Tuesday, October 26, 2010

preliminary report on rabbit tractoring

I'm experimenting with tractoring at present, and my rabbiting partner here has been tractoring her grow-out litters for two seasons now.

We have cages that are 4' long by 3' wide by 2' high. There's 2x4" wire on the bottom, and 1x2" wire everywhere else. We cover the cages with tarps to keep both sun and rain off of the animals. The tractors are moved at least every 24 hours and often more frequently. The rabbits have free access to pelleted food 24 hours a day (and of course, full-time access to water). Both of us cut our grass as needed with gas-powered mowers, but this summer was so dry that we haven't had to mow much at all. Neither of us uses any chemicals of any kind anywhere on our properties.

My colleague and I have Californians originally from the same barn, so we regard them as interchangeable as far as genetics. We both offer Blue Seal Bunny 16 pellets. We breed the same day, so we can butcher the same day.

What we have found is this: my average dress-out weight on butchering day is 3 1/2 pounds. Hers is 2 3/4 pounds. That makes her rabbits 80% the size of my rabbits.

What we have *not* experimented with has been keeping the largest doe from each litter at butchering day, and the largest buck from all of the litters, to keep as parents of the next generation. That's where I'm heading with my experiment.

I have had NO problems with any kind of GI upset with my rabbits. They are keeping my grass cut, and building up my soil - also part of my long-term plan for sustainability at my micro-farm.

This is my experience thus far. I plan to keep on with this experiment so as to reduce my cost in pellets (and lawn mower gas!), build up my soil, and ultimately be able to market sustainably raised, grass-fed local rabbit meat. Once I wade through the morass of red tape in the People's Republic of Massachusetts, that is, where there is NOBODY certified to butcher rabbit for sale for human consumption. I guess I'm going to be pioneering... again.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

it's been ages...

The rabbits are thriving at Blessed Acre! The new barn got its back wall and door out into the pasture today - but these photos are of the front and inside. More photos later!

One of my June 1st pullets started laying (I think...). And we bred 6 of our rabbits today - it's both a full moon and the cross-quarter day - Samhain - between the equinox and the solstice. I'm not sure what, if any, significance that has, but it sounded like it might be important.

We've added a new breed of rabbit here - Thrianta - they're gorgeous Irish Setter colored rabbits. Small - max of 6 pounds - but they're the same color as our Golden Retriever. I couldn't resist!

There are 79 rabbits on site at present, with 13 does bred, due between November 3rd and November 23rd. We've been privileged to set up breeders with some gorgeous American Blues and Cinnamons lately, and Californians over the summer. These are gorgeous rabbits... we're very fortunate. We have high hopes for our three Creme d'Argent does, all bred to our new buck, Custard.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wednesday Club - week 3

For week 3 of Wednesday club, I snuck some math in amid the soil and arts-n-crafts.

I started by asking the children to line up by grade, youngest to oldest. Then I paired them up, kindergartners with 6th graders, 1st graders with 5th graders, etc. so that the younger children would have help. Then I gave each child a calendar that I printed off online. (I used this site: http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/) Next, I had them circle our last frost date, May 20th. [now, officially, it's Memorial Day, but in the 8 years I've been gardening seriously here, we haven't had a frost past May 15th] Then I gave each young gardener a seed starting chart (http://www.yougrowgirl.com/grow/seedstart_chart.pdf). Then we chose three crops - cucumber, kale, and peppers, as it turned out, and worked out how to fill in the "indoor start date" and "set out date" blanks. I think they got it. I hope so!

Note: you can download an Excel file that does all the number-crunching for you here:

We watered our seedlings - everything has germinated now! Some of the beans are definitely pole beans - there are vining tendrils waving about happily. Then we looked at the pussy willow cuttings I had brought in for them. You may recall that I brought a bunch in during Week 2, but we didn't get to talk about them. That turned out to be just fine, as they had burst forth with lovely soft catkins all over, while the ones I brought in for Week 3 were still dormant. It was a terrific visual of how forcing works! I let each child take home a branch to enjoy - and some of the teachers got some for their classrooms, too.

Finally, I borrowed an idea from my children's preschool days, and we made daffodils.

I ran out of green construction paper for the background, so I let the children choose yellow or green for the backgrounds. Then they could choose yellow, orange, or pink for the back of the flower. They cut out that part, and glued it to the background. Then they glued paper muffin cups to the flower to be the trumpet of the daffodil. You can't really see it, but the mini-paper has flowers on the outside of it... very pretty. I was sad to realize that I had only white muffin papers in the house - oops! Most of the children drew leaves and stems for their flowers, though the one who gave me this one did not. One of the first graders did an amazing pair of flowers, while one of the sixth graders took the catkins off of her pussy willow and used them to decorate her page. Most of the children enjoyed the craft - and the others I let work extra time on a word search puzzle I'd made for them using this site:

Even the kindergartner was really good at searching for the words! I should have selected "forward words only" though - the backwards words were really tricky.

Are these REALLY hard economic times, or are we making them hard for ourselves?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 blog entry, repeated here with permission.

These Hard Economic Times

I keep asking myself, "Has the world gone crazy?" What are people talking about when they say "these hard economic times?" I am so confused because I hear so many people say these are such hard economic times but, at the same time, what I see happening with my own eyes and hearing with my ears is a totally different story.

Let me give you some examples what I mean. Are these examples of hard economic times?

* Last year we spent more at Christmas and all year shopping than the year before.

* Americans spend 500 million dollars a year to have their teeth whitened -- not cleaned, just whitened to look nice.

* A single mom on welfare spends $350 on a cell phone-- not on the calls, just the cell phone.

* On a home shopping show they were selling American Girl dolls for $135. The woman selling it said "Kit is our most popular doll."

The other woman said "That is probably because Kit represents the Depression Era and girls nowadays relate so well to that because they have to sacrifice and give up so many things in these hard economic times." They sold out of the doll. This meant several thousand of these poor little girls who have had to give up so much received a $135 doll for Christmas. What was it they had to sacrifice? Maybe it was the $25 outfits that went with the doll. (I have never paid $25 for an outfit for myself let alone for a doll!!)

* A woman just lost one of her part time jobs. She was sobbing and crying because her family was going to have to sell their house, which they could no longer afford. For the past several years they have been making very good money but they have been spending it on everything including $150,000 for decorating their home, several trips a year for the whole family to travel across the country and to Canada for sports events their sons wanted to play in, buying a couple of new cars every year, eating out frequently and the so on.

Even after she lost her job they still took another cross country trip to go to a game. After coming totally unglued about the thought of having to sell the house she was asked if they might be able to save the house if they would cut back on their spending a little. Her reply was, "No way. I hate to scrimp and save and do without. I won't live like that." As my son in law loves to say "Allllrighty then..."

* My brother just met a man who restores hot rods for a living. When asked if things are getting harder for him the man laughed and said "No, I'm doing better than I ever have and I need to hire someone to help me." My brother is now working for that man. He is getting paid to sand people's car engines so they will look pretty and smooth. People have so much money they can pay bunches to have their engines sanded? Go figure. For those of you who restore cars, don't yell at me! My dad has restored Model A and Model T cars for years, so I know all about car restoring.

* Here's my favorite: A sales person selling a $1500 piece of jewelry said, "We know things are so rough in these hard economic times so we have put this on 5 easy payments for you." They sold out of it. Do you know how contradictory that is? If things are so hard, what in the world are people doing buying $1500 pieces of jewelry, even on 5 easy payments?!?!

I don't have anything against people buying jewelry, dolls, cell phones or restoring hot rods. What I do have a problem with is people moaning and groaning about how hard these times are and then taking off to go shopping or play a game of golf.

We get upset and angry about the government, big companies and their crazy spending but we need to stop pointing fingers and look at our own lives. Are they doing anything differently than the average American?

We may not have the opportunity to be foolish with millions or billions of dollars like them, but that doesn't matter. The point is that many of us are being just as foolish with what we have as they are. We are up to our eyeballs in debt just like they are and most of the time it's because we didn't think or care about how we were spending it. Then we want someone else to bail us out.

Yesterday, I heard a pastor, Bob Coy, talk about this same type of thing. He had some good points to make. He showed a web site called Global Rich List, where you can type in an income and it will tell you how rich you are compared to the rest of the world.

Here are some interesting stats from that site:

If you make $35,000 a year, you are in the top 4.62% richest people.

Here are some others:

$50,000 - Top 0.98%
$75,000 - Top 0.82%
$100,000 - Top 0.66%

It makes you stop and think. Are things really that bad? Two million children died last year because of lack of clean water and I sit here complaining because the price of gas is so high that I might not be able to take a vacation this year?

Yes, unemployment is up but look at it this way: 90% of the people in the US have jobs. Many of those who don't have jobs aren't even looking for work. I know a lot of people who are 20 or 30 something and living at home and not bothering to find a job.

We need to change the way we look at things and stop parroting what everyone else says about "these hard economic times."

I'm not so naive as to miss the fact that financially things are out of control and will eventually bottom out, but that doesn't mean things are so hard yet that people should be carrying on the way they are. Instead of moaning, we need to fix things, starting in our own lives.

The pastor I mentioned earlier said if we have a friend who is deep in debt who says "let's go to the mall", as a good friend, you need to say no. Suggest that your friend come over to your place for coffee and a visit, helping her and yourself not to spend more. Start looking at what you are doing and how you can fix it.

We need to face the facts. A big part of our "hard economic times" is summed up in this wonderfully appropriate saying:

We buy things we really don't need
with money we really don't have
to impress people we really don't know.

Memorize that saying and the next time you go to buy anything stop and think, "Do I really need that?" Do you need to buy your kids the most expensive shoes? Do you need to get the most expensive car or would a two or three thousand dollar car get you by? What about those manicures and pedicures? How much do you spend on all the kids activities or on throwing that big football party and having the whole gang over?

I knew a man who lost his job and his wife worked at a very low paying job. He said he didn't care if he didn't have a job. He was still going to play golf every weekend (and he did). They are in a big financial mess now, but not because of "these hard economic times".

When considering buying something, ask yourself, "Do I really need it?" Do you have the money to buy it? If you have to borrow money for it, you don't have the money to buy it. It's that simple. If you need it, work hard and save and then get it.

Many of us think that waiting to buy until you actually have the money is impossible, but once we stop buying everything on credit, we free up all that money we were using to pay credit card bills, interest and fees. That money is then available to buy things we need or want.

Why do you buy the things you do? Do you do it to impress others? This is pride. I don't have room to go into detail in this article, but God hates pride as much or more as drugs, alcohol abuse or sexual immorality and so many of us suffer from pride. If you don't think you have a pride problem, consider whether or not you might say one of these these statements: "I would never allow my family to wear clothes from a garage sale." or "There is no way I will do without .......(fill in the blank)".

The Bible cautions us to watch the words we say. Don't just spout empty meaningless words like "in these hard economic times" just because the world is using them and don't use words like that as an excuse to justify why you don't have your life and finances together.

Actions do speak louder than words. Are your actions matching your words?


Friday, February 12, 2010

Thank you to "The Homesteader's Way"!


I have been privileged to be able to join up with The Homesteader's Way site, which gathers together like-minded folks who are homesteaders or small farmers to promote the legal, handmade/homegrown products of our efforts. I invite everyone to stop by and browse! New links are being added daily. I encourage each of you to support small farmers; I firmly believe that the future of food production rests with small farms.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wednesday Club

I asked far and wide recently for ideas I could use for an after-school gardening club. Well, we've had two weeks of Wednesday Clubs now, and my little gardeners are doing GREAT!

I have 18 children in my Gardening Club, ranging from kindergartners to sixth graders. Some live in apartments, others in suburban homes. They're great kids, all of them!

The first week I didn't have enough hands-on activities for them. I bought a large bag of seed-starting mix, 3 large packages of plastic drinks cups at the Dollar Store, 2 packets of mixed lettuce seeds, and one packet of radish seeds. I had a bunch of bean seeds on hand already, of various varieties. I told them that we are going to have a lettuce and radish salad in 4 weeks, and that we'd try cut-and-come-again with the lettuce. We should be able to have a second salad at the end of the class. (7 weeks out) And, I promised to bring the bunnies in on the last day, so we can play with them. (and feed the bean seedlings to them)

I had each child take three cups, write (or have someone else write) their name on each cup, then fill the cup most of the way with seed-starting mix. Then we looked at the seed packets, to determine how to plant the seeds. We talked about how to read the packets - depth of planting, sun requirements, thinning, and time to harvest. We sowed the lettuce seeds first, then the radishes, then the beans. Oops. That only took about 45 minutes!

So - then I talked to them. First, we considered the benefits of growing our own food, how it can be picked fresh, how we can choose varieties based on flavor and not on durability in transport. They got the notion of food miles, of what a calorie *is*, and how many calories of energy is used up to transport a calorie of, say, strawberries, from California to here. (Massachusetts)

We talked about compost - the school has a food-composting program to capture food waste from breakfast and lunch. In a nice synergy, I am able to take home the 5 gallon buckets of food waste and feed it to my chickens, who turn it into meat, eggs, and fertilizer. We addressed the question of what we can compost, and what we should NOT compost, and why.

We talked about thinning seedlings. Why do we thin? How do we thin? (fingers, scissors) What can we do with the thinnings? (eat 'em, feed 'em to the rabbits, compost them, transplant them) We discussed fertilizer - chemical, organic, and compost/manure, and what NPK stands for. We considered the benefits of having animals in conjunction with a garden. (they help eat the excess, their manure fertilizes the soil)

Then week 1 was over, and I promised them more to do in week 2.

Week 2 was day before yesterday. I was much better prepared! First, we filled another set of cups with seed-starting mix, one per child, with names on the cups, and planted marigold seeds.

Then, we made compost cans for them to take home! An extra bonus was that all of the materials we used were second-use (as in, reduce, REUSE, recycle). I asked the cafeteria to save us some #10 cans. I got large construction paper on Freecycle. I brought in old gardening magazines and new seed catalogs. I brought in a large set of colored Sharpies. (and lectured them FIRMLY about how indelible Sharpie is) Each child got a piece of paper the right size to cover the #10 can, and decorated it. We used scissors and glue sticks. Once the paper was designed as the child wanted it, we glued it to the can. Then, we reclaimed some laminating plastic that was surplus in the school - wrong size for the school's current needs. We used that as contact paper to seal down the decorated papers.

Once they were all finished, and the considerable clean-up was completed, we watered last week's plantings (the lettuce and radishes had germinated; the beans had not).

Next week - forcing, seed-starting calendars, hardiness zone charts. Possibly also seeking seeds inside fruits - apples, cantaloupe, grapes, peppers, tomatoes. (any other ideas?) We're having fun so far!

I had brought in cuttings from my pussy willow, but we didn't have time to discuss "forcing". We'll get to that next week.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday, Monday... a rainy day

Holy cow, I wonder how much snow we would have had if it had been cold enough for snow instead of rain? It poured BUCKETS here today. I think the pot I left outside to soak had about 3" in it. (alas, my rain gauge went missing last fall - must replace it....)

The children spent last night at their father's house, and that turned out to work well for me, since they ended up with a 2 hour delay this morning. I guess some of the other towns in the district must have had ice where we had rain, since at 7:30 this AM it was almost 50 degrees here!

I did get up to see the cookstove. It's a Glenwood K... and it's MINE! Now to get it here :) The lady and I agreed that we'd let her husband and Steve (my carpenter/handyman/worker of miraculous things) take care of the details. The firebox is kind of small, and this one loads from the top rather than the front, but judging by the size of the room it heated with no difficulty, it's going to be just fine here.

Meanwhile, Amber the rabbit doesn't look so good. She's still SO thin, and her belly looks awful. Mastitis is SO nasty. She's had a much penicillin as I can give her, at least for the moment, and while I can't be sure whether it's still infected, it's surely inflamed, though it might be scar tissue.

I thought I'd found the rogue rooster yesterday and dispatched him. Well, he had a rogue brother, apparently! This one was crowing this afternoon, between rain squalls. So... off with 'is head. He's in the freezer now, too. Still can't say that butchering (especially inside!) is my favorite thing, but if it needs to be done, it's best to do it humanely, quickly, and efficiently. *bleah*

First thing tomorrow - my first Literary Theory class at Smith. Here's hoping the buses are running on time, so I can find the classroom!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

a busy weekend

Saturday morning I went to the 4-H Rabbit Workshop at the Blackstone Valley Technical High School. There was a focus on commercial breeds this time. Nancy had asked me to bring a Creme d'Argent so that the kids could see what they look like. I also brought 4 Californian does and 3 Californian bucks for the "judging" class. Roger Cota taught that one - he's our District 7 ARBA director as well as a seasoned judge. It was really interesting to learn how to judge among similar rabbits. It was great to hang out with so many rabbit people! I saw my friend Lisa, and had a chance to talk to some of the youth about things like mastitis (yuck), does who eat their babies (also yuck), butchering (kind of yuck).

This morning I went to church, then drove out toward Albany to meet Rick K to trade a trio of 16 week old Californians (I chose which ones to give him with Roger's help - nice!) for seven 9 week old Cremes - 3 does and 4 bucks. They're full siblings to my buck, though....

When I got back, I did butchering of the rest of the Cals. The males were getting a bit too rowdy, and have been waking my neighbors up at night by thumping. Not ok!!! I also ended up butchering a chicken who was SUPPOSED to be a pullet, but had started crowing. Not only am I not zoned for roosters, but the same neighbors really deserve NOT to be awakened that way. Since it was 33 degrees and raining, I broomsticked on the back patio, then did everything else inside. I cooked the heads and feet so I can feed them to the dogs and/or chickens, saved the livers and kidneys for the dogs, and put the rest of the guts down the disposer. Nice quick cleanup.

We have a flash flood watch for tomorrow - though it's 33* out now, it's forecast to reach 52 tomorrow with heavy rain. I don't particularly want the snow to disappear! It's only a couple of inches, and when it goes, I'll end up with mud. LOTS of mud. Despite the forecast, I'm heading out early to check out a cookstove I found on Craigslist. I really, really want one! Being able to heat and cook with fuel from my own property has a lot to recommend it.