Just Keep Hopping

As you may have guessed by the title, this post is about our Farmer Boys, Charles & Henry, and their 4-H rabbit project.  Both boys are getting very excited about this blog, definitely proud to be pioneers.  Henry suggested the title of this post, as we were watching Finding Nemo DVD last night after homework.  Unfortunately, the boys broke my camera.  Not sure which as each blames the other. So, I apologise there are not really any new bunny pictures (especially of the new additions to or hutch.)

Some general information on our rabbits and rabbits in general: Their bunnies are members of the “Mini Rex” breed.  These are a small-medium sized rabbit breed with a short velvet-like coat and come in many colors.  They are one of the more popular breeds for pet rabbits, which is a good market for very young 4-H’ers.  Because bunnies will make lots more baby bunnies fairly quickly, having a good market for the offspring is important.  And Henry in particular is a soft-hearted lad when it comes to animals, so at least right now at 6 years old, meat rabbits probably aren’t his niche. Charles on the other hand, bought broiler chicks specifically for the purpose of wanting to make them into pot pies because he loves the movie Chicken Run (from a few years back… we found it in the bargin movie bin for $5) with the voice talent of Mel Gibson, so meat rabbits might eventually be something he wants to do, if we can find a ready market for them. (Note to self, check with the friend who sells meat goats to the immigrant folks in our area to find out if they might also be interested in rabbit, might be worth paying him a commission to hook us up with the buyers who prefer buy live and do the dirty work of offing the critters themselves.)

Like goats and deer, the males are bucks and the females are does.  Baby rabbits are called kits (like a baby fox) and the birthing process is known as kindling.  As mammals, rabbits give live birth to their young and nurse them.  In preparation for kindling, the mother rabbit pulls out most of the fur on her belly.  This has two functions:

#1. It exposes her mammary glands so her kits can more easily find her nipples in order to suckle her milk.

#2. The mother rabbit uses the fur she pulled out to line her nest and keep her babies warm and dry. Newborn rabbits don’t really have much hair at birth, just a light coating of peach fuzz.

Rabbits are somewhat unique in the animal kingdom, in that they are induction ovulating.  Females do not have a definite “fertile period” like most mammals, they only ovulate when mated by the male.  They also have a very short gestation of just 1 month and she has her litter weaned in about 8 weeks, thus she can easily have a litter every 8-10 weeks.  This is probably where all the jokes about “breeding like rabbits” come from.

Back to Our Rabbits…

As mentioned in a post written Sunday morning, we’ve ordered the 4-H rabbit curriculum (along with several others) for the Farmer Boys.  An email yesterday afternoon said that the order is shipping out of the Chicago warehouse this morning.  I am hopeful that these materials will arrive by week’s end.

Another interesting development in the rabbit hutch is some new additions that were bought during a trip to the feed store on Sunday to get parts to repair the plumbing for our well (you would not believe all the sediment that was plugging up the pipe where the water comes into the house, Pa replaced all the old pipe with PVC and put in a filtering system.) Henry bought a new doe, a lilac (possibly silver chinchilla) & white “broken” (aka white w/ gray spots, seems to have some ticking in her fur), he named her Belle (French for “beautiful”.)  Charles got himself a lilac (blue)/apricot (fawn) harlequin buck (looks like a tortoiseshell calico cat), he’s not named his male rabbit yet.  Anna also got her 1st bunny, a black & white “broken” named Jolie (pretty in French.  No, she is not named after the actress with the same last name.)  We are fairly sure that Belle and Jolie are probably sisters, being nearly identical in size and spotting.  The young buck rabbit was raised in the same grow off pen with the females, but is quite a bit larger (with female rabbits often being larger than males normally at least as adults), good likelihood that he is from a slightly older litter, perhaps a 1/2 brother with same sire or is an unrelated male/distant cousin.  These young rabbits will not be old enough for mating until fall.  currently they are housed together for warmth, companionship and lack of individual cages.

Next payday, we will buy wire and cage clips to build some new hutches for all of the rabbits.  We will design them to fit directly over our raised garden beds, so that in the late fall and winter months when the garden is dormant, the bunnies can directly apply their special fertilizer to the garden where it is most needed. (Stay tuned for that DIY project!)

As soon as Uncle Sam sends our tax refund, the family will be joining A.R.B.A., Inc. (American Rabbit Breeders Assoc., Inc.) and the National Mini Rex Club of America.  This is a great place to start for anybody who wants to learn more about rabbits and programs available for youth in this area of interest.  You can find out more, print membership application forms etc. by going to the American Rabbit Breeders Assoc. website.  The listed breeders is not an exhaustive one and if there are none listed near you, you can do the following to find one. To find a good rabbit breeder near you, contact your local county extension offices or 4-H director.  They will often have a list of  local livestock breeders for various species with contact information for you.  Even if you don’t find the particular breed you are looking for, breeders of other breeds may know who does as these are often small, closely knit groups where people know each other pretty well.  County and State Fairs or other local rabbit shows are also a great place to meet breeders and see lots of rabbits before deciding on a breed.  Most good rabbit breeders will be helpful to people starting out in rabbits, especially youth.  We tried starting out in rabbits a couple of years back  with some Dutch rabbits we bought from a breeder at the State Fair (that didn’t work out because of problems with the barn cats… long story and not pretty.  But when the cats were run over, we just didn’t get any new ones to replace them.)  The breeder was wonderful to our boys and sent us registration papers and kept in touch about upcoming rabbit shows, local club meetings and more.  It was too bad that the cats tried to eat the pair of young bucks (we were waiting for a new litter to get some females that weren’t closely related) the boys had bought at the Fair and the poor bunnies could not be saved. (A lesson here, if you have cats, make sure you have a cat-proof place to keep our rabbits before you get them.)  This time around they wanted to get a breed that was easier to find breeding stock in our area (feed store was probably NOT the best place for that, but it does get them started and is less expensive to “practice on” than fancy show rabbits like we started with the last time.  Making a major calamity less expensive in the long run.

Goals for this 4-H project: 1. Learn more about the care and showing of rabbits. 2. Learn about the mating, birth and rearing process with rabbits. 3. Learn business skills by marketing rabbits to the pet market. 4. Learn about the color genetics of Mini Rex rabbits.

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