Friday, January 24, 2014

Rabbit Colony Experiment: A More Natural Way?


Years ago, when I was sitting at a desk and dreaming about having my own homestead, I discovered a blog that had an interesting concept. They were homesteaders/farmers in West Virginia and they had a rabbit colony. Groups of rabbits living together in a more natural state but still controlled (or semi controlled by humans). It wasn't without problems. Sometimes the rabbits escaped, sometimes there were predators, sometimes other challenges. However, it was a fascinating idea and I continued to check back for some time after they stopped blogging.

When we got started with rabbits we decided after considering our time, resources, and abilities to not attempt to keep them in a colony. That is fine. Cages are a fine and a good option if an appropriate size. You can find cage size guidelines at the ARBA website. And while there are many reasons to keep rabbits in cages, overtime raising rabbits grew on us, and made us reevaluate how we raised our rabbits. We wanted larger cages and the rabbits to have more room. We kept litter mates together and needed multiple feed bowls and water dishes. It was time to explore more options.

One of the joys behind having free-range chickens is the wonderful experiencing of seeing the "chicken-ness" of the chicken. We soon discovered we loved seeing the fun, curious, and bounding energy of the rabbits when we let them out to play in safe play areas. It was fun for us, fun for our kids, and fun for the rabbits. The rabbits deserve a great life with only one bad day after all. Not to mention you keep your does and bucks for years and want them to have the best living conditions possible.

One day while exploring I discovered the Animal Welfare Approved standards for raising rabbits. They had guidelines that made sense the more I got to know rabbits. Those standards involved rabbits being rabbits. You can read the standards here. These are nice guidelines to consider but I don't think people who keep rabbits in cages are inhumane so please don't get that impression. It did help get me thinking about a colony set up again. I wanted to be a farm that could raise rabbits in a more natural manor. I am a HUGE fan of pasture raised rabbits. My heros are Skyview Acres keep rabbits in "rabbit tractors" 365 days a year. Then there is "The Coney Garth" a system developed by Julie Engle of raising rabbits in a pellet free managed intensive grazing system (basically cage free, grassfed). Now that is what I am talking about (more on that in a future post).

We have put considerable time and thought into the first attempt at a colony. We wanted to keep the rabbits safe and yet give them a more natural environment. I am not certain we will be able to keep all our rabbits in colonies but this will be our start.

The wire doorway into the original chicken coop (now a shed).

Two of the girls exploring. These two grew up in the same litter.

The darker doe is a full sister but grew up in a different litter due
to milk supply of the mother. You can see a "hole" behind them.

Another hole option for the girls. You can also see the water dish.
We will be changing that when there are young rabbits. 

Above another hole. 

Another private place to hide. They seem to use this as
a potty corner.

Hello!

The rock cave. They LOVE the cave.

Another view. We have multiple feed stations to avoid hungry
rabbits. 

From the inside doorway looking down.

We kept the original door way but utilized an old storm window
for additional light and ventilation in the summer. It has
a wire and wood gate to keep the rabbits from darting out.

From the window door way looking in. You can see the hay rack.

Here is how we did it.
  1. Location - we determined our best bet was to repurpose an existing structure into the rabbit colony. We decided a tool shed would be an ideal first colony for three rabbits. It already had a gravel floor but needed a few modifications. 
  2. Pick your rabbits - we had three young doe all from the same litter somewhere around 4 months old. Two of which lived together in the grow out cage but had been apart for a couple weeks
  3. Bunny proof - added wire fencing on all walls and down to the ground where the gravel could cover about an 1". Create doors that they bunnies couldn't just dart out of. 
  4. Make a natural environment - We decided to use a deep litter method and natural elements from the farm. We brought in about 6" of dirt and layered leaves on top. Each corner was made into a bunny hiding place. Offering places to crawl, hide, sit, and chew. 
  5. Add light - We had small skylights in the roof already and used an old glass storm window for one of the doors we added. It allows to see the rabbits, lets them look outside, and lets in bright daylight. The building itself is shaded by large pine trees so to keep the building from getting too hot in summer time. 
  6. Provide multiple food and water dishes and a permanent large hay rack. 
  7. They love the rock cage and will all sleep in there. We have decided to take it apart, dig it out, add additional wire under the Earth, and then add additional stability to the rock cave. They will grow larger and there is a possibility they won't all fit into one hole. 
We hope to breed the does when old enough and allow them to raise their litters in this space together. No buck will be apart of the community to control breeding.

I should add that this project cost us nothing to set up except for a $5 bag of staples from the local hardware store. No loss but time if it doesn't work out like the think it will. 

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It has been several days since adding the does. They were nervous and curious about their environment. It was enough to keep the chasing and aggressive behavior to almost none. Very quickly they are bonding. They often eat at the same food bowl and love to hide in the same rock cave. There is evidence that all the corners are used often though. Two of the girls are adventurous and come out to see us when we visit and sit in there with them. I expect that behavior to increase as the get more comfortable with themselves and their new home. So far no digging is visible but they are chewing on the branches and leaves provided. That is a great thing! 

Our experiment is working out well. It is a real joy to see these girls living together and keeping each other warm. Hopefully it continues to go smoothly. We will post updates as there are some.

Please feel free to ask questions or visit us on Facebook as we have a very active Facebook page. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Eggplant Cake Recipe & Baked Shrimp with Purple Tomatillos


Recipe influence from the Baker's Creek Seed Catalog 2013

Eggplant Cake:
2 cups eggplant (Ping Tung but traditional eggplant works as well)
1 cup apple sauce (mine is unsweetened, homemade)
2 tsp. vanilla (optional - I like less vanilla)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3 cups flour

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash, peel, cut the eggplant into cubes and cook in boiling water. Puree eggplant (I used an immersion blender). The cake above used four average sized Applegreen Eggplants. Pour puree in colander and press out excess liquid. Mix dry ingredients together in one bowl and mix wet ingredients together in another bowl. Add wet to dry. Pour into a well greased 9 x 5" bread loaf pan and bake in a preheated oven until knife comes out without batter. 1 hour - 1 1/2 hours.  




Baked Shrimp with Purple Tomatillos:
2 Tbsp Coconut oil
1/2 organic onion
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
3 cloves of garlic (or more)
4 oz. clam juice (other options water, broth, tequila)
6-8 Large shrimp (cooked)
1/8 cup shredded "farmers" cheese (salty cheeses are a good option)
1 pint of tomatillos (quartered)
 Salt, cilantro, black pepper, lime juice - To taste

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 425. Heat oil in oven safe pan (I used a cast iron skillet). Saute onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes until golden. Add quartered tomatillos until cooked through sprinkling with well with salt. About 10 minutes. Add shrimp to skillet and saute (I like my frozen shrimp to firm up a little bit). Add clam juice and shred cheese on top. Cook in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Add fresh or dried cilantro to taste, along with black pepper and lime juice. Serve immediately. 

Hope to see you at the market today for your heirloom eggplants and purple tomatillos. Thanks for your support! 


Friday, September 20, 2013

Brain & Belly: Fermentation Demonstration & Market


Fermentation Demo!

Have an abundance of produce but don’t know what to do with it? Of course you can freeze, dry, and can, but have you heard of the traditional method of preservation called lacto-fermentation, otherwise known as fermenting? You are probably most familiar with the fermenting of grapes to wine and grains to beer, but you can easily and quickly ferment your produce from your garden or the farmers market (hint, hint) in your own kitchen without fancy tools! 



Lauren of Honest Desires Farm will give you a basic introduction of what lacto-fermenting is, what tools you will need, some additional resources, and some simple recipes ideas to get you started, along with showing you how to make your own sauerkraut. Yum!



The demo starts at noon. 



There will also be a movie and free books from Half Priced Books. Don't miss it. 






Demo Resources
What is it?  - People in history developed techniques out of necessity to preserve their foods for long periods of time without the use of refrigeration or canning methods.  This process is actually called ‘lacto-fermentation’.  The Nourishing Traditions cookbook describes the process by saying “lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria.  Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted to lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria or lactobacilli.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Recipes: Eggplant, Red Romaine Lettuce, Kale, Heirloom Tomatoes, & Stuffed Mini-Peppers

Source

You have been to the farmers market and have come home with a bag of amazing, fresh, local produce and you are wondering just what to do with it. Here are some of my favorite go to recipes or you can invent your own!

Romaine Lettuce:
Roasted Romaine Lettuce - Two Blue Houses
Lettuce, Garlic Hummus, Current Tomatoes Bites - Pictures on fb
Romaine Lettuce the World's Healthiest Foods

Dinosaur Kale Chips:

Tomato & Kale:
Kale with Tomato, Garlic, and Thyme
Mini-Peppers:

Eggplant:
How to Roast Eggplant Cubes - for eating or adding to recipes

Tomatoes:

For more recipes you can visit my All Things Food board on Pinterest with over 500 pins and counting you are sure to find something to cook up for dinner. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dumping Chickens at Shelters?!?

Oy! Seriously? Why on earth would you take a chicken to a shelter? Now we are adopting out chickens to "forever" homes because people didn't understand what they were getting into? This seems a silly waste of time and money to me...


First, no one is debating that chickens can be wonderful animals and have fun personalities. However, we keep chickens at Honest Desires Farm for a reason. Food. They are livestock. Not pets. I can easily see how people can get attached to their chickens and then struggle with the what-do-I-do-with-them-now after they stop laying everyday or every other day but I am going to gently remind you:

If you are getting chickens to have an urban farm, a homestead, or to be more "self-sufficient" they aren't pets. They are livestock.

Why am I even talking about this? Because of this inflammatory article  from NBC News about "hipsters" in the "locavore" movement who are dropping chickens off in the hundreds at shelters across the nation.

To quote the article:

“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.

People entranced by a “misplaced rural nostalgia” are buying chickens from the same hatcheries that supply the nation's largest poultry producers and rearing them without proper space, food or veterinary care, she said."

“People don’t know what they’re doing,” Britton Clouse said. “And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”

Apparently, we are "hipsters" but we wouldn't want to be the idiots spreading false information, so I am here to give you a clue. IF you are getting chickens to become more self-sufficient please know the following:

  1. Chickens can be noisy. - Um yes. Even the hens. VERY. Most hens aren't though. Be prepared if you get a noisy one. You will need to do something about it. Like eat that hen. 
  2. Chickens can be smelly. - Use a dirt floor coop and deep litter and you will will do wonders to save yourself time, trouble, and smell. 
  3. Chickens do stop laying well after two - three years. - Fact.
  4. Chickens are expensive. - Yes! Especially in your backyard. You have the coop, feed, bedding, and other chicken needs. This isn't a save you money kind of thing in comparison to store bought eggs. (Of course you can do it rather inexpensively but time is an issue here and time costs money as well). 
  5. Chickens (like all birds) are messy. - If you have ever lived with a parrot of any kind... never in my house again.
  6. Chickens can live a long time (DUH!). - Why would you not think about this before getting an animal?
  7. Chickens get sick. - We have had several in our last 5 years unexpectedly die or get ill in such away that they needed to be put out of their misery. Be prepared for this. It can happen. Mostly though they are very healthy animals. And a vet for a chicken... well. I think that is crazy talk but you decide your own money. There is a LOT you can do for the health of your chicken in your own backyard.
  8. Chickens need care everyday of the year. - Think about vacations, weekends away, etc. Even in winter. Even is storms. Even when you are sick or exhausted. 
  9. DON'T do something because it is "cool". - Hello this isn't high school. - Please don't just do it because it looks so neat and the "idea" of chickens is fun. 
  10. Chickens don't bring predators in the city. - Our neighbors garbage cans already do that. However, chickens are very easy targets for predators and your expensive investment in backyard hens can be gone in a flash. Take strides to protect your hens so that you can eat them and not your neighborhood coon. 

Remember why you are doing this:

  1. Feeding your family.
  2. Chickens can be educational. 
  3. To make sure the animals you eat live a good life. 
  4. To be a locavore!
  5. Whatever personal reason you put here.
Don't give keeping backyard chickens a bad name. Help your kids have a real understanding of the food they eat. Don't cloud the issue with keeping pet chicken "Sally" around forever all the while saying you are trying to be sustainable or a homesteader. Be honest. Say this is my pet chicken and I have her for 14 years. Eggs or no eggs. However, another option is to honor "Sally" for what she is. Livestock. With a noble purpose and good life, surrounded by people that appreciated her chicken-ness and then let her do the honor of feeding your family. That oddly can be a very beautiful thing. 

For another view point (and I am sure there will be many more over the next couple days and weeks) read:



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Neighbors

Have I told you how amazing our neighbors are? They have lived here for 30 + years and have just been the best and most supportive people we could have imagined.

For example:

  1. They loan us ladders, tools, and the huge spot light we have been using to harvest at night.
  2. They invite us to family holiday gatherings.
  3. They put up with our crazy ideas and our chickens, beagles, and other nonsense. 
  4. They are artistic, handy, and love animals.
  5. This last Sunday the husband sharpened the mower blade of our trash picked self-propelled lawn mower. Then he fixed and tuned up our wood chipper.
  6. They would gladly help us with our animals & we help them with theirs.
  7. They cut down trees that over hang our yard so that we can get more sunlight. That is HUGE because they love trees (not that we hate them). 
  8. They think a community garden on the empty railroad lot next to ours is a good idea... maybe someday.
  9. They have an acre!? How cool is that.
How did we get so lucky? 

The neighbors on the other side... well. At least we got here first. Just kidding. I think they will warm up to us as well. They did notify me when the great chicken escape happened and helped me chase a chicken back into the yard. 


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Out of the Nest: Baby Bunny Photo Shoot

It is really late and I spent the whole after dark evening getting our lovely, new social media icons to work! I have a lot more posts, updates, and improvements coming to the site soon. However, I just couldn't go to bed without sharing the baby bunnies.

I actually held myself back from sharing more...












We don't know if they are boys or girls yet. I am pretty good at sexing them by four - six weeks. Gary wants to keep the gray (we are calling "Mouse") and I love the large, fat, black/brown one. We will see which ones we keep. Hopefully they are all girls and we can keep them all. I have to say this is the sweetest and most laid back litter we have had so far.

One fun announcement. We will be driving on Sunday to Bainbridge, Ohio to pick up another Broken New Zealand doe and a Blue New Zealand buck. Both are proven breeders and we will breed them while in quarantine from our herd. We will re-breed Mama in another two-three weeks along with her daughter Baby Girl. Very excited that we will be over flowing with rabbits soon!


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