Saturday, May 26, 2012

The times they are a-changin'...

Rest in peace, Sheba 1996 - 2012

Since my last post, we've gone from 4 dogs and 5 cats to 3 dogs and 4 cats. Sweet Draco was killed by a car a week ago Friday. The vet came to the house on Tuesday evening to help us ease Sheba's passing. I cried so hard for her. Sixteen years is a really long time, and she was so faithful and loving. There's an entirely different feel around the place in her absence. I'm thankful we have Lydia, the puppy... her effervescent presence does help. Sheba's remains are being cremated, and once Decker has gone and also been cremated, I will place their remains plus Mickey's (1988-2000) in my garden. I think I'll want some sort of commemorative markers.

Californian rabbits
I'm making some changes in which breeds of rabbits we raise, too.  The Californians are decent producers, most of them, but I don't love them. They're one of the two most commonly raised meat breeds - if you read up about meat rabbits in almost any sustainability book, you'll see recommended Californians and New Zealand Whites. They're boring. Mine are extremely fidgety and not very friendly. I've had trouble with sore hocks, and I won't breed an animal with sore hocks. And, on my pastured-growout trials last summer, the Californians did the WORST of any breed I have. By a longshot. Totally unacceptable. So - I'm getting out of Cals.
Thrianta rabbit

The Thriantas were really an impulse acquisition. They're a beautiful color - deep, rich, Irish-Setter red, but... they're small. They're fairly rare, but that's because they're relatively new to the US. They're not a heritage breed. I don't love them enough to devote the cage space to them any longer.

Cinnamon rabbit - and terrific boy
I started out with Cinnamons, and I like them a lot. They're great producers, sweet and cuddly animals, and meet my criteria of being both rare and heritage breed. They definitely have a future here.

 New to the farm this year are Palomino rabbits. I have only a pair of these (one buck, one doe) and their first litter. Still, the doe has the meatiest back end I've ever seen on a rabbit. They're another rare and heritage breed, they're gorgeous, and they're meaty. I look forward to getting to know this breed better!

Creme d'Argent rabbit

Creme d'Argents are... different. They look quite a bit like the Palominos as babies, but as they  mature, silver guard hairs grow in, giving them a different sheen. They're another rare and heritage breed, they're beautiful, they generally have a nice disposition, but I have had more trouble getting them to breed, and produce good-sized litters, than other breeds.  I'll keep them for the sake of genetic diversity, but I just don't love them as much as....

American Blue rabbit - see how differently it's shaped?

...the American Blues.They are far and away my favorites here. They have an entirely different body shape than any other breed I raise - semi-arch rather than commercial. See the swooping rise behind the ears? The other breeds don't have that. When I got my first Americans, three does and a buck, there were something like 500 breeding adults in all of North America. The American Livestock Breed Conservancy had them listed as "Critical." That was in November 2009. Recently, the breed club received the fantastic news that they have been upgraded to "Threatened." You can read here about the history of this gorgeous breed. They are definitely keepers here - and will in future have more and more cage space allotted to them. I can also report that they did the best of any breed in last summer's pastured-growout trials.

New Zealand Red rabbit
Remember I mentioned above how the most commonly mentioned meat breeds are Californians and New Zealand Whites? Turns out that New Zealands come in other colors, too - notably, for my interest, Red. I have a trio of these beauties heading my way early in June. Why these instead of Thriantas? Size, mostly - these are a commercial/meat breed, with adults in the 9-11 pound range, while Thriantas' maximum showable weight is 6 pounds. EDIT: photo of New Zealand Red courtesy of Martine Forget at Thanks, Martine!

So - that's what's going on around here. I'm a big fan of heritage breed livestock, just as I'm a fan of heirloom vegetables. Genetic diversity is soooooooooo important, and so much has been lost in the past 100 years, due to breeding for criteria other than depth of gene pool. I'm happy and honored to have a part in perpetuating some of these fantastic animals!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Welcome back to Blessed Acre!

Welcome back to Blessed Acre! Did you miss me? I have been interrupted by Real Life™ but my co-conspirator, Anne, is ready to crack the whip and get me writing regularly again.

I honestly can’t remember where things stood last time I posted, so….

The children are finishing up 8th, 6th, 4th, and 3rd grades next month and are the joys of my life – smart, healthy, clever, loving, inquisitive – and even generally helpful!

Sheba - Decker is camera shy!
In the house, there are four dogs – Sheba is almost 16 and Decker is 15, and if they last the summer, I’ll be thankful. Lily is 7 and Lydia is 4 months. Sheba and Decker are Black Lab mixes, Lily is a Golden Retriever, and Lydia is a Farm Collie – smart as a whip, that one! The children suckered me into an indoor cat – a large, declawed Maine Coon-looking fellow called Harry.
Harry, in the way

Lily and Lydia, tired out

Maia, left; Kahlua, on top; Bast, right
There’s a fabulous 20 x 30 foot barn here now that was finished in October 2010. It houses about 100 laying hens, which poop everywhere and lay 50-70 eggs daily. I got Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats in October 2011, and Bast just kidded last Friday – triplet doelings! Star, Sephara, and Lynx – all between 3 and 3.13 pounds. Maia and Kahlua are due to kid around the first of August. 

Minutes old!
There are presently chicks in the brooder – White Rock, Delaware, and Columbian Wyandotte laying pullets, plus 25 Cornish Cross broilers (huge already!) and I scored 37 more miscellaneous laying pullets when the Farmers’ Supply had chick day and not all the chicks were claimed. There are also four barn cats, hard-to-place cats from the local shelter. They are in charge of being nuisances, fussing to be fed, and taunting the puppy.
Spot, Bengal, Draco


There are 39 rabbit hutches, plus four grow-out cages, plus two rabbit ‘tractors’ for pastured growing out, as soon as the weather is suitable full-time. We have mostly rare heritage breeds – American Blues, Cremes d’Argent, Cinnamons, Palominos – as well as Thriantas (rare but not heritage) and Californians. Please don’t ask me how many rabbits there are at any given time, because I haven’t a clue.

The food and flower plants are doing great. Daffodils and tulips are gone by, and the peonies are budding like crazy. I transplanted the blueberries into a new bed last fall – built the bed in the spring and filled it with the winter’s barn bedding. They look very happy! I lost two apple trees to the October snowstorm, but it could have been worse. The peach trees (one in front, two in back) flowered like mad, and I’m waiting to see if that translates into fruit. One apple in the front flowered nicely but again, I’m waiting. The strawberries are blooming now. I added elderberries last year, and black and red currants, gooseberries, and bush cherries this year. I had 20 gallons of grapes off of my green “Niagara” grape vine last fall – lots of rather runny jam! I added a grape arbor behind the sun room, and am hoping the four grapes planted there will survive and thrive. Meanwhile the “Mars” Concord grape vine by the garden has teeny-tiny bunches of grapes coming. Only kale, chard, spinach, peas, and lettuce are sown so far – but the tomatoes go in this weekend and it’s time to sow the beans, too!