Archive for the ‘Backyard Barnyard’ Category

Our Furry Friends Are Hopping Into Spring

Although early spring sometimes brings cold snowy weather, here in South Dakota, it usually doesn’t last long this time of year.  After a day or two, the snow melts in late March and early April.  Sometimes this type of weather creates chaos on the farm in early spring.  You just never know a month or more in advance what the weather will be when the barnyard animals give birth, and a sudden cold snap can cause problems for newborn animals.  Several years ago we had a doe kid (first born of twins born to our alpine doe, Claire) who was delivered during a freakishly cold weekend in March and ended up with a frostbitten back leg.

On the other-hand, livestock having babies and increasing their family-size is the backbone of 4-H livestock projects.  To enable our 4-H’ers to grow their rabbit herds, we recently purchased 2 nest-box heaters for keeping litters warm until the babies grow fur (like rodents, baby rabbits are born bald.)  The mothers do pull fur to line their nests from their belly and sides, but if it is chilly and/or windy, this is often not enough and early litters are easily lost to exposure.

This year, we started off our 4-H projects by breeding Henry’s doe, Lady to his new blue Mini Rex buck, Slurpie, and Charles’ new doe, an albino New Zealand named Crystal, to his red buck, Lakota, in late Feb.  Lady delivered a nice all blue litter of 5 kits on March 26th.  Crystal kindled the day after, but had her 8 babies on the cage floor and lost them all to the cold.  Pa made a mistake in leaving her dead litter for me to see.  A rodent of some sort (out in the barn) ate the dead kits, then managed to get into Lady’s hutch and got her babies too.

The weekend after, we bred Lady’s daughter, Beauty, Henry’s castor-colored doe, Anna-Beth and Charles’ red doe and rebred Crystal. Two weeks prior to that, we had bred Charlotte to Slurpie and Blur to Lakota.  Both Charlotte and Blur are due to kindle next Saturday.

If all goes well, it will really get hopping around here.  As a side benefit, we should have a fabulous increase in rabbit manure to fertilize our garden  in the coming months of spring and summer.

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We Want to Hear From You

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Well, this is our 20th blog post at Modern Pioneer Family!  We’ve been blogging almost a month now, so we’d love to know just what you, the readers are thinking!  We want to improve your reading experience.  Please take a few seconds to vote in our poll, so that we can bring you more of the posts that you will love most!

We are thinking of posting blog posts on our various topic catagories on different days.  Make them “regular features” here to keep us sort-of-organized.  We already have our Mystery Recipe Monday features.  Are  you all liking that one?  We are definitely going to start doing a middle of the month-ish, after the 4-H meeting recap and update on the Farmer Boys’ 4-H projects.

What else would you like to read about regularly?  Service Dog Saturdays with the K-9 Pioneers?  Lots more recipes for Gluten Free cooking?  How-to’s on fixing or building things with Pa and the Farmer Boys? Crafting and household how-to’s with Ma?  the Littlest Pioneer Girl’s lessons in grammar and vocabulary?

After a month, it’s time to find out what is going to bring you the readers, back for more? We always welcome your insights, questions and comments to our posts, and are especially looking forward to them when do a post like this one.

Besides, it’s an important election year, so we think it’s a good thing to practice voting… that way maybe we will all remember to vote in the Big Election this coming November.

*In other voting news, my Senator, John Thune, has a Bill before the Senate to stop the Labor Board from making it illegal for youth from working on their own family farms.  Please write, call or email your Senators and Congressional Representatives and ask them to support Senator John Thune’s Bill and the future of our rural youth. (Young pioneers of today grow up to become the leaders of tomorrow. In the uncertain days ahead of us, we will need strong, opinionated voices, well-developed leadership skills and a tireless work ethic… there is no better place for the modern young pioneer to learn these skills than “on the family farm” no matter how small or large that farmstead may be.)

From Hare to Maternity

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Good evening all!  It may just be the 6th official day of spring, but we are certainly off to a hopping good start.

A package arrived in the mail Wednesday! It was sort of like Christmas in March when we opened the box and it turned out to be most of the 4-H materials we’d purchased. (The Gardening curriculum was back-ordered.)

In other news, we mated Daphne to Fluffy twice last Wednesday (before school and after school).  We are quite excited about the prospect of baby bunnies to be born in not quite a month (rabbits have a 30 day gestation period.)  This is our first litter of rabbits and is a totally new experience for most of us, as Pioneer Pa is the only one of us who has raised rabbits before… way back in the days before home computers.

I spent a good deal of the last week looking up more information about rabbit color genetics on the internet.  My research revealed that a mating between a Castor colored rabbit (Fluffy) and a Blue Broken colored rabbit (Daphne) should produce 50% Solid Opal (Castor dilutes) and 50% Broken Opal (spotted like mom with the diluted coat color of dad) babies.  So we are impatiently waiting on the resulting kits.

Daphne should be finishing up conception of her litter right about now!  “To maternity and beyond!” (A tweak on old Buzz Lightyear from one of the kids favorite films, Pixar’s Toy Story.)

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.

Pickin’ Chicks

No, Modern Ma isn’t trying to marry off her sons in elementary school, we spent the Ides of March deciding how to update our small flock of laying hens.

Oh and we had our 1st REAL 4-H meeting (the 1st and only one our club in Beadle County had was a Christmas party… that didn’t give the kids a functional or realistic view of what 4-H club and meetings are about, so we changed clubs & counties to enroll Charles and eventually Henry (he attends and participates, but is techincally a Cloverbud until he’s 8 years old) in the Redstone Valley 4-H Club (Kingsbury County, SD) that meets at their school.  Lori Wehlander (our former school principal, who stepped down after having a baby about 4 years ago, but is still a teacher at the school) and Daphne Mohler (Charles and Henry’s preschool teacher from several years ago) are the 4-H leaders and familiar enough with Charles’ special needs that they know how to help him be functional in this new activity.  At yesterday’s meeting, we had the county 4-H director come and teach the boys and girls “how-to make a poster” for the County Achievement Days (aka County Fair) that will be coming up in early August before the 2012 SD State Fair (always held starting the Thurs prior to Labor Day Weekend though Labor Day).  Charles was antsy and slightly disruptive during the power-point presnetation (but then baby sister was also fussing about a wet diaper, so he’s wasn’t exactly causing a problem), but really did a great job when it came down to the worktime in which the kids were all given posterboard and art materials to practice poster making.  He made 3 posters.  1st one he drew a tractor and made a “tractor safety poster” (we are going to keep working on and refining this idea for his county fair entry). 2nd was more of a display actually, about construction equip. and the 3rd was about meat eating dinosaurs.  Henry also made a poster of Tractors and Dinosaurs (together… he probably missed the point, but he’s only 7 and still a Cloverbud and this was their 1st real meeting.)

After the meeting, we drove to the Farm & Feed store in Huron, SD and let the children pick out some new chicks to refresh our flock and be one of their 4-H projects.  Henry chose to get 6 White Rock pullets (female baby ckickens) and Charles chose 10 (straight-run, a mix of males and females) cornish cross broiler chicks.  I picked out 6 Buff Orpington pullets (but unfortunately these were lost overnight due to poor placement of the chick’s waterer… Pa placed it right under the heat lamp in the brooder last night and the chicks got wet and went into shock when they couldn’t get dried off under the heat bulb.)

Yesterday, we also ordered 25 chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa.  Pioneer Pa wants to develop a crossbred chicken that can be gender-sorted by feather color at hatch (thus he can brood the males and females separately on different rations, broiler chick feed for the males and laying chick feed for the females.)  He also wants the females to be excellent winter layers, as we want to increase our sustainability in this area and not have to buy eggs during the winter.  And for the males he wants a bird that matures at a medium-fast rate with strong legs that can be raised on a pastured poultry system.  He intends to try using a Light Brahma rooster on Buff Orpinton hens and hatching the eggs in an incubator.  This cross should produce feather-legged white pullets that have black feathers on their necks and tails and clean-legged cockerals that are buff/yellow with some black feathering in the neck and tail feathers. He also wanted to have a few of the Light Brahma hens for laying this coming winter, so we ordered 15 straight-run (mixed males & females, as hatched) Light Brahma chicks and for 4-H projects we also ordered 10 straight-run Blue-laced Red Wyandotte chicks, which are a relatively new rare breed chicken that was recently developed in England by crossing silver-laced and gold-laced Wyandotte chickens then mating the offspring to each other and occassionally back to parent-stock in order to set the new color type.

I, Modern Ma, am a bit of a genetics buff and like working with advanced color genetics, as you might find in some birds and in my lovely Australian Shepherds (Aussies can come in over 20 colors and patterns, not including colors that involve color dilute genes.)  So along with our mail-order chicks, we also bought the book, 21st Century Poultry Genetics (the book should arrive early next week, while the birds are not scheduled to arrive until April 23rd).  The above book is a good reccomendation to intermediate to experienced poultry owners with an interest in genetics and hatching their own birds rather than purchasing day-old chicks via mail-order or a local farm & feed store (both of which I reccomend as a good starting place to those who are new to chickens or other poultry.)

Excellent books on poultry for begining poultry farmers are:

*Chickens in your Backyard

*Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens

*The Chicken Tractor (2nd edition)

*Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry

*Modern Free-Range

These books are available ay and may also be available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble as both regular books and possibly some of them as e-books for Nook and Kindle etc.

*The drawings in this post of chicken breeds were copied and pasted from the Murray McMurray online catalog and are for demonstration purposes only, as some of our followers may be unfamilar with what these animals look like.

*Pastured Poultry Profits

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