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Saturday, March 31, 2012


I was never averse to chores.  They were a part of my life from an early age; we always had to pick up our toys and put our dishes in the sink.  I was taught to do laundry and dishes at an early age so that I could help around the house.  It was a part of our daily lives and I never thought anything different.  I spent a little over an hour in the garage this afternoon doing my farm chores before heading out to my off farm job.  It isn't exciting work but it is calming.  Each cage contains a living breathing creature or several of them; all happy to receive the pellets, oats, hay and water that I am providing.  Once the food dishes are filled, the munching is soothing while I work on treating the various ailments afflicting some of our charges.  Our oldest, most stately buck came to us with ear mites.  He gets treated with drops of mineral oil to drown the mites and clear up the wounds in his ears.

Loose stools are still a problem.  We've lost four of twenty-five adolescent rabbits who came in the same cage together.  We tried neomycin and feeding them only oats and hay, but to no avail.   Today anyone showing symptoms was removed from the general population and placed in quarantine.  Cages were disinfected and hopefully the remaining rabbits will stay healthy.  Everyone who is not scheduled for the processor in the next two weeks received treated water today as a preventative measure.

The blocked scent gland in one of the bucks has cleared up nicely after being treated with hydrogen peroxide.  DH took the nest box out away from the litter that is now three weeks old.  We let them keep it a few days longer than the book advises since the weather was cooler this week.  They are adorable little fur balls who don't travel far from Momma.  Next week we will breed two more does so that our litters will start coming two weeks apart to ensure a steady supply of meat for the processor.  DH keeps reminding me not to get attached to our new charges, but the fuzzy little critters are hard not to snuggle every once in a while. They will remain outside, if they come into the house I know they will never leave.

Days off this week will include modifying the waste catchers between the two levels of cages so the waste will naturally fall to the back of the cages and down to the floor of the garage and disinfecting a few more cages to separate growing rabbits.  DH and I think we have found a less expensive solution for rabbit housing than the original shed we had hoped to build.  Perhaps a trip to the lumber yard will be included in my days-off travels.

April 1st is here and we have not made any progress on the greenhouse - I foresee a couple of late nights coming soon if we are going to stay on track for the summer.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

From zero to sixty-plus in one week or less

Yes that's right - more than sixty rabbits now reside in our garage.  The couple from whom we acquired our first batch of rabbits made a difficult decision for them to get out of the rabbit raising business.  DH sent me an email while I was working on Friday and told me that he would be picking up about 30 more rabbits and their cages at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning.   When I returned home we discussed where they would go and how the new racks would be arranged around the exiting racks so that we would still have access to the chicken coop, the chicken brooder, the lawn equipment, our shovels, etc.  I asked him for the cage measurements so I could estimate how much wood we would need to build some more racks.  Oops - no measurements.  DH ran to the lumber yard and picked up enough lumber to build three more racks the same size that we had built one week earlier then he left to pick up the next batch of bunnies.  When the cages were unloaded, I was relieved to see that they were either the same size or exactly half the size of the cages for which we built racks one week earlier.  Measurements memorized, I was able to whip up two more racks in no time while DH washed and sanitized cages.  New rabbits housed, there was just enough time for me to shower and head off to work while DH finished feeding, watering and giving them hay.

The following morning we found one of the five week old bunnies dead in the cage.  We had not noticed that it had a case of diarrhea.  Indicative of anything from stress to coccidiosis, we carefully looked over the new arrivals and found that at least one rabbit in each of the three five week old rabbit cages was afflicted.  Two of them were worse than the others so they were quarantined.  We removed the cage, disinfected the racks, waterers and food dishes, took away their pellets and replaced their food with oats and hay.  Water was medicated and we would hope for the best.  Later on Sunday we lost the smaller of the separated rabbits.  As of Thursday, the other one is still holding on.

I know that in the meat-rabbit raising business you are supposed to cull at the first sign of illness save it spread through your entire stock, but there is still that part of me - the one that rescues too many cats - that knows with a little TLC this one has a good chance.  There are still one or two rabbits in each of the three cages of almost six-week olds that are exhibiting loose stools, but they look pretty healthy.  We are hoping that the change from temperatures in the seventies down to below freezing in combination with being relocated is the cause of their upset tummies.

We continue to watch them closely and hope that all of this will pass quickly without too much more loss.  The processors will not receive their first shipment for another week to ensure that everything has passed.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Warm weather & baby birds

The weather has been record-breaking warm in Northwestern Vermont.  Daytime temperatures in the seventy degree range have brought our sugaring season to an end.  Just as one project wraps up, another begins; our baby chicks are beginning to hatch. 

Before I left for work this morning there were four of them hopping around in the incubator cheaping away.  If DH has time today he will be cleaning out the brooder and preparing it for the new arrivals this evening.  Before each new set of chicks we are sure to completely clean out and disinfect the brooder to kill any possible germs which might be lurking there.  You wouldn't want to eat off the floor, but we try to be careful.  The small amount of cleaning solution and only a few minutes of our time are very inexpensive in comparison to an entire egg-laying season lost.  We have been lucky and lost only three birds, out of 30 times that, to unknown causes in the six years we have been raising chickens.

We usually have only one round in the incubator each season, but my step-daughter has never seen chicks being born.  She will be with us in late April so we will start one more batch of eggs next week that will be ready when she is here.

Remember that phone call about more rabbits...  we are cleaning out some more room in the garage.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Its a good kind of sore all over

As a new farmer, sometimes I look like a comedy of errors while attempting to transport livestock.  Chickens have been transported to this farm in cardboard boxes, cat carriers, plastic storage tubs (one with holes in the sides, I am not that mean), and even a live animal trap when something else wasn't handy.  Saturday morning we went and picked up the rabbits.  This couple must have thought I was off my rocker as I toted three cat carriers and an old ferret cage into the barn.  After a few minutes I realized that I didn't have sufficient carrying capacity for the number of rabbits we were purchasing.  We borrowed two cages, both used specifically for the purpose of transporting rabbits, to carry our new charges the ten short miles back to our farm.  With some careful packing all of the carriers fit into the back of our large SUV without having to remove our son and his car seat.

Back at the farm, all of the rabbits were removed from their various carriers and put into cages on the garage floor.  I had every intention of building the racks for the cages the night before, but between overtime at my off-farm job and being overtired, the wood lay in the same pile DH made when he disassembled the pallets.  All fed and watered and son fed and resting, I started in constructing racks for the cages from salvaged wood.  Son woke up and needed clean britches, DH needed assistance facilitating the eviction of a family of mice which took up residence near the garage and we still hadn't picked up the pine shavings for under the cages.  Quick trip to the farm store for supplies, it was now pushing three o'clock in the afternoon.  Back outside to work on the racks some more - the dizziness washed over me like a tidal wave.  When I get busy I forget to eat.  When I forget to eat I get low blood sugar.  When I get low blood sugar I can't concentrate on walking let alone attempting to use a power tool.  Inside to get some food.  Oh did I mention that we were supposed to boil sap this weekend...

My stomach filled, son sleeping and mice evicted, DH and I set to work on getting the racks built.  By late afternoon we had racks for two double cages completed and managed a short-term solution for the other two double cages so that they could be raised off the concrete floor.  Sunday morning brought about a mild stiffness in the back and getting started was a little slow; nothing that a warm cup of coffee and some cuddle time in the chair with my three-month old didn't cure.  We started early on the next rack and lit the fire to boil sap.  A poorly attended boil ensued and we managed to process a meager ten gallons of sap.  The second rack for two double cages was completed fairly early in the afternoon.  All the bunnies were settled, fed, watered and pine shavings spread.  We sat back enjoying a cold adult beverage in the unseasonably warm weather for March and discussed how crowded some of the eight week old rabbits looked.  Perhaps we should consider a third set of double cages? 

Monday morning my back screamed as I rolled out of bed, my leg muscles argued with every movement and my shoulders were telling me that they were pretty displeased with my sudden increase in physical labor over the past couple of days.  Some over-the-counter pain relievers were washed down with the morning coffee and off we went to the lumber yard.  On the agenda was lumber for one more rack of double rabbit cages (the remaining wood from the salvaged pallets would not support the weight of two double cages) and an estimate for the lumber to build the shed which would house our new furry creatures.  The estimate for the shed far exceeded our budget; we returned home with only the 2x4s for the racks.  With only a few minor interruptions we were able to get the rack completed.  Rabbits were examined and separate by sex to avoid any unexpected litters of kits.  Then we were able to focus our efforts on boiling sap.

Fifteen more gallons of sap were reduced to just under two gallons of almost syrup before darkness and grumbling tummies forced us inside for the evening.  When all was said and done over the long weekend, we made homes for 36 rabbits, we came really close to 3/4 of a gallon of finished maple syrup and we were able to spend some great family time together.  By 8:30 p.m. Monday night every muscle in my back, shoulders, legs, hands, etc. were reminding me that I had spent 23 weeks on bed rest and that I was completely out of shape.  But it was a good kind of sore, the kind that reminds you you are still alive.

Tuesday night, I got a phone call about some more rabbits...

Thursday, March 15, 2012


"Necessity is the mother of invention" - I don't know who said it originally, but I certainly live it everyday.

I don't live too far from the nearest store, but the operating hours of that store never seem to coincide with when I am trying a new recipe, when I run out of cat food or infant formula, or if I just need a little chocolate fix.  So at 8:45 p.m. after either working late at my off farm job or trying to squeeze in just five more minutes of greenhouse expansion before I cannot see past the end of my hand in the dark and I want a sandwich, the store is inevitably closed.  Thank goodness for the internet where I find a from scratch mayonnaise recipe.  There are a bunch of them out there and I have used whichever one was the handiest to I will let you find one specifically to your liking.

Running out of dishwasher detergent brought on another internet search.  Borax, washing soda and kosher salt - much to my delight - make dishwasher detergent.  These are items that I have on hand so I saved trip to the grocery store.  Come to find out that mixing these ingredients also saves a significant amount of money.

Fabric softener, while not a vital ingredient to acquire clean clothes, is something that I like to include in my washing ritual.  Mixing inexpensive hair conditioner, white vinegar and water creates a good fabric softening product.  Besides being a less costly option, the bonus is that you can find an inexpensive hair conditioner in unique scents like coconut making you think that even though you are sitting in your cubicle at work, it smells like you are wearing suntan lotion in Key West or Aruba.

Sometimes I find that I spend entirely too much time searching the internet for cost saving ideas and projects for the farm - but every once in a while I find something extremely useful.  It was a pretty good sandwich too.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More on the rabbits

I hardly ever get my hair cut, but recently I went to the hairdresser.  I treated myself to a desperately needed haircut and some nice warm highlights to perk up my appearance and perhaps distract onlookers from the growing bags under my eyes.  Through the progress of the conversation we covered many of the activities which are occurring on the farm and the direction in which I hope the farm will go.  "There is a man just up the road who used to raise rabbits who is looking to sell some of his cages."  Wonderful, I made a phone call.

This extremely helpful man and I discussed raising rabbits for the kitchen table and for profit.  Arrangement of cages, cost of feed, hay, pine shavings, etc.  As this exchange neared its end he thought out loud, "You know, I think I know someone who is looking to sell their breeding stock."  The following day my phone rang.

Jennifer and I talked for a little while about New Zealands and Californians, bucks, does and kits, fryers and the next generation.  A short time later arrangements were made to transfer ownership of four does, two bucks, some 4lb meat rabbits and several kits.

This week will be a busy one.  Later this morning, after we say goodbye to visiting family, we are headed two towns over to look at cages.  From there we will stop at the lumber yard to pick up or perhaps arrange delivery of the lumber for the shed which will house the rabbits.  Feed, hay and shavings will be acquired in my travels to and from my off farm job this week.  Evenings this week will be spent assembling cages, housing and daylight and energy permitting work on the new shed.  Saturday, the new venture truly begins when we pick up the furry critters.

Oh, did I mention that it is sugaring season?  Somewhere in there we need to carve out some time to boil sap.  Spring is never boring on the farm.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Quiet noises of contentment

It is almost quiet in the house now save for the felines who never seem to be clean enough to suit themselves.  Four generations bridging more than 80 years reside here this evening.  To my right I hear the soft snuffles of my son as he sleeps in the living room; we are saving on propane costs this winter by not heating the upstairs all the time.  Not too far from his crib the click of the thermostat in the incubator can be heard keeping growing embryos at a snuggly 99.5 degrees.  From my bedroom down the hall the snores of both DH and the dog compete for decibels.  Upstairs, my mother and her mother rest after a 350 mile road trip north from the city.  And outside, from the other side of the garage I can hear the rooster whose biological clock is completely backwards as he crows each of us goodnight.

I didn't get the laundry done or the floor swept, I didn't get emails or phone calls returned, I didn't get more web pages edited or the recipe promised to a friend sent out.  I did however cook a great meal which was made up with ingredients, more than half of which came directly from this farm.  I watched my mother, grandmother and DH play with my son; and, I kissed them all goodnight under my roof (albeit it borrowed from the next generation).

Tomorrow each of the above tasks will get tackled along with revisions to the materials list for the new rabbit palace and perhaps one or two of the myriad of farm chores which should be accomplished in the spring.  But tomorrow is another day.

Tonight I am content.