Grass Mustache!

Cheiri with a grass moustache
Cheiri with a grass mustache

This is Cheiri with a grass mustache!  Yay!  When female rabbits are getting ready to build a nest, they gather up grasses to line the nest.  Which gives them a ‘grass mustache’ and is a really good thing if one is hoping for baby bunnies.  She’s actually quite a few days early for this, though, usually a doe will build her nest about four days before having babies and she’s not due until May 4th.

Sandy has been pulling wool, which is another thing prospective bunny moms do.  So hopefully we may have two litters this round.

Both of them were bred to Gomez, a black buck on loan.  He’s been eating a different feed than the Nutrena 18% “Performance” rabbit feed that the rest of the herd has been eating.  Since he brought a half bag of his feed with him, he’s been eating the same feed.  He met up with Cheiri, Sandy, Sirocco and Cocoa Puff, so he was a busy boy.  Two of them, Cheiri and Sandy are making nests so we are really hopeful of some new litters the first week of May.

This is Hillside Sirocco getting fuzzy. She’d molted down to almost nothing earlier

This is Sirocco, who has also been with Gomez, but she hasn’t started building a nest yet.  Still, the other two are days earlier than usual for nest building and some never build a nest at all, so we still don’t know if she will be a mom bunny or not.  However, her coat is growing in as an angora coat.  She’d molted to a very short coat and had a very clean molt, so I wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do when she grew in her new coat.  If she has a litter we will probably keep them all to see if they also will molt cleanly.

Looking back over the database, in the past twelve months, there have been 18 matings.  (This doesn’t include the current five we are waiting to see if there will be a litter.)  Of those 18 matings, only two produced a litter and both of them were a litter of 3.  The first litter was one live birth and two stillborn.  The second litter was three live births but then the dam didn’t make any milk to feed them so we lost all three.  Which means one new bunny in the past twelve months!

According to our database, we had 23 matings in 2012.   Seven of them were unsuccessful, although all but one of the unsuccessful matings were with the same doe.  She never did have a litter so it was probably something wrong with her and not the mating procedure.  So, figure she’s a barren doe for whatever reason, remove the six matings with her, that leaves 17 matings, only one of which didn’t take.  There were 79 offspring in 2012 out of 17 matings.  So that’s an average of about five bunnies per litter.  Using the same average, we should have had about 85 baby bunnies in the past 12 months.

In 2013, there were six matings, four unsuccessful and the two litters were of 4 and 7.    That’s a one out of three average.

In 2014 there were 14 matings and only four of them were successful.   Those were a litter of 10, 8, 6 and then 1.   That’s one litter out of 3.5 matings, a little higher average than 2013.  And a higher litter size of 6.25 average.  Wish I would have kept records of what they were being fed at these times.

In 2015 there were 15 matings and only five were successful.  That’s back to the one litter in three matings ratio.  The results were a litter of 4, 5, 4, 5 and 5.  Average litter size of 4.6, so that’s less than 2014.

In 2016 there were 24 matings and only eight were successful.  Back to the one in three ratio.  The resulting litters were 7, 1, 2, 3, 7, 6, 3 (two stillborn), & 3.  That’s an average litter size of 4 if the still borns are included.

Of the litters that were supposed to be born this  year, the six early January ones didn’t show up.  The four for early April didn’t show up and we are still waiting to see how the ones which are supposed to show up in early May will do.   However, Cheiri with a grass mustache is a good hopeful sign.

 

Bunny Berries!

Another reason for keeping bunnies is so there will be a ready supply of ‘bunny berries’ when setting up a new garden.

picture of a raised bed garden

New garden April 22nd, 2017It may not look like much yet, but hopefully there will be all sorts of things sprouting there really soon.

It’s about eight feet by four feet and 32″ deep at the front.  It’s been dug into the hillside and then lined with weed mat to keep weeds out.  It’s a somewhat appalling amount of work for the size of garden that it is, but once it’s set up  it’s pretty much good for years.  It never gets walked on so it doesn’t get packed down.

There’s a layer of bunny manure, which I like to call ‘bunny berries’ at the top two layers of bricks.  That’s 16″ deep fertilized with bunny manure.  There’s some oyster shell scattered in the lower levels, I should probably put some on the top, too.  We have fairly acidic soil and the oyster shell mellows that out.

I should also dig in ‘bio-char’ which is basically just charcoal.  That traps the nutrients (just like a charcoal filter traps things in a water system) and holds them for the plant roots to find.  We have a lot of rainfall, so nutrients wash out quickly.

Tomato from seeds given by Joey from Maui
Tomato from seeds given by Joey from Maui

The first plant in the new garden is a potato leafed tomato plant that was sprouted from seeds that were given to me by Joey on Maui.  He enthused about it and he gets interesting plants so we will see how it does.  It’s supposed to be a really tasty tomato so I’ll grow it out all by itself until I can get some more self pollinated seeds.  Then I may plant another variety of tomato or two and not save seeds from them since they’d cross pollinate.

The fence is around the garden to keep the chickens out.  Once the plants get established, a chicken wandering through isn’t overly terrible.  Not to be encouraged, but not terrible.  At this stage when the seeds are just sowed, a chicken can scratch them all up and cause chaos.

There’s the Joey’s Tomato, Good Mother Hubbard beans, sugar beets, big cylindrical beets, another green bean, kyoto carrots, tendercrisp celery, red curly kale, a red and a white short day length onion, five different types of lettuce and some hulless oats.  Just a little bit of each, some of them – such as the oats – is mostly to produce more seed.

One of the main reasons I’ve been working on setting up this garden has been a place to grow greens for the bunnies.  There have been no litters for the past several breedings and I’ve been suspecting it’s feed related so it seemed a good idea to grow bunny food.  Then I’d know exactly what’s in it.  However, we went past the Waimea feed store and:

picture of a label from a bag of organic alfalfa pellets
ORGANIC alfalfa pellets

ORGANIC alfalfa pellets!  This should be entirely GMO and RoundUP free!  Yay!  We will see if the bunnies start having litters again when fed with organic feed instead of the other feed that we couldn’t find out where it was sourced.

They don’t seem to like these pellets as much as the others, though, they seem to toss a lot of them out of the feeders.  Although that may be because they are also getting some Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (usually just called BOSS among folks discussing feed) and calf manna along with the pellets so they dig through the pellets to get the other tasty bits.  Which then wastes the pellets since they fall through the hutch floor.  Sigh!  Guess I need to get some small separate feeders for the little bits of BOSS and calf manna.

Well, it’s a start, we may not see the May 4th bunnies since they’ve just started being fed the new feed, but hopefully the ones after that will show up.  I wonder if counting  your bunnies before they’re born is as bad as counting your chickens before they’re hatched?

Happy Spring!

Not that we pay all that much attention to seasons, but spring is a good time of year.  More sunshine = more happiness!

Hillside Farm bunny hutches April 2017
Hillside Farm bunny hutches April 2017

It almost looks like they have lights in their hutch now.  Some new neighbors moved into the deserted house next door and they’ve been cleaning and clearing.  They’ve thinned the mock orange hedge behind the bunny hutch so now light comes through.   The bunnies should have more ventilation and a better view now.

CMU block garden dug into hillside
New really raised bed garden

It being springtime and all, it seems a good time to set up a new garden area.  I’ve found raised bed gardens to be really productive.  Not only is it a smaller area to water and fertilize, but harvesting is much easier when you don’t have to fuss around at ground level.

The wire bunny cage is in there being used as a screen to screen out rocks and roots and such from the soil that was dug out of there to make room for the new garden.   The soil was dug out of the area and weed mat was spread across the bottom and sides of the raised bed.  Makes it ever to much easier to maintain when there’s not weeds moving in from the bottom and sides later.  The new garden area will be the area inside the black liner.  It’s roughly eight and a half by four and a half feet so it’s a pretty small garden, but with enough water and fertilizer, it can grow quite a bit.

The other good thing about these particular raised beds is that they are also terracing the hillside.   We are ‘Hillside Farm’ after all, one would expect some hillside in there somewhere and the gardens are going in pretty much the steepest part of the yard.  This is just the backyard ‘farm’, we did used to have a real farm on a hillside, but the bunnies were the only productive thing on the leased farm land so we gave up the farmland lease and now are backyard bunny micro-farmers.  Much closer to home and easier to take care of and no tractors necessary, although I do miss the backhoe.  Anyway, enough of history and now back to the new garden.

The front of the garden is four layers of bricks.  Each layer is 8″ tall, so that’s 32″ in front.  A lovely height to pick lettuce, don’t you think?  The back of the garden will be one layer high, all of 8″.  Considering the garden is only about three and a half concrete blocks deep, it rises two feet in four and a half feet.  Guess I should put some steps along the sides going up.  There may be another raised garden bed on the hillside behind it.  Either that or a short retaining wall of some sort.  Not sure what the overall rise is up to that mac nut tree, maybe thirty foot rise?

the start of a raised bed garden dug into the side of a hill as a terrace
New Garden April 2017

That’s as high as the front wall of the new garden will be and you can’t see from the photo, but it’s halfway full of soil.  The big pile in the picture is actually behind the new garden.  The new bunny hutch will eventually be up the hill under that dark tree up there.  That’s a macadamia nut tree and makes nice dense shade.  We’ve got a road to up there on the other side of the property and will be building a house up there at some point, but all of this is eventual sorts of stuff.

If the rain would stop today, then more work could be done on the garden, but it may be several days before more gardening gets done.  Fortunately, we don’t have much deadline on when to plant around here.

Interesting Conversations

chocolate mum rabbit with black baby rabbit
Cocoa with baby Gayle

The last baby bunny born here was baby Gayle in a Litter of One.

I just had an interesting conversation.  It may have started out ‘before coffee’ but it was worth waking up for.   Actually, it wasn’t all that early in the morning, I’d slept in really late.  Ooops!  So it’s not like folks are calling up while it’s still dark out or anything.  But, anyway, I had an interesting chat this morning with another bunny person.

She has several different breeds of bunnies and is hoping for an angora as well sometime soon.  Which is partly why she was calling.  However, she’d been noticing a lack of litters as well as really small litter sizes among her bunnies.  Reliable mum rabbits weren’t having litters at all or instead of eight or ten babies, there’s one or two.   Which is the same problems we’ve been having over here, too.

Talking together, we discovered that she’d switched over to the higher protein feed from the same source we use about a year and a half ago.  Which was several months before she noticed the decreased litter sizes.   We’ve both been using Nutrena’s 18% bunny pellets and we’ve both noticed significantly decreased litter amounts and sizes starting about a year and a half ago.  Of course, this isn’t proof by any means, purely anecdotal ‘evidence’ (also known as gossip, I suppose), however, we both noticed the same thing.

I’d been thinking that the alfalfa the feed is made from has probably been sprayed with a herbicide to cut down on weeds.  You’d think weed free would be a good thing, and presumably the herbicide is not harmful to the creatures eating it.  However, from what we’re experiencing, it may affect fertility.  With horses, how many of them are being bred?  How many are fed a pure pellet diet?  Since the majority of the alfalfa grown would be going to feed horses and cattle (do cattle get fed alfalfa hay and pellets?) or other large animals, I suspect the bunny feed accounts for a very small percentage of the alfalfa crop.  Of the people feeding pellets to bunnies, how many of them are breeding the bunnies?  Well, if they’re growing bunnies for meat, then almost all of them, but if they have a bunny for a pet, then very few of them.  So for the alfalfa growers, decreased fertility among the animals eating the crop probably isn’t a problem.

I’m also suspecting that the folks who make the feed don’t ask the farmers specifically how the alfalfa was grown.  If it shows up clean and weed free, they’re gonna be thrilled, I’d expect.

This had also happened about the same time we’d moved to the new house here, so I’d thought maybe it was the change in location having something to do with decreased litter size.  Maybe the bucks had overheated since they didn’t have as dense of shade as before?  Maybe they didn’t like their new hutches?  Maybe the herd was getting older?  I’d been looking all over for the answer and when kicking around at some other bunny sites online, someone mentioned herbicide used on the crops made into feed and decreased fertility.

I asked our feed store if they knew the source of the alfalfa in the pellets.  They didn’t think even the feed mill would be able to answer that one.  If it was a concern, then ‘organic’ feed would probably (not ‘certainly’ notice, just ‘probably’) would be free of any herbicide residue.

Ah, now I remember.  I originally found out about this on a gardening web site.  They’d said that there was enough herbicide residue in some of the feeds to kill off gardens if you used too much of the manure from animals fed the feed grown with herbicide.  I’d originally been concerned because I use the bunny manure as almost my entire source of fertilizer.  That wasn’t directly related to lack of litters or litter size at all.

I haven’t noticed that effect on the garden, yet.  Perhaps bunny fertility is more sensitive than gardens?

After the conversation, I think I’m gonna have to revise my earlier thinking.  I’d thought that the higher protein feed would be less likely to have herbicide grown alfalfa (if the mills even tracked that sort of thing) since it would be fed to the animals more likely to be bred.  So, I’d been feeding the breeding herd the 18% and giving the regular feed to the non-breeding herd.  After the conversation this morning, she’d said she noticed the lack of fertility from switching to the higher protein feed.  Since both the regular and high protein feeds are made by the same mill, I’m guessing both of them are sourced from the same alfalfa crop.

I’ve been feeding the breeding herd a higher percentage of forage, they may have to switch to entirely forage fed.  I’ll also have to switch to an entirely different brand of feed, but do different mills use alfalfa grown with herbicides?

If bunnies have been fed herbicide laced alfalfa pellets, does the herbicide eventually work it’s way out of their system?  Will they become fertile again on a different diet?  Can bunnies be bred to be fertile while eating herbicide laced feed?  Baby Gayle is the last bunny born here and she came from a litter of one.  If she’s bred will she also have small litters?  Will she have any litters at all?

Gayle is five months old now, she’s about old enough to have a litter now.  Since Gomez joined the herd and has been fed a different brand of pellets, if Gayle meets up with Gomez, will she have a litter?  That would indicate that if the fertility problem is feed based, it’s also a lack of fertility in the males and not the females.

I’ll pick up an entirely different brand of pellets and feed those to the bucks and breeding does along with the increased amount of forage.  I’d switched the breeding herd to the higher protein feet, but now I’m thinking an entirely different brand of feed.  Although, since we don’t know if they don’t all source their feed from alfalfa grown the same way, we don’t know if it will make a difference.

If anyone else out there has noticed the same sorts of things, it would be interesting to hear from you!

 

Maybe May Day Bunnies

Well, actually, it’d be May 4th, but that’s close enough to May Day that if the litters appear we’d probably have to name them after flowers.

 

Bored with grooming Sirocco, yawning.

This is Sirocco, an 11 month old chocolate agouti doe.  She’s one of the ‘atmospheric conditions’ named bunnies, so she was born last year.  She is the cleanest molting angora I’ve ever seen.  Usually, they will molt, but the wool gets all tangled into mats and stays clumped on the bunny if it’s not taken off by someone.  Sirocco will molt clean with no clumps.  Very strange, but kinda nice to not have to worry about getting her coat off in time when she molts.  Loses the fiber but doesn’t harm the bunny by having clumps of hair getting them all tangled up.

Sirocco met up with Hillside Gomez.  He’s Janet’s brother and came from the People Named Year so he’s two years old.  Well, a year and seven months, but he was born in 2015.

This was his first time and he had the most amazed look on his face afterwards.  Shock and awe and he seemed dazed for awhile after.  Sirocco didn’t even roll her eyes, so that was a good thing, too, I guess.

Gomez after a haircut
Hillside Gomez

This is Gomie after a haircut so he’s not fuzzy at the moment.  Boy angoras need a haircut before meeting the girls or the hair gets in the way and no baby bunnies.  He will be fuzzy again soon enough.  Still, I don’t think he cares if he has a bad haircut if he gets to meet girl bunnies.

We’re not sure  yet if Gomez is on loan or is moving back to stay, we will find out when his person is back from vacation.  Sydney is also a here again gone again kinda guy, but genetically, it’s good to have visiting bucks.

Gomez has been a busy boy.  He’s met up with Hillside Sirocco as  you already know.  But, he’s also met up with Hillside Cheiri, Hiratas Cocoa Puff and Hillside Sandy Storm.

Cocoa Puff

This is Cocoa Puff, she is the mother of Tootsie, Gayle & Ginger and is four years and three months old at the moment.  We don’t know much about Gomez’s genetics at the moment since both his parents were black.  We will see all solid colors from this litter, no agouti or fawns.   Gomez’s dam had a recessive for chocolate, if Gomie got that, then there may be some chocolates from the litter.  Both his parents had a recessive for REW (albino) but we don’t know if Cocoa has it.  If she does and he does, then maybe REW.  We don’t really know what else, to look for, this may be an all black litter.

Chocolate agouti doe
Sirocco

Here’s Sirocco when she’s not yawning.  With a litter between Gomez & Sirocco, we will probably see half of them some sort of agouti pattern.  (white around the eyes, in the ears and undercarriage with each hair being multiple colors along the hair shaft).  If he has no recessives, then statistically speaking, half the litter will be agouti (wild rabbit color) and the other half will be solid black.  However, if he has the chocolate recessive from his mum, then there will be half chocolate colors in the litter.  Sirocco has the recessive for torts & fawns, but we don’t know if Gomez does.

For some reason I can’t find a picture of Sandy.  She’s the cutest little fawn doe, too.  Guess my next project will be to take pictures of every bunny and update the who’s who files.  Sandy Storm is fawn, which is an agouti color.  So we can pretty much expect the same possible colors between  her and Gomez as between Gomez & Sirocco, although more possibility of fawns if Gomez has the recessive for it.

Gomie also met up with Cheiri, who is also a black bunny.   She has a recessive for albino as well as tort/fawn, but we don’t know if Gomie has them.  Maybe this will be an all black litter?

Phineus Phogge also met up with Ginger, but I don’t know if it actually worked, generally it takes a little longer than two seconds.  Three at least!  I’ll let them meet up again later today and see if they can be more traditional about these sorts of things.

Later, I’ll probably see if Sydney wants to meet up with anyone, but I’ll have to check the database first to see who would be the best pairings.

If any of this works, then we should see baby bunnies on May 4th.

 

 

 

 

No April Fools

Well, we’d hoped for some new bunnies this past weekend, at least one of the four should have had a litter, one would expect.  However, there were none!  So, we will try again, however it would be really helpful if there was any idea as to why there’s no litters appearing.

Currently the theories as to why no babies is either the bucks got too hot last summer in the heat and are temporarily sterile.  Although they should have gotten over that by now, I’d hope.  Or that the feed has been contaminated with herbicide when the alfalfa was grown.  Apparently a lot of farmers are now using RoundUp Ready alfalfa or some such thing and the traces of herbicide left on the alfalfa affect fertility.  Doesn’t harm horses who are mostly the ones eating the alfalfa, but for bunnies, I guess they’re more sensitive than horses.  Also, probably not as many of the horse folks are trying to breed their horses.

So, we will try again and change out to a lot of forage foods for the breeding herd.

In other bunny news, Phineus Phogge just had his first birthday.

Phineus Phogge at one year old

Happy Birthday Phin!

He has some almost bright brown on his face now, not sure how that came about with his lilac color.  Lilac is technically a diluted chocolate, but he’s almost got a bright red mask on.  I suppose that could be a chocolate mask, but it looks more red than chocolate.   It’s about time for him to get another haircut, maybe it will change back to his more usual warm gray when his next coat grows in.  Bunnies do change their color somewhat between one coat and the next.

Well, I’ll go out and see which girls want to meet up with which boys and see if we can figure out the lack of baby bunnies.  This has been an ongoing difficulty for the past several years.