I hate the humps and bumps that farming continues to throw my way. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been frustrated with the rabbits for numerous reasons, namely, all of a sudden they started digging out, not all of them, just a few tractors. Also, I’ve lost some to bloat. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for this bloat. I can feed them a type of food once and they do fine on it; feeding the exact same thing again and I get some with bloat. I’ve been feeding them Chaffhaye and they love it. During a period of time when we had several days of rain I fed Chaffhaye two days in a row and a rabbit bloated. The same thing happened with the whole grain and seed mixture I feed to the goats and chickens. I fed it twice in a row and several rabbits bloated. The only thing that’s the same about the rabbits is they share the same father. I am no longer using that buck so maybe it will stop.
However, after talking to a woman in Wisconsin who has been grazing rabbits for several years now (she recently became Animal Welfare Approved) I believe I have some resolutions or at least direction (or encouragement!).
One, the dig-outs: the rabbits currently doing the digging are a group that are 16+ weeks old. They are well old enough to be slaughtered, but I’m not happy with their weight so I haven’t butchered them. The woman in WI says that she butchers the males at 16 weeks old no matter how big they are.
I also believe I’ve discovered at least some of the reason why growth has been slow in some of the rabbits: Fescue! Fescue is a grass that is widely grown in the Southeast and just like horses, rabbits are sensitive to endophyte infection of tall Fescue. I read a study where a pen of rabbits was kept on Fescue grass and another pen on Kentucky Bluegrass. The ones on Fescue did horrible! The ones on Bluegrass thrived. Consumption of Fescue can reduce the appetite of the rabbit so it doesn’t eat as well. Also, I do think there’s genetic issues with some of the rabbits and I need to do some aggressive culling.
So, some of my rabbits are getting creative names like “Last Chance Sally.” Sally has until the stun gun arrives from Animal Welfare Approved and if she does not breed by the time it gets here, she’s going in the soup pot. She was in with a buck for 30 days and she should have conceived then, but she’s been up in a kindling cage for two weeks and instead of making a nest, she’s been sitting in the nest box and soiling it. There’s another proven Chin doe up and I do think she is pregnant, but we’ll see. Two others in the group did kindle.
I have two Californian/New Zealand X does who are on the short list. I have another Chin doe who only had two kits. I’ll breed her one more time and if she only has a few kits again, she’s a soup rabbit. The Fescue can contribute to smaller (or no) litters so that may be the culprit there, but the rabbits have more than enough to eat in their tractors other than grass so I’m not 100 percent convinced that this is the problem.
Over the spring and summer, I traded several American Chinchilla does with a local couple for milk and cheese. I asked numerous times to go there and pick which rabbits they’d bring me, but that never happened. I have a sneaky suspicion that I was getting their cull does. That’s okay, a cull doe will still taste good and lots of people like larger rabbits, especially this time of year when you can stew them. I will not be doing any more trading with them.
Armed with this new information I will continue forward. Do a web search for pastured rabbit or grazing rabbits and you’ll find a number of farms that began this process, but virtually none of them are still doing it. Why? Because it’s a big head ache! There’s virtually no information on what types of grasses or forage rabbits should be eating to both grow and more importantly, not die from. I so hope I’m able to secure a grant from either RAFI or SARE to pursue this project. Wally mowed the area where I plan to move the rabbits and it looks good, quite flat. There’s a lot of native grasses and herbs growing in it already so all I need to do is to add to it. This could represent a huge growth opportunity for the Farm.
It’s cold this morning, but not raining so hopefully milking will go better. In retrospect, I’m not so sure it was the rain suit that freaked Gwen out. I think she was nervous about walking on the slippery ground. She spent most of the day lying down yesterday and when she did get up to be milked in the evening, she was very hesitant. She’s been urinating in the milk parlor more than I like to see and I think this is due to nervousness. She did slip and almost fall down during the last big rain storm. Poor cow! I think Penny has improved. I believe the swelling around her stifle has gone down. I hope I’m right.
So maybe things will level out a bit for me, at least for a little while. I did make one discovery with the rabbits that may help: if you stuff their hay baskets too full, they have difficulty eating from it. We got some gorgeous organic hay on Sunday: alfalfa, timothy and orchard grass mixed. It’s some of the prettiest hay I’ve ever seen! I’ve been loosely filling their hay baskets (starting Sunday night) and when I checked them Monday morning, almost all of the hay was gone. Good. We’ll see how they did last night. We have a man coming out one day this week to make the inserts for the cages. He was going to come out yesterday, but the rain prevented that. I think this man may even be more talented than the man who made our original tractors and hopefully more reliable. We’ll see.
Until later …