Saturday, April 18, 2015

And...... We're Back To Cages

As you know I recently decided to move my does to our barn, which is really just a series of 4 enclosed stalls.  You can read about it here.

About two weeks ago, Bunny gave birth to eight beautiful kits, finishing out my kindling for the time being.  At the time, I had 9 four week old kits with Zelda, 9 two week old kits with Mimi, and Bunny's newborn kits.  One day last week something told me to go check on everyone, so I started with Bunny's stall.  As you can see, she has a fabulous covered nest box with a hinged door.  She built a beautiful nest and things were going swimmingly.

When I lifted up the door, this is what I found, a big fat beautiful black rat snake.

It was coiled around the nest.  I freaked!  I ran and grabbed a rake and poked at it until it slid to the back of the nest where it is in the photo.  I started frantically pulling back fur to find babies.  I only found four of the eight.  There were three days' old and the perfect size for snake snacking.  One of them was slimy as if the snake had started eating it but spit it out.  Everyone was gathered and put in a nest box and along with Bunny, put in a cage.

I then went to Mimi's cage to gather her two week old kits, and they were not in their kennel.  I think I almost had a heart attack.  But, I pulled the kennel away from the wall and they were all piled up atop one another asleep behind the kennel.  I gathered them and Mimi and also put them in a cage. At two weeks' old, they were still a great size for a snake to tackle.

Even though Zelda's babies were four weeks old, I put them and Zelda in a cage as well, just to be safe.

My nerves were shot by then, and even though I knew it was non-venomous, I didn't want to tackle capturing the snake by myself.  Neither my husband nor my neighbor were home, so I let it hang out where it was.  If I were a drinking person, a good stiff one would have been next on the agenda.

I wiped off the kit that was slimy and I worried that moving Bunny and her nest would confuse her and maybe she would not know where her kits were.  Fortunately I had some of her fur saved from her last litter, so I lined the nest with it and covered the kits.  The next day I saw her feeding the kits so I knew she knew where they were; however, the one kit did not look like it had eaten.  So I took it out of the cage along with Bunny and held her while it nursed.  I did this for a few days to make sure it was eating.  It is growing so I know it's being fed, but it's not growing at the rate of the other ones. Honestly I don't know if it was a runt to start with or if maybe the snake damaged it in some way, but it is active and its eyes opened on schedule.

We've had several cool, rainy days lately and a few mornings ago, I went out to feed and water everyone and it was on the cage floor, out of the nest box, barely moving, likely dying from hypothermia.  I brought it inside and warmed it up and put it back in the nest box.  I checked on it later and it was warm and snuggled up with its litter mate.  It was probably still attached to Bunny when she finished feeding and got pulled out of the box with her.  I will give it credit; it's a survivor!

They should hit two weeks' old in a few days, and at that point, they will start to munch on hay and get their legs under them.  I'll be curious to see how it progresses from there.

So, back to the snake.  It hung around the stall for a while and left at some point.  I'm sure it didn't go far being weighted down with rabbit kits.  Non-venomous snakes serve a valuable role in our eco-system.  They provide rodent control and protect their territory from venomous snakes.  I would never kill a non-venomous snake.  In this situation, I have only myself to blame.  I set up a perfect buffet for that snake.  Because my stalls are predator proof in terms of raccoons and opposums, I never imagined a snake causing havoc, even though it makes perfect sense.  I know we have snakes as I see them every year and occasionally they eat some of my eggs.

So for the last week, I've been very diligent about collecting eggs as soon as possible.  And low and behold, I went to put up the chickens one evening and found a grey rat snake in the chicken coop.  It had indulged on one of my eggs, so Nate loaded it up in the truck and took it down to the canal and released it.  I hated relocating it but I also don't want it eating all of my eggs.  I'm sure the black rat snake is still around so I know we still have a snake coverage.

Zelda's babies just hit six weeks and have pretty good size to them now, so I plan to move them and Zelda back to one of the stalls once it stops raining non-stop.  And, I'll do the same with each subsequent litter until I figure out how to snake-proof the stalls.  I won't be breeding again until the fall so I have some time to work on it.

Happy homesteading,


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Try, Try, Try Again

We've kept bees for several years now, but only one hive.  For some reason, keeping a second successful hive eludes us.  Our one hive really thrives.  It is so strong that during the ice storm last year a limb fell on it and blew it apart.  We found it lying on the ground in pieces with a cluster in one of the boxes.  We put it back together and expected the worst.  Not only did it survive, but we harvested honey all summer from it.

Apparently even an ice storm can't take down our one hive, but when we try for a second one, it fails, every time. We've bought packages of bees more than once, replaced queens, caught swarms, you name it, we've tried it with the exception of splitting our hive.  So, this year I decided to try splitting our hive.  Why would I keep trying to have a second hive after so many failed attempts?  Well, I'm as stubborn as a mule and a sore loser.  You can ask my husband.

Splitting the hive means basically that.  You try to divide the population and put one half in another hive.  It's a man-made swarm.  As the population builds up in the hive, it becomes crowded which triggers a swarm, which is a natural split.  When bees swarm, the mother queen leaves with a portion of the population, and the newly emerged queen stays and takes over the hive.  With it being early spring, I knew they were building up for a swarm soon so I decided to try to beat them to the punch.  So a few weeks ago, a friend came over to help me.

The goal is to take frames of brood that have all stages of development, eggs, larvae, and capped brood as well as cells of pollen and honey and move them to a new hive.  You replace the frames you take from the original hive with empty frames so the queen has room to lay more eggs.  It's great if you can find your queen in the original hive as you can make sure she stays where she is, but if you can't find your queen, you can either let each new colony make a queen, which they will naturally do in the absence of one or you can add a queen.  Since I have failed so many times I decided not to spend anymore money and to let nature take its course and let each hive rear a queen if there wasn't one.  A few of the frames had queen cells so we left them on the off chance that a queen wasn't present.  There was capped honey already in the hive so we gave each hive a frame or two of honey to help feed them while they transitioned.  We also made sure each hive had approximately the same amount of bees.  Of course, the foragers that were out foraging were going to come back to the original hive.  But, we were hoping any foragers that got dumped in the new hive would reorient themselves and stay with the new hive. Often beekeepers move the new hive several miles away so the foragers in the new hive have to reorient themselves, but I really didn't have the means to do that, so I took a chance.

The original hive recovered quickly and even swarmed about a week ago.  I imagine our original queen was left in that hive and one of the queen cells we left as a safety precaution hatched so it swarmed.  I'm fine with that because it's still a really strong hive.  Well, low and behold, I went out to observe yesterday and saw bees bringing in pollen on the split hive.  This video shows foragers coming in and going out.  It's still a weak hive as it had to rear a queen and has to build up its population, but I'm encouraged!  


Please wish me luck!

Happy homesteading,


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

By the Phase of the Moon

I seem to be writing more about the rabbits than anything else lately although I do have other things happening.  I suppose the reason is because I have been giving them more attention than I normally do in terms of bettering my rabbitry and getting better breeding results.  Several months ago I came across the practice of breeding by the phases of the moon.  And it started with this blog post.

I was tired of trying to get my does in the mood as they never seemed to want to lift for my bucks, no matter who I paired with whom.  So, I decided to try this idea of breeding by the moon cycle.  The first full moon for me at that point was February 2nd.  I put Zelda in with Buck Nasty, and she immediately lifted.  I've never had a doe lift so quickly.  And she lifted for him several times.  Today she is the mama of a beautiful litter of nine kits.  Now according to legend since I bred her on the full moon, she should have more bucks than does in her litter.  


The new moon was on February 18th, so I decided to breed Mimi on this day.  She also immediately lifted and Jack was able to get more than one fall off.  She gave birth several days ago and built one of the prettiest nests I've ever seen.  Because they are tucked in the back of the dog crate I haven't counted them yet.  But when I stick my hand down in the crate I can feel the warmth radiating off them and when I lift the fur, they pop up and down like popcorn kernels, so I know they are okay. Since she was bred on the new moon, she should have more does in her litter.    

My last breeding was Bunny on the full moon of March 4th.  She didn't lift immediately but she did lift and she tends to be slightly stubborn so we'll see what happens with her.  She is due starting next week.  

I do know when I see a full moon, but other than that, I'm not one who can tell the difference between a waning or waxing moon or even know when there's a new moon, so I've been using the Farmers' Almanac website to schedule my breedings.

Now, if you really want to get crazy and even determine the quality of your bucks and does, you can breed based on the moon phases combined with the zodiac calendar.  This post does a great job of explaining that.

So here is to some successful breeding by the phase of the moon.  

Happy homesteading,



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Transitioning the Rabbits

For a few years I've been curious about raising rabbits in a colony situation versus keeping them in cages.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but the biggest advantage of a colony situation is that it mimics nature and this is what interests me the most.  I want my animals to be the happiest they can be, and while I give each rabbit time to exercise and frolic in a run, I imagine they would be happier to be able to do that 24/7 without my moving them back and forth from an exercise run to their cage.


About a year ago, we finished what I call the barn.  It's a four stall building and I reserved the first three stalls for rabbit grow-outs.  When I didn't have any litters in them they sat empty, and I wondered what sense did that make?  Why not let my does live in the stalls and give birth to their litters there?  Their litters are going to end up there anyway.  The does will naturally wean them when the time is right.  Plus, if I decide to keep a doe from a litter, it already gets along with its mother and they could live together as a colony would.  Since I only have three stalls at the moment, two of my rabbits are still in cages and I move them back and forth to the run as usual.  Ultimately I would love a series of stalls along the back privacy fence seen in the top left of the photo.  Most people who raise colonies keep their bucks separate so they can control breeding, and this is what I've decided to do as well.  So in the three stalls, I have a doe, a buck and a doe.  The buck can socialize through the wire with both does but he can't mate with them unless I let him.

This is Jack in the middle stall.  He's such a sweet and handsome boy!



Mimi is on one side of him.  She is due to kindle any day now so I've given her a large dog crate stuffed with hay so she can make a nest when the time comes.

And Bunny is on the other side of Jack.  You can see her peaking out of her burrow.  I am pretty stoked because I was able to re-use the door of our chicken tractor to create this burrow.  It still had the hinges on it and the latch so all Nate had to do is screw it to the wall.  Now I can lift the top and latch it to the wall when I need to check her litter. Plus the burrow will give her an extra shady place to relax during the summer.  I would love to do this to all of the stalls eventually but for now Bunny gets to test it for me.  She has already moved some dirt around in there but she can't go too deep because I have chicken wire lining the ground to keep the rabbits in and predators out.

They all look pretty happy, don't you thing?

Happy homesteading,


Monday, March 9, 2015

Getting to Know and Tweaking My Greenhouse

We installed my greenhouse a year ago, and I made mention of it here.  Being that it is so close to spring this time of year, I really didn't have the benefit of winter weather to get to know it last year. So, this year, I've had a sharp learning curve.  What I didn't realize was how drafty it is and how hard it would be to keep warm during the winter.  It heats up nicely during sunny days, but at night when the temperatures plummet, the greenhouse temperature follows closely behind.  So closely, in fact, that when temperatures hit lows in the teens recently, the seedlings in my greenhouse froze.  Oops! Now I'm behind the eight ball with my seedlings this year, so lesson learned.  So for the past month, I've done some things to monitor and control the temperature a little better and to tweak some things to make it work better for me.

1.  I bought an indoor/outdoor thermometer.  I put the outdoor sensor in the greenhouse and the base inside.  Now I can monitor the temperature from my office to get a better idea of the temperature ranges throughout the year.


2.  After much nagging, pleading, threatening, blackmailing, begging and basically having a meltdown, I finally got Nate to run electricity to the greenhouse, which means I can use germination mats and eventually grow lights when I can afford them.  I think the germination mat has helped tremendously, not only to keep the seed trays above freezing some nights, but to help the warm weather seeds, such as eggplants and peppers, get a jump start.  

3.  When we installed the greenhouse, we knew we would have to add shelving.  At the time we finished, we were so sick of the project that I don't think I could have gotten Nate to build shelving for a million dollars.  So, I spent more money than I wanted to on pre-made shelving.  What I love about the shelving is that the shelf heights are easily adjusted and I can add or take away shelves as I need them. I would not have had this feature if Nate had built them for me, so I'm happy about that.  And, since they are 4' in length and 2' wide, they hold a large germination mat and 4 seed trays perfectly.  However, the shelving came stock with particleboard shelves and eventually the particleboard buckles in the center from the moisture, so I knew I would have to replace them eventually.  My solution is to use decking boards.  Because the boards are not a true 6" in width, they don't take up the entire width of the 2' space.  Our solution is to put two screws on each board to hold it securely against the next one. Now the shelves are secure and won't buckle from the moisture.  I'm slowly working on replacing the particleboard as each one buckles and as the budget allows.  

4.  Another thing I've tried to do is to create thermal mass.  I added mulch on the floor, and as it decomposes, it will create heat.  I would also like to add some type of water container, be it just a barrel of water or even some type of hydroponic or aquaponic system.  Once again, the water will heat during the day and release that heat at night, thus helping heat the greenhouse a smidge better.

Maybe at some point, I'll research some type of solar heater, but for now, I'm happy just to get some baseline items out of the way.

Happy homesteading,


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throw Back Thursday

This past summer I participated in a farm tour through an amazing organization called Augusta Locally Grown.  It had been raining off and on all day, and I was a mess from being rained on and from the stress of thinking we would get rained out.  And, surprise, surprise, I found out once my tour started that I was going to be video-taped and interviewed.  That sent my introverted self into panic mode, but everything went well, so for TBT, I thought I would share the video. Plus, I'm sharing it because I miss summer!  Well, I don't miss the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, but the other stuff, the fun stuff.  As you will see, I was by far the smallest farm on the tour.  Grow where you're planted, right?  Enjoy!

Happy homesteading,


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Meet Feral Fawcett

She's a Sicilian Buttercup, and she is wild!  We got her from my father, who decided he wanted chickens a year or so ago.  He loaded up on chickens and slowly, one by one, they were picked off by predators.  A fox was the main culprit.  They were truly yard birds in that they were never touched.  Feral was the last one and she had been by herself for months.  He asked us to take her in, so we did.  When Nate caught her for the first time she started screaming bloody murder.  She was not happy, and this went on for several minutes.  We joke that some of our chickens are wild, but they are lap chickens compared to this girl.

We kept her separated for a few days until the flock got used to seeing her and stopped lining up along the run to gawk.  Then we locked her up for a day with our bantam rooster, Sir Elton, and of course, they got along swimmingly.  She is just his size.  The next day we let her out in the yard with everyone else, and she hung around Sir Elton all day.  He gave her a tour, clucked her over for juicy tidbits, and when another hen tried to pick on her, he intervened and broke it up.  All that day I saw them together.  That night I thought I might have to isolate her again for her protection, but when I went to lock up everyone, she was roosting on the back of one of the other hens.  I guess she decided she wasn't going to take a lower rung and went right to the top.  She has transitioned amazingly well into the flock.  I am shocked.

So for now, all is peaceful in the yard.

Happy homesteading,