Showing posts with label Rabbits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rabbits. Show all posts

Dec 5, 2018

23 Fun & Practcal Ways to Upcycle Feed Bags

How to Reuse Feed Sacks
If you have any pets or farm animals, you've probably thrown away a ton of feed bags. Each time you've done this, maybe you've wondered: Is there something better I could do with this?

Well in fact, there is! Feed sacks are made from wonderfully durable material and with just a little imagination, you can turn them into all kinds of useful and fun things. Here are some ideas:

1. Nail feed bags to the walls of your chicken coop (or garden shed, or stall, etc.) to help give added warmth during the winter.

2. Use a sack as a container for muddy/sandy clothes or shoes.

3. Cut open a bag or two and lay them flat in a car trunk, to help keep the floor clean.

4. Sew a bag or two into a tote bag perfect for groceries. Or a messenger bag.

5. Sew a feed bag into an apron.

6. Use feed sacks as a grow bag. This might work for potatoes and tomatoes, as I often see online, but I think they'd be even better for herbs, greens, radishes, carrots, and similar crops.

7. Use empty bags in place of landscape fabric, between garden rows. Pull them up every year, however, or you'll end up with bits and pieces of plastic all over your yard.






Outdoor cushions, via ThriftyFun.
8. Use bags as garden totes for hauling weeds, cuttings, compost, etc.

9. Use empty sacks to store manure you'll later use in the garden.


10. Use feed bags as trash bags.

11. Place donated clothes and household items inside empty bags (instead of wasting garbage bags).

12. Cut bags open and use as shelf liners in the garden shed or garage.

13. Cut sacks open and let your kids use them as sleds.

14. Turn old feed sacks into farmhouse decor Christmas stockings.

15. Sew feed bags into outdoor cushions. Talk about low maintenance!

16. Turn empty bags into a tarp.
Feed bag apron, via Scoop from the Coop.

17. Sew sacks into a tablecloth. This would be perfect for garden stands, the farmer's market, a picnic, or even just as a table covering for kids to do messy crafts upon.

18. Sew a sack into a zippered pouch. Really, you could use almost any purse, pouch, or bag pattern.

19. Turn an empty feed bag into a bib.

20. Make easy wall decor.

21. Turn a feed sack into a clothespin bag.

22. Make a pillow. This would be cute for the porch!

23. Sew some feed bags up into a dress?!
Feed sack grow bag, via Linn Acres Farm.



Aug 15, 2018

Why Rabbit Manure is the Best Fertilizer Ever

Using Bunny Manure in the Garden
Though we are considering adding meat rabbits to our homestead, our two Polish rabbits are strictly pets. Even so, they are a huge boon to our homestead for one simple reason: They poop. A lot. And their manure is gold for the garden.

When my daughter got her first pet rabbit, I didn't know this. I only knew that rabbit manure didn't have to be composted before use (unlike horse, steer, and chicken manure). That meant I could take the manure from the rabbit enclosure and put it directly into the garden without fear of damaging or killing plants. My garden loved it - and it was so easy!

This year is the first time I've turned our rabbit manure into "tea" - that is, liquid fertilizer. The process is exceedingly simple (learn how here), and by turning the manure into a liquid, the nutrients hit the plants much faster. I am not exaggerating when I say that within an hour of application, I've noticed plants fertilized with rabbit manure tea have noticeably grown.

This lead me to wonder why rabbit manure is so very effective in the garden. What makes it different from other animal manures?

NPK Rating for Rabbit Manure

As you may know, commercial fertilizers all contain an NPK rating. N stands for nitrogen, P stands for phosphorus, and K stands for potassium.

Nitrogen is used by plants to make leaves and green growth. That means it's essential for growing leafy greens, and helps crops like tomatoes get off to a good, strong start.

Phosphorus helps transform energy from the sun into chemical energy the plant uses to grow. In addition, phosphorus helps plants become stronger and more able to handle stresses like too little water or too much sun, plus it helps the plant grow roots and produce flowers and fruit.

Potassium aids in the prevention of disease and helps produce better-tasting fruit by controlling water content, protein, and sugars.

Aged horse manure, which is widely considered the gold standard for garden fertilizer, has an NPK rating of .70-.30-.60. Steer, another popular manure for gardens, is .70-.30-.40. Sheep manure is .70-.30-.60 and chicken is 1.1-.80-.50.

Rabbit manure is 2.4-1.4-.60...the best of them all. No wonder I see such a noticeable difference when I fertilize with rabbit manure!


How to Collect Rabbit Manure

If your rabbits are in any type of hutch or cage, they should have a manure tray beneath them. Alternatively, some homesteaders allow manure to fall directly into bins beneath their rabbits' cages. It's fine if the manure has a wee bit of hay in it.

My daughter regularly empties the rabbit manure trays into a large plastic tub. We keep the tub in a sheltered location because weather (especially rain) leeches nutrients from the manure. When I want to fertilize the garden, I scoop up whatever I need, as I need it.

If you don't own any rabbits, check local Facebook and Craigslist ads. Often, local rabbit owners sell or give away their bunny manure. And if you don't see any listings, don't despair; put up an "in search of" ad.







How to Apply Rabbit Manure

When installing a new plant, I always add a scoop or two of rabbit manure to the hole. You may also sprinkle manure around plants and gently dig it in, then water. I've also sprinkled bunny manure onto the surface of the soil and watered it in as a top dressing, though this is the least effective technique.

Rabbit manure tea may be applied once a week. Whole manure that's placed in a hole, dug around plants, or used as a top dressing may be applied about once or twice a month.

In addition, rabbit manure can go into your compost bin, to help make super-compost, along with kitchen scraps and garden debris. (Learn more about composting here.)



Mar 20, 2018

False Pregnancy in Homestead Animals

pseudopregnancy in mammals
Remember when I told you we thought my daughter's pet rabbit (practice for meat rabbits here on the homestead) was pregnant? We mated the doe, and she immediately started showing signs of pregnancy, including moodiness (which is not like her), beating up the buck she usually adores, making a nest, and pulling fur to line her nest. All normal stuff for a rabbit about to give birth. Well...her proper gestation period is far and away over and we still don't have kits. Our rabbit had a false pregnancy.

What is a False Pregnancy?

A false pregnancy is when a mammal takes on traits of being pregnant, but has not actually conceived. (The most famous case of probable false pregnancy in a human was Mary I, Queen of England.)

Scientists really don't understand why false pregnancies (also called a phantom pregnancies, hysterical pregnancies, or - more correctly - pseudocyesis in humans and pseudopregnancy in other mammals) happen, but they speculate it might be all about the mind: The mammal thinks she is pregnant, and that belief changes her hormones, making her body show signs of pregnancy.

Common symptoms of pseudopregnancy may include:

* Enlarged abdomen
* Development of the mammary glands
* Milk production
* Moodiness
* Maternal behavior (like creating a place to give birth and care for babies)

False pregnancy can occur in any mammal pet or homestead/farm animal. Actual mating is not necessary for a false pregnancy to occur. (Dogs sometimes fall into false pregnancy right after being spayed.)





Identifying a False Pregnancy

It's difficult to identify false pregnancies, since you cannot judge by outward behavior or physical appearance. Because the animal's hormones are altered, blood tests may come back positive when experiencing a pseudopregnancy. Patience, or an ultrasound, are the only sure ways to determine if a pregnancy is real.

(Adding to the confusion is the fact that rabbits can reabsorb their kits if they are undernourished or diseased. Not likely in most homesteading situations...certainly not ours!)

How to End a False Pregnancy

If you have, say, a goat that appears pregnant but is not, you could waste months waiting for kids that never appear. While this may not be a big deal on a farm of larger scale, it can really hurt the small-scale homesteader. So is there a way to end a false pregnancy once it's begun?

Unfortunately, mammals are not like broody hens that you can help "snap out of motherhood" by enforcing a "cooling off period." (Learn how to do that here.) The Merrick Veterinary Manual says sometimes tranquilizers are effective in treating a false pregnancy, or perhaps a dose of progesterone. But in almost all cases, time is considered the best medicine. Put on your patience cap! In many cases, the animal cannot be effectively bred until she is over her pseudopregnancy.

The Merrick Manual on Pseudopregnancy: 

* Overview of Pseudopregnancy in Goats 
* False Pregnancy in Small Animals
* Reproductive Disorders of Female Dogs
* Reproductive Disorders of Female Cats

Click over to MediRabbit for more information about false pregnancies in rabbits.

Cover image courtesy of Sean.



Oct 4, 2017

Introducing...Pickles!

Pickles, wearing her leash.
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We have a new critter on the homestead: Pickles, a Polish rabbit doe.

Let me be clear that Pickles is a pet. My daughter's, really. But we are hoping Pickles will lead us up to rabbit as livestock. Here's how.

My daughter adores her buck, Buddy. He's really an excellent pet, and our daughter has long had aspirations to breed him and sell the offspring as pets. Not only do we love her entrepreneurial spirit, we love encouraging our girl to work with animals. (Actually, I feel she has a special way when it comes to critters. Give her an animal that's ornery with everybody, and she'll soon have it well behaved...at least around her. Buddy himself had a rough start on our homestead, back in July of 2016. He bit me repeatedly, several times drawing quite a lot of blood. He bit my husband, too. But he would never dream of biting our daughter.)

Buddy in one of the rabbit hutches.
Our girl saved her birthday money to buy the cages and equipment to house a doe and kits, and we finally found a doe we thought she could breed with Buddy. (Bonus points if you get the reference to Buddy and his wife Pickles!) She's already something of an expert caring for rabbits. Now we want her to become an expert at breeding them. And then, when we can afford the housing for them, we hope to add meat rabbits to the homestead.

(Please don't worry about Buddy and Pickles safety. Polish rabbits are really tiny - 3.5 lbs, tops. They would not be worth butchering! Besides, pets are pets, not livestock.)

Buddy and Pickles haven't met yet. We're first letting Pickles get acclimated to her new surroundings and new caregiver. It should be pretty amusing to see Buddy's reaction to his "wife." I will keep you updated.





By the way, if you're interested in having a rabbit as a pet, we highly recommend the Polish breed. Not only are they small and therefore easy to hold and carry, but they tend to be more laid back than some breeds. Their small size also means they can easily live in smaller cages (though it's always good to let them have access to the outside; we use a ferret leash for this purpose, which you can see in the photo of Pickles at the top of this post.) Plus, their oddly proportioned bodies are just plain cute!

Related Post: An Introduction to Raising Rabbits for Meat


Jun 24, 2013

An Introduction to Raising Rabbits for Meat

Some backyard homesteaders have declared rabbits are the new chickens. It is true that as more people attempt to grow more of their own food in a suburban setting, rabbits make a lot more sense than cows, pigs, or goats. But I don't think it's an either/or option. People who would never raise chickens might want to raise rabbits (and vice versa). And many people will want to raise both. If raising rabbits for meat interests you, here are the basics on getting started - plus cost breakdowns.

Chickens vs. Rabbits

Chickens 

 *Provide continuous food (eggs) for at least 2 or 3 years
* Provide fertilizer (manure- though it must be ages 6 months to a year before being used in the garden)
* Provide meat
* Provide bones for making stock
* Offer weed and bug control

Rabbits

* Provide fertilizer that doesn't need aging before it goes into the garden
* Regularly provides lots of delicious meat. (A single doe can produce 1000% of per body weight in meat per year; a 10lb doe can produce 320lbs of meat in one year.)
* Provides fur pelts
* Don't make noise
* Take up less room than chickens


I should also note that many people who have backyard hens have no intention of butchering their birds. They either treat their chickens as pets, spending quite a lot of money to feed them through their old age, or they give them away to someone else, blindly hoping they won't butcher the birds. Clearly, if you are squeamish about butchering chickens, you aren't going to want to have homestead rabbits, either.

New Zealand rabbits.
How Many Rabbits and What Type?

How many rabbits you need depends upon how much rabbit meat you expect to consume. The meat is akin to chicken, and extremely lean. (So lean, in fact, you won't want to eat it exclusively without other fatty foods, or you'll become very ill.) But the general advice for average sized families is to begin with one male rabbit (buck) and two female (does). Each doe will have 8 - 12 babies at a time and may be bred repeatedly throughout the year - as soon as 2 weeks after giving birth, as long as she is physically doing well. (You don't have to wait for does to come into heat. Bucks are always ready to mate and does become fertile through sexual contact.)

There are three types of rabbits best suited to raising for meat: New Zealand, Californian, Champagne D’Argent. (American is another good meat breed, but also very rare.) Other rabbit breeds don't produce as fine - or as much - meat.

Note that you will probably spend more money buying a pedigreed rabbit - one with papers proving its heritage. But I've found that rabbits without papers are only $10 - $15 cheaper; this may not be a great trade-off if the seller is being dishonest about the rabbit's heritage. Do be sure the rabbits you purchase are not closely related. It is fine, however, to make each rabbit in your trio a different breed. (Although, if you decide to sell some of the baby rabbits you raise, you will probably want to have the mother and father be the same breed.)

Once you have your breeding trio of rabbits, expect them to be productive for up to 4 years. After that, you can give or sell them as pets, or dispatch them and expect them to be a bit tough. You can keep at least one of your baby rabbits to turn into a new breeder, but he or she shouldn't be bred with brothers or sisters.

Cost: About $10 - 25 per rabbit with papers (or $30 - 75 total for three rabbits)


Housing
Hutch


Rabbits can be kept in cages, hutches, or runs. I personally don't think it's kind to keep them in cage for any length of time; here's why: Rabbits are designed to tuck themselves away in a hole whenever they are frightened, having babies (kits), or just want alone time. Cages don't allow for this at all, and can make rabbits feel stress that can affect their health.

Hutches are best - especially for breeding females (does), because they offer the girls a cosy, partially hidden place to raise babies. Each rabbit should have his or her own hutch.

Runs are not infrequently used for bringing weaned babies (5 -7 weeks)  to butchering age (10 -12 weeks). And there are some backyard rabbit breeders who believe strongly that raising rabbits together, in a colony, is a great way to go: The meat is better conditioned, they say, they eat more natural food, and it's just plain easier. The downside is that there may be some fighting (does can be very territorial; they want their own space...which is why does should always be brought to the buck's hutch for breeding - not the other way around) and you cannot control breeding.

Hutches may be purchased new, but this is a pretty costly option. If you're at all handy, you can probably build a hutch, but unless the materials are scrap, this may also cost a tidy sum. Instead, I suggest searching your local Craigslist every day for used rabbit hutches. Look for ones that have a nesting area (or an easy way to install a nest) and a wire bottom. Wooden bottoms make cleaning up far more difficult and mean your rabbits will sit in their toilet. A wire bottom means virtually no cleanup - and makes the collection of valuable fertilizer much easier.

If you look on Pinterest, you can also find many nifty ideas for turning old dressers and such into quite usable rabbit hutches.

Run
Rabbit runs can be just like chicken run - basically a triangle- or rectangle-shaped wooden frame with wire walls. One end should have some sort of roof so the rabbits can get out of the sun and have some protection from the weather. You should also consider just how predator-proof the run is. Even if you live in the suburbs, it's likely racoons, possums, dogs, cats, and perhaps other predators will try to get at your rabbits; make sure they can't.

Cost: Hutches vary from $150 and up new to $10 and up for used. Runs are hard to find new or used, in my experience, but can sometimes chicken runs can be had for $25 -150 used. If building with recycled wood, expect to pay $10-25 for plans and perhaps another $30-50 in appropriate wire, plus $30 and up for hardware.

Food and Water
Bottle waterer


Modern rabbits have been bred to thrive on pellets, not greens. So expect to have to buy at least some pellets and a pellet feeder. That said, a nmber of backyard rabbit breeders have found rabbits can eat more natural foods than many experts suggest. (Indeed, in my neighborhood, there are some domestic rabbits that have either escaped their hutches or were released into the wild. They survive, and thrive, without pellets of any kind.)

Some backyard rabbit owners begin by giving pregnant does more greens - primarily grass, clover, and dandelions - just a little, so their digestive systems don't go bonkers. When their babies (kits) are born, they get both pellets and greens, gradually giving more greens until the kits are weaned from their mothers and go into a run where they are fed no pellets, but mostly graze on grass, clover, and dandelions - and may be given small amounts of other garden greens.

Rabbits are pretty sensitive to heat and cold, and when they become dehydrated, may stop eating altogether. So it's vital to have lots of fresh water available to them. A bottle waterer keeps the water clean, but if you live where the water will freeze in winter, a cup style waterer that attach to the wall of the hutch will make breaking the ice much easier.

Cost of waterer and feeder: $15-25 for both
Feed: $10 - 18 per bag; expect adult rabbits to eat about 1/2 to 1 cup a day; pregnant or nursing does need more and kits should freely feed. Naturally, feeding costs will be lower if you supplement with greens from your yard.

Bedding

All rabbits benefit from having access to hay to nibble on; usually this is offered as bedding at the bottom of the hutch, but it might also be placed in special hay feeders.

Cost: $5 - 8 a bale. One bale will last about 5 months for 3 rabbits.

Is Rabbit Meat Frugal?

Assuming you don't go out and buy expensive hutches and all kinds of gadgets you don't need, backyard raised rabbits are a good deal, costing around $2.20 - $2.60 a pound - much less than most grocery stores sell rabbit meat for. Depending upon your local hunting licenses and fees, they may even be cheaper than eating wild rabbits - plus they won't have gamey flavor, either.

Here's what The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals says on the subject:

"The average feed conversion ratio for a rabbit is about 4, meaning it gains 1pound of weight for every 4 pounds of feed it eats - assuming, of course, the rabbits eat everything they are fed and don't scratch it out of the hopper onto the ground. Assuming you start with a pair of 4 month old breeders, by the time you have your first litter of fryers they will have eaten a total of about 130 pounds of rabbit pellets...

By the time a rabbit fryer reaches the live weight of 4 pounds it will have eaten at least 16 pounds of pellets. At 50 percent of live weight, a 4 pound rabbit dresses out to approximately 2 pounds. Your break-even cost can be calculated by comparing the purchase price of a rabbit with the cost of rabbit pellets. At current [2011] rates, a whole fryer sells for approximately $6 per pound, or about $12 for a 2 pounder. The current rate for one brand of all-natural rabbit pellets is about 25 cents per pound, or about $4 for 16 pounds, which is one-third the value of the meat. Even if you pay 50 to 100 percent more to purchase certified organic feed, it's still a good deal.

Let's see what happens when we factor in the cost of feeding the breeder buck and doe. By the time the pair is 2 years old they should have produced seven litters averaging eight kits per litter, or 48 fryers weighing about 4 pounds each live or 2 pounds dressed, for a total of 96 pounds of rabbit. At a purchase price of $6 per pound, that comes to a total market value of $576. By that time, you would have fed the 48 fryers plus two breeders approximately 840 pounds of rabbit pellets at a cost of $210. Your total cost of producing 96 pounds of rabbit meat is a little less than one-third its market value., and your cost per pound is about $2.20."


Further Reading:
Backyard Meat Rabbits (The Urban Rabbit Project)
The Urban Rabbit Project website

A - Z Rabbits website
"Naturally Feeding Rabbits"
"Raising Rabbits in Colonies"
Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits, 4th Edition
Raising Meat Rabbits (free download)