I was finally able to get the start I wanted on my apprentice side project, so now I’m ready to share it with all of you! You had a sneak peek, but here comes the full explanation!
When I came here, I wasn’t sure I wanted a side project. There’s so much I still have to learn about vegetables and especially flowers I wasn’t sure I would have the time or energy. But I got the urge to try something! I wanted to do something that was manageable for me and yet something I had never done. So…I’m going to raise pastured meat rabbits!
I did a bit of research and found the breed I wanted to raise; Champagne d’Argente- a large meat breed. I went to the Small Farmers Fields Day last weekend and I was especially looking forward to the workshop on rabbit butchering, but alas, we got lost, got there late, and missed the workshop. The lady who was talking on the topic, Alicia, breeds rabbits, so I approached with a hope of getting some of my own. The breed she had? Creme d’Argente! Which is apparently quite similar to the kind I wanted. I went to her place the next day and got three rabbits. Two does and one buck. She didn’t have any bucks that weren’t related ready yet, so I ended up getting a Satin buck. I think the cross breeding will work out fine, perhaps even better, to start my line. A bit of inbreeding is ok in rabbits but I figured it might be best to start with uncrossed lines.
Pastured Rabbits Phase 2: I got the rabbits home and put them in an old hutch they had at the farm from a previous pet rabbit. I figured they would be fine there until I could build them the moveable rabbit run to pasture them in.
Well, well, such is farm life…I woke up on Friday morning and I no longer had any rabbits…after a few moments of asking myself, did I actually get rabbits? Was this all just a dream, I realized, yes in fact, my worst fears had come true and I had better start looking for my missing livestock.
I had been talking to my rabbits when I fed them so they would get used to my voice, so I started calling out to them, calmly and quietly…and out hopped the little boy from under a pine tree. Perfect! However glad he was to see me, maybe thinking he was about to get fed, he did not want to be held and kept hopping around. I finally got him as he was heading under the barn and BOY did he scream. Not pleasant at all! But there was no way I was letting go!
After some help from Stacy (who checked the greenhouse) and John(self-proclaimed bunny-rangler), along came Stella (the dog) and flushed the girl with floppy ears out from under another pine tree. I was able to pick her up no problem.
Two bunnies back in place I figured I would still have offspring, but loosing one rabbit was still unsettling. I thought maybe I should just start the work day and maybe she would appear. Unfortunately, soon after, she did. But she was not alive. She was still warm and only a little stiff. She wasn’t harmed from the outside at all. Rabbits can die of fear and I think in this case, that may have been what happened. There was a full moon the night before, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what really happened. When I checked them that morning the door was unlatched. That’s all I know.
It’s disappointing to have failure this soon in the project but I guess that’s just part of raising animals. It’s sad to loose a life, and I know I was raising these for meat, but this little bunny was suppose to live a lot longer and have at least one litter of rabbits.
Well, I buried her, and moved on.
I had to build their run.
The idea with pasturing rabbits, or with any animal for that matter, is to give them the most natural-the most like how that animal would live in nature, living out all of its instincts. The challenge for the farmer (or the fun and creative part!) is to figure out how to do that in a manageable way. It also makes for a healthy, less stressed animals, which makes for a healthier, tastier, leaner meat for us.
I designed this pen to be 6 feet long by 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall. I needed this to be a structure I could move on my own. I made 2×2’s for the frame, making it light but strong. I put thin wooden slats on the bottom so that rabbits can’t dig themselves out and so predators can’t dig themselves in. I made sure to leave enough space so that grass can come up into the pens without being squashed. Rabbits tend not to like flat salad. The slats also make for pretty nice gliders across the grass. The aluminum roofing will provide them with shade as well as rain protection. I may add a bit more covering to the sides for additional protection, but we will see how they do.
Immediately the rabbits took to their new natural home! They went from laying down in the grass between the slats to frolic-ing back and forth from end to end. They even threw in a few hop-twists! The boy even did a little digging! The lady I got these rabbits from kept all her rabbits in wire cages. The hutch I had them in had a wire bottom about a foot off the ground. And yet-having never dug before, or been taught to dug, this rabbit KNEW he had to dig. It gives me such joy to know that I am helping these rabbits live in their most natural state.
also~my second project this weekend was going to be an art project for this Slow Food event at the art museum. It’s suppose to correspond with this show of still-lifes they’re having. All my energies ended up going into this rabbit project though. HOWEVER, I’m thinking I am going to use my rabbits and their new run, with a little bit of dug up pasture, as a living installation! Stacy is going to check with the people running it, I will keep you posted! It will be on Thursday if it’s a go!