Archive | August 2014

Nothing up my sleeve…

Presto! The modest trio of meat rabbits we planned to start with? They just became six, count ’em, SIX rabbits currently in residence! All due to the generosity of our rabbit mentor, Avery’s uncle. Apparently he was at the county fair last weekend, and decided to purchase the winning trio of Californians from the 4-H rabbit show. He gave the buck to another friend of his, and sent the two does to us, since they are both better conformed and of a nicer temperament than the one we originally got. Actually, both of our original does are really showing their early lack of handling. Despite our efforts to get them to associate us with food and high value treats, and to introduce them to gentle handling, they both remain fairly aggressive and flighty. As such, we are quite happy to have a pair of well-socialized 4-H rabbits instead!

My mother-in-law went to pick up the Californians, and while she was there, fell for a young Rex doe from a recent litter Avery’s uncle bred. Since we had room for one more, she decided to bring her home as well – why not? So we are officially at rabbit capacity! Our current plan is to harvest the aggressive Cal we originally got, and keep the NZW just long enough to breed her in early December and let her raise one litter. Otherwise our initial breeding would be pushed back by at least a month, since the new Cals are several weeks younger. Once the NZW’s litter is weaned, we’ll get her fit for the freezer and harvest her, unless she’s had a major attitude adjustment in the meantime. That will get us back to our originally planned trio of Californian meat rabbits, plus the Rex who, let’s face it, is mostly just for fun. Avery’s mom doesn’t ask for much, though, so we’re happy to oblige! And she is awful pretty – take a look!

butterscotch rex

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Garden Surprise

I’ve managed to surprise myself with the success of my garden this year. I don’t have a very good track record as a gardener, overall. I think there are several reasons for this. I didn’t grow up in a family that gardened, so I never learned the process when I was young. My first introduction to gardening was my father-in-law Francis, who makes every piece of gardening look easy because he’s so skilled. It didn’t exactly give me a realistic first impression! As a result, when Avery and I set up our first garden, we were a bit overly ambitious. The final nail in my gardening coffin is that unlike Francis, for whom gardening is a combination of recreation and meditation, gardening is definitely a chore for me. I absolutely love having my own fresh produce, but the process of maintaining the garden itself is something that I do because I want the end result, not because I enjoy going through the motions.

The long and the short of it is that the past two seasons have really been quite poor in the gardening department. This year, for whatever reason, we’re finally having some actual success! We’ve grown enough pickling cucumbers for several batches of pickles, we’ve had enough extra peppers to freeze for winter stir-fry, and extra zucchini which mostly goes to the chickens and pigs. Despite growing my favorite Tante Alice slicing cucumbers from leftover seed I feared was too old to germinate, they’ve been wildly successful as well, giving us plenty for fresh eating and for sharing. My early volunteer pumpkins from last year’s poor abandoned pumpkin patch are actually producing fairly heavily. It really makes last week’s Lughnasadh feel like the beginning of autumn after all!

Even the setbacks – and there have been plenty, certainly – have not gotten out of control as in years past. We did lose a lot of zucchini plants and one early pumpkin plant to squash borers, but luckily have been able to get good production just by having so many plants in the first place. Our deer problem calmed down a bit after initiating the dryer sheets/scented soap approach, and the pumpkins/winter squash are finally gaining ground. Hopefully they will bounce back enough to get us a good yield come October or so. I’ve planted a mix of decorative and culinary squash, so hopefully at least the decorative ones will make an appearance in time for Samhain!

Heartened by my lack of complete failure, I’m doing my best to keep on top of things and even think ahead for next year. I’ve got a small mobile chicken ark with four hens in it that I’m moving into the beds from the zucchini that succumbed to squash borers. I’ve seen it suggested on some forums that the chickens will scratch up and eat the pupae in the soil, decreasing the egg-laying adult population next spring. Of course I’m not sure how well this will work, but either way they will work the straw mulch into the soil and provide plenty of fertilizer, so I really have nothing to lose by trying. I’ve already started putting rabbit manure into the bed I plan to use for my fall garlic. I can’t wait to see what it will do for my crop!

New Additions

Where was I? That’s right, I was going to share the new additions my in-laws brought back for us from their trip over 4th of July weekend! This year is turning out to be a big one for us in terms of expanding our self-reliance when it comes to the meat we eat. Last year we produced nearly all of the chicken we ate ourselves. This year we have 15 young ducks destined for the freezer, and in addition to our first set of pigs, we have added meat rabbits!

Californian buck

Californian buck

I’m excited because the addition of rabbits really takes us to the next level of our homesteading life. It’s a very different meat, not as mainstream even as our ducks. Rabbit meat is very lean, all white meat, and it will add real variety to our diet. But the meat isn’t the only thing rabbits have to offer on the homestead. Their manure is gold in the garden, for one thing. But I’m also determined to learn to put the rabbit pelts to use.

Californian doe

Californian doe

For me, the ultimate way that I show my respect for the animals I eat is to waste as little as possible from their sacrifice. As someone who came from a completely non-farming background, the learning curve on this is a bit steep, and I’m far from perfect, but every time we butcher we are doing more and more. Learning to put things like poultry feet, hearts, livers, gizzards, and such to good use has taken time and effort, but it is important to me. We even save decorative feathers as much as we are able, and compost the waste feathers so nothing is lost. Rabbit fur is warm and soft, and while the skins can be delicate, I’m eager to learn the skills to turn them into useful items.

New Zealand White doe

New Zealand White doe

We are starting with a pair of Californians and a New Zealand White doe. Avery’s uncle has been breeding and showing rabbits for years, as well as raising for meat, and he scouted out our first rabbits for use to help us get good stock. This will let us get a feel for the two main meat producing breeds as we learn. Once we’re more established, I’m interested in exploring other options like the New Zealand Red or the Silver Fox.

These rabbits will be ready to breed late in the fall, around November or so. I’m planning to breed the NZW doe around the first week in December, which should mean we can celebrate Easter with home-raised rabbit for dinner. I’ll stick with breeding one doe at a time in the beginning at least, until we get the feel for how things go!