Pastured Rabbits

We moved to this farm two years ago with the intention of becoming as self-sufficient as possible. To us, the most obvious place to start was with food. We’ve been building our gardens year by year and preserving food as the gardens produce it, but it became apparent pretty quickly that we could never produce enough for our family with plants alone.  It also became apparent that for our farm to be sustainable, animals would need to be eliminated from time to time or we’d be overrun.

Our decades of vegetarianism came to an end when we began processing our chickens (which you can read about here and here), and now with another farm season stretching out ahead of us, we are looking for more ways to produce our own food. We’d like to sustain ourselves through the winter with as much farm food as possible.

Our front yard is covered in lush, green grass that is not really used for much at the moment. When I started thinking about how to turn that space into food, rabbits came to mind. The children had pet rabbits in the past, but I never felt very good about keeping them in a hutch with wire beneath their feet. I want my animals to live as naturally and comfortably and happily as possible, as close to what Nature intended as I can provide. It occurred to me that something similar to our chicken tractors might work well for rabbits – a rabbit tractor!

There were a few things that had to be addressed: could I bring myself to eat a rabbit, and is it possible to kill a rabbit without any undue stress or trauma to the animal? As it turns out, harvesting a rabbit is remarkably quick, easy and painless (you can watch the process in this YouTube video if you so desire). And when my father-in-law gave us a rabbit he had in the freezer, I did indeed bring myself to eat it – and I enjoyed it immensely!

I thought I was pretty original with this rabbit tractor idea, but low and behold, one of the farmers who has inspired me greatly raises pastured rabbits in a tractor system. Joel Salatin and his son have been doing it for years (check it out here), and a quick YouTube search revealed that plenty of other people are doing it too! Awesome!

Jae built the rabbit tractor very quickly with wood and chicken wire that we already had around the farm. I looked around for some inexpensive rabbits – which are in abundance, who knew? – and within a day we had ourselves some pastured rabbits.

We bought ten rabbits from two different farms, for a diversity of genes. Nine of them are 8 weeks old, and the tenth is a seasoned mama who we will breed later in the summer.

The tractor is 8′x4′ with an enclosed nesting box on one end to provide shelter from the elements and a snug place to sleep. The entire tractor is bottomless to allow the rabbits access to fresh grass all day. These bunnies aren’t hopping around in a small, wire enclosure!

Each morning, I move the tractor to a fresh patch of grass. The rabbits spend their days browsing on the greens growing under them – crab grass, plantain, dandelions, clover and much more – and our lawn is “mowed” in the process (you may recall that we don’t mow the grass around here!). By the end of the day, there is a neat rectangle of short lawn and the tractor is ready to be moved on to the next spot.

I love this system because the rabbits are hopping about on soft ground instead of wire, eating plants instead of pellets, and generally acting as rabbits were meant to act. After observing them quietly for several days, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are pretty darned happy in their tractor. They haven’t dug at the edges in attempts to escape, as some folks have suggested they might. The rabbits have shown no signs of stress whatsoever, and I’m pretty pleased with that.

I’m pretty impressed with the even cropping the rabbits give the grass. It’s not patchy as I had expected it might be – instead, it looks like a lawn mower went over it.

On the left of the photo above, you can see grass that has not yet had the tractor on it. On the right, grass that had the tractor on it yesterday (yes, there are dirt patches. Those are not from the rabbits, they were there prior to the tractor).

I’m pretty excited about this new venture in food production and sustainability. I can’t wait to see how it all pans out. I’m sure we’ll revise and tweak our system over the course of the summer as we see what works and what doesn’t, but for now everything is looking good!

Morning Rituals

For most of my life, I was not a morning person. It was really, really hard for me to get my butt out of bed. But living on a farm means getting up each morning and getting right to it – there’s no time for easing slowly into the day! There are things that must to be done before breakfast is made, animals waiting to be fed, goats waiting to be milked, eggs needing to be collected. These days, I love mornings and the routines we start our days with. Take a peek at a morning on the farm!

Life & Living

Once upon a time, I was waiting for “life’s grand adventure” to begin, something thrilling that would free me from the monotony and boredom of everyday life. I realised, not too long ago, that somewhere along the line “life’s grand adventure” ceased to hold any importance, and I contentedly settled in to the joys and pleasures that everyday life brings. Each new day holds little miracles and wonders! Each new day is a grand adventure!

Every now and then I come across a poem or a photo or a book that sums up my feelings more eloquently and beautifully than I seem able to do. There’s a poem on the very first page of my Encyclopedia of Country Living  (a fantastic resource by Carla Emery) that I return to again and again. It confirms for me that I’m on the right path and reminds me to rejoice in life’s little pleasures.

Mama’s Mama

Mama’s Mama, on a winter’s day,
Milked the cows and fed them hay,
Slopped the hogs, saddled the mule,
Got the children off to school.
She did a washing, mopped the floors,
Washed the windows and did some chores.
Cooked a dish of home-dried fruit,
Pressed her husband’s Sunday suit,
Swept the parlour, made the beds,
Baked a dozen loaves of bread.
She split some wood and lugged it in,
Enough to fill the kitchen bin,
Cleaned the lamps and put in oil,
Stewed some apples she thought might spoil,
Churned the butter, baked a cake,
Then exclaimed, “For Mercy’s sake,
The calves have got out of the pen!”
Went out and chased them in again,
Gathered the eggs and locked the stable,
Returned to the house and set the table,
Cooked a supper that was delicious,
And afterwards washed all the dishes,
Fed the cat, sprinkled the clothes,
Mended a basket full of hose,
Then opened the organ and began to play,
“When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day”.

- Anna Rees Henton, age 85, 1953

 

Of course, my life is not nearly so chore-filled as our poem mama’s is, and I have a few modern appliances that simplify things for me quite a bit. The sentiment, however, touches me deeply – life is a series of days, each day a series of fairly predictable events, and each day perfect with its chores, child rearing and meal preparation.

Spring on the Farm

The weather has been incredible around here for the last several weeks and life is springing forth on the farm.

ImageThe chickens have been going crazy with the laying and we have more eggs than we know what to do with. Pickled eggs, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, eggs over easy, omelets, casseroles, fritatas, eggs florentine, eggs for baking with… after eating eggs every day, there are still six dozen in the fridge!

 

ImageJeremy and Platypus are pretty thrilled with the sunshine and warm weather, and have been happily quacking about. Platypus has generously donated a few dozen duck eggs for our breakfasts over the last several weeks.

 

ImageDay Lily and Sunflower are pretty darned shaggy. Next month I will try my hand at shearing them (aside from my one attempt at shearing with fabric scissors, I am totally inexperienced in this department). Perhaps soon I will get to washing, carding and spinning the several bags of fleece that are hiding out in my mudroom. I need to find a good project for Sunflower’s lovely fleece.

 

ImageDaisy and Dinosaur are becoming quite large in the middle. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their kids, and the return of goat’s milk! (Since several of you have asked, Daisy – on the left – is an Alpine doe. Dinosaur – on the right – is a Toggenburg/Saanen cross.)

 

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Oddler is growing whiter with age, losing his hearing, and developing cataracts, but he is still filled with youthful energy and can outrun our sprightly Beagle puppy, Echo. Last week, Oddler taught Echo how to tree a raccoon and chased a coyote out of the yard in the dark of the night. Not bad for an old boy!

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Lynden has caught all manner of small creatures: frogs, toads, snakes. Last Spring and Summer, we had a hard time with Lynden wanting to keep all the creatures he had captured. He just didn’t understand that we have to leave Mother Nature’s children in peace where they belong. Now, he’s come a long way – he keeps each captured creature for one night only, and the next morning releases them where he found them. Progress!

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There’s been lots and lots of bike riding around here lately. Our very long driveway is perfect for this beloved activity, and the kids have been out there every chance they get.

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ImageGaia is wonderful and beautiful, and charming us all. Her older siblings grow deeper in love with her with every passing day. I am amazed by her – so calm, so peaceful, so content. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard her cry since her birth. Gaia is the brightest blessing and I am filled with gratitude at being her mother. How did I get so lucky FOUR TIMES!?

Yessir, Spring has definitely arrived. It’s my favourite time of year, when everything is bursting with the freshness and newness of life, renewed.

Chicken Dinner

You may recall that some time ago, our long-time vegetarian family made the decision to eat some of our chickens. We love our birds, and are so grateful for the eggs they provide our family, but the truth is that sometimes some of the birds have to go. It’s not possible to maintain a closed-loop system without eliminating some of your animals from time to time, and after a lot of discussion we concluded that it would be easier on our consciences to slaughter our chickens here at home as humanely as possible than to sell them and have no idea what their fates would be.

I will admit it was hard for me to come to terms with slaughtering our chickens, at first. Equally hard to come to terms with was how much I loved that first chicken dinner we had. I was not expecting to enjoy chicken so much! Now that chicken has become a somewhat regular part of our diet, I decided it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughtering process, to take responsibility for the birds I raised and the food on my plate. Until now, Jae has done the “dirty work” without me, often with a friend lending a hand. This was weighing heavily on my conscience.

So, with rations dwindling in the kitchen and a rather tight budget for the week, it became apparent that it was time for another chicken dinner – and it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughter.

When I first stepped outside and saw the chosen hen sitting calmly on the porch, I nearly lost my nerve. A panicky feeling settled in on me and I thought, “I can’t do this! I’ll have to go back to being veg!” I took a deep breath and held the chicken in my arms. She looked at me, calm as can be, and I stroked her feathers. I thanked her for the eggs she’s given, spoke words of gratitude to her, and as I looked into her eyes I felt myself calming down. The hen wasn’t panicking, why was I?

I held the hen out in front of me, her head resting lightly on the chopping block. Still she was calm; I could feel her heart beating steadily, not racing, not alarmed. A split second later, Jae’s axe came down on her neck and it was done. No squawking, no panic, no distress. Just a calm bird who was with us one moment and gone the next.

Jae told me he’d be alright to finish the job if I felt I needed to go back into the house, but I wanted to see the whole process through from start to finish. I was surprised by how very OK I felt about what had just happened (truthfully, I had thought I’d be a mess of tears). It felt good to take responsibility for my dinner, and I was so relieved to see first-hand that the hen had not had one moment of distress or suffering.

So now I know how to slaughter, clean, gut and butcher a chicken – and if you have the stomach for it, you can see the process for yourself.  If you’re a staunch vegetarian or someone who hasn’t faced the reality of what it means to eat animals, you might want to skip past the following photos.

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Renew & Repurpose

We’re always trying to cut costs around here without cutting our enjoyment of life, especially since Jae quit his job in favour of being home doing freelance work. So when we ran out of toilet paper the other day, I decided not to buy any more.

In my sewing room, I collect clothing that is looking too worn to make it back into the drawers or the donation bag, in hopes that I can cut them up and re-purpose them. There’s plenty of soft flannel piling up, perfect for making cloth “butt wipes”.

The first thing to come off the top of the pile was an old pyjama shirt of mine, acquired second-hand. It may be too worn to bother patching and fixing up now, but it’s perfect for cutting up! The remaining buttons went into my button box, and the shirt was transformed.

Snip, snip & sew, and VOILA! I give you…

Washable cloth butt wipes, quite possibly the easiest thing a mama could make! They look quite lovely, neatly folded on the back of the toilet. It’s a shame the lighting in the bathroom is so poor.

There you have it, a simple way to reduce waste, cut expenses, and reuse old materials!