Getting Started With Meat Rabbits: Breeding

Now that you have your breeding stock purchased and settled in, it is time to breed them.

1 (2)

Breeding rabbits is pretty straight-forward and easy.  There is one major rule you need to follow:

ALWAYS bring the doe to the buck’s cage.  Never the opposite.

But we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.  First things first…at what age can you breed rabbits?

Most rabbits are mature enough to breed between 5 and 6 months of age.  Larger rabbits usually take longer to mature.  We usually just wait until they are fully 6 months and then give it a try.  It can be more challenging if you are working with first-time rabbits.  It is usually best if you can pair up a first-timer with a more experienced rabbit for their first breeding.  But two first-timers can figure it out as well, it just might take a little longer.

You need to check your buck and be sure both testicles have fully descended before breeding him.  They can be kind of hard to find because they do not hang down like other animals and they aren’t together.  There is one on either side of the penis and they are more like lumps, not dangling.  If he doesn’t have them both down he is not ready or able to breed successfully.  We once had a buck with only one down, he did successfully breed but the litters were always small with just a few kits in each litter.  We didn’t keep him as a breeder.

With rabbits you don’t have to wait for the female to go into heat like other livestock.  She is receptive almost all the time.  Sometimes they wont be cooperative, in which case we wait and try again in a week and they usually are ready at that point.  If you are wondering or concerned about your female you can check her.  If her vulva is pink and swollen she is receptive.  If it is pale and dry she is not.

As I said before, you always take the female to the male’s cage.  Put her in and watch to be sure breeding occurs.  You need to know so you aren’t waiting on a pregnancy if they didn’t even breed.  They will run around the cage for a bit, sometimes this can be quite comical.  Then usually the female will settle and lay out and the male will mount her.  Of course it doesn’t always go smoothly, she might park her rear in a corner, making it impossible for him.  She might not lay out.  He might have trouble figuring out where he should be.  It can take some time for them to figure it out.  But they will and then when he is finished he will stomp his feet and fall off somewhat violently.  It is often described as him popping off her.  Sometimes he makes a noise as well and lay there like he is dead.  If he doesn’t “pop” off then it wasn’t a successful breeding.  With first-timer this can take 10-15 minutes to get figured out.  With our experienced rabbits it often takes less than 2 minutes.  We usually try to leave them together long enough for two breedings (6-10 minutes or so for our experienced rabbits).  Then we put her back in her cage.

Once you have had a successful breeding (or two) and put her back in her cage, you put them back together for another breeding 12 hours later.  So ideally you have 1-2 breedings, then 1-2 more breedings 12 hours later.  This is said to increase the litter size.

Most of the time it is very simple and goes smoothly.  The saying “breeding like rabbits” didn’t come from nowhere.  They are pretty easy to breed.

Occasionally there can be trouble.  What do you do if it is not working?

If the female is not receptive try again a week later.  If it still isn’t working, she is tucking her bum under, or continues to put herself in the corner you can try to help.  Pull her out of the corner and hold her so he has access.  If she still tucks under and wont allow him try again a week later.  If she is young (5-6 months) give her another month or two and try again.  You could also try her with a different buck.  But if she continues to refuse you need to reconsider her as breeding stock.

If the male can’t figure out what he is doing, or doesn’t finish, he probably needs some more time to mature.  If he is over 9 months and still can’t successfully breed a receptive female, he needs to be taken out of your breeding stock.

As I said before, most of the time everything works out fine and then you are ready to take your doe through pregnancy and kindling (giving birth) which we will talk about in the next post of our series.

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been SUCH a busy week.  It was our first week of school, plus there was a ton of canning to be done, and the bear break-in and subsequent clean-up work.  I’m exhausted!  Let me show you some of what has been going on.

Farm Dog Moves Indoors

If you have been following our blog for long then you know about our amazing old farm dog, Tundra.  He is closing in on 12 years old now.

20

You also know that every summer we struggle with the flies eating his ear.  Some years it is worse than others.  We have tried EVERYTHING to deter them…blue kote, new skin, bandaging, herbal salve, several different essential oils, several different bug sprays, both natural and chemical….nothing works.  71114-12photo (5)We have taken him to the vet and discussed it with her.  We even considered cropping the ear surgically but the vet said they would probably just eat the new edge.  Her only answer was to bring him indoors, which we have done for a few days at a time in the past when it got bad.  But you have to know Tundra to know how much he hates living inside.  He paces back and forth to the back door, looking out and trying to see what is going on in the barnyard.  He whines.  He won’t settle, even after several days indoors he still paces like a caged leopard at the zoo.  This dog LOVES his job as farm protector and he HATES it when he isn’t allowed to do his job.

This last winter, as his age was beginning to show, we attempted to get him to retire as an indoor dog.  We thought with the intense cold and the dealing with predators…why wouldn’t he want to become an indoor dog for however many years he has left?  Nope, he was having nothing of it.  He wants to die with his boots on, doing what he loves, guarding the livestock.  So we put him back outside after a week-long indoor trial.

But this summer the fly damage to his ear has reached an all-time terrible level.  The new-skin was working for awhile earlier this month, but then in the last week it stopped and every time we went out he had about 20 flies on the wound at once.  So we decided the only option was to bring him indoors until it healed fully and the flies decreased because of cooler weather.  We are guessing this will take at least 4 weeks.  4 weeks of him pacing and being unhappy.  :-(  But nothing else has worked and we can’t just leave it to become infected or worse.  So in he came.

Here is what it looked like when we first brought him in from the barnyard:

IMG_2056

We gave him a thorough bath – we are not having a dog who used to live in the barnyard live in the house without a bath! – and cleaned the ear up too.  Here it is after his bath and cleaning:

IMG_2098

We are glad that Finley, our other farm dog, is now 2 years old and has really matured into his job in the barnyard.  Tundra has raised and trained him well, with some help from Mtn Man, of course.  So he can take care of the livestock while Tundra is out-of-commission inside.

The indoor cats are not impressed with the new situation.  They huddle and glare at him, despite the fact that he is fine with cats and completely ignores their existence.

IMG_2067

Canning

We have been canning almost every day this week.  First we finished the apples from last week, and then we got nectarines at the discount grocer for $0.20/lb!!!  So we grabbed two cases of them (58 lbs), spent just under $12.00, and worked hard to get them all canned as well.  I think we got about 24 quarts canned in honey syrup…(I wrote down the exact numbers, but don’t have them easily accessible right now).

IMG_2053 IMG_2068

Also, the Purple Queen bush beans (green beans) in the garden are coming ripe by the thousands, so we have been canning them as well.  I think we are up to almost 20 quarts of them.

IMG_2099

Bear Break-In Update

After the bear broke into the camper this week Mtn Man ran into a friend of ours who is an officer in our area.  He told him about the break-in and how strange it was since there was no food in the camper.  The officer told him that they have had 5 times the amount of calls of bears breaking into houses and vehicles this year than they have ever had before.  In the last year or so they passed some laws that made it illegal to not protect your garbage from bears, so people will be ticketed and fined if they don’t keep their garbage in bear-proof containers or indoors.  Ever since then, everyone is keeping their trash locked up (finally!).  But since the bears have become so accustomed to eating from human trash and several generations of bears were taught to do that by their moms they don’t know any other way to eat.  So now with the trash locked up they are getting desperate and thus breaking in to homes and vehicles like crazy.  Hopefully, if we can all stick it out for a few years they will get the hang of eating without human help and we can have a more balanced, safe, and healthy life with bears and humans living near each other in our area.

How to Process Wool: Washing

Next up in our processing wool series is washing the wool.  We have already discussed raising sheep properly for healthy wool, shearing, and skirting in our blog post “How to Process Wool: Sheep to Spinning Wheel.

8

Once the raw fleece is off the sheep and skirted, it is time to wash it.  The fleece is full of dirt, lanolin, and vegetable matter (VM) that needs to be removed.

We start by filling our bathtub about half full of the hottest water from the tap, plus a couple of big pots of boiling water to get it to about 140F degrees.  Then we add 1/3 cup of dishsoap and gently swirl it around, trying not to create a bunch of suds.

Now it is time to add the fleece!  We pick up the fleece in handfuls (two hands together) and pull it apart a bit to help the soap and water get to all of it.  We place the loosened handfuls of fleece on top of the water and gently push them down into the water, being sure they are getting completely covered and soaked.  It is really important to not agitate the fleece at all because it will cause felting.

Here is a fleece in the tub, this is more suds than we usually have:

103_0435

We let the fleece soak for about 20 minutes.  Then we lift it out by the handfuls and gently squeeze it to remove some of the water before we set it in a big plastic bin.  Here is what the water looks like after the first wash…pretty yucky:

103_0436

We drain the tub and rinse it with hot water to get the dirt all out.  Then we refill the tub again with the same amount of 140F degree water, but this time with no soap.  We take the fleece out of the bin we set it in and submerge it in the rinse water.  Then let it soak another 20 minutes.  Again remove it from the water, squeezing gently and placing in the bin (wipe the bin between the wash and rinse if it has soapy water left in it).
103_0439

At this point you decide if the fleece is clean enough or not.  Most of the time, it wont be.  However, our jacketed Lincoln Longwool, Stella’s fleece usually only needs 1 wash and 2 rinses.  All of our other sheep need more washing at this point.  So we continue with one wash, followed by one rinse until the fleece is clean.  For our jacketed Merino/CVM Fiona’s fleece that means 4 washes/4 rinses because the fiber is so fine it holds the dirt and lanolin tighter.

After repeating the 1 wash/1 rinse process until it is clean, we follow with one last rinse.  So for our easiest fleece that means wash/rinse/rinse.  For our hardest that means wash/rinse/wash/rinse/wash/rinse/wash/rinse/rinse.  I am guessing it could be even more with non-jacketed sheep fleece.

After we have completed the washing and rinsing process we lay the fleece out all opened up, on towels, on the floor, under the ceiling fan to dry.  However, we live in a very dry climate.  I don’t think people in humid places can get away with that.  I know many people build a screen drying rack for their fleece.  We will likely do that someday, but for now we get by just on the floor.

Now the fleece is clean and dry!  In our next post we will talk about picking and carding the fleece.

 

Another Bear Break-In

Another Bear Break-In

Wow, the bears around here are really getting troublesome.  Granted it is the humans’ fault because our area has generations of trash fed bears that don’t know any better.

This time our camper was the victim of the break-in.  We had parked it on Mtn Man’s parents’ property for the summer so we could go use it as a little camping get-a-way occasionally on the weekends without having to go very far.  Every Monday, Mtn Man drives to the property to check on the camper.  We are very careful to always leave it with absolutely no food or trash or anything a bear would want inside of it.  Mtn Man checked on it Monday, then saw it again on Wednesday when he was doing some work on the property.  Both times it was fine.  Then this morning he went to get it to move it back to our property for the winter and he found that last night a bear had broken into it.  :-(  If only he had brought it home yesterday!

First the bear checked both doors, and climbed up on the picnic table and then up onto the roof of the camper, checking for how to get in.  These activities left muddy footprints, muddy smears, and scratches and dents.

IMG_2079

muddy bear pawprint

IMG_2078

Scratches and dents from bear

IMG_2080

Muddy smears and pawprints from bear

Then he decided that the window around back of the camper was the best place to enter.  He busted the window, scratching and denting the side of the camper in the process.  Then tore the blinds down and entered the camper.  Mtn Man had already cleaned up the broken window and blinds by the time I saw the camper and took these pictures.

IMG_2075IMG_2071 IMG_2073

Thankfully, once inside the bear realized there wasn’t anything at all to eat in there, so he just walked around a bit and then left.  He didn’t cause any damage to the interior, just mud smears here and there from his feet and quite a bit of hair.  Here are some of his hairs in the sink, they are about 3-4 inches long, dark colored, and very coarse.

IMG_2081

Bears have an EXCELLENT sense of smell.  I think I once heard their sense of smell is 20 times greater than a bloodhound’s.  So why did a bear break into a camper that clearly had no food or garbage in it?  He could smell that it had nothing.  We haven’t been to it in weeks and I left it spotlessly clean including the stove, oven, and microwave, so there wasn’t residual smell.  We are guessing it is because he has broken into a different camper (or several) before and been rewarded with food and/or garbage.  So he just has such a strong sense of human vehicle=food reward that he decided to break in and check it out.

We are so grateful that there was no interior damage.  Mtn Man is replacing the window today and we will get some new blinds soon.  It seems no matter how careful we are, we are continuing to have issues with the bears this year.

Sunday Homestead Update: More Bear Trouble

The weather has been very nice this week.  Not too hot, not too cool, just perfect summer mountain weather.  This morning I stepped out the back door to feel the warm sun radiate through my shirt and the fresh, cool morning mountain air brush my face.  What a great place we live!

As we finish up the last preparations before the school year starts tomorrow, we are reminded of what the start of fall means in our beautiful mountains…more bear trouble.

The bears in our area are, very sadly, super habituated to humans and have several generations now that have all been trash fed and barely know how to find food separate from humans.  Because of this, there is always trouble with bears from the moment they wake up in spring to the moment they go back into hibernation late fall.  However, fall means extra trouble as the bears scramble and rush to get in enough calories to hibernate.

We had heard stories of bears in our area opening car door handles and getting into vehicles.  But we had never experienced it ourselves…until today.

Ever since a bear broke our bear-proof dumpster this spring, we have been keeping our trash in the garage.  My parents are visiting and yesterday they left some trash in the back of their truck, closed in under the topper.  They hadn’t heard the stories of bears opening vehicles.  This morning we found that a bear had used his mouth to lift the door handle on the tailgate of the truck and opened it up and got in to the trash.

IMG_2048 IMG_2049

It was hard to get a good pic.  But the dark dots above the handle are teeth marks.  They are scratches and dents.  You can kind of see by how the light hits the paint that it is dented in.  He put his top teeth above the handle and put his lower jaw under the handle and pulled up with his lower jaw.  And based on the lack of damage, I am guessing he is skilled at doing it and has done it before.  It looks like he only tried once and popped it open, as opposed to chewing on it for awhile trying to get the hang of opening it.

We are thankful that the damage wasn’t worse.

We are always very careful to be sure bears don’t eat at our property because we want them to stay away from the livestock.  This rewarded bear will be back again – maybe he was the one who broke our dumpster earlier this year – and the one who tried to break into the chicken coop.  We need to be very careful that there are no more incidents with trash on our property so they will stay away.  But no matter how careful we are, living with bears will always be a part of our life here homesteading in the mountains.

Canning Apples, Pears, or Peaches in Honey Syrup – With Kids!

We LOVE our canned apples, pears, nectarines, and peaches in honey syrup.  We use them all throughout the winter on top of our oatmeal for breakfast.  photo 5 (16)

We like to use the recipes in the book “Putting It Up With Honey,” which you can see by clicking on the Homestead Library tab at the top of the page.

 

This week we have been canning apples and pears because we got an awesome deal on them at the discount grocer.

If you have kids, but don’t include them in your canning, you are missing out!  My kids have each been helping can since they were big enough to sit on a table or stool and hold a spatula.  There is always some little job that even the youngest can do, like putting the funnel in and out of the jar while you work, or handing you the ring when you need it.  As they get older they can handle harder jobs.  Of course, you have to be very careful with all the hot stuff you are dealing with.  But careful planning and positioning of a little one can be safe.

Yes, it takes more time with the “help” of little ones.  And yes, it is messier.  But it teaches them a love for helping and improves family unity.  And when they get bigger, they will actually be helpful and will know how and be willing because they have been doing it since they were tiny.

All the years of having “helpers” that were not as helpful has definitely paid off for us.  Today, while canning apples, my 8, 9, 11, and 13 year old were all EXTREMELY helpful and could have practically done it on their own.

 

We set up two stations next to each other on the counter and the kids break into two teams.  The wash/peel team, and the cut/core team.  Today, Young Man and Little Miss did wash and peel.  Little Miss went back and forth to the box of apples, took them to the sink, rinsed them, and delivered them to Young Man.  He ran them through the peeler.

IMG_2033

He set the peeled apples on the cutting board next to him where Sunshine would cut them with the corer/slicer.

IMG_2034

Then she handed those parts to Braveheart, who cut any extra bits of peel or core off them and put them in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice.

IMG_2035

Meanwhile, I got the jars, lids, and honey syrup ready, and Mr. Smiles sat in his high chair watching us while gumming on an apple slice.  Then we switched to our jar loading jobs:  I handle the hot jars coming out of and going back into the hot canner.  Little Miss loaded the apples into the jars, Sunshine ladled the syrup over them, and Braveheart handed me the lids and rings.  Many hands made for very fast work and before I realized it the first load of jars was in the canner processing.  Such a blessing to have such great helpers!  After we finished our work we enjoyed some of the leftover slices, and then the kids headed off to ride bikes and play.photo 3 (45)

All winter long as we eat our fruit and honey syrup over our oatmeal we remember and appreciate the hard work we all put in together as a team to put up the food.

I give the children jobs based on their maturity and responsibility level.  It isn’t really an age based thing because different kids can handle different responsibilities at different ages.  It is important to pick jobs carefully to keep everyone safe.

Job Ideas for Kids Helping Can

***These are estimated ages – know what your kids can handle safely, it might not be the same as this list.  Make decisions based on maturity and motor skills, not by age.  This list is assuming you are right there with your children working together and that you are overseeing everything and keeping them safe.

Youngest (3-5 years) Alongside You at These Jobs:

  • Help wash the rings (and lids if you are using the plastic re-useable ones)
  • Hand you the rings
  • Help peel peaches (if they are not too hot)
  • Help rinse apples and pears
  • Use a plastic spatula to push apples and pear slices under the lemon juice water in the bowl

Middle Ages (6-11 years):

  • Get lids out of hot water and give them to you on magnet (if metal) or tongs (if plastic)
  • Wash jars and lids (be careful of sharp edges on metal lids)
  • Peel apples and pears (careful of sharp blades)
  • Core and slice (again be careful of sharp blades)
  • Peel peaches after blanching (be careful – hot)
  • Cut extra skins or core pieces off (can use a serated butter knife for this)
  • Load fruit into hot jar

Oldest Ages (12 years and up):

  • Ladle hot syrups and brines into hot jars
  • Use jar lifter to lift jars in and out of canner

 

Sunday Homestead Update

Busy summer week here…again.  We are coming down to the last few hoorahs of summer around here and thus the busy-ness will begin to wind down.  Although fall is putting-up season for us, so it has its own version of busy.  We will be plenty busy hunting, butchering, canning, and freezing food for the winter.  It is hard to believe, but we are closing in on our average first frost date already.  We are expecting an unseasonably warm fall and hoping that will mean good things for the gardens.  Time will tell.

Canning Season is in Full Swing!

We got a great deal on apples ($0.69/lb) and pears ($0.30/lb) this week, so we bought a case of each and have been canning them.  We are making applesauce and pearsauce for the baby, as well as pears and apples canned in honey syrup for the rest of us to put on our oatmeal.  We will continue to check the local discount grocer to buy more produce that we can’t grow ourselves so we can put it up for the winter.

In addition, our bush bean and carrot harvests are starting, and that means we will be canning and freezing those from our garden for the next several weeks.

County Fair

We all had a lot of fun at the County Fair this year.  Between the 6 of us we had 10 entries, we got 5 first place, 3 second place, 2 third place, and a special cash prize.  2 of the first places also got Champion, and one first place got Reserve Champion.  So a couple of entries will be competing at the state fair.

This was our first year entering veggies from our garden.  Because we garden at high-altitude, with such a short season, we figured our veggies couldn’t compete with others in our county that are at a lower altitude and have a much longer growing season.  But this year Mtn Man encouraged me to go for it, so Sunshine and I both entered carrots from our garden.

They require 6 carrots per entry, and they are judged on uniformity of color, size, and shape, as well as proper maturity, flavor, and presentation.

IMG_2005

We were really excited to win first and second place against 7 other entries (9 entries total)!  I guess we will continue to enter our veggies in fair and see how we do.  It proves that you can garden very successfully at high altitude and with a short season, you just have to know the tricks for doing it.

School

We start school in one week.  We are all looking forward to the more consistent daily routine that the school routine brings to our lives.  We have enjoyed our summer freedom – but it will be nice to be back in a regular routine again.  This year I will be teaching high school for the first time, as well as middle and elementary grades – all with a baby crawling around.  It will be a fun challenge, that’s for sure!