Life and death on the farm

Life and death on the farm. I knew it would happen but I didn’t think we would say goodbye so soon | www.pickytoplenty.com

I’ve known since starting this venture that death on the farm was inevitable. The chickens and rabbits we are raising are sources of meat for both our kitchen table and our dog’s bowls. Raising our own meat comes with the hardship of knowing at some point we are going to take a life.

What I wasn’t expecting was that it would happen so soon.

Thumper, our first animal here on the farm, has crossed the rainbow bridge. I went out to toss the bunnies their usual greens and the normally energetic rabbit was not there to greet me. Concerned, I checked around his hutch. He was lifeless in his house, it hadn’t been long since he had passed.

As much as he was a farm animal, Thumper had personality. I remember when we put him in the hutch for the first time. Up until he came here, Thumper spent much of his life living in a dog crate in a garage, so moving to the great outdoors was an adventure for him. At first, he was a little scared of the ramp but after a day or two he could bound up and down that ramp at full speed. He even figured out a way to get into the roof area of the hutch and hang out there. He was a happy bunny and he will be missed.

On a farm, life has a way of being cyclical. Just as Thumper’s life came to an end, new life entered the world. Life he created.

We have six baby bunnies, four dark and two white. We discovered them a week after Thumper’s death when the mound of fur one of the girls had made started moving around. We suspected she may have been pregnant and sure enough, she was. Now we have six baby bunnies to watch grow up.

Our first bunny kittlings | www.pickytoplenty.com

Our first bunny kittlings | www.pickytoplenty.com

With new life on the farm comes the likelihood that there will be more death on the farm…. and soon. Everything I have read suggests that eight weeks is optimal slaughter time for rabbits — however some backyard farmers wait 12 weeks. This is the part that scares me. It’s going to be hard. Right now they are sweet and tiny, I can’t imagine taking their lives. Luckily, I think most of this litter will be kept, the females anyway, to build up our breeding stock. So we may have a brief reprieve.

Six bunny kittlings | www.pickytoplenty.com

Six bunny kittlings | www.pickytoplenty.com

Hopefully by the time we do have to process the rabbits we have already gone through a chicken butchering. Even though I know that will be difficult as well I have no attachment to the flock of miniature velociraptors. I don’t find the chickens cute as I do the rabbits. I keep telling myself it will be easier with the chickens, but deep down I know it will be just as hard. As much as I say they are freeloaders and slightly terrifying they are pretty cool to watch as they peck around the property. I just try to watch the females more since they will find a permanent home in the coop.

That’s life on the farm I suppose. I never for a minute thought that the farm life would be easy and it sure isn’t. But the benefit of all of this is knowing where our food comes from and that to me, is worth all of it, even the hard parts.

Momma watching over her babies | www.pickytoplenty.com

Momma watching over her babies | www.pickytoplenty.com

 

 

Meet the girls

The newest residents on the homestead, New Zealand White females.

The newest residents on the homestead, New Zealand White females.

And just like that, we have a rabbitry.

Thumper finally has some lady friends. On Saturday, we added two New Zealand White females to our growing farm. At first, the red eyes creeped me out a bit, but they are slowly growing on me. And really, looks shouldn’t matter, they are meat producers after all.

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We haven’t decided when Thumper and his new friends are going to do the deed. I have been reading up on rabbit breeding and from what I’ve read, it happens fast. One website that I read said the deed would be finished in roughly 15 seconds, and you can tell because the male will fall over groaning, shaking and clinging to the bunny. Oh my. This will be an interesting experience to say the least. Another trusted source said to leave the female in with the male for 15 minutes and then to repeat this an hour later. The female should always be placed in the male’s pen for breeding. Rabbits are extremely territorial, especially the ladies. They have been known to kill males who invade their territory.

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Starting to be brave and coming out of her rabbit hole.

Why rabbits are great on the homestead

You know how the saying goes, they breed like rabbits. One doe can produce up to 300 pounds of meat per year. With our two-doe rabbitry, we can supply ourselves with 600 pounds of meat for a low cost.

Our hutch was built with recycled material and our male was free. So the investment so far has been $50 for two, ready-to-breed female rabbits plus food, a relatively low investment for such a big return.

They take up very little space. Rabbits need a minimum space of two feet wide, three feet long, and two feet high. Our hutch is larger than many I have seen on Pinterest and can be seen in this post.

Gestation in rabbits is 30-32 days and females can be bred four weeks after the kits are born. Following a program like this should produce six litters a year.

Aside from providing meat, rabbit poop is an excellent fertilizer for gardens. They are vegetarian and their waste can be added to the soil immediately, unlike with chicken poop which is high in ammonia and should compost at least six months before adding to your gardens.

I can’t say I am looking forward to butchering day. This happens when the kits reach about eight weeks old, which gives me a little more than three months to prepare for that day. I was hoping we would have harvested chickens first, seeing as I have no adoration for feathered friends.

The chickens are growing fast and will moving outdoors soon. Their coop, also built from recycled materials, is almost ready for them.

Sisters

Sisters

It’s beginning to look like a farm around here

Broccoli, Eggplant, Celery, Tomates, Squash, Melons and Cucumbers in this 16x8 raised bed.

Broccoli, Eggplant, Celery, Tomates, Squash, Melons and Cucumbers in this 16×8 raised bed.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt — Margaret Atwood

Boy did I ever. It was a busy weekend on the backyard homestead and you know what, it’s starting to look like a farm around here. This quote is fitting not only because my weekend consisted of a whole lot of dirt, but because it was included in the course guide for a backyard farming workshop I attended at Sentimental Farm. Even with the three-hour workshop on Saturday, I still managed to get a lot done on our growing mini farm.

Almost all of my 32 tomatoes are in the ground, planted in 16×8 ft raised bed along with cucumbers, squash, melons, eggplant, celery and broccoli. My peppers will be planted in a similar bed next to this one with cattle panels bended between the two to form trellis tunnels (see plan here) for the various climbing veggies. Most of my berries have been planted in a patch. More mesclun and romaine seeds went into the ground and I dug a European-style raised bed for my corn and beans that I hope to get in the ground this week. I also made an attempt at thinning my carrots.

See how there are two stems, you have the thin it out to one or you won't get a crop.

See how there are two stems, you have the thin it out to one or you won’t get a crop.

What’s that? You have to thin carrots? Who knew? Not me. At least not before attending my course on the weekend. According to Rob, if you don’t thin your carrots, you won’t have carrots. Now, it’s not that I am crazy about carrots (next to peas, they are probably my next least favourite vegetable on the planet, raw or cooked), but it was the thought of not having a yield that drove me to attempt the pull out and relocate the extra carrots growing. Carrot seeds are teeny tiny little things and planting just one or two seeds per hole is pretty difficult. Once the carrots grow a few inches, you can see the multiple stems coming from the same spot. The idea in thinning is to gently pull the weaker carrot out and move it to a new spot, that you dig by pushing a pencil into the ground. It is best to try this after a few days of rain when the ground is soft, or so the man in the YouTube video said. Sadly, the carrots that I transplanted all appear to have withered away BUT the carrots that are now singletons are thriving. I think they grew an inch overnight. A solution to this Rob offered is organic carrot tape that is available at TSC stores. It is essentially carrot seed properly spaced on rows of toilet paper that you plant in the ground. I don’t know the cost of this, but seeing how many carrots didn’t survive I might look into this for next year.

Rabbit hutch is half finished but Thumper has moved in.

Rabbit hutch is half finished but Thumper has moved in.

On the livestock side of things, Thumper is finally outside enjoying the sunshine. The rabbit hutch is almost finished, the hubby just has to finish the girl’s side and then we can put our meat rabbit operation into business. I’m sure Thumper will be happy to learn that he will soon have a few lady rabbits to” entertain”. Bunny was a little afraid of his new house at first, but after a few minor adjustments and luring with dandelions (his favourite) he can now hop up and down the ramps and get from his house to his run. Doesn’t he look happy?

He sure loves those dandelions.

He sure loves those dandelions.

There was also a fair amount of planning done this weekend for the fall/winter harvest. Who knew there were so many varieties you can grow all year long with the help of a hoop house (something we will be adding soon so be sure to check back for a how-to). What vegetables would you like to see in a fall/winter CSA? Varieties that I have: cabbage, kale, spinach, winter mesclun, super gourmet mesclun mix, Autumn King carrots, beets, arugula, swiss chard, Coastal Star Romaine, cabbage plus herbs parsley, cilantro and chives. Varieties I plan to add: corn salad, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, scallions (I am out of seed and will be ordering a hardier variety for fall) and radish. Varieties I am considering: brussel sprouts and parsnip. If you are thinking about signing up for a CSA what varieties would you like to see added?

Hope everyone smelled of dirt at some point over the weekend!

PS: This week has been declared Local Food Week in Ontario, celebrate by supporting a local farmer either at a farmers’ market or farm gate stand.

My attempt at a European-style raised bed with 2-foot rows and 30-inch paths.

My attempt at a European-style raised bed with 2-foot rows and 30-inch paths.

I cheated on these ones but I don't think my seedlings will produce any fruits this year so I couldn't resist.

I cheated on these ones but I don’t think my seedlings will produce any fruits this year so I couldn’t resist.

Almost time to add a new layer to my potato box. Grow potatoes grow.

Almost time to add a new layer to my potato box. Grow potatoes grow.

Welcome to the farm Thumper

Our first farm animal

Our first farm animal

Well, I guess there is no looking back now. Thanks to my good friend Shandra, we have our first animal on our backyard homestead. Introducing Thumper, though Shandra refers to call him Dave 2 (as they have similar hairstyles at the moment). He is a lionhead and lop cross, and he was free. I did a little researching and had a few posts from homesteaders who had success in breeding this type of male with New Zealand white females for meat. Since that is our purpose in breeding, and he was free, I thought it was a pretty good place to start. I have a lead on some lady New Zealanders, so Thumper might be in business soon.

Thumper is currently living in a dog crate in the garage, which is where he had been living with his previous owner. One of the must-do projects for the coming long weekend is a rabbit hutch, especially if we get some lady rabbits. I have a few ideas pinned on Pinterest (follow me here), on my homesteading board, so it will be a matter of choosing a design and finding the materials to make it. We also have to get started on our chicken coop as our friends Bryan and Caitlyn have put some Plymouth Rock eggs in an incubator for us. It’s starting to look like a farm here. Caitlyn has also generously donated some raspberry bushes to us. Thanks guys!

Hopefully we will have some nice weather this weekend. I am excited to head over to Linda Crago’s annual seedling sale at Tree and Twig farm in Wellandport Saturday. I plan to pick up a few different tomatoes (including one called Isis, which I am solely buying because it shares a name with my female Cane Corso, one of three that we have, the others are Nico and Donzi) and some hot peppers. It looks like Saturday and Sunday might be a wash, like this whole week. Monday is promising some sunshine. Hopefully the weather man is wrong about the other days.

The rabbits are being raised mostly as a meat source for our dogs. We feed them a raw diet, following the BARF model, which includes fruits and vegetables. Rabbits on their own are too lean to be a main meat source for dogs, but they are a good supplement to their diets. At the local butcher shop, they run about $20 per rabbit. One female rabbit (which, if my lead comes through, will cost $20) can provide up to 300 pounds of meat per year. It is far more economical for us to raise the rabbits ourselves, though I know it won’t be any easy process, especially come harvest time.

I am not going to lie, the idea of killing a rabbit upsets me. I know it’s going to be hard. I wish we could have had a chicken harvest before rabbits, but based on the fact that the dual-purpose Plymouth Rock takes anywhere from 16 weeks to 6 months to reach maturity, that doesn’t seem likely. The idea of harvesting chickens doesn’t seem as terrible. Maybe it’s because I don’t really like birds. There is something about them. They are just these strange, bony, feathered creatures. I don’t find them cute or sweet, though that my change as we get to know our flock. Bunnies however, are pretty darn cute. I mean, look at Thumper up there. He has a beard and a hairdo, kind of like a mini mane. He is a pretty cute little guy. And, I am pretty sure his offspring are going to be just as cute. Cuteness aside, these rabbits are going to bred for a purpose, just as our chickens, to provide a sustainable meat supply. Knowing where our meat is coming from brings me some relief. This is going to be a learning year and I plan to share everything here as we grow our backyard farm.

I will post some better pictures of Thumper soon along with pictures of his new home. I have read a lot about feeding rabbits naturally and I plan to feed a mix of rabbit feed and greens.

New seedlings that have sprouted since my last post: butternut and spaghetti squash, goji berries and sugar baby pumpkins.