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RE: rabbit nesting behavior (Follow-Up #2)

posted by: macmex on 04.01.2007 at 07:19 am in Farm Life Forum

I always used to put the box in half way through the gestation period. Some does will make a nest right then. Then again, a few will make their nest and then dismantle it, only to re-make it at the last minute!

One other scenario would be a false pregnancy. I've seen this a couple of times. The doe has been mated, but it "didn't take." Then, at exactly the halfway point for normal gestation, she'll make a nest. But of course, she doesn't produce any kits. It's a good idea to try mating the doe at this point. If she's really pregnant she'll make a real stink about it! (Remember, always take the doe to the buck, and never leave a doe unattended with the buck.) If she's not really pregnant, she'll probably accept him.

George
Tahlequah, OK

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:48 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:49 am

RE: Let's talk about meat rabbits (Follow-Up #19)

posted by: maggie_j on 03.27.2007 at 04:20 pm in Farm Life Forum

Guineagarden, I can't give you an exact figure of how long per rabbit, but it is much quicker than processing chickens. Your idea of different buckets for different parts is a good one if processing a lot of rabbits at a go. Usually I prefer to process no more than eight at a time and just put all the parts in a big pot of cold water to cool. If we have two litters to do, we do the largest ones from both litters one day and the rest a day or a few days later.

I have evolved my own method of processing rabbits. Brian does bleeding out and skinning and I take it from there. First I remove the piece of fur and skin from around the tail. Then I take off all four legs, being sure to get as much meat with the hind legs as I can. Then I open the rabbit, reserve the giblets (heart, liver and kidneys) and dispose of the guts. I remove the rib section by bending it back until the spine snaps and then cutting through. This leaves the loin with the bony pelvic area still attached. I remove this as well.

There are three of us so I package the three loins per pack, three hind legs or six front legs. Sometimes I have to make up a mixed pack to make things come out even. I package all the rib cages and pelvic sections together for soup, stew or rabbit pie. When I make rabbit pie or stew, I add the giblets to it. It is amazing how much meat there is on those rib sections -- ample for soup.

I think most people have their own way of sectioning the rabbits. It depends a lot on how you plan to cook them. I like to half fill a roasting pan with carrots, parsnips, turnip and onion, sprinkle with herbs and pour a cup of apple juice over it. Then I season the rabbit pieces with black pepper and herbs and lay it on top and cover with a few strips of bacon. Into the oven for an hour or a bit more at 400 degrees with some spuds in their jackets... and there's a really nice supper.

Sometimes if we are in a fast food mood (not often) I make shake n bake rabbit legs and oven fries. But nothing beats a big pot of rabbit soup. (Even you would like it, Patrick.) One thing I have found is that apple juice is the perfect cooking liquid for rabbit. For soup I dilute it with twice its volume of water, but it is just wonderful for pulling the various flavours together.

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:40 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:40 am

RE: Let's talk about meat rabbits (Follow-Up #13)

posted by: maggie_j on 03.25.2007 at 05:50 pm in Farm Life Forum

Roberta, it's a common problem, ending up with too many chickens and eggs. If you are okay with eating some of your chickens, I suggest a little culling: All excess cockerels and roosters, nasty hens, unproductive hens, poor specimens of their breed.

I ordered 30 chicks my first year with chickens. They were straight run since we intended to eat most of the cockerels but even 14 hens was far too many. I think 10 - 12 chicks is a good number to start with. And last year when I switched breeds, that is all I ordered. We still have too many eggs.

As far as rabbits, two does and a buck are plenty to start. Three cages and perhaps a spare as a "grow out" cage for weaned kits. If you decide to expand you can bring in some new stock or keep promising young ones. There are few "social problems" among rabbits because they are in separate cages. They don't usually escape or bother the neighbours. They are pleasant to work with, usually gentle and altogether an excellent investment for the homesteader or hobby farmer.

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:40 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:40 am

RE: Let's talk about meat rabbits (Follow-Up #12)

posted by: guineagarden on 03.25.2007 at 02:43 pm in Farm Life Forum

I learned a form of 'processing' rabbit that I use and have never had a problem with. I prepare a small piece of rope (1/4" thick, not twine- don't want it cutting into their feet) so that it has a small noose at each end and about 12" in between.

Then I hold the rabbit in my arms and gently slip it's feet into the loops and tighten them to a snug, but not painful fit.

The rabbit, with its head tucked under my arm all the while, is very calm. I have already prepared a stationary hook from the overhead beam of my barn- something very substantial.

When the moment is right I walk over and very quickly hook the 12" section of rope over the hook and simultaneously run my hands down the rabbit and pull its neck firmly down. It all happens very fast and there are no 'accidents' like bonking it with a bat, but not quite hard enough, or pushing with thumbs, but not quite far enough. It is sure-fire.

A gun would be just as fast and painless, but I'm not really a gun person and wouldn't want to shoot my thumb off. (lol)

I have 8 does (six breeding), a buck and 28 kits of various ages right now. About to process 8 of them this week. I'm new to this, so that should take me all day, what with prep and cutting up and vacuum sealing and clean up and all.

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:39 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:39 am

RE: Let's talk about meat rabbits (Follow-Up #5)

posted by: maggie_j on 03.24.2007 at 10:22 pm in Farm Life Forum

Hey Sheila!

Q.Do you use the skins/fur?
A. Not at present... I have tanned a few skins and it is quite time consuming. Maybe later.

Q. Are they difficult to process?
A. Not difficult at all. Much quicker and easier than chickens. Once they are dead, cut the head off and bleed them out. Then skin them... They don't have the expression "skin the bunny, one, two. three" for nothing. Remove the paws and the piece of skin and fur around the genitals and vent. Slit the rabbit along the convenient line that runs down the centre of the belly, being careful not to cut into the guts. Remove the heart, liver and kidneys and save. Everything else is garbage or chicken food. Your dog will enjoy the paws and ears. When the carcass is clean, cut into sections: legs and loin for frying, roasting etc. and rib cage for soup or cooked with the giblets for rabbit pie. I'd rather process five rabbits than one chicken.

There are two slightly tricky things to watch out for. If the bladder is full, be careful the urine doesn't get on the meat. Some people remove the water a few hours before butchering. The other is the gall bladder, located in a fold of the liver. It is greenish in colour and the bile will ruin anything it touches. It is easier to trim the liver from the gall bladder than to remove the gall bladder. I usually chill the liver before attempting it... it's easier that way. Just like chicken in that respect.

Q. What is the optimal age for processing?
A. For best feed/meat conversion, usually 8 to 12 weeks or when they reach 5 pounds live weight. Dress out rates typically run 50 to 60%.
------------
Hi Fancifowl.
"I have seen some crossbreeds which were selectivly bred as meat production animals and they were high percentage New Zealand of california."
I agree. And selectively breeding any line can bring about significant improvements, mutt or purebred.

"I feed the best pellets available and supplement 3 days a week with a top quality timothy hay, also whole clean oats, 1 tbs. per morning; along with occassional chunks of tree trimmings and grape vine pieces. I rarely use any greens or other feed stuffs as I want the fastest gain without pushing too fast, and am looking for a good show finish."
Raising rabbits commercially for meat or show is a whole different ball game. My goal is to provide meat for our table while providing the best quality of life for the rabbits (short lives ought to be GOOD lives) at the least cost. If the no pellets diet does not work well, I'll go back to pellets. But I want to give this a try.
------
Hi LF & RJ. You've raised some interesting points.
"We'd like some and actually have a couple of nice cages - 2X3'! We could get a third easilly off craig's list for a buck."
A 2' x 3' cage is fine for a buck or for a dry doe, but a tad small for one with a litter, once the little ones pop out of the nest. Mine are 30"x36" and sometimes even they seem crowded when eight or nine bunnies are all busy using momma for a trampoline. Perhaps you could join two together for litters or else get a couple of larger ones to use as the babies grow.

"Would there be some health issues with rabbits so near the ducks/chickens?"
As long as the birds can't get on top of the cages and poop into them, there should be no problem. The rabbit droppings will not hurt the chickens and ducks. Rabbits need lots of ventilation but don't like strong winds. They need shelter from excessive heat and sunlight.

"Also, how long can one leave the youngsters on the doe? WOuld we have to get more cages for the offspring before they are butchered? That would be an awful lot of cages!"
There are several ways of handling this. Some people leave the kits with the momma right up until butchering. Some have a larger communal grow-out pen. A chicken tractor set-up would work in good weather. Still others have a couple of extra cages and wean the largest kits first at about 5 weeks and leave the smaller ones with the momma.

"One more question, how do you go about dispatching of them?"
Bonking or bopping is fine if you can do it quickly and cleanly. If you make a bad blow you may bruise the meat on the shoulders. The last time we butchered rabbits, we used the pellet gun at point-blank range to the back of the neck, just below the skull. We found that much easier, cleaner. The rabbit was instantly dead and there was almost no thrashing about. A .22 with "shorts" would also work well.

-----

Shelleybabe, I think it's great you are getting back into rabbits. It will be good for your kids to know where their food comes from and caring for them is a great family project. Looking forward to hearing more about your experiences.

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:38 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:38 am

Let's talk about meat rabbits

posted by: maggie_j on 03.24.2007 at 02:26 pm in Farm Life Forum

Let's talk about meat rabbits for the small family farm, hobby farm, homestead or whatever. They are a much overlooked source of meat for the family dinner table and are easy to raise even in a backyard setting. Heck, if I lived in an apartment, I'd likely still raise meat rabbits.

We've had ours for almost two years. They were "yard sale" rabbits and I wasn't too impressed with them when Brian brought them home as a "surprise". We had intended to keep rabbits soon - the cages were almost ready - but I was thinking of purebred Californians and these were clearly mutts. There were six of them: two does, three youngsters and a buck. They had been kept in a large community cage, all except the buck, and only the youngsters looked healthy. Their coats were rough and dirty and the buck had ear mites.

We put them into individual cages out under the box elder tree and gradually added a mix of dandelions, plantain and clover to their diet. An amazing thing happened. They cleaned themselves up, the buck's ears cleared up after being treated with olive oil and they became sleek and sassy. By fall, I decided they were in good condition for breeding and the two does produced lovely litters of 7 and 12 kits. The youngsters we culled since the doe had been crossed with a dwarf and they were not meat types - although they were tasty.

We bred our trio for about a year and rabbit became a regular item on our dinner table. Delicious white meat, a little firmer than chicken but NOT tough, and as versatile as chicken too. We were hooked.

We saved promising looking kits from the litters. Three of these I sold to a man who was wanting to start raising meat rabbits. One doeling I kept for ourselves and one buckling that was just too nice and promising to cull, I "loaned" to my sister's boyfriend on the understanding that if it didn't work out that he could return it to us. He did a lovely job of socializing the rabbit and was fond of him, but as circumstances evolved it was clear that he could not keep him. So Tao, as he called the rabbit, came back to us.

We bred him back to his dam last summer and the resulting kits were the best yet. Bred to his older sister, the kits were even better. I know many people think that inbreeding is a bad thing, but if the qualities are good ones they are enhanced and if they are not good, you cull the offspring. With rabbits you can always eat your mistakes.

That fall, we reassessed our little herd and decided to cull one of the original does and the original buck. The doe produced huge litters, but there were usually a couple of runts and because she was an aggressive and overvigilant mother, her kits were too nervous to be good breeders. The buck had done well by us, but he was on the small side and his son Tao was better in all respects. So we culled those two and one of the doe's daughters that had not been a success.

We started into the winter with our one original doe, Patches, her daughter Tuppence with her litter of nine and son Tao who was the father of Tuppence's litter. Just before Christmas I made contact with a woman in the area who wanted to increase her herd. She bought all five young females and the best young male. That left three less promising bucks who are now in our freezer.

I'm fond of my breeders and I always enjoy the youngsters, but I am not sentimental about them. The best work for us and we give them the best care and food we can. They are livestock, not pets.

For those who had never raised rabbits, two good does and a buck bred four times a year can easily produce 160 pounds of table ready meat each year. All that bunny manure is a valuable by-product for your garden. Rabbit manure is "cool" and does not need to be composted before adding to the garden. You'll be amazed at how your garden improves over a season or two.

I've been feeding my rabbits pellets supplemented by greens, apple, hard maple and willow branches and alfalfa/timothy and grass hay. They do well on this, but I would like to get them off pellets entirely. My goal for them this year is to make a gradual transition to an all-natural diet. I expect to still have to buy hay and perhaps a little grain, but the processed rabbit food would be eliminated. The rabbits don't really enjoy it, it contains ingredients I don't approve of for rabbits (animal tallow?) and it is increasingly expensive - $2 a bag more now than in summer of 2005.

Let's talk meat rabbits. Who has them, how do you like them and how do you raise yours? If you don't have rabbits, but think you might want some, please jump in and talk about it.

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:38 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:38 am

RE: Natural Feed for Rabbits (Follow-Up #7)

posted by: maggie_j on 04.01.2007 at 01:32 pm in Farm Life Forum

Guineaarden, your last question is a good one. I think when feeding only natural foods you need to offer a good variety and watch how the different feeds are received. One also needs to pay attention to the rabbit's overall condition, activity level, general state of well-being.

Domestic rabbits are descended from European wild rabbits and should have no problem with a non-pelleted diet that includes sufficient variety. Older rabbit husbandry books are useful sources of information. Let's face it, pellets only came on the market after World War II.

Natural food may not be a good answer for people wanting to sell commercially or for show rabbits, but for the person who is just raising backyard rabbits to put meat in the freezer, it can be a good option. Trust me, the rabbits will be very happy. I have never seen a rabbit yet that was enthusiastic about pellets.

I just found out that there is a certified organic farm near me that raises rabbits on natural foods that they find or grow. I am hoping to make contact with the owners and pick their brains.

GuineaGarden, if you have the links to the information you posted about corn and other plants, it would be helpful to everyone if you could share them.

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:36 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:37 am

RE: Natural Feed for Rabbits (Follow-Up #6)

posted by: guineagarden on 04.01.2007 at 12:06 pm in Farm Life Forum

Just want to add to the feed list: bittercress, henbit and chickweed. They seemed to enjoy them and I like to offer them things from the yard.

I've read a lot about not feeding corn to your rabbit, although I understand it was successful for some folks above.

This is what I read:
"Another thing not to feed is shelled corn, especially in the summer. Corn has a lot of crude protein in it and it also causes heat to build up inside the animal, which you don't want to happen in the summer when the rabbit is already hot. Corn can also cause your rabbit to create a lot of excess fat. "

Also this:
"A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT CORN AND OTHER SEEDS
Some types of seeds (especially things like "Canadian peas" and corn kernels) have hulls that are indigestible to a rabbit, and can cause life-threatening intestinal impactions/blockages.

Corn, fresh or dried, is NOT safe for rabbits. The hull of corn kernels is composed of a complex polysaccharide (not cellulose and pectin, of which plant cell walls are more commonly composed, and which a rabbit can digest) which rabbits cannot digest.
We know of more than one rabbit who suffered intestinal impactions because of the indigestible corn hulls. After emergency medical treatment, when the poor rabbits finally passed the corn, their fecal pellets were nearly solid corn hulls! Those rabbits were lucky."

Here's some info about what wild rabbits eat:
"Food Habits - Rabbits eat parts of over 100 species of plants. They prefer herbaceous plants whenever available. Woody plants are used mainly during the winter months. However, marsh rabbits make more year-round use of woody vegetation than other species.

Winter foods include honeysuckle, lespedeza, blackberry, greenbrier, a variety of grasses and dried vegetation. Bark, twigs and buds from sumac, black cherry, willow, holly and dogwood also are eaten. Agricultural crops consumed during the winter include rye, wheat, alfalfa, clover, corn, peanuts and ryegrass. Cottontails may damage fruit orchards by eating the bark of fruit trees. Buds of seedlings in pine plantations also may be eaten during the winter.

Foods during warmer months include a variety of sedges, grasses and other herbaceous plants. Important species include paspalum, panic grass, plantain, dandelion, crabgrass, ragweed, croton, clover and lespedeza. Agricultural crops eaten during the summer include clover, alfalfa, soybeans, peanuts (the green plant) and garden vegetables."

My concern with strictly feeding "homegrown" and not pellets, is how do you know you're achieving the correct nutritional balance?

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:36 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:36 am

Natural Feed for Rabbits

posted by: maggie_j on 03.29.2007 at 11:01 am in Farm Life Forum

Here is a list of plants that I have fed to my rabbits without problems: dandelion greens, wild chicory, plantain, raspberry and blackberry leaves, clover, comfrey, freshly cut apple and willow twigs with leaves, grasses, certain herbs like parsley, lemon balm and basil, carrot and beet tops.

The MOST IMPORTANT THING to remember when introducing rabbits to green feed is to go slowly, starting with just a few leaves and gradually increasing amounts. ANY sudden changes in feed can really make a rabbit sick.

Once your rabbits are used to greens, bear in mind that it is best to feed a variety rather than just one at any meal. This is helpful both from a digestive and nutritional angle. It also provides a welcome diversion to be served with a variety.

All greens should be freshly cut, clean, dry, and unwilted. Anything not cleaned up should be removed at the next feeding. Greens can be dried like hay and are very safe to feed this way. A wire shelf works well as a drying rack. Greens can also be hung in bunches as you would do for herbs and dried for winter use.

A good quality grass or timothy hay is an excellent daily addition to the rabbit's diet. It provides needed roughage and also gives the rabbits something to do. Nibbling hay takes time.

Feeding alfalfa and clover is probably the most controversial aspect of feeding rabbits naturally. Legumes are high in protein and calcium, which is great -- to a point. Because there is already a lot of alfalfa in the pellets, when feeding a combination it is possible for the rabbits to get too much protein and calcium. Excess calcium can result in "bladder sludge" as the unused calcium is excreted. Drying alfalfa and clover is supposed to help, but I don't understand the reason for this. I suggest, however, keeping the amount of these two excellent greens down if you are also feeding pellets.

Please remember that while I am delighted to share my observations on this topic and while I have had excellent results with supplementing comemrcial pellets with the discussed green feeds, I am still experimenting and breaking new ground. Go slowly with your rabbits and be vigilant for problems. Get a good book on weeds if you are not knowledgeable enough to identify them without help. When in doubt, DON'T. I will post some links to some helpful sites when I have time to go through my bookmarks.

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clipped on: 04.02.2007 at 07:33 am    last updated on: 04.02.2007 at 07:34 am