Monday, April 23, 2012

How the Rabbit Shed was Built and Modified

 I know I have posted pictures of the rabbit shed before; but, since I did not explain the design and construction, I figured I would write about it now.

The first consideration was making it of a length and width to hold four breeder cages and one or more grow out cages. The cages are 30x30 so the width of the shed was set at 4 feet. We decided to make the length 16 feet which is sufficient for the six cages with extra for overhang. There is also the potential for adding length to one end later on. The shed is set in a corner of a solid vinyl fence so it has protection on two sides. The other two sides will soon have tarp "curtains" which can be lowered to protect them during heavy rains. The roof is made of PVC panels. If you use multiple panels as we have, you will need to seal the joints with silicone.

The posts are 2x4x8 pressure treated boards as are the roof supports except that there are two 2x4x16s on top (front and back) which really pulls the structure together into one solid unit. We will be coating the legs with grease to prevent fire ant attacks and may also place something around the legs to prevent raccoons from climbing the legs.

I originally thought that using chains to hang the cages would be sufficient support. With lighter rabbits it probably would have been. If you have small rabbits and want to hang with chain, you need to position the chains so that they form a Y with the corners and create tension between their opposing corner. The chain we purchased was rated to hold significantly more weight than the cage and rabbit would weigh.

For large meat rabbits, chains alone will not reduce bounce enough. My rabbits found the remaining bounce disconcerting so we had to find a way to retro-fit the shed so as to support the rabbits and reduce bounce to zero. After discussing several ideas, we opted for purchasing garden wire fencing and more 2x4x8s and attaching sections of fencing running front to back and setting the cages on the fencing. We attached the cages to the fencing with zip ties.

Another item currently missing but will very likely have to be retrofitted is urine guards between cages. Bucks have a bad habit of spraying does and other bucks with urine as a way of establishing their claims. I guess the male hormones make for bad behavior in any species! Anyway, if you don't want your rabbits stained with each other's urine, you will want to place solid walls between bucks and between bucks and does. I have not explored the options for this need yet so I don't have recommendations.

The other consideration is what to do with the rabbit manure and urine. Having cages without trays like these are great for hygiene. Yes, I will need to clean the cages occasionally but I won't have trays of urine and poop to empty daily. The droppings fall to the ground below. The hay and bits of food also fall. So, what to do? Well, I've read lots of different solutions. I'm trying the worm bed option. You will see in the first two pictures some tires on the ground under the cages. I was going to have the worm beds in those. But, the smaller tires were hard to set where the poop was falling. They also just didn't look as neat as Son wanted it to look. Seems he wants the shed to look *good* since he built it! So, the tires were removed and we put a thick layer of spoiled straw and leaf mulch under there. We may eventually put 1x8 boards around the circumference of the shed to contain the pile. Son says that will make it look better, too. We'll be mail ordering some worms to add to the pile and hopefully will soon be having some great compost for the gardens!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Our First Rabbit Show

North Carolina RBA
My family and I had our first adventure into the world of rabbit shows today. I'd learned about a show in Wilson, NC and we decided to go and see rabbits. Mother has decided she wants her own rabbits to breed and wanted to see several options up close and personal to decide which one to start with. So, up early and off to Wilson with the intent to be there before they started the judging so we could experience the judging process.

I don't know about you, but sometimes the best laid plans just don't work out. This time was one of those. We stopped an hour from home to get breakfast only to find out that my wallet was not in my purse. Great! So, back home we go to get the wayward wallet. So much for getting there to watch the judging. C'est la vie. 

We arrived at the show almost two hours after it started. Truth be told, it wasn't as big as I'd imagined. This, I think, was actually a good thing. As it was, we were in awe and amazement going from one set of rabbits to another. I realized very quickly that pictures in books, magazines, and the internet do not give a true indication of the beauty of the colors nor their true size. English Lops are HUGE! WOW! (Note to self: they are about the same weight as Silver Foxes at full size. A 10 pound rabbit is Gi-normous!) 

The judging process seemed mysterious and not easy to watch as I was afraid of getting in the way of a breeder trying to show. Watching from a distance only gave me cursory information of how it's done. 

Mother ooh'd and ahh'd over so many rabbits but kept coming back to the Holland Lops and the American Fuzzy Lops. She is addicted to the floppy ears. Unfortunately, the Mini Lops was in very short supply there so it didn't get her attention. 

While some of the breeders were less than forthcoming with information, we met one, Donna of Luv Some Bunny Special, who was very friendly and willing to talk about her rabbits. She allowed Mother to hold a rabbit and showed me how to pick up and hold my rabbits so they feel more secure. Her rabbits were beautiful (several are Champions) and Mother was totally in love! The plan is to obtain a breeding pair of American Fuzzies from Donna when they are ready in June. And, a cool God-thing is that Donna is Pentecostal Holiness -- as are we! God has such a sense of humor and timing! Bring us 3 hours from home to a hall full of strangers and who do we meet but another PH Christian! 

Son found two breeds he thought were totally cool and possible options for him at some future date: Britannia Petites and Tans. The Petites are CUTENESS TIMES TEN. As pets, we're told they are greatly lacking. That's unfortunate. The Tans are very pretty. I think the Petites are cute but then I have always liked miniature things. 

I will continue to focus on my Silver Foxes. I had not planned on showing them but I might just find it interesting. It would be good to at least see how they stack up to their standard. It would help if I want to sell some as breeders. It might. I met a lady at the show who is a member of the Southern Pride Rabbit Club in South Carolina. She mentioned that she knows a few Silver Fox breeders who will be entering their rabbits in the Columbia show in May. She strongly encouraged me to enter mine in the show. I think as much as anything so that there would be something to compare the other breeders' rabbits to. I was excited to hear that there are other breeders of Silver Foxes in the Carolinas. I don't think I'll be able to show in May but I will be going so I can meet those other breeders and see their rabbits. The Columbia show is said to be much larger, too, so we'll get a taste of just how big these things can get. 

I foresee our rabbitry getting much larger than originally imagined! Son may stick with his poultry and helping us with the rabbits rather than getting into breeding rabbits himself. He hasn't decided. In that case, I'll go to poultry shows with him and he can attend rabbit shows with us. It will be a family venture, either way. Besides, the poultry will help keep the fly population down in the rabbitry. Yes, of course I had to come back around to permaculture ideas of systems working together. Even though Mother wants "pet" rabbits rather than meat rabbits, they still play a role in the homestead system by producing lots of lovely rabbit poop to fertilize the garden with.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trials Abound and Blessings Abound Even More!

Sunbathing Chicken Style

Ever go through a time when it seems like trouble piles on top of troubles until you cry "Uncle"!? The past few weeks have been like that here on the homestead. As I mentioned in my last blog, we had a trial over a used refrigerator purchase. So, bad refrigerator returned to the horrid people we purchased it from and deposit made on the glorious refrigerator God brought our way. Mother and Son returned from Florida with our new Silver Fox Rabbits in tow. So, into a house already topsy turvy from the whole refrigerator situation and young chicks ready to go outside, we now had their suitcases and treasures from Florida and rabbits who's cages had not yet arrived. Now our house was in major chaos and the stress level was registering on the seismogram at the nuclear plant in Southport.

I put out an SOS and was able to acquire a dog crate for temporary housing for the rabbits. The rabbits promptly proved to be bad roommates. The chicks were moved out to the tractor. The chicks promptly found escape routes from the tractor! We arranged for a friend to help us transport the refrigerator. The friend and Son were unable to move the refrigerator due to it's heaviness and plans were made to come back the next day with reinforcements. The tension increases.

The rabbit cages arrive and are put together and the rabbits moved into their new condos. They do not know how to drink from water bottles so I have to give them water in bowls until I can train them to the water bottle. The J feeders don't want to hang right so I have to get wire and fix them so they stay proper. 

All the while, the chickens continue to find escape routes from the tractor but fail to understand that the route goes both ways so they walk around and around the tractor trying to get back in! In a few weeks they will be too big to get out through their escape routes. We purchased a waterer that isn't a "hanging" waterer but Son fixes it so that it does hang. We also purchased a hanging feeder but then Son found an old dog kibble auto-feeder that he decided we could re-purpose. With some creativity and a few screws, Son did just that. That piece of recycling work saved us $10.

Now, back to the refrigerator -- Yes, we are dealing with all these issues at once. Juggling them like a juggler trying to juggle chainsaws. We had scheduled a time to go back with Friend, Son, and Re-enforcements but Re-enforcements didn't show. Friend didn't want to try again without Re-enforcements. Man we were purchasing from was giving us 30 minutes before our next opportunity would be five days hence. Son starts removing the doors and declaring that the refrigerator was coming home one way or another. I beg Friend to come try once more and call Pastor Son to come help. Son gets the doors off refrigerator (not an easy task let me tell you!) and Friend finds that without the doors, the refrigerator is much lighter and easy to move. Refrigerator gets transported at last! Son and Pastor Son reattach the doors and all seems to be settling down. Pastor and Family had come as well so we had a nice time showing them our rabbits and chickens and chatting for a spell.
Chicken waterer

You noticed I said "seems to be", right? Yeah, well, sweet Son is determined to connect the refrigerator to the water source so we would have water and ice. He is exhausted from a very long day of dealing with chickens and rabbits and stuff. But, nonetheless, Son proceeds to crawl under the house and gets the line run and all seems to be going fabulously at this point. But, the sink plumbing decides to spring a leak. Such is the way of old houses. We go to Home Depot to get a part. Still leaking. All that can be done is turn off the cold water to the sink and deal with it in the morning.

Re-purposed food dispenser
So, Palm Sunday and we are not in morning services because we are at Home Depot to get plumbing supplies. Back home and Son sets to work. It was not an easy fix but after several hours and multiple attempts, he finally is victorious over the plumbing. Praise God!

Waterer & Food Dispenser
Son is not my biological son, he is my spiritual son given to me by God. How I ever deserved such a blessing I don't know that I will ever understand. How his biological parents failed to see what they had in this son of theirs is totally beyond my comprehension. I recall so many times his father called him lazy and stupid and good for nothing. I can't reconcile that with what I see in this young man. What I see is a young man who knows so much about fixing things whether plumbing or electrical or carpentry. Not only does he have a gift to "see" how to fix something, but he works with such determination and pure joy of being able to say "I did it!" God has gifted him with wisdom and love and kindness and a smile that never ends...even when he is ready to drop in exhaustion, he still smiles and still presses on.