Taking a few minutes to write about the integrated farming project that we are working on. The basis of the project is that we add market vegetables to the farm. Of course, before you add market vegetables, you need to plant them and that is what I should be doing right now instead of writing, but I’m feeling a bit wrung out right now. Anyway, I feed the excess vegetation and weeds to the rabbits (of which there is always lots of) and I use their manure to fertilize the soil to grow more vegetables. It is essentially a full circle operation. Ideally, all of the rabbits’ food would be produced on farm, which is likely not possible growing rabbits for market, but if you are doing it as an addition to a farm with existing vegetable sales, it would be a good addition to the bottom line, plus the grow-your-own-fertilizer option. Rabbit manure is one of the best fertilizers there is, rivaled only by worm compost.
The rabbits were supposed to be kept in movable pens on the ground and be rotated between grazing and where I would grow row crops, however, all of the rain we’ve received this year has but a severe damper on that plan. I put the rabbits out in their movable pens in April, but they started dying of all sorts of things, weird things that I have not seen before. It got to the point where Wally and I said enough is enough.
Plus if we had put them out in the new area, as planned, getting food and water to them would have been extremely difficult given all the rain. The road going directly out to the new area is knee deep in mud right now. Our ATV is not powerful enough to get through it alone never mind pulling a wagon with water and other supplies. It never really dried out enough to take the truck down in there to transport the tractors!
We constructed 16 raised bed platforms that we bedded down with straw and put the tractors on top of the platforms. The rabbits are still on the ground, still in groups and have lots of room to run and play. The dying slowed down, but it has not stopped completely, likely due to all the rain we are still getting. Instead of the rabbits harvesting their own feed, I bring the feed to them. More work for me, but it all works out in the end because all of the rabbits are in one place and I do not have to move the pens or deal with escaped rabbits.
From every litter that does well, we keep a doe (or two or three) from that litter for future generations. This seems to be helping. The litters from does that were born here do better than those from does that were purchased. That makes sense. When Polyface Farm started pasturing rabbits, they lost as much as 50 percent of their rabbits.
For centuries, rabbits have essentially been kept like hothouse tomatoes. They are in wire cages, that should remain relatively sanitary (assuming the manure drops through the holes like it should) up off the ground. They live relatively short lives in this sheltered environment. Many of them only receive pellets (no hay or other forage). How can they as a species expect to adjust to the environment we’ve put them in here at Spellcast Farm? Sure, it’s more humane, I guess, but if you factor in their dying, well, that is not so humane is it?
I’d like to think that we’ve come to a happy medium: the rabbits spent much of their lives off cage wire (there is wire under their platforms, but it is covered with straw so they are not standing on it), in colonies (rabbits are very social) and get to eat fresh vegetation every day. I compost their manure and straw for the garden and if the weather would cooperate, I’m sure that will work really well to grow more vegetables. The vegetables are growing, they are just not producing human food. I have planted two crops of green beans, but they did not produce many beans, but lots of vines for the rabbits. I have another crop growing, but am not sure it’s going to produce much in the way of beans. Oh well.
Back to the reason for this post today: the American Chinchillas. They are not working well, at least not the purebreds. It seems lately every purebred litter of American Chinchillas that I put out in tractors fail. I lost all but one of one litter recently and just this morning, I pulled a litter of six out of a tractor and put them back in a conventional cage. I noticed they were not eating well or growing as they should. They have no obvious symptoms: no diarrhea, sneezing, nothing, they just are not thriving. I will not be keeping any kits back from this litter, if they survive. The crosses (Silver Fox X American Chinchilla) do better as do the pure Silver Fox.
I have tractors of rabbits who are thriving so it has to be something genetically that I need to work through, which I am. We are raising rabbits differently than most people and I feel that we are on the right track, it is just a matter of working through the kinks and learning from my mistakes. I have been horribly negligent about record keeping and I am desperately trying to rectify that.
Until later …