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Experiments in fermentation

What’s in common between a rabbit, kimchee, sauerkraut, old fashioned ginger ale and a ginger bug?
Answer: They are all fermenting

sauerkraut, kimchee, ginger ale & ginger bug
4 month old buck

I’ve got time to do one last experiment over the next few weeks before winter ends. I’ve been feeding this young buck both pellets and branches from chinese elm and russian olive for a few weeks now. Today, I’m cutting off the pellets and we’ll monitor his weight change. He weighs 9.28 pounds and is 4 months + 10 days old as of February 25, 2016. Well see how well this guy ferments tree bark, twigs and buds.

Update

After one month of eating nothing but dormant tree branches, he’s still healthy. He did lose one pound but is still in good condition. Just lean instead of fat. To keep weight on and provide a boost for a doe and her litter, I would add some root crops or squash to the diet. I’ll have to run a test on that next winter. My patch of jerusalem artichokes produced about 200 pounds of tubers and the rabbits enjoy them. They are very easy to grow so, I’ll expand that plot.

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Sexing kits

Sexing young rabbits takes practice. Newborns are tough but some say you can still tell by the shape of the opening. I usually wait until they are weaned but in this video I’m checking a litter just under 3 weeks of age. To be honest, the only way to learn is by doing. Just compare siblings and remember round hole male and vertical taco female.

A male’s testicles usually drop at around 4 or 5 months of age, which makes identification of adults easier, unless they don’t drop or are sucked in. Always check their vent shape to be sure.

I would not keep a male who doesn’t have dropped testicles. Check more than once and especially on warmer days. Sperm survives longer in a cool environment, so for best fertility they should be extended.

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How to carry a rabbit

Here’s a short video on how to do the underarm carry. This is the safest and easiest method I’ve found for both you and your rabbit.


Remember

  • Never pick a rabbit up by the ears. It’s painful and can pull the muscles to where the rabbit cannot lift or position them.
  • Rabbits are used to being on the ground. Looking down with no support is scary. Keep a hand under their butt for support when doing the underarm carry. 
  • You can hold them against you for support but you may get scratched if the panic.
  • If you have children that handle your rabbits, you may want to consider trimming their nails, in addition to proper handling techniques. Teachers often report on children they see with wounds. Scratched arms happen more frequently with improper handling.
  • Long sleave shirts help protect against scratches.
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Forage Rabbit Youtube channel

I’ve had a few people ask for video so I created a “Forage Rabbit” youtube channel. These videos are just being created on my cell phone by one of our boys, so don’t expect high quality. Hopefully you’ll find them useful.

In this first video I am introducing the idea of using dormant tree branches as feed during the winter, similar to how Native American horsemen fed their mounts.  Much of this idea I got from the book: Black Elk Speaks as told through John G Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow) by Nicholas Black Elk.

Wake the dead – kit CPR

Today I went out to check the new litters. I’ve got a couple mothers that like to sit in the nest box next to the babies this time of year. They stay warmer that way but I sometimes wonder if they aren’t better off being left alone so they ball together and fluff the bedding around themselves to keep warm. One of the mothers was sitting on a kit. I picked it up and it was limp but still warm. I’m guessing she accidentally sat on it and choked the life out of it. I was about ready to throw it out but noticed it moved slightly, taking a feeble breath. I softly squeezed it’s rib cage together rapidly three times and stopped. It just laid there in my hand. I squeezed again a few times, rapidly pushing air in and out of its lungs and hopefully stimulating the heart. Just an idea I stole from infant CPR training I took for foster care licensing. The kit took another breath and a second later another but no other movement. Thinking it unlikely to survive, I just laid it down next to it’s siblings to keep warm.

Later when I went out to feed in the evening, I checked on the kit and it was doing great. Usually, when they are warm and limp, they are truly dead but I must of caught this one before it was too late.

When you find new kits that are cold and not breathing, it’s a different story. Never assume they are dead until you’ve warmed them up. I usually put them inside my shirt to warm up. Many women will put them in their bra. I’ve also used a heating pad. You’d be surprised how many you thought were dead, come back to life.

Never put a cold kit who got separated, back in with their siblings, they often get smothered by the others or might get some of them chilled. Warm them up first.

If an entire litter got chilled due to moisture, or poor bedding. Clean out the nest box and put fresh bedding. Make sure there is a few inches of wood shavings or similar material on the bottom to act as insulation and to absorb any moisture. I’ve found that cross cut shredded paper also works well. I then put a bunch of grass hay around the outside and make a depression to place the litter.  Put any of their mother’s pulled fur back over them or use some dryer lint. It’s a good idea to save extra fur and lint from your dryer in case you need it.

When you find dead kits:
If cold, they are not dead until they are warm and dead.
If warm, take a minute to squeeze their rib cage lightly together rapidly, then watch for movement.

Update – The Native American Winter Horse Feed Experiment

On day 4, I weighed the three rabbits and they had lost about 3 ounces each. Looking at the feed I noticed that they were not eating as much as I’d normally suspect. My suspicion is that they needed more time to transition from pellets and the large supply of apples they had been eating. So, for now I’m stopping the experiment. I will try again later. 

Over the last week I’ve just been putting a small amount of pellets in a bowl and am gradually seeing the limbs getting stripped more thoroughly. I’m not expecting to ever get fast weight gain on winter tree limbs alone but would like to see if they can get some growth. I’ll try again over a few days and monitor their weight and will post another update on how that goes.
I always try to give a few small branches daily to my rabbits. I’ve noticed since doing that, I’ve had no problems with weaning stress or digestive diseases. I believe the coarse fiber helps regulate the good bacteria in their gut and prevents the bad from taking over.
I’ve got a few more does to breed over the next week. That’s sometimes tricky when the days get short. I’ve also noticed the percentage of males in my litters is higher in winter and my female count is higher in spring. I’ll write more about this and my upcoming mini feed experiment next week.
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Day 1 – The Native American Winter Horse Feed Experiment

Despite the title of this post, this experiment is on rabbits. It was inspired from reading biographical stories of American Indians and fur trappers on how they fed their horses during the winter months, primarily on cotton wood bark, stems and branches.

Today I started the experiment with three white kits that are 6 weeks old and were born October 14, 2015.  I weighed 4 brown kits out of the same litter and am keeping pellets in front of these but they’ll still get some forage. Up until now they’ve been eating some forage, apples and have had pellets always available. I’ve stacked all my Jerusalem Artichoke stalks that froze recently, thinking I was going to chip them. I gave some to the rabbits to eat and they loved them! They only left the older 1/3 base part of the stalk but even chewed on those pretty heavily. These plants were nearly 12 foot tall. Every part of that pant is usable and it grows like a weed.

I’ve gathered fresh branches from Chinese elm, Russian olive and cottonwood. I’ll also include the Jerusalem artichoke stalks in their feed. No pellets will be given going forward.
I’ve got a scale that is accurate down to the half ounce and weighed all the kits.
Those in the experiment weighed in ounces: 43.5, 48.0, 42.5
The siblings left as the control weighed in ounces: 43.5, 46.5, 47.5, 48.5
Chowing down on tree limbs
Upon placement in the pen the test subjects are already enjoying their tree branches
I’ll be weighing everyone again on Sunday and provide an update. If everyone is losing weight, I’ll be ending the experiment.
Stay tuned!

Planning – The Native American Winter Horse Feed Experiment

I’m finding many references to Native Americans and trappers feeding their horses cottonwood branches and bark during the winter. Louis and Clark witnessed prized horses kept in great condition through the winter on this diet. Time to put this winter diet to a test on domestic rabbits. I’m a bit skeptical of much success but if weanling rabbits can gain wait on tree bark, that’s very valuable knowledge to have if any catastrophe happened during winter months.

I have a couple litters that will be ready to wean in a couple weeks. Here’s the plan for my first experiment on this feed:
1) Choose two rabbits from each litter and place in grow out pen on their own. Keep fed with a steady supply of branches from cottonwood, siberian elm, aspen, russian olive and willow.
2) Two other rabbits from each litter will be weighed and monitored for comparison as the control group. They will be fed a typical diet with some pellets always available.
3) Weigh rabbits every three days.
4) Keep experiment going until rabbits reach 10 weeks or reach butcher weight.
5) End experiment early if rabbits lose weight or appear in poor condition.
Keep tuned, I’ll be posting pictures at the start and weekly updates throughout the experiment.
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New Buck

Since I’m limited to 6 rabbits per city ordinance and one buck can breed 20 does, I prefer to just keep one. I do occasionally breed a doe to someone else’s meat breed buck so I have something to compare against and to offer prospective breeders stock not so closely related.

My main buck Peter broke his back after I left him out with a doe that was being shy. Not sure how it happened but I ended up having to put him down. I did hold back a buck from a litter and he was almost five months when this happened. He has an agouti colored dutch pattern, so I’ll just call him Dutch.
Dutch but he's actually mostly New Zealand with a bit of Flemish Giant
Dutch a NZxFG buck at 4 months
This week I used Dutch on four different does. He’s about five and a half months old so a bit young but did get fall offs on three out of four. We’ve got decreasing day length now so none of the does was very enthusiastic. I’ll try the last doe again tomorrow. His testicles are dropped and full so we’ll find out in a month how fertile he really is. 
His behavior is what I like to see in a buck. He has good stamina and does not tire easily. Dutch has a good grip and is firm but is not overly aggressive or mean. He lets me position himself and the doe without getting distracted which can be very important in the winter when some does become hard to breed. Being able to hold the doe in breeding position can make a huge difference in fertility. 
Normally, if I can get a fall off, I have a litter, regardless of the doe’s receptivity. However, you need to make sure the doe is in good condition. A skinny doe feeding a litter of 12 needs more time between litters. Fat does in general are harder to breed and have smaller litters, so breeding her quickly again might be what she needs to get her down to a healthy weight. Lots of factors to consider. I don’t stick to an exact schedule for rebreeding, it all depends on the doe’s condition. I still expect 6 litters a year from a doe.
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Rabbit Popsicles

Our dog Jax has not eaten any commercial food in the year and a half we’ve had him. We give him leftovers and he gets the bones, internal organs, feet and head from the rabbits we butcher.

When I butcher a rabbit, I place the carcass in cold saltwater to soak for a few hours. I roll up the hide and put that in a used plastic grocery bag. In another grocery bag, I put all the internal organs, feet and head (offal). Both the offal and hide plastic bags go in the freezer for later use. Once frozen I call them rabbit popsicles.

I usually butcher several rabbits at once. The dog gets the offal from one rabbit fresh and that’s plenty for him. He eats it fresh but not enthusiastically.

Today I pulled out a rabbit popsicle from the freezer. When Jax saw me with the bag he got really excited. I dumped the popsicle and he excitedly went to work on it. That frozen rabbit offal was completely gone within one hour. I’ve had other dogs in the past that preferred fresh but not Jax.

The BARF (bones and raw food) and other raw diets are becoming popular for pets. I’ve noticed that wild predators normally will start with eating the internal organs and even the stomach contents and intestines. I strongly suspect the enzymes and bacteria that grow naturally in the prey’s digestive system, not only are beneficial for the prey animal for digesting their food but are beneficial for the predator eating them, just like live culture foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut are good for us.

Frozen rabbit head, internal organs and feet.
Jax feasting on a rabbit popsicle