Tag Archives: rabbits

Our Garden with Bunny Berries – 2018

After a few years of gardening with bunny berries, we are now convinced that these little cast off nuggets make our plants crazy, ridiculously happy!

For background, we live in the mountains of Arizona, in zone 6a. Our last frost date is June 14, and we usually drop to freezing/have snow by mid-October. This makes gardening relatively challenging. Many of our plants don’t grow quite as well or large as those in our slightly southern areas. BUT, gardening with bunny berries gives us an advantage!

This year we planted a bed of squash/zucchini, tomatoes, and comfrey, a bed of salad leaves, basil, broccoli, and lemon balm, a bed of sweet peppers and okra, a bed of cucumbers, a bed of watermelon, and a bed of asparagus. Additionally we had a container garden of several varieties of potatoes, mint, bunching onions, strawberries, artichoke, rosemary, and chives.

We also added three raised beds that were filled 8″ with cinder dirt and 8″ with pure rabbit manure. When we got finished we just planted straight into the bunny berry dirt and let them grow! (We did add a decorative top soil of wood chips.

We decided to be bold and prepared the garden in May. We knew we were traveling the first two weeks of June and wouldn’t be home to plant so we took our chances with the weather and fortunately, this year the gamble paid off!

Over the summer we have been able to see our garden sprout and then flourish. It has been incredibly satisfying to grow our own vegetables and also reuse a resource in the form of bunny manure. We used both aged manure and fresh manure throughout the garden and saw no difference between those two forms of fertilizer.

One thing that was new for us this year is that we now have chickens! We have been fairly anti-chicken for quite awhile because they aren’t silent like rabbits! However, our daughter begged and begged and I made the mistake of going to the feed store during chick days. We came home with a lot of chicks. NONE OF THEM DIED AND NONE OF THEM WERE ROOSTERS. What are the odds?!

Because we had these crazy little birds we also used them to till our garden beds. It worked out fabulously and we plan to set them loose in the garden area throughout this spring to work the soil for us. It’s all about symbiotic relationships and capitalizing on what is natural to benefit all parties, right?!

Now that you’ve seen the bare ground of our gardening attempts, let me share some photos of our garden and harvest as it progressed over the summer. We were thrilled!

Cucumbers were our best crop this year by far. Last year it was the tomatoes, but this year we had fresh cucumbers and pickles until the world looked level. Our squash and zucchini also produced the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen outside of the pacific northwest!

I can’t say exactly how much money we saved using bunny berries instead of soil from the garden center but when you consider the size of our raised beds that needed to be filled I’d hazard it was several hundred dollars of savings just by recycling our bunny berries. Additionally, our daughter sold bags of rabbit manure ($5 for a bag of berries, we reused 50 lbs, rabbit food bags for packaging) and was able to pay for her market goat project independently using that income. Our local gardeners were thrilled and so was our daughter!

It’s been a fun adventure to try to figure out the ways we can create multipurpose benefits from having these rabbits. They continue to be a fun adventure for our whole family!

Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish

Be careful not to be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.

Be careful not to be Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.

The 2016 ARBA National Convention is coming up in just five weeks! Eek!

 

We are busy getting our rabbits evaluated for show and sale, handling them daily, and experimenting with a new conditioning mix this year in preparation for the national show. After a long summer of watching rabbits grow we are having fun getting our hands busy with them again!

 

One of the exciting aspects of the national convention for a rabbit breeder is the opportunity to purchase new animals that will (hopefully) push your rabbitry to a higher level in the next year. However, this can be a really overwhelming adventure for many, so here are a few thoughts based on our own experience:

 

Don’t be Penny-wise and Pound-Foolish. Many times people are searching the for sale posts, looking specifically for the cheapest rabbit. I absolutely understand that you have a budget and need to stick to it – but also be aware that in choosing to save the $10 from one rabbit to another you might be losing out on a body type or genetic strengthening that will end up costing far more than that $10 in the long run. Truthfully, you get what you pay for in most cases. If you want to be competitive, find out who the most competitive breeders are in your breed and seek them out. The price tag will likely be higher – and it’s still worth it because you will see the impact in your upcoming litters.

 

Do your Research. When deciding where to buy, research. Check the Breed Club Sweeps Points. Clubs are a wonderful starting place to find your new additions, but I know breeders who have incredible animals who are not excited about their breed club and aren’t members. (We fall into that category with a few of our breeds!) Also, be aware that club sweeps points are not always an indication that that particular breeder is breeding competitive rabbits. The points system may mean that they just enter a LOT of subpar rabbits or travel to a LOT of shows and earn a quantity of points. Ask around. Attend shows and watch how people interact with your seller. See if you can talk to people who have been customers of the rabbitry in the past. Utilize social media! Join Facebook groups that are relevant to your breed and do a search for the breed, rabbitry name, or the owner’s name. You’ll likely be able to find out a lot about who is considered knowledgable about the breed in that group, how they raise their rabbits, and any issues they’ve had that will help inform your decision about whether you want to do business with them. Be aware that many times the people posting the most on fb groups may not actually be breeding the most competitive rabbits.

 

Buy “Part” Animals. I heard this term recently and wasn’t sure what it meant, so then I had to find out! A “part” animal is one that has a specific strength that you’re looking for. So maybe you’re seeing a trend of long shoulders in the animals you’re producing but you have decent back ends. You’re not necessarily looking for a rabbit that is going to be perfect all over, you’re looking for one that has great shoulders so when you breed it to your big-bootyed bunny you will produce a well balanced rabbit! The key to this is actually knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your own rabbits well enough to know what you’re looking to add. Pay attention to what judges or trusted breeders say and be humble.

 

Be Realistic. No one is going to sell you their top animal and you shouldn’t expect them to do so. You can still find very good additions to your rabbitry if you’re realistic about your needs. Be aware that in many cases if you put a post on facebook about “I just bought this rabbit and it sucks, blah, blah, blah…” you are making it very difficult for yourself to find other breeders to sell to you in the future. Buying a rabbit is a risk. It just is. Even if the rabbit is amazing, it might not mix well genetically with your lines and you’ll have a dud. Complaining about the breeder is not going to solve the problem in 99% of the cases.

 

Keep Your Vision. I was recently at a show where the rabbit of an acquaintance won Best in Show. I knew the winner had been working their breed for many, many years, culled hard, and traveled often to learn how to better their rabbits. That rabbit that won Best in Show was the result of a long, consistent habit of learning, breeding, culling, and comparison. However, none of that history was visible to the casual onlookers yet that dedication was evident in the animal. If you are eager to be competitive, commit for the long haul. Keep a vision in your mind of your goal, and actually work for your vision! You cannot expect to have wild success as a top breeder if you aren’t willing to sacrifice for your rabbits as this is not some type of a get rich quick scheme. Determine your rabbitry goals and move forward confidently in their direction… then see where you are in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years!

 

Have fun breeding!

Natural Fly Repellent

It's the FlyFlySwat!

It’s the FlyFlySwat!

It’s starting to look like summer has arrived and with it… the flies.

 

An absolute fact of animal husbandry is that flies are attracted to animals, specifically to their poop! We do our best to keep the bunny berries to a minimum under the cages around here, but the reality is that as soon as the weather starts to warm up, we start to see unwelcome visitors in the air all around the rabbitry.

 

Last summer we used the fly-catcher gallons of water, 2 liter bottle tricks. We were able to get these at our local feed store and —based on the fact the bottles were filled with dead fly bodies — they work.

 

They also smell. Decomposing fly bodies is not my favorite scent in a season where we’re already battling so many other… succulent… scents.

 

So, while we will likely be hanging fly strips around and utilizing the stinky bottles as fly catchers, we decided to also plant mint around the bases of all of our hutches. I’m sincerely hoping this natural fly deterrent will cut down on the winged pests around here as well as release a pleasing scent as we walk by and brush it.

 

We chose to plant at the bases of the hutches because that also gives the mint access to the yummy nutrients the rabbit poop provides for soil. (Did you read about the benefits of using bunny berries in your garden? They’re phenomenal!) We’ll be able to water the plants as we water the rabbits, stir up the scent as we brush by, and hopefully! see less flies in the air.

 

Mint isn’t the only natural fly repellent and we’ll be planting these others (especially the basil!) around our backyard to see if we can get more traction on a fly-free environment!

 

Natural Fly Repellents:

  • Basil
  • Bay Leaf
  • Cedar
  • Citronella
  • Citrus
  • Cloves
  • Cucumber Peelings
  • Essential Oils
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Oranges that have been Juiced and Salted
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Tansy
  • Vanilla Air Fresheners

I also found this link helpful, as it breaks down the different types of pests and how you can combat them naturally: http://eartheasy.com/live_natpest_control.htm

This article gives practical examples of how to use these herbs around your house as repellents: http://home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/herbs-deter-flies-naturally.htm

Gardening with Rabbits in Mind

This is the first summer, ever, that we’ve made any sort of an attempt to garden.

 

Baby steps, friends, baby steps. We’re the ones who get excited when a houseplant lasts more than three months.

 

However, we’re in the middle of a huge remodeling project and we need activities to get the kids out of the house and container gardening seemed to be a brilliant idea. So far it’s been three days worth of planning, excitement, and dirty filth as well. Win for everyone! (Except the floors.)

 

We have another consideration as we attempt to garden this year: the rabbit.

 

We recently retired a fantastic Silver Fox mama, Eclipse. She’s been such a great rabbit for us that we don’t have the heart to move her along permanently —  yet since we’re a small rabbitry we really need the cage space for animals that are earning their keep! We gave it a good deal of consideration, checked the fence line for security, and turned Eclipse loose in the backyard. We’re fortunate that we have a fairly large backyard totally enclosed by a secure 6′ privacy fence so this is a reasonable option for us to consider. So far Eclipse has put the miniature poodle in its place and the Great Dane seems a bit gun shy as well when faced with the 12 pound rabbit with an attitude! To recap, everyone’s getting along great and we now have our first official, pet-only rabbit.

 

However, we don’t want Eclipse eating the fruits of our labors before we ever become real gardeners and taste the sweet taste of victory ourselves! So… what to plant?!

 

Google, come, be our friend….

 

A quick search on the internet tells me that these plants offer no allure to a hungry rabbit. We’ll be planting some… I’ll let you know how the gardening goes at the end of the summer. Or, if she eats everything we’ve got down to the ground I’ll probably complain about it sooner!

 

I also came across this lovely article on Controlling and Deterring Rabbits in the Garden. This website compiled a list of plants that rabbits DO like to eat.

 

With no further ado, a compiled list of (possibly) rabbit repellent refreshments and tips, as reported by people who have way more gardening experience than yours truly:

 

Tips:

  1. Plants with strong fragrance or fuzzy leaves, like lavender and black-eyed Susan, are less popular with rabbits.
  2. Interplanting herbs with your other flowers might make your garden less attractive.

 

Vegetables

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Onions
  • Peppers [although I have had them eat the young plants]
  • Potatoes
  • Squash
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes

Annuals and Perennials

  • Agastache Ageratum
  • Allium
  • Amsonia
  • Anemone (Anemone x hybrida)
  • Angelonia
  • Artemisia Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Astilbe
  • Azalea
  • Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)
  • Baptisia
  • Basil
  • Beard Tongue (Penstemon)
  • Bee Balm (Monarda)
  • Begonia
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Blanket Flower Gaillardia
  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
  • Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
  • Blue Star Amsonia hubrichtii
  • Boltonia
  • Butterfly Bush Buddleia
  • Canna
  • Carex
  • Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia)
  • Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  • Crocosmia
  • Daffodils (Narcissus hybrids)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
  • Delphenium
  • False Indigo Baptisia australis
  • Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis scorpioides)
  • Frost asters (don’t know the current name for these)
  • Gallardia
  • Geranium, Cranesbill
  • Geum
  • Ginger (Asarum spp.)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)
  • Iberis (Candytuft)
  • Ice Plant (Lampranthus)
  • Iris
  • Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)
  • Lamb’s ear Stachys byzantina
  • Lantana
  • Larkspur Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
  • Lavender (Lavendula)
  • Maiden Grass (Miscanthus)
  • Marigold Tagetes
  • Moss Pink (Phlox subulata)
  • Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia)
  • Mums (Chrysanthemum) (Not guaranteed)
  • Oregano
  • Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa)
  • Poppy (Papaver)
  • Petunia
  • Rosemary
  • Russian
  • Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
  • Salvia (Sage spp.) Sea Holly (Eryngium)
  • Sea Thrift (Armeria)
  • Sedum
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)
  • Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
  • Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
  • Speedwell (Veronica spp.)
  • Spider Flower (Cleome)
  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum)
  • Thyme
  • Tickseed Coreopsis
  • Verbena
  • Vinca
  • Zinnia

 

Trees and Shrubs

  • Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
  • Fern
  • Fir (Abies)
  • Juniper (Juniperus)
  • Spruce (Picea)

 

 

When Kids Win, We Win

That's our rabbit in the paper! Just pulled in $550 at auction because that child rocked her fair experience! Woo hoo!

That’s our rabbit in the paper! Just pulled in $550 at auction because that child rocked her fair experience! Woo hoo!

This year we worked with several 4H groups around the state to set kids up with rabbits for their upcoming fairs. We decided early on that kids would have access to the best rabbits we have available at a discounted rate. Our decision was to start with a set price that was discounted from our normal sales prices, and then give the kids a chance to answer three trivia questions about rabbit husbandry. Each correct answer was an additional $5 discount.

 

The rules for showing in 4H are different from the rules for showing in ARBA. Typically the 4H guidelines are not as stringent on the “show” quality of a rabbit, which has led to some breeders selling 4H members their worst rabbits and justifying it by saying, “It’s just for 4H.”

 

When we first got in to rabbits we had an experienced breeder get quite animated about how rotten he thought that mindset was, so from the very beginning we have been of the opinion that 4H kids will get the best quality show rabbit we have available. We want them to love their rabbit, be proud of their animal, and have a decent chance at continuing to show as adults. Getting good rabbits in to the hands of kids is a major step toward achieving those goals.

 

Having four kids of our own might have also biased us toward helping kids as well!

 

Over the past few months we have gotten messages from the parents of the 4H-ers who have our rabbits with reports of does having litters as expected and rabbits showing well at the fair. Then today I got news that one of our rabbits went to auction at the fair and earned a $550 bid!

 

We’re so stinkin’ proud of these kids and the hard work that goes in to preparing for a fair and for showmanship! They have worked their tails off to learn their breeds, about rabbits, and how to present themselves with confidence! Their parents have made sacrifices to get livestock and educate themselves so they can help their children succeed and their project leaders have gone the extra mile to arrange for quality animals. It truly is a group effort and we appreciate that so very much!

 

We’re thrilled that our rabbits have been able to play a piece in the success of these kids, but mostly just proud of these children who are willing to go the extra mile and participate in agriculture and their communities. When they win, we win… and we truly believe they are a light toward a brighter future for our country.

A Rabbit With No Ears

It’s not a movie, even though there’s a movie by that name. (Rabbits Without Ears.) It’s also not a response to a nuclear disaster, as people fear is the reason behind a rabbit born with no ears after Fukushima meltdown in Japan.

It’s ugly and strange, but it’s happened to us. We have some earless bunnies.

The vast majority of the rabbits in our rabbitry are excellent mothers, even our first-timers. But then, occasionally, just like in real life, there are…

The ones.

You know. The ones you don’t really like to take out in public because you aren’t quite sure what will happen. Kind of like that one family member who might get rowdy at a holiday dinner and be the star of a story told for generations?

Yeah. We have one of those.

Let it be freely said, I adore our Cinnamons. They are beautiful rabbits, friendly, and easy to hold and cuddle. They’re fabulous!

But then, there’s the one.

One Cinnamon doe had her litter a few weeks ago. I’m not completely bitter she had it at about 1 am and I stayed up to make sure she did alright so the babies wouldn’t freeze to death. (Alright, I’m a little bitter.) (I’m also glad I stayed up because she made a nest of hay out of the nestbox!)

I’m bitter because the darn rabbit did such a fabulous job of cleaning her newborns up that she ate the ears right off of them! Out of six babies, only two have been left untouched, one poor baby lost half of its head as well!

An overzealous mama took the ears clean off these babies at birth while cleaning them up.

An overzealous mama took the ears clean off these babies at birth while cleaning them up.

Darn doe.

We weren’t sure if the babies would survive their injuries, after all, losing a large flap of skin at birth seems to put a damper on the whole, “Welcome to life!” philosophy. Particularly in the case of the scalped baby, we didn’t know if it would be a more humane choice to put it down immediately.

But when we felt the hurt babies they didn’t seem to be in pain, so we let them go for 24 hours. A day later everyone was fat and the ears were scabbed. And 24 hours after that those babies were thriving.

So now we have some disfigured rabbits. What do we do with them?!

Well, first and foremost, we give their mama another chance. The rule of thumb is to give a brand new mom a chance at three strikes before you removed her from your breeding program. I will also say that even though she stinks at cleaning her kits up at birth this particular doe has been a great mom, nurses well, and has even fostered a few kits for us.

Mama's been feeding this baby Cinnamon WELL!

Mama’s been feeding this baby Cinnamon WELL!

Second, we wait to see how the babies develop. Because they don’t have anything genetically wrong with them, if they have killer body types they could still be an asset to a breeding program. That is a question only time and growth will answer.

Finally, if they don’t have a body type we’d like to incorporate into our breeding program, they are still useful as sustenance for our family.

We’ll see how these little ones develop, but I’m comforted that it’s not the end of the world that we have some earless wonders!

If Worst Comes to Worst: The Second Buck Insurance Policy

Blue Silver Fox

Blue Silver Fox

On the theme of starter stock and how to best begin your rabbitry in our previous post, How Do You Find Starter Stock?, I wanted to share some advice I saw an experienced breeder give recently.

 

This breeder recommended buying two pair of rabbits, a quad, when beginning your rabbitry. Most experts will suggest buy just a trio, two does and a buck. If you’re in an area where it’s easy to find your breed that is perfectly sound advice as one buck is certainly able to service two does without a single problem.

 

However, if you’re looking at a hard-to-find or rare breed, or you’ll have to transport the rabbits a good distance to get them home, you might strongly consider purchasing a quad. This helps insure your investment is anything goes wrong (because we all know Murphy and his stinkin’ Law!).

 

For example, what if something incapacitates just one of your rabbits… but it’s the buck? What will you breed to your does for babies? In the “what if” possibilities that buck becomes pretty important and have another boy around might not be so bad!

 

I had never considered this prior to reading his advice, but now think it’s a pretty smart plan. That second buck is like purchasing insurance – possibly never necessary or utilized but terribly, terribly important if worst comes to worst.