Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kits and Sandy

September 22nd and 23rd were breeding days for Country Mile and Jumpp. It was the long awaiting start to making the rabbitry productive. It was obvious that Hopp got the deed done with Country Mile (he gave the tell tale sign -- he fell over afterward). It was more questionable about Skipp and Jumpp. It is possible to palpate the doe about a week later to see if she is pregnant but I wasn't sure. Rabbits kindle (give birth) roughly 31 days after they are impregnated.

Country Miles first kindle. Five survivors the first day.
Country Mile kindled on Wednesday, October 24th. She did not kindle in the nestbox and had not pulled fur like she should have. I found 8 kits laying on the wire when I got home from work. Three were dead and covered with hay. As I uncovered the dead kits, Country Mile whined and whimpered. It was sad, really. Country Mile and I were both nervous and unsure of what to do. I put the other five kits in the nestbox covered with hay and went inside to send out an SOS for advise. An experienced breeder told me to warm up the dryer with a towel inside and then put the kits in the dryer to warm up. So, that is exactly what I did! Dryer warmed them until they were "popping" (rabbit breeder nomenclature for "active"). While they were warming up, I was told to pull fur from Country Mile to make a nest for them since she had not done so. Country Mile did not like being plucked! But, I managed to pluck enough to line the nest for the kits.

My friends the Esquillas of KD's Rabbitry in Myrtle Beach offered to foster the kits to one of their does that had kindled on the same day. The transfer wasn't able to take place until the next day. Two kits did not survive the night but we had three able to go to their foster mom. Report is that all three are doing well. Country Mile actually started pulling fur that day but still did not cover her babies with it. She was trying to figure things out but just wasn't doing so fast enough.

I was also advised to breed Country Mile right away as doing so will increase the size of her litter. Her second litter should be fine -- she will very likely figure out this mothering thing the second time. First, I want to give her some mint for a few days to dry up her milk and avoid mastitis. I also want to get us past Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy 2012
Ah, yes, Hurricane Sandy. She is a slow moving Cat 1 Hurricane meandering her way north up the east coast. Her eye won't pass us until sometime tomorrow morning but we are getting winds and rain already. Forecasts have her staying off shore until she reaches the Virginia/Maryland area or someplace north of there. We will only get lots of rain and wind and some coastal flooding. But, the big issue is for those folks up north. Sandy is expected to merge with another storm and a cold front and create a "perfect storm" that, unlike the one that happened in 1991, will come on land and create a nightmare for the northeast. We are praying that this scenario does not happen.

My hurricane preparations have consisted mostly of getting the animals covered. I pulled the big blue tarp over the rabbit shed and secured it so the rabbits are safe and dry. The chickens in their tractor are tucked into a corner of the house and covered to keep them dry and protected. The ducks are going to fend for themselves. Currently they are enjoying bug hunting in the rain. Lastly, I got some pee-pads for the dogs to use if/when it gets too rough outside for outdoor bladder relief. I'm glad that Sandy is giving me a chance to test out my arrangements and see where I need to reinforce, fortify, or reconsider situations.

Stay warm, dry, and safe everyone!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Muscovy Conspiracy

The PVC Chicken Tractor caved again under the weight of a heavy downpour. This time, it happened in the dark and just as I was approaching it to check out how it was handling the rain. I'm not a structural engineer so I'm not completely sure what is wrong but clearly, this design, even with a peak roof, is not going to work. Time to move to plan B which is still formulating in my head. I'll share it with you as I get it going.

Actually, I think I do have a theory about what is happening. It is a duck conspiracy. What do I base this on, you ask? Well, here is the evidence as I see it:

Where is Dinner?
The ducks have gotten right used to hangin' around the chicken tractor at movin' time. Why, you ask? Well, because chickens are messy birds and get their food everywhere. The ducks love to clean up the chicken feed. After (and often while) I move the chicken tractor, they would be there eager for the task of chicken clean-up, their tails just a waggin'. No, really, they wag their tails when they are excited. Get them really excited and they will do a lot of head bobbing and coo'ing and break dancin'. Seriously. Sometimes, they even do the moonwalk. I'm not kidding you. I think they are planning to try out for the Muscovies Got Talent TV Show.

Anyway, back to the duck conspiracy. When the chickens are in the big PVC tractor, there is no spillage for them to clean up. This is quite upsetting to them. Just the other night after the chickens were back in the big coop,it was tractor movin' time. The ducks followed me to the coop, eager for dinner. I move the chicken coop. The ducks line up at the edge of the coop staring at the ground waiting for manna to appear. To the ducks dismay, there was no chicken feed to clean up. The tails stopped waggin. They stood in shocked dismay. Just staring at the ground where their supper should have wonderously appeared. But. Didn't. Their reaction reminded me of an old song:

Did you hear what the drakes did?
Get out the way old Dan Tucker
You’re too late to git your supper
Supper’s gone and dinner cookin’

Old Dan Tucker’s just a-standin’ there lookin’.

Thus, my theory. It makes logical sense if you think about it. The ducks decided that the big coop was a serious infringement on their culinary enjoyments and something had to be done. So, in the dark of night, they fixed the problem.

Whether my theory is accurate or not, it is clearly time to write the PVC Tractor off as a bad design and move on. It is only a failure if we fail to learn from what doesn't work.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fresh Starts and Cleansing the Air

The last few months have been a testing of Mother's and my metal. Actually, the last two years have been but these past few have been the worst part of it. Sometimes God asks us to do what seems too hard for us to do. I have thought so many times that God was asking too much -- that He had more confidence in me than He should. For whatever reason, He has asked Mother and I to deal with wolves in sheep's clothing. He even asked us to allow one to live with us and to love him as a son/grandson. God knows the purpose for this season of time.

In the natural realm, the passing from one season to the other is often marked by dramatic storms. So it is in the Spiritual Realm. This past Friday had one such storm. The clouds were dark and menacing and left us shaking and uncertain. It shook us to our cores. But, with the dawn of Saturday, it was clear that the Spirit Realm had been cleansed and a fresh breeze was rustling the leaves on the trees. I even think the birds were singing happier. The heaviness had lifted not just from my heart but from the world around us.

Another symbolic gesture of the cleansing was repairing the PVC chicken tractor and getting the hens back into their bigger space. I'd been intending to repair it but it seemed like one thing after another prevented me from doing so. Mostly, I was spending all my energies trying to stay afloat and keep Mother afloat. If it hadn't been for our Pastor and church folk, I don't know how we would have kept going. The broken chicken tractor became a symbol of all that was going wrong in my life and my ability to fix it seemed as daunting as fixing what was going wrong with everything else.

Friday, in the aftermath of the storm that just about broke me, I was close to throwing in the towel on not just the coop but the homestead entirely. A heavy sense of "I just can't do this" pressed down on me. But, as the storm was passing, our Pastor prayed with us and prayed over our home. As he lead us in prayer, the battle that had been waging in the Spirit Realm for the past two years was broken, once for all.

So, on Saturday, Mother and I went to breakfast at Georges. It felt like old times. We were happy and relaxed. Then, we went to Home Depot and got a few supplies for fixing the tractor. Then, home to meet up with Tyler & Brittany Knight, my two intrepid helpers in the repair of the tractor. Helpers isn't quite the right term...I mostly gave verbal explanations and the rare suggestion and allowed Tyler to run the show and Brittany and I helped as and where needed. In very short order, it was finished. We rustled up some chickens (Brittany is quite the chicken rustler! hehehe) and moved them to their new home. Everyone was appreciating the refreshing breeze and clear skies.

Looking back, I see I never made a blog entry about the tractor. My apologies! Well, I wanted a larger tractor for the chickens so they'd have room to move around without walking on each other. I also wanted it where I could actually move around in it and reach all parts of the tractor for cleaning and chicken rustling purposes. Even though it was going to be bigger, it also needed to still be moveable -- I want to put the chickens to work in that field! So, after many design considerations, I decided to make a tractor from PVC. It is 10ft square because that is the length PVC comes in. It is 5ft tall at the roof line because that is half of a full pipe. KISS -- Keep It Simple Stupid. The original construction was performed by me and Terry on day one and me and Tyler on day two. Terry warned of two design flaws but I pressed on -- stubborn as usual. Tyler saw them, too, but was too much of a gentleman to say anything negative about my design. Construction went well and pretty easy -- like putting together a large erector set.

Oh, about those design flaws. Well one of them showed up the first time I went to move the tractor. I had not bothered to glue the joints because the joints seemed so snug that it didn't seem necessary. It is necessary. No matter how hard it is to pull a pipe out of the connector before it is all put together when you go to move the whole thing, pipes will pull out! It didn't come falling apart, just a joint came loose. But, I realized I was going to need glue. The bigger design flaw was the flat roof. It took a little while longer for this flaw to reach it's final conclusion -- until the first good rain. Yep, the roof collapsed! I came home to find the hens unharmed but as mad as...well, wet hens. Only a few connectors broke in the making of this tragedy and the "fix" wasn't a major deal. I knew that what was needed was a raised crossbar that would hold the tarp at a peak. But, I was immobilized. That tractor sat there symbolizing all that was crushing down on me. Now, it stands rebuilt -- better, stronger, faster -- well, not faster but I had to finish the quote from the Six Million Dollar Man. Don't remember that show? Watch TV Land. I'm sure it is on there.

Was this tractor cheaper than one built out of wood? No. But, it was something a person with no carpentry skills can build and it is large without being impossible to move for one or two people. The hens love the extra space. The openness will keep the chickens healthier and more robust (tightly enclosed coops can weaken their lungs from ammonia fumes). Be sure to use Schedule 40 PVC as this is the one that can handle sunlight.

For his help in repairing the tractor, Tyler is now the proud new owner of my Hennessee Camping Hammock. I hope you enjoy it on many outings, Tyler. Too bad Pastor won't let you put it up in your room! hehehe.

Now, to make a To-Do List for myself to get myself moving in the right direction on this homestead!

A thunderstorm is approaching. Perhaps tonight we get to test out the new design. I'll let you know how it fairs!