Livestock tractor update

Great!  I just got a couple of extra days to finish the article so I can write a bit more here before going back to it.  I am writing this on my lap top and darned it’s hot on my lap!  It’s way too hot to be in the office on my desk top.  This heat cuts down on my computer time.

On Thursday I made another attempt at a livestock tractor.  I call it a livestock tractor now because it has attempted to be both a chicken tractor and now a rabbit tractor.  It was also used as a cold frame.  Its only successful use so far has been as a cold frame.

The rabbits are in a small dog run with an outside “patio” made using an x-pen.  First I moved the rabbits out of the dog run and cleaned that out.  I initially put wire fence on the floor of the dog run and used straw as bedding.  Big mistake.  Cleaning out the straw was not fun.  I took the fence out of the dog run and had the brainy idea of using it to enclose the former chicken tractor/cold frame.  By the time I got around to working on that, it was getting hot so I decided to move the production, including the rabbits, to a shady area.  I was doing okay moving the rabbits in the x-pen, but Frog (a rabbit with misformed rear legs) was having a difficult time.  I picked him up and was trying to move the rest of the rabbits in the x-pen using one hand.  It didn’t work out too well and soon I had ten rabbits running around loose.

How useful can three Border Collies be when there are ten rabbits running around loose?  They all worked hard, especially Fern, but rabbits just don’t herd.  Even Ted and one of the calicos tried to help out.  Luckily, the rabbits were drawn back to the dog run and eventually I had them all captured.

I got both ends of the tractor enclosed before I realized getting the rabbits in there might be difficult … unless you have a Border Collie that is willing to help push rabbits out of an x-pen into a tractor.  We had a few escapees, but eventually we got them all in.  I sat in the shade and watched them start to dig, perhaps only to get to cooler earth, but rabbits do dig.  Great!  Now I needed to figure out how to cover the bottom of the tractor so the rabbits couldn’t dig out.  Once again, I enlisted a Border Collie to crawl under the tractor and push the rabbits back into the x-pen.  We lost a few more during the move, but we caught them again.

It is surprising that I still have twelve living rabbits after all this.  They are all back in the dog run with the x-pen patio and we are back to the livestock tractor drawing board.

On Sunday morning while we were doing chores I saw one rabbit loose, then another, then another!  Likely one of the Border Collies had pushed on the side of the x-pen and made a hole big enough for them to get through.  Wally got to witness the beauty of Border Collies herding rabbits.  It’s really quite spectacular to see.  Luckily sheep cannot run through a dog’s front legs.

We did manage to develop a good hay feeder for the rabbits.  We used horse wire which has two inch square holes and made two, two-foot high tubes and stuffed them full of hay.  They work quite well.  We can stuff them with fresh grass as well.

It has been enjoyable keeping the rabbits and it is going to be difficult when it comes time to butcher them.  They all seem to be growing well and quite happy with their digs.  It can be difficult keeping rabbits in a warm climate, but since these rabbits can stretch out on the ground, they seem to tolerate the heat relatively well.

On Monday night when it cooled off, I observed Rose chasing Casper (Penny’s four month old buck kid) around.  Twice she caught him and had his leg in her mouth.  What the heck was she up to?  Previously we had been tying her out when we had the sheep up in the fenced-in area during the heat of the day, but I realized that wasn’t the best idea to keep a livestock guard dog tied away from her charges.  The ducks had been trying to nest in what was remaining of a round bale of hay in the fenced-in area so I took the cover off that feeder and let the sheep and goats have at it.  This stopped the nesting attempts which was the primary reason why I was keeping Rose out of the fenced-in area during the day.  She still hasn’t given up on chasing ducks.  She’ll try to catch chickens, but they are a bit faster than the ducks, but still, it would likely only be a matter of time before she caught another chicken.  Unfortunately, I didn’t properly expose her to poultry as a puppy.

Chasing Casper, however, and pulling on his legs, was a serious problem.  I’m sure she was just playing, but an unacceptable form of play, especially when the next day I found a small puncture wound on Casper’s leg.

Yesterday, we attached at two and a half foot long piece of three inch PVC to a chain and attached it to her collar so that if she runs, the PVC hits her in the legs and belly.  She ran once with it on and was immediately corrected.  While this may sound harsh, a livestock guard dog is useless if it chases or harms the animals it is supposed to be guarding.  Rose is still very young and when it cools off, she gets very frisky.  When she goes down with the sheep at night in the ElectroNet, we take the PVC off; she only wears it in the fenced-in area.  She’s with her charges, as she should be, she just can’t run without getting hit with the PVC.

Poor Luna has been lame for a few days now.  We have been unable to figure out what she injured.  Hopefully she’ll recover soon.

Rain is about a week away from delivering her babies and is still producing milk to the extent that I have to milk her out every three days or so.

We sold two of the three remaining bottle babies, keeping only the Alpine buckling named Basil.  He’s done well for as long as we’ve had him and he’s an awfully nice buck.  We haven’t castrated him yet and I’m on the fence as to whether we should or not.  He has a good energy about him and I don’t think we could go wrong breeding him back to Penny and Luna this fall.  Given her age, I will breed Champagne to a purebred Nubian so if she has a nice doe, I have the option of keeping something from her.  Penny is still young and I have a doeling off Luna to breed next year.  As with everything, we’ll see how it goes.  I probably won’t breed Rain for another year.

I’m having a bit of a hard time with the new rennett and starter, but I think I have mastered it.  I wanted to make another batch this morning, but elected to wait another day or two.  I have quite a few packages of cheese in the freezer and if I am not able to use them up soon, I’ll likely defrost them and feed some of them to the dogs.  I intentionally haven’t sold any milk, cheese or eggs lately and may phase that out completely.  I’d rather find ways to use what we produce ourselves rather than selling it.  I simply don’t care to deal with the public.

The garden is doing wonderful.  Yesterday, Wally and I went to the local farmers market and was I ever excited to find Cherokee Purple tomatoes for sale.  If you ever have the opportunity to try these wonderful heirloom tomatoes, do so.  They often look ugly as sin, but are they ever flavorful.

As I was writing this, a blue car pulled into the driveway and a woman got out with a disposable camera.  What the heck I thought.  I almost didn’t open the door, but I did and she reminded me what she had been out here with my landlady over a year ago looking at the old foundations on the property.  She wanted to photograph them for her brother who is a history buff.  She came with open sandals and didn’t have covered shoes so I took the photographs for her.  Before she left, she bought a bag of cheese.  So much for not selling cheese.

Until later …