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,


Monday, February 9, 2015

Band of Idiots

This is a band of idiots!  (If you click on the photo, you can see a larger version of it.)

This is a band of idiots because they are on the WRONG SIDE OF THE FENCE!  They are looking at me like, "We can see the yard.  We just can't get to it."  Well, idiots, you can't get to it because there is a fence in the way.

Why is there a fence in the way, you might ask?  Well, the chickens have free reign along the back side of our lot and the woods behind my neighbor's house.  He has a fence that keeps them out of his backyard as does the neighbor on the other side of him.  So, generally they stay in the woods.  But, they recently discovered the neighbor diagonally behind me does not have a fence around his backyard, so they have been going to forage in his yard.  It's really not a big deal to him.  He doesn't care.  But I care.  I care because chickens do not know boundaries, and they eventually work their way up his yard and around the fence line of the neighbor directly behind me.  Once they are around the side fence line, they work their way down into his yard.  They forage and have a grand time over there.  It's full of untapped bugs and good eatin'.  However, when they are ready to head home, they congregate at the fence, ON THE WRONG SIDE.  They can't figure out that they have to work themselves backwards to get home.

So, I have to work my way through Vietnam to get through the first backyard, come around the fence, and then work my way down the hill through this yard to get to them.  Let me tell you pricker branches and blackberry brambles still stick in the winter.  And, this yard is full of hidden holes under piles of leaves and fallen branches.  I almost killed myself trying to catch them all.  Rocky has nothing on me!  Once caught, they were hurled gently placed over the fence and back in their own yard.

This happened a few days in a row, so I've kept them locked in the animal yard since.  They are pissed at me right now and stand at the fence and scream bloody murder.  Oh well, Idiots, when the scratches and puncture wounds on my legs heal, I just might open the gate again.

Catch your chickens like Rocky,


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Conversations At Our House

This is Vanilli.  She is our oldest and favorite bird, and we think her head looks like an eagle, so we call her our American Bald Chicken.  We bought her at the flea market years ago, and we say that is why she is such a tough bird.  She is street smart and has survived multiple predator attacks over the years.  She is also our stand-in rooster, crowing in the early years before we had roosters.

She is a fabulous mother, hatching out a clutch for us each year.  She teaches her chicks how to forage and is very protective.

So my husband came in this morning and asked, "How many birds do we have?"

"We have 15 chickens and 4 ducks." 

"Well, I counted 15 chickens, but it looks like a bird was attacked.  There are chicken feathers all over the ground.  They look like Vanilli's, but I just saw her."

I race out to the animal yard and start counting birds.  1,2, 3....15.  1,2,3.....15.  1,2,3......15.

"We have all of the birds, and she was in the coop last night when I put everyone up, so show me what you're talking about."

It's hard to capture it in a photo, but it definitely looks like a crime scene.

A quick scan of Vanilli shows she is missing some feathers.  So, like any good blogger, I said, "While I go get the camera, catch Vanilli and let's make sure she isn't hurt."

A few minutes later, I came back out and asked, "Did you catch her?"

"I can't.  She's running around the yard with a mouse in her beak, and everyone is chasing her."

"Okay, let's keep the other chickens away from her so she will calm down and we can catch her.  Plus, she can enjoy her mouse if no one is chasing her.  I have a feeling she's earned it."

So, we get her isolated in a protected corner and stand guard while she enjoys her breakfast.  Nate picks her up at one point so we can examine her, but she was not letting that mouse go.  So it came along for the ride.   

And, here she is swallowing it down, like a noodle.  If you click on the photo, you can see the end of it hanging out of her beak.

Thankfully, she's okay, and her feathers will grow back.  I assume something attacked her at dusk last night but only managed to grab feathers.  Dusk seems to be the prime time for attacks at our place.  The night predators are heading out for the evening, and the birds are putting themselves up.  Once they are locked in the coop, they are safe.  

Oh, the things we do for our animals and the conversations we have!  All's well that ends well though.

Happy homesteading,