Listeria sucks! A bad word for a bad disease.

Listeria has claimed the lives of more than half my rabbits. A nasty disease, it can kill within 48 hours of the first symptoms. The cure is massively massive doses of antibiotics, and only works in a fraction of infected animals.

It works so quickly that in the first two rabbits to succumb to it, I never even saw the early symptoms. The first I noticed, the first rabbit was sitting hunched as if in pain, with her heads pressed against the corner of her cages. When I picked her up, I noticed she was extremely skinny despite having eaten her food regularly. Within an hour of being seen like this, she was dead. I had no idea what caused it, and skimming my medical information for rabbits didn’t yield anything that seemed like it. So I thought perhaps the tapeworms that I’d been dealing with had something to do with it. Or the cold snap we were in. Or maybe she’d dumped all her food instead of eating it, and the wild birds had cleaned up the evidence. I really didn’t know.

The second rabbit succumbed about a week later. Again this one was hunched in pain with his head in the corner of his cage, and again he was extremely skinny despite leaving no food in his bowl. He was dead by morning. This time I went online and posted what symptoms I knew on a rabbit-savvy internet bulletin board, and someone suggested I check out listeriosis. The symptoms fit to a T.

I started putting my hands on each rabbit every day, and paying extreme attention to each one’s behavior and possible symptoms. I found two more with looks and behaviors that matched listeriosis’ early symptoms. One of the rabbits with the early symptoms died 48 hours later. The other had developed more pronounced symptoms.

I knew this could seriously impact my herd. Listeria in rabbits is originally contracted from food that spoils in certain ways. It can also be passed from animal to animal with a fecal-oral contamination. (That means one rabbit gets another rabbit’s feces in her mouth.) So I made changes to reduce or eliminate the chances of transmission via that fecal-oral route. I also took stock of where their feed was coming from, and made changes in where I got their green feed.

Two other rabbits caged nearby developed early symptoms anyway.

So today I bit the bullet and culled most of my rabbits. All the rabbits that were symptomatic were from the same bloodline, so that bloodline is now gone. It comprised well over half of my rabbits. I am left with three Angora rabbits that don’t produce offspring. One proven American Chinchilla doe. And two Silver Fox does that are new to my herd. (Notice I don’t have a buck in this herd? He was the second one to pass. Grrrrr.)

So, Listeria sucks. I’m still not sure how it’s getting transmitted. Perhaps the squirrels that run between the cages? I don’t know. I just know that my herd is down to three breeders. And no buck. I have no guarantee I stopped the progress of the disease, either.

Remember this post? Sometimes things happen that take the decision away from you.


Algebra in farming

I was never good at math.  The times tables baffle me. I know it’s just straight memorization, but all those repetitive numbers just get jumbled in my head. I can usually do one or two problems, but give me one of those speed tests where you have to solve 100 problems in a set amount of time, and all the problems start looking the same to me and I have to start *counting* to keep things straight. Which means I fail all of those because one just can not count quickly enough to pass them.

But I had a marvelous math teacher in 7th grade. Wonderful. Mr. Bordelmay. He taught me in remedial math. Those same stupid speed worksheets, over and over. But what he noticed was that while I was failing the speed tests, I was always aceing the extra credit questions – and they were complicated word problems requiring logic to solve. He went to bat for me and got me moved from 7th grade remedial math to 8th grade algebra, skipping pre-algebra entirely. Like he once told me, as soon as I was permitted to use a calculator in my math, I did just fine!

So why is today’s math problem stumping me? I must be over-thinking it.

I need to worm my rabbits. I have seen evidence of worms in their droppings. The information I can find on line told me I wanted Panacur for rabbits, at a concentration of 18.75%, administered at one click per 2.5 kg of rabbit weight.

OK, that’s not bad, except I can’t find Panacur at that strength anywhere local, and I’m not paying for shipping from England. I can, however, find Panacur at a concentration of 10%.

So the math problem should be easy. What measurement of Panacur 10% do I need to use to replace one click of Panacur 18.75%?

Except then I need to know what a click is. The instructions don’t say. There is a photo of the syringe in question, it looks like there are 16 indentations on the handle of the syringe. So, it’s reasonable to think that each indentation would cause a “click” sound when you hit it while depressing the syringe. So the next step gives me the number of grams in the syringe tube (5 g) divided by the number of clicks (16). That’s .3125 g (313 mg) of Panacur 18.75% per click.

OK, I could do the math now. What measurement of Panacur 10% do I need to use to replace 313 mg of Panacur 18.75%?

The answer is 599 mg of Panacur 10%! Woo-hoo!

Now, that’s 599 mg of Panacur 10% per 2.5 kg of rabbit. And I only know what mine weigh in pounds. *Sigh* More math.

And even after I know the dose per rabbit, I need to be able to *measure* that amount. I need a scale that measures milligrams, which I don’t have. Or I need to know how to convert the milligrams into millilitres so I can measure it into a syringe.  That requires knowing more things than I know. And it requires even more math.

At this point I should have just ordered the stuff from England. It would have arrived before I could figure out the math for the dosage of the stuff I bought locally!


The troubles with winter

Brrrr! It’s cold here today! There is a storm warning, and the sheen of white on the ground isn’t frost, it’s ice! Of course, it’s winter and all to be expected.

But winter brings more trouble to a farm than just a low thermometer.

Bedding for animals becomes necessary. Rabbits live on wire floors which become ice cold when the temperature drops. So hutches get a layer of straw for bedding to give the animals somewhere to stand that doesn’t suck the heat out of their bodies.   Of course, that adds to the chore list because the rabbits tend to soil it. And wet bedding doesn’t help them stay warm at all. So it must be removed and replaced on a regular basis.

Freezing temperatures freeze hoses. So the setup that works so well in summer – running long hose lines out to the animals – doesn’t work most days of the winter. The hose freezes solid and doesn’t defrost until at least two days of above-40 temperatures. So water must be toted out to the animals in gallon (or larger) containers. Now, there IS an easy way to fill a five-gallon bucket when the hose doesn’t work. But it’s still harder work than just using a hose.

Use a dustpan to fill a large bucket. Image courtesy of

Use a dustpan to fill a large bucket. Image courtesy of

And not just hoses freeze in winter – water in bowls freezes too! Leaving animals with nothing to drink. In summer one bowl of water per day is enough, but some days in winter are cold enough that the water freezes before the animal can drink enough to sustain it for the day. So water must be toted more often the colder it gets. And don’t fall into the trap of trying to use hot water to make it stay wet longer. Did you know hot water freezes faster than just moderately warm water? It’s true!

I even had eggs freeze once! In the shells, in the chicken coop. There is so much water in the egg white and yolk that freezing forces the shell to crack, making it unsafe to use the egg even after it thaws. When I get those, they get fed back to the chickens.

Then there are the cold-weather diseases. Cold weather reduces the body’s ability to fight disease, even in animals. So just like humans have cold and flu season in the winter, animals are often more susceptible to illness in the winter as well. I had a rabbit die just yesterday that was apparently healthy the day before. The main culprits in winter are the sheer cold, dehydration, or bacteria/viruses.  You can give your rabbits warm places to go, but you can’t make them stay there. You can give them water repeatedly, but you can not force them to drink. And you can maintain a closed herd, but you can not give 100% protection against bacteria and viruses. Animals are often just more susceptible to dying in cold weather than warm.

Shorter days make chickens stop laying. Their egg-laying cycle is affected by the length of the day. You can put lights in the chicken coop, but that has a fire risk attached to it. And then there is the thought that while you *can* make a chicken lay year-round, does that have an effect on how many years they can continue to lay? I’m not sure of that, but figure that nature is often correct when it wants to take breaks, so I do not light my chicken coop. And instead of four eggs per day, I get five per week in the winter. Oh well. They’ll lay more often when the longer days return.

Wintertime also interferes with breeding. Rabbits even slow down in winter! (Not that they “breed like rabbits” any other time – or at least any time you *want* them to breed.) Whether it is from instinctually knowing that kits have a lower chance of surviving in the cold temperatures, or from the fewer hours of sunlight making them lose interest in doing anything but eating and drinking in those few hours of sunlight, the result is many fewer litters born in the winter.

Winter even freezes compost piles! At least it can if they’re not built large enough or if they’re not working hot enough. Don’t try plunging your turning fork deep into a pile of compost, with your body weight behind it, without first testing to see if the pile is frozen. From experience, suddenly hitting a layer of ice when you expected the fork to keep moving can be painful! A few pots of boiling water poured on the pile is often enough to defrost the ice and get the pile working again.

There is no snow here (or rather, very little) so at least I don’t have to dig my way out to the animals before I can care for them. I had to do that in Colorado, and it adds an extra level of aggravation and danger to everything. Shoveling, not slipping, getting doors open in spite of layers of snow and ice – blech!

So – carry bedding, carry water,  collect eggs more often, check for disease, track water consumption to spot problems approaching, carefully monitor breeding instead of assuming they completed it, watch your footing, and tote pans of boiling water around without slopping it on the pathway … winter is full of chores one doesn’t have to do in the summer.

Nothing alters the rate at which the days become longer, but it’s always a pleasure when the warmer weather returns, even if it’s sporadically at first!


Even best laid plans must have room to change

The dream was to raise Angora rabbits, pluck their wool, spin it into yarn, and sell it. And rake in the money. After all, Angora fur sells for $6 – $8 per ounce! I stumbled across a purebred French Angora doe for $30. She quickly produced an equally purebred litter of eight kits. I fought to keep the kits alive, fostering them out to a nearby breeder of Mini Lop rabbits. I had a lot invested in those Angoras, especially emotionally. But they should have been able to easily pay for their keep, and so they fit in our carefully crafted homestead plan.

But then that plan hit reality. And this week I butchered three more of my Angoras, leaving me with only three of my original eight.

It was the right thing to do. Really, I know this. But letting go of plans is always difficult, isn’t it?

But I was out of cage space, and had to make some decisions. I had to choose between keeping my Angoras, or keeping the does from my recent meat rabbit litter. The Angoras are small, they’re not show quality, their fur is half the length I needed it to be to bring a good price, and they are apparantly sterile (no live kits in a 16 month time frame). And the meat rabbits are large, beautiful, bricks of muscle from wonderful genetics known for large litters and a mom that successfully raised them all.

So I decided that it no longer mattered how well I had laid my plans for the Angoras. The plans were really dreams, and the actual animals I had did not work to change that dream to reality.

Without another source for inexpensive French Angora rabbits, the rabbit plan itself must change so that we could continue to work on the homestead plan. The homestead plan does not allow freeloading livestock!

And so we had rabbit for dinner. And lunch. And dinner. With more in the refrigerator.  It does take a while for two people to eat three rabbits. But at least they’re finally producing something, even if it is just a reduction in the grocery budget. 🙂

And the meat rabbit kits look great in the rabbit hutches. Best laid plans – take two!


A day in my life

A friend of mine recently said that reading my blog makes her tired because of all the things I do. So today, I think I’ll give her a good reason to go to bed early! Here is what today is like in my life…

When I got up this morning, my dear husband had already fed the pets – the dog and three cats that live indoors with us. Supremely sweet of him, and it left only the outdoor livestock for me to handle. So I dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, slipped on my grubby chore shoes, and went outside. Filled up the feed container for the chickens, and turned on the hose.

First up was to open up the chicken coop for the day, so the chickens can use their run. I enter the run and immediately see something weird. I don’t know what *it* is, but *it* is near the far side of the run, so I go look. Great (with sarcasm), it’s the opossum. Haven’t seen him in a couple months. He’s small, I don’t think he’s a danger to my chickens when they’re awake, and he’s locked out of their coop at night. But he’s playing dead, and I’m not going to let my chickens loose on purpose when he’s around, so I leave the chicken run to handle the rabbits instead, hoping that’s far enough away that he’ll get up and leave while I’m gone.

I check on all the rabbits, and everyone is fine. So I fill up water dishes, remove spider webs, and water the grass around the hutches. I don’t mind spiders near the rabbits, but I do object to the dry and hollow flies and other pests they drop around when they’re finished with them – just don’t think having hundreds of those in the hutches is a good idea. So the spiders need to make their webs elsewhere. I water the grass around the hutches because green grass keeps the area cool, and dry baked ground does not. I finish all that and go back to the chicken run.

Opossum on pitchfork

The opossum, laying on the pitchfork.
Is it dead, or just “playing possum”?

The opossum is still laying there. OK, according to Wikipedia, if it is “playing possum” the eyes will be closed at least partially – but they’re not. It also says that if it is “playing possum” it will be drooling/foaming at the mouth – but it isn’t. No smell either, and they usually excrete a smell when playing possum that makes a would-be predator think they’re already in the process of decaying. Hmmm. I think it’s an ACTUALLY dead opossum! So I use a pitchfork to pick it up (it’s stiff, but that is no indication of truly dead vs playing possum) and take it to the compost heap. Threw some compost over top of it to keep any smell away from the neighborhood stray cats. If it’s dead, it’ll stay there. If it’s not there tonight then I was taken in by a REALLY good player of “playing possum”!

Back to the chickens. Open up their coop, throw their food around the ground of the run to encourage scratching and pecking behaviors. Check coop for eggs (none). Clean out and fill their water bowl. Seriously, can my chickens EVER avoid pooping in their water bowl? I’m guessing not because mine always have done that.

Water the garden. See that there are a lot of blackberries ripe today, so I go get a container from the kitchen, turning off the water along the way, and bringing the feed containers back into the garage. (Slipping out of and then back into my chore shoes since those do not ever get worn past the back hall.) Pick the blackberries, and go back inside.

Whew! Morning chores complete, I now get breakfast. It’s blackberries and peanuts in the shell, while drinking water (and a Coke) on the couch, while seeing if there is anything I need to know posted on the various websites I visit.

Shirt, soon to become an apron

This is the shirt that will soon become an apron

Then I decide it’s time to work on an apron I’m making. I bought a super-cheap top at Goodwill that I think will make a really cute apron. It has a loose bodice and two inches of smocking at the top, just straps for sleeves, so it shouldn’t take long. I get the whole thing taken apart and then realize I don’t know where my sewing box is. I haven’t seen it in a while and it isn’t where it is SUPPOSED to be. So I can’t sew the ties onto the back and finish it. Grrrrr. Hubby is studying so I can’t interrupt him to ask if he knows where the sewing box is, so it’ll just have to wait until tonight to be finished.

I baked a cake for a neighbor (on an earlier day) and it’s now time to ice it.  It’s a lemon cake, so vanilla icing should work. I read an article a while ago that said most store-bought icings can be whipped with a mixer to add volume to them, making them easier to spread and reducing the calories in each piece (because the icing will now do two cakes instead of just one). I’m not going to lug out my machine mixer for such a small project, so I try the hand mixer I use for things like pancake mix. No go, the icing is too thick. So I put it in the microwave to warm it up a little, hoping that will help. Well, it’s runnier, but now won’t hold the air I’m whipping into it. Experiment FAIL. So I let the icing cool back into it’s original state while I cut a cardboard box into a flat, thick sheet and cover it with aluminum foil. (I am giving the cake to a neighbor, but don’t want to give away a plate with it.) Put the cake on the foil, and ice it. Looks good.

Walk down the street with the cake and ring the neighbor’s doorbell. No answer. Knock on the door. Still no answer. Seriously? His favorite team is on TV right now and he’s not home watching it??? Whatever, I now walk back home still carrying the cake and put it on the counter. Now I have to keep an eye on it to make sure none of the animals try to take a taste… I trade baked goods with my neighbor in exchange for him mowing my grass, so this cake is pretty valuable and I want it kept in one piece!

rabbit on nest

My doe rabbit sitting on the hay in her nestbox

I remember one of my doe rabbits was put in with the buck about a month ago, and should be put into a hutch alone to prepare for the (hopefully) impending kits. So I go out to rearrange everybody. (Opossum is still in the compost pile. Probably dead, right?) Put another doe in with a buck she’s not been with before, and watch to be sure nobody is going to get hurt. Nah, they’re just playing chase, so I go move the daddy buck to leave the momma-to-be doe in the cage alone. Then I go get the nestbox (and remove all the junk that has accumulated in it since the last time it was used… seriously, why does all this stuff not stay where it’s put? It always grows legs and moves onto whatever it is that I want at the time!) Then I fill the nestbox with hay, scattering hay all over the garage floor in the process. (It’s a new type of hay that’s seriously cheaper, but not baled nearly as well. I’ll have to keep track of how much is wasted to see if it really is cheaper or not. Better write that down or I’ll forget…)

rabbit with hay

Yes, I want hay to eat! You can’t give some to her and not to me!

Go outside to put the nestbox full of hay in with the momma-to-be, and all the other rabbits race to the corner of their hutch that’s closest. Seriously? It’s hot and dry and you want HAY? Yep. So I go back to get the basket, fill it with hay, and bring it out to put some in each rabbit hutch. Momma is sitting in the nestbox on top of the hay, so hopefully she is bred. Most rabbits just sit beside the hay to eat it, not on top of it. Refill the water dish in the hutch of the new couple, in their game of chase they’ve knocked it over, but they’re both tired and thirsty now. Check on the opossum, it’s still in the compost. (Seriously, I am spending WAY too much time checking on this stupid animal that’s probably dead!)

peanuts for lunchGet back in the house, and realize I haven’t had lunch, and it’s way late. So I eat some more peanuts while checking my websites again. Write a touching and sweet status on my FB page for my friends (which of course means I have an excuse to check it more often today, right?)

Then I realize the only meat in the house is frozen whole chickens in my chest freezer, and they’re not going to be defrosted in time to cook one for dinner. Go outside to the freezer to get two of them anyway, reasoning that I can cook one for tomorrow instead. Realize that a rabbit I had to put down is still in that freezer. Whole. Uncovered because of the hurry with which I had to dispatch her before we left on our trip. I decide I don’t have time to deal with that today, but I also don’t want to simply throw the body away because it’s an Angora with all that beautiful fur, so I at least wrap the body in a bag and put it back in the freezer before grabbing two frozen chickens and heading back into the house.

Scrub the sink, fill it with water, and put one chicken in it to defrost tonight so I can crock-pot it in the morning. Put the other in the fridge, after rearranging it so it will fit.

Sdinnerit down to write this blog post, and realize I haven’t done anything for dinner TONIGHT yet. So I get back up, and raid the freezer. I have a package of chicken strips, a package of breaded jalapeno cheese and pepper nuggets, and a package of hashbrowns. That’s so not a healthy or balanced meal, but I’ve eaten nothing but peanuts and blackberries all day, and no way will hubby go out to eat when football is on tonight, and at least I buy the versions of things that are as little-processed as possible, so I say “what the heck, it’s just one meal” and start the oven for the chicken strips. Thankfully I remembered how much heat the oven throws out, and moved the iced cake so the icing wouldn’t melt.

Put chicken strips on the baking sheet, set timer for 10 minutes. Turn chicken, add pepper bits, set timer for 5 minutes. Turn pepper bits, set timer for 5 minutes. Hope everything turns out fine with the temperature on 425 since the chicken is supposed to cook at 400 and the pepper bites at 450. It usually works fine that way, but I’ve never tried these pepper bites before, I got them because they were a freebie. Cook hashbrowns on stovetop at the same time.

But, the hashbrowns aren’t cooking. Gah! Instructions told me to heat oil to medium heat in a skillet, then sprinkle hashbrowns into the skillet until they are half an inch deep. Let cook without disturbing them until the edges brown, then turn the hashbrowns, and continue cooking until done. I couldn’t do that – the sprinkling part, that is. The hashbrowns were frozen in a solid lump. So I microwaved them until they could be pulled apart with a fork, and added them by forkfuls to the skillet. Aparantly that isn’t close enough to work, because although the edges turned brown, they were also stuck tight to the bottom of the skillet and could NOT be turned. The ones that weren’t stuck were still uncooked. So, scrap the hashbrowns because the chicken and jalapeno bites were finished, so I just served them. (Note: I don’t care for the jalapeno bites, but hubby liked them, so that’s OK.) Hubby ate the chicken strips with ranch dressing, I ate mine with honey. Yum. It’s nice to sit and eat dinner.

Time to clean up. Can’t wash dishes yet because the chicken is still taking up half the sink. *Sigh*

Eggs, September 22, 2012

Today’s eggs. Two tan ones from the Rhode Island Reds, and one light green from the Americauna

So I go outside to do the animal chores for the evening before it gets dark. Put on chore shoes, and turn on the water hose. Opossum is still dead. That means it’s really truly dead, right? Maybe I can stop thinking about it now. I collect eggs from the coop – three of them today, very typical for four chickens in their first year of laying. I have three Rhode Island Reds which lay light brown eggs, and an Americauna which lays a light greenish egg. Very cute in the egg cartons together. (The camera makes the green egg look almost flourescent – weird. It isn’t that bright in real life.) When I show my green eggs to people, the first thing they all say is “Green eggs and ham!” Especially funny because that happens to be the book featured on the September page of my Dr. Seuss calendar. Makes me smile every time I see it.

rabbit with hay

Thank you for the dinner and water!

The rabbits are happy to see me. Each gets a filled water bowl, and a scoop of pellets. I would reduce the amount of pellets if they had eaten something like apples or greens, but I don’t reduce it for hay. Gotta remember to count the rabbits in each hutch since I moved several around earlier, and I don’t want to put the wrong amount of feed in any hutch. They appreciate the attention, coming to the hutch openings to say “hello”. The friendliest ones get head scratches before they hop off to eat their dinners.

Chickens want out

My chickens waiting at the door of their run, hoping to be turned loose in the yard

Dusk is almost here, so I decide to let the chickens have this last half-hour of the day loose in the yard. They love it loose, but I’m not sure of their potential to escape, so I always stay outside when they’re loose. I take a book and sit on the deck while the chickens scratch the yard, finding lots of little treats to munch. I’m reading Janet Evanovich’s “One for the Money” series – I just started book eight. Sitting with the chickens lets me get to page 34. When the chickens start making their way back to the run I put the failed hashbrowns and peanut shells in the run for them to pick at before they completely put themselves to bed in the coop. (Peanut shells are great for traction when the weather makes the ground in the chicken run slippery, which it does often in Oregon.) I’ll go back out when it’s full dark and lock the door to the coop, safely securing the chickens for the night.

Grated Fels Naptha soap

Grated Fels Naptha soap looks like grated cheese – but tastes much different!

I go back inside, and grate the soap I need for a load of laundry. Not doing the laundry until tomorrow, but if I wait until tomorrow to grate the soap, you just know something will happen. Better to be prepared, so I grate the soap. The other ingredients are Borax and Washing Soda, which I have already, so no problem there.

The chicken has not vanished from the sink yet, so I go take it out of the sink, put it in a plastic bag, and store it in the fridge. It will make a good after-church lunch tomorrow. Yum!

And now I sit down at 8:30 to finish this blog post, and then tackle a computer game that I want to win. A very busy, but productive day. Hubby will do the dishes later, I don’t have to worry about those.

So, dear friend, have I tired you out yet? Like we discussed earlier, I definately couldn’t do this lifestyle if I had a 40 hour a week office job. But as busy as it is, I love this better. If you get to bed before I do, have a nice dream for me! Mine tend to have chickens and rabbits in them, lately.


We’re home! Update on animals, sunburn, sea snakes, and more

It feels soooo good to be home. I really enjoyed the Philippines, and expect to go back at some point. But home is home. We left Manila at 9:30 am on Tuesday, and landed at San Francisco at 9:30 am on Tuesday. Weird. Had a 4 hour layover, so one of my husband’s relatives who lives nearby came to spend it with us. That was nice! Then we flew the rest of the way back to Oregon. By the time we got to bed that night, we’d been awake for 29+ hours. Phew!

Because of the wonderful housesitter, everything was in order. Whew! It was great to see all the animals well cared for.

Eggs from my chickens

Eggs! 37 eggs from my chickens.

Chickens:  When I left, I expected the chickens to be laying before I got back. They were hatched in March, so they should have started laying at the end of July or beginning of August, but the housesitter said she hadn’t gotten any eggs at all! So I went hunting, and eventually turned up their hidden nest – with 37 eggs in it! I did a float test and all were still good. I’m taking the housesitter a dozen eggs when I see her this weekend, and it looks like omelettes for breakfast (and lunch) for a while until we get through this backlog. Good thing we like eggs! For those who are wondering, the float test with eggs is to put each into a bowl of water. If the egg floats, it’s bad or almost bad and I throw those out. If it sinks and lays on its side, its good. In between are those that bob a bit, or stand on one end. I tend to feed those to animals after cooking them very thoroughly. The idea is that as the edible part of the egg starts to get older and decompose, it also loses some size, and the air cell inside the shell gets larger. The larger the air cell, the better it floats. It has to be well past floating to have that rotten egg smell to it, but better safe than sorry with food.

Female kits

Some of the female kits

Rabbits: The “baby” rabbits aren’t so baby anymore! I use them for meat, so I was happy to see the size they are. I do have a line on selling a couple as breeders to someone else, so they have a stay of execution until that person decides. They’re 13 weeks old now.

The litter is a Californian / American Chinchilla cross. I did not know what to expect in colors from a litter of that cross, but whatever I would have guessed, it wouldn’t have been what I got: From a litter of 8, half are the white with the black tips of a Californian, and half are solid black.

Male kit

The only male kit

Seven are females, only one is male (one of the Cali-looking ones) and I’m not 100% sure it really is male. I think the sex-change fairy is visiting, which is fairly common with little rabbits.

I ought to be able to tell easily at this age, but this male looks rather in-between. I’m calling it a male for safety because at this age they really need separated by gender to prevent an accidental between-siblings litter (in case any of them are precocious breeders). I will not sell that one unless the gender of it is unimportant to the buyer.

Aren’t they adorable? If you live in Oregon and want to buy one for a meat breeder yourself, let me know!

The cats are happy to have me home. My two went into a purring frenzy, and my half-a-cat looks very satisfied with himself, almost as if he’d brought me back himself!

And my Kira, the dog, is just so cute. She tried to ignore me, probably to punish me for being gone so long, but it lasted about 10 seconds before she gave in and started licking my hand. Awwww! She makes my heart melt. She’s the one I missed the most, all I could think about the last day before leaving for home was getting to see her. She’s 11 years old and gets more and more precious to me each day.

I think the garden is pretty much gone. Only one brussel sprout plant looks any good at all, and the sprouts on it are much tinier than they should be. The swiss chard and cabbage got eaten by wildlife. I can’t see where the onions and garlic are because that side of the plot got taken over by weeds. I can’t spend much time outside right now because of my sunburn, so I think I’ll just let them keep growing together and see what happens later.

Yeah, I got a sunburn. I got a BAD sunburn! On Saturday in the Philippines a bunch of us went to the beach. It was a goal of mine ever since I got there, to swim in the ocean! And then I did not put on sunscreen. I wear it at home for the cancer-reduction properties (which are debatable, I know), but I don’t burn even when I forget it. So when I forgot to bring it to the beach I didn’t worry about it. It was only 3 hours, and semi-cloudy.

My sunburn

My sunburn – you can see where the bathing suit strap was, and all the little shiny flecks are blisters. Ouch.

I kept checking my forehead, figuring I’d go into the full shade of the trees when it started feeling hot.It never did, so no worries, right? I enjoyed the ocean and swimming, and the beach and collecting shells. So much fun! Then I got back to where we were staying and showered, and THEN it hit.Bright red skin, hot to the touch, and oh so sore. My whole face, chest, and shoulders. My face healed pretty quickly, and was peeling three days later. My chest wasn’t far behind. But my shoulders kept getting worse and worse and finally today they broke out in hundreds of tiny blisters. Boo! The doctor can’t see me for two weeks, but the nurse says to keep moisturizing and not pop the blisters, but to let them know if a fever starts. On the way home, on the plane, I chose to buy and wear a strapless dress. It didn’t look the most flattering on me, but was much nicer than dealing with straps over those sore shoulders.

I think the only other health issue that has cropped up was some infected cuts on my feet. Probably from the beach day as well. One thing I realized was how difficult it is to clean cuts with water that isn’t clean enough to drink. No wonder the cuts got infected! I started rinsing them with drinking water after I realized an infection was setting in, but by then it was too late. And how in the world do you keep feet dry when you shower? I never did figure that one out. So they kept getting doused in river water. But now that I’ve been home a full day they’re already feeling better. The cuts are tiny, they ought to heal on their own just fine now that the water is clean.

Belcher's Sea Snake

Belcher’s Sea Snake

Speaking of the ocean, I saw sea snakes! Really cool looking. There were two, about four inches long apiece. Irridescent yellow/green and dark green/black. Watching them glide through the water like rippling ribbons was sooo awesome. I watched them until they dove deep enough that I couldn’t see them anymore. When I got home I googled to see what kind they were, and learned they were Belcher’s Sea Snakes. Yeah. Venomous. Extremely venomous! I am very glad that when I see snakes I just stand there and watch them, and that I have never been prone to poking them or picking them up!

It was fun getting outside today. I separated the baby rabbits and put some adult breeding pairs together. I float-tested the eggs, and got them in cartons and into the fridge (I usually let them stay unwashed and on the counter, but some of these are already 3-4 weeks old and already wet from the float test, so fridge it is). I picked blackberries. I watered the garden (or what is left of it). Not bad for not getting up until noon! Jet lag is weird. Hope it passes quickly, tomorrow is packed with stuff to do!


Finding a housesitter

It is NOT easy to find a housesitter when you have 29 animals to take care of. On the one hand, regular pet sitters are often overwhelmed by those numbers, and don’t wish to deal with the issues that livestock type animals can bring. On the other hand, farm sitters can charge too much, and want to work during “work” hours instead of the hours when my animals are accustomed to having people around.

I have had sitters that would have been fine hauling horses or trapping predators, but were mystified with how to deal with a cat that went behind a piece of unmovable furniture and refused to come out. The kindest of housepet sitters are too saddenned by the death of rabbit kits to take a second job with me. Many professional sitters that handle unusual animals want to charge per animal, which doesn’t work when you have 29. Dog-and-cat sitters don’t know how to handle chickens. Chicken sitters only want to show up twice a day to open and close the chicken coop.

And yet people who own animals need to take trips, too! We want to go to weddings for family and friends. We want to visit distant relatives. We sometimes have jobs that require travel.

My husband and I went out of town over Memorial Day weekend. It was a lovely trip to where we used to live in Colorado. We got to attend a friend’s wedding, and catch up with other dear friends. I picked a housesitter recommended by a friend, and she did wonderfully well. Detailed, intelligent, clean, loving, all those necessary qualities. But she doesn’t want to do it again. So back to the drawing board to find someone else.

With the recent upswing in the number of people in urban and suburban areas who do some sort of micro-farming on their properties, I am surprised that more people have not entered the market to house sit for them. It seems like a good money-making opportunity for people with the time and energy to handle it. A basic understanding of most species of small farm animals and some knowledge of how to water and manage small crops would be necessary, but they are not difficult to obtain. If more people were willing and able to do micro-farm housesitting, it would sure be a blessing to people like me!


When to throw in the towel?

I have been wondering about this a lot lately. Most of my self-sufficiency attempts are working well. I had no problem adding chickens to my lifestyle. Doing a compost heap worked almost textbook perfectly. The mealworm farm produced lots of bugs for the chickens to eat. Even after moving from Colorado to Oregon and not understanding the climate, the starts in the garden are growing like weeds. I’ve figured out how and where to forage for several items. I still have grapes in the freezer from last fall. The meat chicken experiment is going well and one week away from butchering day. Craigslist is showing me where to get several things that I can resell and so turn a profit.

But the rabbits? Not so much. I struggle with them. The wool on the Angoras is matting like crazy. I just can’t keep up with the grooming. I got clippers and buzzed their back ends down the other day, giving myself a frest start that I can maybe keep up with. But in addition to producing wool for me to spin, they are supposed to BREED and produce kits for meat. And that just isn’t happening. I’ve attempted to breed numerous pairs, and have only two dead litters to show for it. I also have meat rabbits, and finally have my first live litter, but that’s after months of doing this.

How much is enough? When do YOU choose to throw in the towel on an experiement that should work well but just isn’t?

None of my startup costs were expensive. But the feed is adding up. They are costing about $5 per week to feed these rabbits, and I am not getting that much back from them. But I keep trying because if I could just keep up with the grooming a little better, I could sell the wool and it would pay for the feed. (But not if I have to keep shaving them.) And I keep trying because if they would each just produce ONE litter this year, the resulting meat would pay for the feed.

I guess I’m asking how much in the hole are you willing to go for something that *should* work? Is it a dollar amount for you? Like you’d invest $100 or a $1000? Is it a time period for you? Like you’d give an experiment 6 months or a year?

I admit am emotionally invested in this generation of rabbits. They almost didn’t live and I had to get nurse does for them. Most of them have names. I know their personalities. So although they are livestock, they are also semi-pets, which complicates things. How much would that influence your decisions in when to throw in the towel on an experiment? I mean, when I moved, I wasn’t going to bother moving the mealworm farm, so I just dumped the whole thing into the chicken run and gave them all a huge treat, with no emotional impact whatsoever. But the rabbits feel different and I can’t just put them all in the freezer without a LOT of thought and being sure it was the right decision.

So how do you choose to make decisions like this, with and without the emotional aspect of it?



If there is one thing you have to deal with on a mini-farm, it’s poop.

Dog poop needs to be picked up from the yard – if you don’t want to end up skating on your tush after stepping on it.
Cat poop needs to be scooped from boxes before the cats throw it out onto the floor on their own.
Rabbit poop needs to be collected and put in the compost pile (or you can be like me and just hang the rabbit cages over the compost pile and skip this collection step).
Chicken poop needs to be scraped out of the coop and run and put in the compost pile. (And then fresh shavings put down.)

That is a LOT of poop! Poop is everywhere unless I put the time in to gather it up and put it somewhere out of the way. It piles up quickly.

And then there’s the smell. Living where I do, in the middle of a neighborhood, controlling the smell is extremely important. Plain rabbit and chicken poop smells bad, but I’m glad that in a compost pile it doesn’t.

Gotta run – time for more poop patrol!  If only it were as easy to control other byproducts of mini-farm life.


She got her head stuck!

Today’s rant about rectangles is in honor of my new rabbit. I have two brand new rabbits – so new they don’t have names yet. One is a Californian doe, about 2 years old. The other is probably an American Chinchilla Rabbit doe, also aged about 2 years. They are accustomed to being together, so when I brought them home I put them together into a super-large dog crate in the middle of the yard. This serves the dual purpose of letting the new rabbits enjoy their surroundings (and all the fresh grass that comes up through the bottom of the crate) as well as keeping them away from my other rabbits in case the new ones are carrying some germs that haven’t shown themselves yet.

The Californian rabbit is crazy for fresh grass. Cra-a-zy for fresh grass! I have plenty of it – I don’t mow my backyard, prefering to keep it long so I can grab handfuls for the rabbits’ enjoyment.

Well this Californian and her friend had eaten down all the fresh grass they could reach in the crate, and the Californian wanted more. So she stuck her head through the grating and nibbled some more. Then she wiggled her head around to get it further out and reach some more. Then she squeezed a little further, and got her ears out. Ahh, that’s better! She could reach grass a whole inch further away. Now to pull her head back in and do the same thing in the next section of the crate…

Oops. Now that her ears were out, she couldn’t pull her head back in! Rabbit ears fold backward very easily, but they don’t fold forward at all…

Thankfully my husband went outside to peek at our new chickens right about then, and saw her. He pushed and pulled at her for a bit, but she couldn’t budge. He called me, and I crawled into the dog crate and pushed and pulled from the inside. Then we worked together from the outside and inside at the same time. We tried pushing the ears in backwards. We tried turning her to the right, then the left. No dice. She was stuck fast.

With nothing left to try, we went to Jerry’s home improvement store for bolt cutters. The nice salesman asked what we needed to cut, and was rather dumbfounded when he heard the story – but quite quickly pointed us to the type of bolt cutter he thought would work. We bought it and headed home. We worked a washcloth in between the rabbit and the wires, and my husband cut the wires. Success! I was able to lift the rabbit out and put her in a different area of the crate. After a few tentative movements of her head and ears, she started moving around and even nibbled some hay.

We blocked up the new hole, and left the bun to herself and her friend’s company. With rabbits, sometimes peace and quiet relieve their stress more than anything humans can do.  A new tool in the toolbox, and another rectangle removed. If only I could remove rectangles from my animals’ lives as well as mine!