I've also said before that I used to believe in it as well, but no longer do. All evidence is to the contrary on every research/scholarly article that I can find, though some breeders still devoutly believe this and state they will not even buy vaccinated stock. I don't really sell rabbits these days, but I have added to my terms page that I vaccinate all breeding/show stock with BunnyVac so there is no misunderstanding.

I recognize that it can be hard to amend our ways after believing something for a long time, but sometimes that is the price we pay for progress. I can think of a million examples, but here is one related to health: doctors didn't used to wash their hands before procedures because they didn't believe that they could be spreading illness. Eventually a doctor noticed that there seemed to be a correlation between dirty hands and women dying of infections after childbirth. He started washing his hands and making his staff wash their hands. Infection/death rates dropped dramatically. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the doctor encountered resistance everywhere he went. Doctors resented him because they felt he was implying that they (the other doctors) were causing these poor mothers to die. Dr. Semmelweis lost his job and eventually also died young at 47 (of sepsis- the very thing he was trying so hard to prevent in his patients!). After his death, the rest of the world revisited his work and found that he had been doing the right thing all along. Hand-washing is now the gold-standard for healthcare. If you made it this far in the post, I could argue that the anti-vaccine movement in rabbits is similar. Ultimately, though, it is up to each individual to decide which is better for them. Handwashing or not? Vaccinating or not? You decide. :)

The scientist (Robert Glass) working on this project also responded to concerns that breeders won't be breeding for "strong" immune systems anymore by posting, "I think the chances of developing a Pasteurella resistant strain by selective breeding of Pasteurella "survivors" has a very low chance of success. With infection rates 25-75% in many or most herds it is hard to imagine that a resistant line would have been discovered by now if it were possible. It may be possible to develop lines that are more tolerant of the infection (i.e. less symptomatic) but completely resistant to infection appears to be impossible. The theory of Acquired Inherited Immunity is that in some diseases a surviving male or female is able to pass the immunity they developed during infection to their offspring. IF THIS OCCURS it is in a minority of diseases and the ones I have read about are viral not bacterial. In the case of Pasteurella rabbits that "stronger" immune systems will benefit more from the vaccine as they can elaborate a protective immunity without infection."

The verdict: I plan to keep vaccinating all of my breeding/show stock from here forward.

I encourage others to do their own homework and make their own decisions. I'm happy to answer any questions, but ultimately the decision on whether to vaccinate or not has to be what is best for each individual rabbitry. I know I am biased after losing prized animals that I poured my heart, time, and wallet into and I am just thankful that something has finally been created to protect my herd from having this happen again. Hope the information over the past few months has been helpful!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Replacing Wire Floors

We've been working on repairing any flooring that has issues here. Rust is a major enemy of wire caging. Galvanizing makes steel or iron last longer, but it is a very thin film and rabbit urine can and will destroy this coating. Rust is just caused by exposed metal coming into contact with oxygen and moisture. I've never found a way to keep it away forever using wire rabbit cages, but please let me know if you have a way! Here is an extreme close-up picture of the corroded wire in a potty corner after it was removed. Can you see the layers of corrosion? It almost looks like the texture of the tree branch underneath it:

 Here is a picture of the same wire (this was a 36" floor) further away from the moisture. You can see if the rabbit wasn't urinating on it in one corner over and over that it would have lasted longer before needing to be removed:

Ideally, I wanted galvanized after for my cages. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate affordable galvanized after wire in 14 gauge (preferred- it is thicker) or 16 gauge locally and it is quite pricey anyway before having to pay significant shipping charges for motor freight (the rolls are big and heavy). We ended up going with galvanized before wire and were able to get free shipping on a sale. We will have to replace these sooner, but hopefully by then I will have a hanging set-up and it will be easier. Here is a picture of the new roll:

If at some point, you have to replace the wire on the floors, step 1 is to have a strong person to "supervise," haha. I am joking because this is totally do-able by one person, but I have lifting restrictions at the moment so that was my step one. For removing the old floor, a longnose pliers was used. There are clip removal tools available, but for old floors it really isn't necessary as the metal is weak anyway. They can basically just be uncurled with very little time. However, if stainless steel j-clips are used then they will probably need something else entirely (I've never used them before). Because the floors were in a stacker set-up, we had to curl back the prongs holding each cage in place to pull the floor out.

Once the old floors are removed, we used them as stencils for the new floor by laying them underneath and unrolling the new wire on top to match the rows/columns up. You can just measure, but be careful as one side will be shorter if you don't add length to accommodate the cuts. We used a wire cutting tool to snip the wire to match. Wear gloves! This step can and will make for sore hands. Our tool looks like this, but there are other styles/types also:

After the cuts are made, the wire should be placed so the bow is facing up. That also keeps the part with the welded edges facing down, away from tender rabbit feet. If you aren't sure which side is up, feel it with your hands and you will know immediately. Once in place, j-clips were applied to the edges. I usually put them every few inches to provide strength, though I've seen some people space them out more. I think you can get away with this more when you have the thicker, stronger 14 gauge floor wire. Installing new floors (these are on rabbit stackers from KW Cages, by the way):

And finished!

Just need to burn any little hairs off. While working on this, we went ahead and sanitized the j-feeders, waterers, and resting mats, so they need to be returned before any rabbit is placed inside. I've also spent way too much time trying to come up with an idea for new cage pans. We were going to try to make slant boards with gutters, but without having the required space between each cage, there wouldn't be enough of an angle. We would have to build a whole new rack for that and it isn't an option until we know where we will be later this year. So I finally caved and ordered 3 new 36" Duratrays. Even with a discount, it cost over $100, but I know they will last a lifetime. I regularly abuse my other Duratrays by bleaching, vinegar washing, leaving them out in the sun or the cold, and they never corrode, lose their shape, or fall apart. Unlike ALL of the galvanized trays that I eventually had to throw away. Never again!

If you made it this far, here is a cute picture of a fuzzy wuzzy baby face as a reward:


Hope you are having a great week in the (finally) warmer weather. Or did I speak too soon?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Random Cuteness

Sunshine's litter @ 4 weeks:

And then they scatter in all directions, lol:

Tacoma's litter @ 4 weeks:

Love this age!

So precious:

Going to try outdoor pictures this week, weather-permitting. Thanks for looking!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

***GRAPHIC***How to Tell Sex (Identify Gender) in Rabbit Kits

WARNING: Discussion and pictures involving rabbit genitals ahead!

Identifying the gender of a rabbit can sometimes be quite challenging, especially before they reach sexual maturity. Here are a few pictures I took today of the 4 week old kits to show the difference between a buck and a doe. Position and the amount of gentle pressure applied can help make it a little bit easier to see, so if everything looks the same one way, it might be helpful to try another.


Doe from a different angle:


Buck from a different angle:

It may be hard to tell, but the doe's genitals look more like a "taco" shape (as I was told by a breeder when I was learning). In contrast, the buckling has a shape more like a "doughnut." I know, I know, you will never be able to look at tacos and doughnuts the same way again- sorry about that! :)

Here is a picture side by side:

I know it can be hard to see on some monitors, so I added markings just in case:

One more:

My husband glanced at my monitor and I immediately heard, "What are you looking at?!" LOL.

It usually gets easier to tell the gender on a rabbit as it gets older and there is no mistaking the scrotum/testicles that appear on healthy adult bucks. Back when I used to sell my extras, I would always go over this process with the buyer so they knew what to look for if and when they wanted to add to their herd. I hope this helps and best of luck to anyone enjoying Winter/Spring 2015 litters!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

4 Week Weights

It's that time again! Here are the weights of the two litters as of today at 4 weeks old:

Sunshine's Litter-
1. 13.3oz (black runty doe)
2. 1lb 2.2oz (black eye patch doe)
3. 1lb 1.4oz (blue shoulder buck)
4. 1lb 2.9oz (blue banded doe)
5. 1lb 2.2oz (black banded doe)

Tacoma's Litter-
1. 1lb 8.2oz (black doe)
2. 1lb 9oz (black buck)

From everything I can find online and in books so far, these weights are comparable to meat breeds at this age. I hope the trend continues, but only time will tell. As you can see above, the buck from Tacoma's litter is still the largest and the little doe in Sunshine's litter is still (by far) the smallest. I thought this might change some now that the kits are eating pellets and hay in addition to nursing, but it would seem so far that the runt at birth remains that way as it develops. I'm curious to see how this trend continues over the next month.

I checked gender on the kits again and it looks like everyone is still what I thought they were a few weeks ago. I'm good with that ratio because I always want to keep bucks I don't need. Seriously. I have a problem. At least I recognize it now so I don't end up with a ridiculous number of bucks again in the future. I just wish they weren't so darn personable!

The rain finally came to an end yesterday after what seemed like weeks. I can't remember a more rainy winter here since we moved almost a decade ago. The property is so over-saturated that it feels squishy when I walk now. I really hope it dries out some because the ground has been frozen every morning when I wake up and that just won't work for gardening, even for the cool weather crops.

I tried to take a few pictures today, but ended up having to come inside after just a few minutes because my camera wouldn't focus properly. I almost had some cute shots! :(

On the bright side, I did get the camera working again. Hopefully I'll have better luck later today or tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Food For Thought: "Rare" Breeds

I participated in an interesting discussion regarding the American Chinchilla breed this week. It is a really great group of people. I've always liked and admired this breed, but one thing that I think limits it from generating more interest is that it only comes in one color/pattern- black chinchilla. Actually, if we examine the majority of threatened breeds, we see this is a common factor:

American Chinchilla
Belgian Hare
Blanc De Hotot
Giant Chinchilla
Crème d'Argent
Giant Angora
American Sable
Standard Chinchilla

Some of the breeds I didn't list have more than one color option, but it is very limited. Take the American rabbit, for example. It comes in blue and REW. I don't know about everywhere else, but New Zealand Whites are a dime a dozen here in Georgia. If I am some new breeder looking to raise a rabbit for heritage purposes (meat, fur, etc.), why would I go with a breed with an extremely limited gene pool, that would be very difficult for me to acquire and may require significant travel, etc. to get what is a solid blue or white rabbit. Around here, commercial type is also thought to be the best at meat and Americans are mandolin type (semi-arch). As a hypothetical breeder, that is several marks against American and for NZW.

In the Am. Chin. discussion, I brought up the color development in Silver Fox. Once critically endangered, this breed is making an awesome comeback here in the South. I can find them easily within driving distance and personally know of a handful of breeders here working with them, when they used to be impossible to find just like most of the other heritage breeds. Blue and chocolate both have been in development and I've seen those colors popping up in litters also left and right. People like having the choices. As a breed that was developed in a large part for its fur, it makes sense to me that the Silver Fox may be acquired in other colors. Now it has more interesting fur color options, which some may find more attractive. These days the Silver Fox breed presents a much more tempting package as compared to Americans when that hypothetical breeder is considering a heritage rabbit, right?

The thing that was particularly interesting to me in the discussion was that everyone almost unanimously said that they would never want to develop another color like blue or chocolate in the breed. Some argued that it is a purity thing, some said they want to keep focusing on black, and some implied that having new breeders (and this is the part that shocked me) could be detrimental to the breed. As in new breeders would set the breed back.

Food for thought: as breeders, do we really want to think that way? Many of these heritage breeds were beloved in their region and performed wonderfully for what they were bred to do. According to the ALBC, "Between November 1928 and November 1929, no less than 17,328 Chinchillas were registered through the American Rabbit & Cavy Breeders Association (American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc.) – a record that has yet to be broken." Now they are endangered, critically in some regions, and it sounds like some of the current breeders aren't excited about the possibility of increasing numbers. I have no stake in this breed myself, but I do care about what happens to heritage breeds overall and also work with a notoriously difficult headache of a breed, so I know it isn't easy. I would still argue that it is worth it. :)

Harlequin rabbits are on the "study" portion of the ALBC list and it seems like their numbers have slightly increased in my region since I started raising them. When I was trying to take a break from rabbits, I refused to cull rabbits that I thought could contribute to a poor population here in Georgia. I had even offered them for free if someone wanted to work with them. Not one person that contacted me even came through. So guess what? I still have them, haha. And I am back to raising them and I love them just as much now as I did 4 years ago. I would be happy to get someone started. I don't know everything and some of my thoughts are in direct contradiction with other breeders (I want type before markings!), but I would happily share what information I do have. 

Ultimately, it is up to the stewards of each breed to promote, educate, and mentor new folks that are starting out, particularly in a breed with a low population. What can help or degrade the breed totally depends on what stock is passed along and whether the new people have the information to make good choices on culling. If a breeder sells garbage to someone, then they should anticipate a decline in quality in their area as the new breeder produces and sells garbage, too. Regarding "rare" breeds like American Chinchilla, I think breed development (like the creation of blue or chocolate) would ultimately be a benefit to transition the breed from being so threatened to one that is kept by more people for what it was originally bred for. This would mean more competition on the show table (which maybe people don't want if they are winning everything now), or new challenges in breeding (which I realize not everyone has space for), but it would also help ensure the future of the breed. Plus, wouldn't a blue or chocolate American Chinchilla just be stunning? 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Perfect Number

In Bob Bennett's book (Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits), he talks about 4 rabbits being a good number to start with. He recommends a couple of junior bucks, a junior doe, and a bred senior doe to bring home. He recommends that folks breed from there, always culling hard and selecting the best and those 4 rabbits can easily become 100 good ones for you to continue to work with.

Oren Reynolds is a former president of ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association), editor of Domestic Rabbits, and long-time (very well-known) rabbit breeder with best of breed wins on the national level. To contrast with Mr. Bennett's point of view, Oren Reynolds reportedly never kept more than 12 breeding does at any given time. He culled very strictly from weaning, believing that faults visible at that time will only be more easily seen with maturity.

One thing that I've noticed varies quite a bit across rabbtries is what "the perfect number" of rabbits might be to feel like progress is being made towards the breeder's goals. Some folks want at least 50 breeders and up-and-comers. Some want 100. Some want 5, and not a single animal more. Many are limited by their space and time (myself included), but it makes me wonder what the right number really is. Do I need 50 rabbits to produce what I am working towards? I'm no expert, but that is a LOT of rabbits to care for.

For myself, unless I was raising commercially, I think I prefer Oren Reynold's approach above most others. 12 breeding does sounds like a great number. Right now I have less than that and no plans to expand if we might have to move across the country. But maybe one day in the near future 12 does will be perfect.

Then how many bucks? Research indicates that bucks can be used on more than 10 does without ill effects, but I think that is just too much. Maybe my bucks are used to an easier life, but they seem like they need time to eat, drink, and rest between does. I think a better ratio may be more like 1 buck for every 6 does, maybe 8 if I wanted to push my luck (which I don't). So for 12 does, someone could have 2 really great bucks. I think I would have 3 or 4. Let's face it, does don't always like the bucks we pick out for them. Also, if something happens unexpectedly to a buck or two, we haven't lost or almost lost the ability to get another generation started in the rabbitry.

So I guess for me, my perfect number is 3-4 bucks that are the best I can produce and 12 does.

Do you have a perfect number?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Weigh In (3 Weeks Old)

I know I said I was going to weigh the kits every 2 weeks but they are so gosh darn cute that I can't resist bringing them inside to play. I felt like I might as well grab a weekly weight since we are all hanging out together, right? I mean, who can resist this face:

I can't, apparently!

They have been officially evicted from the nestbox, but it seems like they have found other places to relax:

Why, yes, those are my pirate pajama pants. And they are awesome.

Anyhoo, all of the kits seem to be doing well. I've seen them nibbling on hay and pellets, though they are still driving their mammas up the wall a bit trying to nurse. This will pass on its own as the kits become less dependent. Tacoma's dynamic duo are still by far the biggest and fattest 3 week old kits I've ever put my hands on, lol. Let's do the numbers.

Sunshine's Litter-
1. 9.2 (black doe)
2. 11.3 (black doe)
3. 11.0 (blue buck)
4. 12.2 (blue doe)
5. 12.8 (black doe)

Tacoma's Litter-
1. 1lb 2.9oz (black doe)
2. 1lb 2.9oz (black buck)

Here is the doe:

 And here is the buck (check the rufus, yo!):

I'm trying to keep an open mind about everyone, but I can already see traits that I LOVE and traits that I am not thrilled about in both litters. I'm having trouble finding any 3 week weight comparisons, also. I think many people just do weights every 2 weeks and many don't start until 4 or 6 weeks that I've been able to find. The smallest kit is still by far the smallest and is still about half the size of the largest kits. Everyone else in Sunshine's litter are closer in weights to one another. I'm still wondering if everyone is going to level out more once they are eating more solid food, but time will tell. It is still quite chilly here and I've been providing extra grass hay for the gang to burrow into. I know it is still nothing like the folks out west are experiencing, particularly with the high winds. Stay warm and cozy everyone!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Baby, it's cold outside!

Everyone is doing fine here, just trying to stay cozy. Keep warm, friends!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Weigh Day (2 Weeks)

As some of the traits I am looking for in my Harlequins are growth/feed conversion, I am weighing the two litters in 14 day intervals so I can get an idea of how they are doing. I haven't been able to find many charts of kit weight at this age and in part I think it is because nursing is such an enormous variable. If the doe hops out too quickly, someone may miss a meal and that can play a big role at this age. A couple of the kits may just be pushy and greedy and keep the ones that were smaller from birth from getting a good fill at times. The kits may have been in one corner when the doe hopped in and someone may have been blocked.

That said, it could be just that the smallest kits at birth are still the smallest kits now. Or that some of the kits aren't as robust overall. I also used this time to make sure everyone's eyes were open and clear, their teeth were perfect, and did a preliminary gender check. Here is their data in ounces.

Sunshine's Litter-
1. 6.5 (probable doe)
2. 7.3 (probable doe)
3. 7.7 (probable buck)
4. 9.2 (probable doe)
5. 9.7 (probable doe)

Tacoma's Litter-
1. 11.7 (probable doe)
2. 11.9 (probable buck)

Isn't it amazing that the smallest kit in Sunshine's litter is almost HALF the size of the largest in Tacoma's? I was only able to find a few other 2 week old weights taken by other breeders. Here are two examples:

Silver Fox Litter:

Cal/NZ cross

So it seems like Sunshine's litter is right on track and Tacoma's litter is quite large- but I am sure this is just because she only had a litter of two. Either way, it is interesting to see the actual data this time around. I can't wait to see how they grow! I am planning another weigh-in at 4 weeks, but I'm sure I'll take pictures beforehand at some point. It has been raining here for days and days or I already would have- where did the winter bluebird days go anyway?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015 Homesteading Goals

This post is only marginally rabbit-related, so feel free to skip if you are looking mainly for lagomorph stuff.

This is going to be a potentially major year for us with changes galore. We may be looking at a move almost a thousand miles away to the Midwest depending on job options for my husband. I've been having some medical issues we are addressing (nothing major, but annoying nonetheless) that have been affecting my ability to work. We are trying to get rid of a lot of stuff inside the house because even if we do stay in Georgia, we are hoping to move to a property with more space.

With all of this in mind, here are our 2015 homesteading goals:

1. Figure out where we are going to live. Seems easy to do, but not so much when jobs are up in the air. We should know more by the end of summer and be able to make some decisions.

2. Decide whether we want to rent our current home or sell it and get it ready for whichever path we take. We need to get some repairs done (mostly carpentry work) and finish some cosmetic stuff like new carpets and paint. I don't want to put a lot into it though if we are just renting and it may get messed up by the tenants. My parents always rented properties and I remember the people that looked meticulous about everything being the ones that unexpectedly trashed the rented home. So bizarre! I personally could never rent somewhere and not take care of it- it would feel so wrong, but people can and do.

3. Get the garden up and running again- and deer-proof it this time around. Did I mention I lost ALL of my heirloom tomatoes to deer last year? They ate the plants down to the ground in one day. I was daydreaming about venison steaks every time I had to go to the grocery store to buy tomatoes for months.

4. Decide what parts of a farm we can and can't live without so we know exactly what we are looking for in our future property.

5. Reduce our bills as much as we can in the meantime. I have a feeling we're going to need the moola for this coming year!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year and 2015 Goals

First, Happy New Year!

Do you have any resolutions or goals to work towards? Here are some of mine:

1. Improve on needed qualities in my herd, which is primarily type and commercial traits. Many of my litters have had some nicely marked kits without even truly breeding for it, but I am looking for full hindquarters, shorter shoulders, deeper loins. I'd also like larger litter sizes, improved growth, and adequate dress-out.

2. Replace foundation stock with offspring and cull, cull, cull. This one is very difficult for me. I have grown very attached to my older, original Harlies and I am sure I will do the same with their offspring, but I have to move forward if I am ever to attain any of my other goals.

3. Reduce cost of feeding/pursue more natural feeding methods- I am going to try to do this via a combo of natural food items and traditional pellets/hay. I don't have the time or ability to go 100% fodder, but I want to use my garden and some fodder/forage for the herd more than I have in previous years. When I first started, I paid ~$12/50lbs of feed. Now I pay almost $20 for the same food.. it is becoming more expensive to raise rabbits.

4. Update my cages and build a rabbit tractor or hutch. I am putting new floors in what will become 36" grow out pens for juniors. I am replacing older metal trays with concrete mixing tubs so I can dump rabbit manure into the garden directly. I'm also looking into building a rabbit tractor and/or an outdoor hutch- still trying to decide on plans. 

5. If Harlies are not meeting our needs, then move them out and find a breed that does. My husband is very skeptical that Harlies will be able to work for us with our homesteading interests as he remembers them eating a lot and growing slowly with a type that is completely different from NZW. Unfortunately, he isn't wrong in that thought process. If we didn't get litters from the older stock, it would be the perfect time to transition, but we did- so I am going by their growth and dress-out for an "official" way to track. I want to keep them, but I know where he is coming from when there are several other breeds that may be significantly better suited in the long haul. Time will tell!