Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kit Updates

I have good news and bad news. As much as I love shouting the happy stuff from the rooftops, I try to be realistic in my posts and today was a little trying if I am being honest with myself.

First, the great news: Tacoma kindled 7 lovely chocolatey kits. They don't have enough fur to say for sure what color they are, but I don't see black or blue. Also glad to see that our buck Vanilla Bear just proved himself finally after all these years of living as bachelors with his brother Chocolate Bear, lol.

Not-so-great news: Kurayami kindled 6 kits. Sadly, she continues to show essentially no mothering instincts beyond the initial nest building. She promptly killed 3 of the 6 by squashing them so she could lay in the nest box. I thought last time she had trouble kindling, but this time I know better because I heard their squeals as I went out to check. Unfortunately, it was too late for half the litter. I moved the box, added more hay for her to lay on, etc. and she was trying to do the same thing while I was still in there watching.

I will tolerate some less-than-perfect characteristics. I don't have great type so I do the best I can. I don't need to have all of my rabbits be kissy-faces, but I just can't tolerate poor mothering skills. Sadly, Kurayami has been added to the cull list. Even more disappointing is that her only two survivors from her last litter are bucks that I don't currently have a need for. I have fostered the 3 newborn survivors onto poor Tacoma, who now has 10 in her box and I will hope and pray that 1 of Kurayami's is a doe that I can keep to replace her.

On a happier note, I weighed and evaluated our 8 week old kits today. The blue doe from Valkyrie with half an ear will be staying here and we hare thrilled to have her. She is cute and has decent type all things considered. She is also very friendly and cuddly. Here are the weights for everyone:

Blue doe: 3lb 9.5oz
Blue buck: 2lb 11.7 oz (still a runt)
Black buck: 3lb 9.8oz (He is really well marked, but I found two white toes! Nooooooooo)
Black buck: 3lb 15.2oz (a lovely porker from Kurayami, so bummed he is a buck)

So that's the latest and greatest. Hope everyone is having a nice weekend!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring Seedlings

Just thought I'd share a few pics of the heirloom seedlings we have popping up. We have sowed a variety, but mostly radishes, carrots, lettuce, spinach, onions, snow peas, and other cool weather crops:

Our other green Spring flora is popping as well. I hope you like rasperries, because we have plenty around here as the canes come back to life:

And/or blueberries as well. This is what their flowers look like before they turn to fruit:

Hope everyone is having a nice weekend! If you can't tell, I'm itching to put some fruit and veggies on the table. :)

Friday, March 27, 2015

New Zealand vs. Harlequin Rabbits (A Homesteading Perspective)

Here is one of the broken NZ culls we acquired at the Decatur RBA show last weekend:

Can we say compact? Here is a comparison to my best junior Harlie (who is around the same age in the pic):

The first picture was taken in the afternoon and the second was taken in the morning, so the lighting looks way different. You can still see some major body type differences. And that was against my best junior.

 Here is another comparison. This was one of my culls from the early litters:

And a New Zealand cull:

See any differences besides color? It is so dramatic, I kind of laugh and groan at the same time, lol. These are some seriously pretty rabbits. Don't take my word for it though. Who can resist a face like this?

We are still trying to get caught up on processing, but so far our Harlies have a dressing percentage of around 52% and the New Zealands are around 54%. They are all older than the prime processing age though so I'm not sure how they would run between 8-12 weeks. Either way we are happy with both. We have also reached a point where nothing is going to waste as the meat goes to us and the dogs, the raw meaty bones go to the dogs, the hides are being saved for tanning, and the guts are also going to the dogs and/or the garden. I don't care what anyone says, rabbits are unbelievably amazing animals. They are so versatile. Easy keepers compared to many other livestock animals. Can be great pets or great dinner. Can turn their pelts into treasures. They are fun to watch and fun to raise. If I had to choose one species for the homestead, I'd pick rabbits every time!

Thursday, March 26, 2015


My does are supposed to be due over the next day or two, but so far only one of five is showing any signs of being preggos. Hopefully this lonely single digit increases. Otherwise, it's going to be a kind of a small selection before we are done with litters until the autumn breezes roll in. I am thankful for the keepers we've been able to reserve from the handful of kits we've had, but realistically, our Harlie genetics are going to be weakened if we don't get anything else. Fingers crossed!

In case you haven't noticed from my infrequent posts the past few weeks, this is one of the busy times of the year for us. We have been working on the garden and trying to get ready to potentially move, so trying to get rid of all non-essential things. The local charities and Goodwill have been getting carloads and there is still more. I don't think we are very materialistic, but wow we have a lot of stuff!

Hopefully my next update will be with good rabbit news, but either way I hope to have some pictures of what is happening around here at the Hearth! :)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Decatur RBA Show and Rabbit News

Yesterday we went to the Decatur Rabbit Breeders Association show in Conyers that happens twice a year. This is my favorite show because it is close to home, was the first rabbit show I ever went to, and I always get to see friends. We didn't have anything from these recent litters I felt would be competitive on the show table, but we still like to go and see what's going on.

It was a beautiful day and the cherry blossoms were all blooming on the show grounds, too:

These were the white blooms like we have at home. I don't know why I didn't get a picture of it, but across on the other side of the building were rows with gorgeous pink blooms. Either way, it was a beautiful walk inside:

Unfortunately, there were other big shows happening in the SE on the same weekend, so I was very surprised to see folks clearing out much earlier than I remember from previous shows. This is not a normal occurrence and the Fall show was packed, so the turnout should be great again next time.

One cool thing about rabbit shows is you can see and explore all the different breeds, including the ones that may normally only be found in pictures. I love seeing the varieties, so this is a big perk for me. For example, I was able to see the very rare Silver breed during show C judging. Although they are not for me, they looked so elegant and refined on the table.

We were also able to visit with our good friends at Urban Usagi Rabbitry that mentored me with English Lops years ago and are all around wonderful people. They still have EL's, but also raise incredible New Zealands now, with a focus on the new broken variety. We ended up taking 6 of their NZ home for the freezer to supplement our small litter sizes, but I had to laugh when I was going through the group because her culls are so much nicer than even my best keepers in type. It is absolutely amazing when you run your hand over them- just smooth and muscular through and through. My husband in particular seems quite smitten. He told me yesterday that they feel very firm with much finer bone as compared to the Harlies and today he said that the solid black NZs from the group have very pretty shiny coats. The real comparison for us as folks that seek to be more self-sufficent will be the dressing percentage, which we will post when we have the numbers. I am so curious to see the difference, but I suspect it will be quite amazing.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Even MOAR Spring Pics!

So much is budding, blooming, and growing outside that I just feel compelled to try to capture and share the natural beauty. I know I haven't barely talked about rabbits this week and I'll get back to it soon (short version: everything's good!), but Spring just won't wait. So here we go, starting with Violets that planted themselves. They are probably an invasive weed if I had to guess- but man they have some pretty blooms:

No roses yet, but here are some of the thorns from my big climbing roses. Don't they look a bit like shark teeth? I snip the tip off the end when I am clipping them back mostly so I don't lose an eye when I am bundling them up, but the rabbits eat them with the rest of the thorn intact.

There is no missing Forsythia with their in-your-face yellow flower explosions. These were a gift from Arbor Day with my tree order a few years ago and now they are taller than me:

And of course I have to post more cherry blossoms as they open:

 And then there is the grass, just as magnificent as anything I've ever seen. The dew drops add an ethereal quality to the leaves in the early morning:

In other news, I went to the Conyers rabbit show today for a little while. It was fun! More to come about that and hope your Spring is just as lovely as ours!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

More Spring Pictures

It is raining again today so I've been working on packing up loads of stuff to take to the local charities. We are trying to reduce the things we will need to move overall now and to simplify our lives as much as possible. In the meantime, I wanted to post some more pictures I took yesterday while we were working on the garden beds in nicer weather. More cherry blossoms:

And the nettles are back (along with whatever is next to it- Phacelia any ideas?):

The roses are leafing out:

I am a rose lover. Even a rose's leaf is striking with shades of fiery red, burgundy, jade, olive, and hunter green. Those are Don Juan climbers and they produce HUGE double blooms that I'll post pics of when they come into season. Incidentally, my rabbits love to eat rose cuttings as well.

Here are Bleeding Heart leaves opening up for the first time this year. They also have fantastic whimsical blooms that I'll update when the time is right:

All of our songbirds are enjoying the peanut suet we've been keeping out. I'm pretty sure the squirrels are trying to gnaw their way through the green wire:

Here is a picture that someone could only appreciate if they like to dig in the dirt like me. This is the rich decadence that is from our raised beds, thanks to our rabbits, organic topsoil, and the original Mel's mix we blended in years ago:

Our rabbiteye blueberries are getting ready to flower:

The cool crop of heirloom veggies (these are cauliflower seeds) have been sowed with love:

And Spring is in the air (Arbor day sold this to me as a Redbud, but it looks like a Sargent Crabapple and our Weeping Willow from them turned out to be some other upright type of Willow, too...):

It looked like a stick when we received the package a few years ago, but now it is huge and lovely. As long as the critters like it, I am happy:

I am wondering if little berries will develop. This is the first time it has bloomed for us. It went straight up fire red-gold during Fall, which was beautiful.

Incidentally, one of our first steps for a new homested will be planting an orchard and other bird/critter friendly trees and plants for our local wildlife and for us as well.

All part of a good day's work:

Hope you all are having a wonderful week!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Poo Post

Let's talk about poop. No, really. Rabbit manure. Also called bunny berries, rabbit gold, etc. My husband calls it "cocoa puffs," haha. It is an AMAZING garden fertilizer and is unique among most livestock as a "cold" manure that can be added directly to the garden without aging. Here are some of the benefits:

1. Improves soil (lots of micronutrients!) and adds organic matter back into the garden. It is naturally high in nitrogen (and phosphorous and a bunch of other good stuff). Unless you are planting nothing but legumes, this will help your plants grow and bear fruit and/or flowers.
2. Won't burn your plants! This is what is meant by "cold."
3. Odorless! If you have a dry stockpile somewhere, it won't stink to high heaven like (enter animal's name here such as pig, horse, cow, etc.) manure.
4. Worms like it! Worm castings are also fabulous for soil and they are happy to dig around in rabbit manure making it even richer and resulting in happier plants.

You can make a fertilizer tea from it. This is not to drink. This is for your plants!

You can sow it directly. You can dry it out or not. I use trays, so I don't have the option, but a lot of people just scoop it from under the hutches or allow it to fall into trays with holes drilled in for a dry manure. We've never had a problem just emptying the tray directly into the rose bushes, raised bed, etc., but I do tend to do so when I expect rainfall to disperse the urine.

When I am anticipating a period where we are actively enriching the garden beds, I don't add anything to trays like wood pellets or stall fresheners. That way I know it is straight up rabbit gold going into our plants for food production. We used to dump trays directly, but now that I have a bum shoulder I tend to dump the trays into a concrete mixing bin I have placed in a wheelbarrow. It saves my limbs (and back), plus it makes for easy transport. I don't empty trays directly into the wheelbarrow because it would rust in no-time:

 After I've worked on the garden beds, we rinse the concrete bin and done! No rust, no fuss. 

Although we have a smaller area this year for gardening now that we have allowed the in-ground beds to go to grass, the soil in the raised beds is so rich and wonderful that we still have high hopes for production.

Now that we've been going on and on about poop, I'll leave you with our first cherry blossoms starting to open:

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go. :)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ready to Sow!

We spent a lot of time this weekend digging in the dirt, literally. We just about finished preparing the garden beds and I thought I'd share a little bit about the process. When we first built raised beds, we used Mel's Mix from the Square Foot Gardening book we picked up years ago. This consists of:
  • 1/3 vermiculite
  • 1/3 peat moss
  • 1/3 compost (from as many sources as possible)
Around here, peat moss and vermiculite are not all that cheap. I also had to call all over the surrounding counties to find vermiculite, but it does make for a lovely planting area with a fluffy feel that retains moisture. This made a particular difference when we were in a severe drought with water limits a few years back. 

While I wouldn't use this soil mix for acres of land because it is downright cost prohibitive, it does perfectly in the raised beds we built. I think we also get a lot more from our small space than we would otherwise if we were farming the Georgia clay. While clay is mineral dense, it gets packed like cement after a rain and tender young plants have a time of getting their roots down into the good stuff. We remedy this by adding a lot of compost back into the clay, which changes the whole overall texture. I knew this would be a challenging year for us though, so I am letting the in-ground beds go back to grass for the time being and am focused on raised beds and containers.

Incidentally, after the first year of Mel's Mix, we've never purchased anything else besides the occasional bag of organic topsoil and heirloom seeds. Everything else we add back is from rabbit manure, compost, cuttings from our harvests, etc. This system works very well to ensure that nutrients are available for the next year. We also frequently rotate our plants from year to year (and season to season) to reduce the chance of disease, pest outbreaks, etc. So far our biggest foe has been deer and we hope to rectify that with leftover rabbit wire and posts to create cover.

In other news, if you haven't been to your local Tractor Supply in a while, we went last night and they had a boatload of seeds, including some heirlooms. I couldn't remember if we had found any cucumber seeds from the missing stash, so we picked up the Straight Eight Cucumber for the summer (which I remember growing before successfully):

Can you tell I am excited about growing more of our food again? There is just nothing like sitting down to a meal that you harvested fresh and prepared from scratch. So rewarding!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

6 Weeks Old

Time for a rabbit update!

I desperately need to take pictures, but only if the rain will ever go away. It is humid, wet, and cold outside this morning. Anyhoo, the youngsters are 6 weeks old now and I took their weights today and vaccinated them as well. Here are their numbers:

Valkyrie's Litter-
Blue doe: 2lb 10oz.

Kurayami's Litter-
Blue buck: 1lb 14oz.
Black buck: 2lb 11.5oz.

Hikari's Litter-
Black buck: 2lb 10oz.

Not too shabby, except for the little blue buck. He hasn't really been thriving like the others. He didn't look like a runt at birth, but with so few kits to compare at kindling, he may very well still be one. Here is a comparison from my previous litters at the same age:

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 (lilac banded doe)
5. 2lb 7.1oz (black banded doe)

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

Some other neat things that come with test breedings: we now know for sure that Valkyrie and Kurayami carry blue genetics. We also know that Spock doesn't carry blue or chocolate and Apollo carries blue and chocolate both. As far as I know, none of my Harlies carry Magpie. At some point, I think we will need to purchase an unrelated herdsire to diversify bloodlines, but I am thrilled to have Jack to step in for the next generation. We have a few other nice bucks as well like Chocolate/Vanilla Bear that were from the late Bonus (who was unrelated to any of my other Harlies at the time). It is exciting to finally feel like I am starting to make some progress on my own lines.

I bred 4 more does back at the end of February, so hopefully we will be expecting some new kits around the end of this month. I must admit that it was sad to only have 4 kits make it to weaning from 3 different does, but I think we will continue to improve as the youngsters replace the elders over time. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Frustrated (Medical Rant- NOT SAFE FOR KIDS/WORK)

I've been a little bit quiet around here lately because (in addition to work and the household), I've been dealing with some stuff that is hindering my plan to grow ALL OF THE THINGS this Spring. Short version is I have some health problems that I have been getting 2nd and 3rd opinions on because everyone is answering surgery. But everyone is recommending a different kind of surgery. That aside, I need to say something that is not nice or kid-friendly. It is also a generalization, but for the most part I've found it to be true. So hide yo kids, hide yo wife.. because:

Doctors are such dicks!

I've seen a lot of them lately for my health stuff plus I work with a metric ton of them and they are ALL pretentious self-important asses. Every last one of them. Apparently it is part of the medical school curriculum or that profession just draws jerkfaces in like flies.

Also, the "business" of medicine is enraging. I feel like every practice I've been to is more concerned about what's in my purse than what's in my body. I've had like.. 5+ ultrasounds now because every single doctor wants to re-do the tests from the previous doctor or visit even though they already have the images and report. I'm like, "I just had that exact same thing done yesterday." And they basically respond with, "Welp, that was at another practice (or on another day), so let's go ahead and update your findings here. We'll go ahead and just re-do it. We'll also need to do a follow-up in 6 weeks." It is just so they can charge like $800x2 (or 3 or 4 or 5...) for a simple procedure that doesn't even involve the actual doctor instead of $180 or whatever. That is also part of what is wrong with our healthcare system, but that's a rant for another day.

The thing is.. I'd be fine with whatever for the most part. Except that a lot of doctors are just wrong about a lot of things. I don't mean that I think they are wrong. They are actually saying stuff that is directly contradicting research findings. When I try to bring up anything factual they just gloss over or ignore it. For the record, I am not that patient that drives everyone nuts. I know what that patient is like. Anyone in healthcare knows what THAT patient is like. I am very polite and have always been a "please and thank you" kind of lady, but it is my body and the decisions that we make now can have a lifetime of positive or detrimental effects depending on what we opt to do. So when they tell me not to worry about this or that and pat me on the head, I'm not happy. Dismissive and condescending are words that come to mind.

So, if any physicians ever stumble across my little blog in the giant internet wasteland, take it as it sounds. You are not infallible. And being wrong isn't a sin. Refusing to admit when you are wrong, definitely is. I just want to be healthy, and I am trusting in you to help me get there. My life is in your hands. Don't fuck it up.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lost Seeds

Apparently while organizing several rooms in our house, I have misplaced several packets of cool weather heirloom crop seeds. I know I have them somewhere, but I just can't for the life of me think of where (or how they even got separated). I can find all of my others- tons of beans, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, random herbs, corn, etc.. but none of the things we're ready to plant presently. We worked on the garden over the weekend again and are totally ready to rock and sow. :)

To remedy this problem, I just placed a seed order with St. Claire Heirloom Seeds. Supposedly I was going to get mostly lettuce, radishes, and peas, but here is what I somehow ended up with (lol):

Taylor Dwarf Horticultural Bean Seeds
Small Red Bean Seeds
Jacob's Cattle Bean Seeds
Calypso Bean Seeds
Herb - Basil, Sweet Italian Large Leaf
Pea - Maestro
Spinach - Bloomsdale Long Standing
Pea - Dwarf Grey Sugar
Pea - Oregon Sugar Pod II
Radish - Easter Egg
Lettuce Blend #2 (Oak Leaf, Ruby Red, Salad Bowl Green, Black Seeded Simpson, Salad Bowl Red)
Lettuce Blend #1 (Ruby Red, Salad Bowl Green, Black Seeded Simpson, Buttercrunch, Salad Bowl Red, Paris Island COS)
Carrot - Scarlet Nantes
Carrot - Cosmic Purple
Cauliflower - Snowball Self-Blanching
Broccoli - Green Sprouting Calabrese

I'm justifying the beans because they were on sale. So there!

It is my first time ordering from this company, but they have very good ratings on Dave's Garden. Here is a link if anyone still needs seeds:

I like their philosophy about seeds and that they are smaller + family owned and operated. In the past I've had good luck ordering from Baker Creek, but I feel like they have exploded in popularity and they have started pushing some politics around that I am still on the fence about. I ordered gift seeds from Victory as well and my family that received them were very happy with them. Either way, just thought I'd share. :)

Sunday, March 8, 2015


We processed one of our culls (after a pretty long hiatus) and here are some of the things we discovered:

1. I need a better setup if we are going to be raising more food for the home and hearth. I'd love a stainless steel area dedicated to processing because it was challenging working around everything else we already had going on in the kitchen. Maybe at our next property? At this rate, we are going to need a LOT of spare money, too- lol.

2. I need to withhold food a bit before processing. I always offer something tasty at the time of the deed, but full stomach is only making the job afterward harder. It is also altering the live weight because all that offal/food is heavy.

3. Harlequins are holding their own so far against more common commercial breeds. They are a smaller than New Zealands, of course, but I didn't see any heavy bone or wimpy muscling. I am sure we can improve with selective breeding. Here are the numbers:

Live weight with a full guts* was 4lbs 10.7oz on one of the smaller fryers.
Dressed out weight was 2lbs 7.1oz. This is the dressed carcass (no head, no pelt) with liver, heart, and kidneys.
That makes the dressing percentage 52.34%, though I think it would have been closer to 55% if done correctly. Not a bad start!

Now we have a delicious homegrown dinner and our dogs are happy, too. While it will never be easy for me to dispatch any animal because I truly love them, I think we can offer a much better quality of life here than any commercial operation. People are always shocked and appalled when they find out a farmer raised an animal for meat, but will buy it at the grocery store in a clean white package without a second thought. There are many documentaries on it, but we now know that industrialized farming practices keep animals in deplorable conditions for the sake of profit. We want to be self-sufficient for a number of reasons, but this is one of the many.

*(Sorry, but it's true).

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Daylight Saving Time

Well, it's that time again where we all change our clocks to make it seem like the sunshine arrives later in the morning and lasts longer in the evening. Here is the schedule for this year:

Daylight Saving Time (United States) 2015 begins at 2:00 AM on
Sunday, March 8
and ends at 2:00 AM on
Sunday, November 1

Just a reminder in case anyone needs to change their clocks. 
Hope you are having a nice weekend!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rabbit Recipe

We've been busy trying to get the rabbit manure and compost into the garden beds to ready the soil for the coming Spring, despite the rain and cold that keep appearing. To give an example about how bipolar Georgia is right now, it was almost 70 degrees when I got up yesterday morning and it was below freezing overnight.

In the meantime, I was selecting some rabbit recipes to try and I was asked, "How do you know whether a rabbit is a fryer or roaster when it calls for one or the other in the ingredient list?" I thought I'd answer that here in case it is helpful for anyone else.

A fryer is a young rabbit, usually at 10 weeks or less and weighing around 3.5-5lbs (live weight, of course). This category is finer in grain/texture and is the most tender for cooking. Roasters are usually around 10 weeks to 6 months old with weights ranging from 5.5-8lbs or so. They are a little more coarse in grain and firm. Stewers are basically adult rabbits, those that would be considered seniors on the show table. They are older than 6 months and are usually greater than 8lbs. The name of the age group is kind of an indicator as to how best to cook them. Stewers can be more tough, although these rabbits may be best for fur quality if they are processed in their prime coat.

And here is a good starter recipe for someone wanting to try rabbit for the first time. It is the simplified version from Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennett. He said it won prizes and children love it, too:

Alice Bennett's Crispy Oven-Fried Rabbit

1 fryer rabbit (2- 2/12 lbs dressed and cut into pieces)
1 egg, well-beaten
2 cups of potato chips, finely crushed
1/4 cup of butter

1. Dip rabbit in beaten egg and then coat with potato chips
2. Melt butter on a shallow baking pan
3. Put rabbit in pan and bake at 375 for 30 min
4. Flip pieces and bake for another 30 min or until meat is tender and juicy

So glad it's Friday! Hope everyone is having a great week!