Wednesday, June 16, 2010

the goodness of grass

When the meat and angora kits started dying, I was s confused. I knew what was hurting them (a weakening intestinal disease that caused them weight loss and dehydration) but not why only a select group was affected? I moved them all off pellets and onto spring water and hay, but still... I lost three of each breed. While removing a dead spotted rabbit from one of the hutches, its tan flat mate jumped out of the hutch and onto the barn floor hay. Thinking it had hours to live, I let it rest on the hay and didn't put it back in the cage.

To my surprise, when I came home from work the little guy was out on the grass. He had ventured from the barn and was chomping away at the green stuff. I had never seen him eat so well! I let it in nature's hands and kept my distance. He was so weak. I knew he would be dead in the safe cage, so I let him be feral. Let him take his chances. Then another day passed, and another, and every day the little brown rabbit was growing stronger and faster. Yet he was still tame. I could walk right up to him and pick him up. He was no longer the weak animal in the cage. He was a free-range rabbit. I named him Brutus. He seemed so tough.

Brutus has recovered fully, and I did the same with the other four weak rabbits. The remaining four kits (well, seven, three angoras are living in the laundry room) are now all free-range beasts on the grass. If they continue to thrive I'll let them there till harvest time. I am amazed at how such sick animals were able to turn around based on fresh air and green grass. I'm also suspect of the used cages they were in. The only animals that were sick were young animals in second-hand cages. Maybe there was a bacteria on them the older animals could fight off they could not? I'm not taking any chances and no longer using those particular cages if I can help it. And hopefully my free-range rabbits will do well.

As for predators? So far not one rabbit, only poultry, has been bothered by the fox. I think the rabbits are fine outside due to their wicked speed and being so hidden away at night. If the fox wanted Brutus, or could catch him, he would have. But to be on the safe side I am setting up an electric fence around the coop and rabbit range.

32 Comments:

Blogger Toni aka irishlas said...

Sometimes the animals know what they need instinctively and we just get in the way with our good intentions.
Glad to hear the rest are doing okay. Maybe sterilize the second hand cages with a bleach solution in case you do need to use them?

Congratulations on getting your sheep. So exciting!

June 16, 2010 at 6:39 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

I give my rabbits dandelions, plantain and clover which they adore. If it is overdone their pellets are less than dry round things but that is easily corrected.
I have purchased used hutches but before use they get a good scrubbing with bleach and dry in the sun.
Congratulations on picking your sheep. Can't wait to hear of Gibson's first herding sessions.
Tell us more about the turkeys.

June 16, 2010 at 6:43 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

gibson has a puppy meet up sunday, but we'rejust going to watch the 6 and 7 month olds work.

turkey update, will do!

June 16, 2010 at 6:52 AM  
Blogger Stace said...

Used cages can be scary, we have always scrubbed with vinegar or bleach and left them outside in the sunshine (It might shine again up here...at least thats what I keep telling myself) for a couple of days to a week. That always seemed to take care of any disease issues.
Congratulations on the sheep!! They are beautiful!

June 16, 2010 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Je Pense said...

I've never heard of rearing rabbits on pasture, but i was always a little uncomfortable with a cage system for my future roasters. so:
Do you bring them in at night?
do you still provide supplemental feed?
are they fenced in at all?
Is it possible to kindle on pasture?
Do you know of any books on the subject?

June 16, 2010 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger Sherry and Russ Sutherby said...

We started free-ranging our rabbits about 2 years ago. (American Silver Fox, then added Californians.) Rabbits adorn our property. Everywhere you go, there's bunnies, adults. They match up in groups and have their own territories. We have been doing this for several years now. Any given night, you can count 20+!

June 16, 2010 at 7:57 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

There's a pastured rabbit group on Yahoo groups. Some good info on doing it can be found there.

June 16, 2010 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Je:

They come in on their own at night, sleep in the barn.

I leave out trays of pellets and water in the barn for them, so yes.

no fencing. not yet.

i doubt kindling on pasture is a good idea. probably a horrible one.

nope! i'm winging it! but I'd talk to the person here with the silvers!

June 16, 2010 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

We've kept our rabbits in cages for the past two years (because that seems to be the conventional wisdom) and they've never done all that well. We've especially had problems with kindling and the survivability of new kits. We just moved them outside onto the grass under a tree, but still in their cages for safety (that's the stop-gap measure) and plan to set up a large outdoor pen for them of some sort. Grass, shade, protected shelters where they can go to hide, kindle, etc. I've never felt good about the cages so I have high hopes. My biggest concerns are keeping them safe from predators out here, and keeping on top of breeding and kindling. As for food, ours get a combination of pellets, hay and fresh greens. They seem to like the variety.

@Kathleen - if you have a link, could you share it?

June 16, 2010 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

I have Silver Fox rabbits with 7 kits in the nest. I have very little open area so I keep mine in 5ft hutches that I had custom made by Maine Cage. I can set up a xpen on the lawn and put them out to graze. I have to be careful though because of the Goshawk that got my chickens but netting over the pen works.
Breeding the SFs falls right in line with keeping heritage chickens and turkeys and growing heirloom veggies.

June 16, 2010 at 9:16 AM  
OpenID sissyjane said...

A little bleach and a good scrub of the cages might be in order. Aren't you afraid the fox will get them?

June 16, 2010 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger The Beers said...

If I remember the original post, didn't the illness coincide with weaning them? If so, this is a big stress time and can be hard on their system. One trick we do is move mama into another cage and leave the young where they grew up. Haven't lost one weanling yet!

Like doglady wrote, dandelion are great nutritionally and medicinally! Go easy on fresh food, though, as any age rabbit not used to it can get sick.

Try adding a little apple cider vinegar to their daily water, too. ;) Happy rabbit raising!

And congrats on the sheep, they are bah-ewe-ti-ful! LOL

June 16, 2010 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger E said...

Make sure the bunnies don't become feral or your gardens, fruit trees and other plants that you want to survive will suffer forever.

June 16, 2010 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger thedoza said...

Jenna, one of the things I've heard about used cages is to use a propane torch and just get the metal hot. It burns off any hair or hay residue and also kills bacteria. The sun helps too. I'm so glad your little ones are doing better.

Naomi in Eugene

June 16, 2010 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

not worried about the fox, but more on that later!


and we did flame al the cages, they were hit with ALOT of fire before I took them home.

June 16, 2010 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Jenna,
Try Oxine to sterilize the pens. You will have to get it online. It is used in poultry houses and other production barns. It is safe for animals and kills all bacteria and viruses. Oxine can even be put in the water for poultry, but not sure for rabbits. They have a delicate system. (I raise them too)Probiotics would have to be added back if used. In fact that might also help to balance their systems.

Check your feed and make sure it has not been contaminated, sometimes the mill screws up, so check that.(Mold, bad ingredients) There was a recall some time ago on the east coast as I remember.

I would take one sick rabbit to a vet and have it diagnosed so you can treat the others.

Best of luck,
Rosann
SF Bay are
California

June 16, 2010 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger kringsrud said...

If pasturing didn't work out, I'm wondering whether you could put the rabbits in something like a chicken tractor? It would keep them on the pasture, but (hopefully) protect them from predators.

June 16, 2010 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

My dad thought he'd be smart as a kid and start raising rabbits... As the story goes, he could never get the darn things to breed! Frustrated, he let them go in the yard (I don't approve of letting them fend for themselves entirely, but I bet pasturing them is good for them) where the population exploded and he had to shoot any rabbit he came across if they wanted anything in their garden to produce. Don't worry, his mom made him eat everything he shot. ;)
She made him eat a squirrel once.

As for rabbits kindling on pasture, every book I've read says it's a bad idea because they dig burrows with twists and turns, and it's difficult to get to the kits if something happens (like a death, where it'll get gross and decay if not removed). Not to mention you can't check on the babies as they grow, or handle them to make them tame.
As it stands, I let my rabbits run around in the barn almost daily, and out into a grassy pen when it's nice and sunny out. You have to let them get exercise somehow, or else their muscles atrophy and it can get so bad they can't walk. Happened to my grandma's rabbit as a kid.

June 16, 2010 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

It's amazing that animals can just tell us so many things without words. Hooray for Brutus!

June 16, 2010 at 12:22 PM  
OpenID urbanadaptation said...

I've not raised rabbits (yet, anyway) but I'm usually of the go-with-what-works school of thought. If it's working, and the rabbits are safe and healthy, then there's no harm in trying, especially if the alternative is sick or dead rabbits. Glad it's working out!

June 16, 2010 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

Have you ever read Watership Down?

I think you'd enjoy it!

June 16, 2010 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger sheepkelpie said...

One thing to consider is that your domestic rabbits could go on to breed with the wild population, which would not be good (not just for ecology, but the health of your and the wild animals) I would do as one person suggests- get a Rabbit tractor put together.

June 16, 2010 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I do believe most (if not all) domestic rabbits were brought here from Europe a long, long time ago, and since American rabbits have differing amounts of chromosomes (or something along those lines) that they cannot interbreed. Or if they can, the resulting offspring would probably be sterile.

What you'd have to watch for is the domestic rabbits going feral more than anything.


Don't quote me on this, I'm just repeating things I've read previously. You'd want to do more research probably.

June 16, 2010 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Domestic rabbits and wild rabbits cannot breed. The closest possibility is the European wild rabbit and our domestic rabbits.

June 16, 2010 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger Je Pense said...

Thanks for the info!

June 16, 2010 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

I think it's pretty cool that Brutus comes in at night of his own accord.

Dumb bunny indeed!

June 16, 2010 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger The Beers said...

True, they won't breed with the wild hares, but they can catch diseases and parasites from them that your domestic bunnies would normally be free from if in some sort of housing. Not very pleasant!

Do you have several rabbit breeding mentors, Jenna? If not, I encourage you to join one of the Yahoo groups on raising rabbits for meat. It is incredibly helpful for new breeders to be able to resource with many knowledgeable folks all in one spot. ;)

June 16, 2010 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger ms lottie said...

I raise meat bunnies. We have a milder climate in NZ and so my rabbits are pastured all year round. They have hutches with no floor except in the nesting box at one end. I shift these cages onto new grass every day, sometimes twice a day. I also put down pieces of wood around the sides so they can't dig out. They do dig but they can't get a full burrow made in one day and I just fill it back in again when I'm moving the hutch. They also get pellets and vege scraps. I have four does and one buck. I put a doe in with my buck at the beginning of every month and then take her out couple weeks later. When she's due to kit I put her in a hutch in my shed and she'll stay in there until the kits are a few weeks old then I'll put them back on pasture. She receives picked grass to make up for not being on grass. Never had a sick one yet - cross fingers.

June 16, 2010 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger Louis said...

I hate to say this, but is it possible that the campylobacter was spread to the rabbits via feeding and watering them while you were sick?

June 16, 2010 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Thistledog said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 16, 2010 at 11:59 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Ooh that's scary! I remember hearing about how you can give your rabbit strep throat, so I wouldn't totally rule out them being able to catch the campylobacter.
Maybe look into that? I don't know. Just glad you - and your bunnies - are getting better. It rots having to go outside when you're down.

Wow, Gibson is getting huge! :)
Starting to look like a "lanky teenager."

June 17, 2010 at 1:31 PM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

I was going to suggest something like a chicken tractor too, for rabbits.

Question: why do you have to wean the rabbits? Can't you let them self-wean when they are ready? I'm hoping to have some meat rabbits one day (we have lots of wild ones around here). As a breastfeeding counsellor I don't like to remove an animal from its mother's milk! :)

June 18, 2010 at 2:31 AM  

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