Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2+1 equals... 13?

After we had the first batch of pullets for a few weeks, I realized that everything I've read about chicken poop is true: it's stinky, and they make a LOT of it. I'm a big proponent of composting, so my original plan was to add it to our existing bin and let it turn into the magic that is compost.

Without getting into the technicalities of composting -we'll save that for another day- I'll just say that the chicken manure and associated bedding (straw and/or alder shavings, in my case) wasn't breaking down as fast as I expected.

What's a girl to do, you ask? Easy! Get Rabbits!!

I'd been kicking around the idea of adding rabbits for a while, anyway. They're a great addition to any gardener's yard: they don't take up a lot of space, are easy to take care of, and in general are pretty friendly little critters. They also love to eat garden trimmings and weeds. Their manure is on the other end of the spectrum from chickens where composting is concerned; it's considered a "green" and doesn't have to break down as long before it can be used in the garden, if at all.

So, with logic and chemistry on my side, I picked up two rabbits from a woman on craigslist. Meet Barley and Hops... they're Satin rabbits, known for their shiny fur. Satins are also a fairly large breed of rabbit, and are generally raised for meat as well as their pelts.

Barley (L), Hops (R)- 10 weeks old.

Male rabbits, referred to as bucks, I've come to find are pretty gross. I didn't know that going in; I either missed that part during my research or failed to grasp what "spraying and other undesirable behavior" meant. Either way, if I had to do it over again, I'd skip bucks unless I was planning on breeding. Which I wasn't. Then.

Anyway, fast forward about a year. The boys are full of raging hormones and I'm thinking, well... what else do you do? Sure, you can get rabbits fixed but that's better done early on and not later. So, I did some searching and found this lovely lady:

Stretching out on a plastic tub. Big Gal.

She goes by Missy, Linnie or Mama, depending on the day and who's talking to her. I don't think she cares that we can't decide on a name; her previous owner didn't actually name her, and we got her at 10 months old. She's a California Giant- a rather big bunny. It's reported to be safer for the doe if she's larger than the buck, if you're planning on breeding.

We did some math, checked dates on the calendar, and picked a breeding date for her and Barley. He's got gorgeous cinnamon colored fur, and has a much friendlier disposition. Granted, we're (gasp) planning on raising the offspring for meat, but on the off-chance that I'm not up to the deed when the time comes, I wanted to make sure we had a marketable and friendly pet-quality end product. We put the two together, and voila! Our rabbits did what rabbits are known to do...

...and 28 days later, she had 4 kits! If you haven't seen the photos, there are some over on the facebook page. There was one tiny hiccup in all of this: I had the rabbits all housed together in floor pens, inside a 7x8 dog kennel that we converted to a rabbit hut. I didn't realize how determined a buck could be- Hops climbed over the 3 foot divider and into her pen- fortunately I happened to look out the window just in time to see what was happening, so I ran outside to separate them. I was worried he'd do something to the new kits; it didn't occur to me that he was going after Her.

Hops wasn't happy about the interruption; in fact, he went full Monty Python on me and took a chunk out of my arm in a fit of rage. Seriously, folks- I couldn't process what was actually happening at the time: I just stared at the rabbit hanging by it's teeth from the end of my arm. Totally Bizarre.

So, off to exile in the mini cooper Hops went; I noticed that Barley was starting to get a little twitchy, too, so I moved him out to his own hutch so Missy could raise the kits in peace. It's been fun watching the little guys grow up, and it's definitely given me a lot to think about. Typically meat rabbits are dispatched around 12 weeks, so at just over 4 weeks, we're not even halfway in yet. The ethics and challenges of raising one's own meat is definitely a topic for another day.

Speaking of 4 weeks... you may have noticed that she had her first litter 28 days after being bred. Guess what just happened? Yep- Hops was on the money and she just gave birth to another litter- 6 this time. I never would have chosen to breed her back like that, but people do and it certainly happens in the wild. I would have preferred to have more experience with the first round of kits, but everyone... all 13 of them... seem to be doing just fine. The boys will have to stay in their apartments for a while longer, though!

Mama and... Mini Me.

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