Memphis Backyard Farmer

Third Litter
January 18, 2013, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Livestock, Rabbits, Urban Ag | Tags: , , , , ,

The Christmas kits are now about 3 1/2 weeks. Darn cute, eh?

Cute bunnies

Christmas Bunnies
January 3, 2013, 9:35 am
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ImageMy last post on December 14th showed Ruby, my New Zealand doe, getting ready to have kits. I was a little surprised, because by my math (a rabbit’s gestation period is about 31 days) she was about five days early.

We really try to care for our mommas when they kindle, usually by packing a really large box full of straw/hay, and taking them inside for regulated temperature. I took her in the day after she started kindling but the day came and went with no babies. And the next day. And the next. I had almost given up on her when Christmas eve morning I walked in to discover four tiny little rabbits. This was the smallest litter she had birthed, but they were all warm and well fed. Ruby had made a tight little nest, even though we found during her extended stay inside, that she could escape from her cage, and kept wandering about the birthing room (my office), leaving hair everywhere.

Ruby seemed more nervous than usual this time. Even before she birthed, she had quickly chewed her way through the box we had her in, and kept wandering the office. We’d place her back in the box, barricade the hole, and hope for the best, only to find her wandering the next time we came to check on her. She also seemed more nervous around the kits. This is her second litter (we’ve had a total of three at the Scott homestead), and she was a bit rough on the kits in my opinion. On Christmas day I came in to find that she had escaped once again, and that at some time during the night one of the kits had been separated from the rest, and was squished up against the side of the nesting box, dead.

At that point, I moved Ruby to a full-blown cage and transferred the nest to a shallow cardboard box lid. Ruby has cared for them fine in her new cage (even though she managed to escape a few more times). But I don’t like the cage. Rabbit kits are quickly mobile, and at three days they were already climbing the sides of the lid, falling over the edge to the cage floor, their little feet getting stuck between the holes of the cage. As of today (day 9), they are making the climb, but I’ve also seen them climb back over, managing strictly by feel and smell (?), since they are only today beginning to open their eyes.


These are by far the most active of the 15 kits we’ve raised. They twitch when you barely touch them, even to the point of a crude hop when you pick them up. If you’re not careful, they will jump out of your hand. And it seems they’ve inherited their mom’s disposition; If I was raising show rabbits or pets, Ruby would have been culled long ago. I still have to convince my boys that she’s worth keeping because of the size of her kits. She’s temperamental, she scratches, she bites. I have already been bitten by one of the babies, and so has my 15-year old son (since we handle them the most, we’re more likely to incur their wrath). Again – it makes butchering them a bit easier later, but in the mean time, I’m hoping they’ll chill out. I’ve always attributed Ruby’s nasty temper to the fact that she was kept isolated in a barn until we bought her, with very little human interaction. Our last litter of kits were held often, and turned out to be as sweet as any animal could be. It will be hard to cull them when the time comes.


Ruby Is Kindling
December 14, 2012, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Livestock, Rabbits, Urban Ag | Tags: , , , , ,

I wasn’t really expecting this today. By may calculations Ruby, our #1 for, is about 5 days early. I hope this is just my bad math, and that I don’t end up with some premies this week.

Butchering Day
November 6, 2012, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Livestock, Rabbits, Urban Ag | Tags: , , , , , ,

It happened.

Last Saturday we spent three hours butchering our first round of home-grown rabbits. Honestly, it took to long to get to this day. A combination of inconvenience (crazy busy summer), reluctance (what I call “cuddly bunny” syndrome), and inconvenience yet again (we had to find a Saturday when none of our neighbors were peering over the fence to see us cutting off animal heads), made us stretch this cycle out longer than we should have.

That being said, our six month old rabbits were large and plump, and much, much, heavier than they looked. Each rabbit probably weighed in at around five pounds.

I’m not sure what you would want me to say about the process. If you want a step-by-step on how we dressed the rabbits, I’d be glad to share. But if no one’s interested, I hate to waste the words. The only animals I’ve ever dressed were squirrels, and although it was similar, it was very different, especially the aspect of killing.

The killing was hard. What you need to know about me is that I’m a fainter. If I or any of my kids bleed, with even a busted lip, I’m down for the count. I’ve even been permanently banned from our local blood bank for passing out. So working up to this deed was hard. In addition, I truly am an animal lover, and always have been. But the reality is that we eat meat. Lots of meat. Someone is going to do the raising and killing of the animals I eat. I believe that as much as possible, I should be putting healthy food in my body, and the bodies of my family, and I should do my best to make sure the animals I eat are treated with respect and care through their lifetime. As someone put it (Joel Salatin?), give them a great life with only one (albeit really) bad day.

So before we began the process, I gathered the boys together and we prayed. We thanked God for the lives he had entrusted to us, for the food he was providing, and we told him that we hoped we had taken good care of the animals he had created. I explained to the boys that what we were doing was not sport – it was taking a life.  Then we set to work.

I might note here that not everyone decided to participate. My oldest son who is 17 has stated emphatically from the beginning that he’d be glad to eat the rabbits, but not kill them. To my surprise, my wife joined us. We deeply needed her help, because she is the expert in carving meat, and isn’t the least bit squeamish. My 13 year old, who had been excited about the arrival of butchering day didn’t stay for even one rabbit. I think it unnerved him (though, I will confess, the rabbit he helped with was a messy affair). And my youngest, my 11 year old, eagerly participated and did well. If you know my 15 year old, then you know his assistance was a given. He’s the one in the photos, below. He’ll most likely be in charge of tanning the hides. For now they are wrapped in wax paper in the freezer. The exercise of butchering five rabbits took three full hours. We didn’t have time to do anything beyond washing the hides and wrapping them for freezing.

Our reward for our work was an herb and beer braised rabbit dish that my wife found, and in her characteristic way, adapted for our tastes. It was absolutely fantastic. Everything we had hoped for and more.

Enjoy the pics, and if you want details of the process, comment below and I’ll provide everything I can.

Jake Initial Cutting

Rabbit, Skinned

Final Cleaning

Herb and Beer Braised Rabbit

More Bunnies
August 28, 2012, 6:31 am
Filed under: Livestock, Rabbits, Urban Ag | Tags: , , , , ,

Ruby Junior, KitFor those of you who don’t follow on Twitter, you may not know that we had another litter of kits three weeks ago. It was pretty hard to work out the whole rabbit-breeding thing the first time around. The second time? Not so much. In fact, this litter was a complete accident.

At the time the first litter of rabbits started coming of age, I split the males and females into separate cages. It’s been a crazy busy summer and I had planned on butchering this litter in mid-July, but didn’t have time before the Mexico trip (and haven’t had time since). I had noticed them being a little frisky, so I knew I better get ’em apart.

Well, Thursday a few weeks ago, my 15 year old walks into the house and says, “Dad, we have  a problem.”. Son number 2 is my rabbit man. He feeds and waters the rabbits first thing each morning. “What’s the problem?” I asked. He unfurls his shirt and reveals a tiny, baby bunny. “Oh crap.” was about all I could muster at first. But then I tried to find out how many we had. Turns out, only one.

I rushed out to check on the mamma, but couldn’t figure out which female (of four) was the mother. Usually a doe will pull fur from her underbelly just before giving birth, to prepare a nest and make it easy for kits to nurse (if you’ve never a doe kindling, check it out here). Sure enough, there was lots of hair in the cage. But when I picked up each doe to check them, I could find no sign that she had given birth, or pulled hair. On closer examination, you could see that the hair that was present was from the BACK of one of the does (obviously not the momma!)

In the middle of this, one of our (three) dogs started barking at a clump of grass about 15 feet away from the cage. I rushed over to find…another kit. We spent the next twenty minutes or so having a summer Easter egg hunt looking for kits. We found four, for a total of five kits. These dudes were TOUGH!

We quickly put them in a box, and went back to the dilemma of picking a momma from our four does. I finally decided that the one with the worst attitude must be the one. That sounds funny, but seriously, when we had our last litter, our doe was down right persnickety. She would really snip at you when you reached in the cage. So I pulled her out and shut her in the box and waited, unsure of whether I had the right one or not. We took the litter inside to wait.

After an hour or so, we checked in. We had stocked the box with lots of straw and leaf litter, along with food and water. When we peeked in, she was busily going through all the nesting behaviors she had missed out on in her bare, outside cage. She had a mouthful of hay, moving it back and forth across the cage, and had already shed lots of hair. This was either the momma that had given birth, or she was another mother ABOUT to give birth.

I’m very happy to say that three weeks later these kits look AWESOME. They are so incredibly healthy. On their three week birthday last Thursday we gave them a long romp outside in the grass. They had a blast and ate lots of little seedheads off my weedy lawn. They’ve been happily munching on timothy hay and now feed pellets for close to a week now (though they are still nursing whenever they can).

Twelve rabbits in the Scott rabbitry. Full freezer by winter.

Peter Cottontail
April 4, 2012, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Livestock, Memphis, Rabbits, Urban Ag | Tags: , ,

HoudiniThis is our little wild cottontail rescue. We named him “Houdini” because of his mysterious ability to escape. We’ve had him now two weeks, and were a bit afraid that he might not make it, since he was so small and was still nursing. But Ruby has done her job, and he’s graduated to pellets this week. His demeanor is so much different than the domestic kits. He’s skittish and hides from the littlest commotion. He doesn’t like to be handled and fights like mad when you try to pick him up. I’ve decided to turn him lose once he’s weaned, rather than try to keep him in a cage. He’s much too wild to keep confined.

But too cute, huh?

March 30 Rabbit Update
March 31, 2012, 6:19 am
Filed under: Livestock, Memphis, Rabbits, Urban Ag | Tags: , ,

We’ve been overrun by rabbits. As of Monday we were up to 11. At least today we’re back down to nine. But nine equals success. The two we lost, by the way, were two  adult females given to us by some friends. They are now living the country life at my brother’s.

The kits are now over five weeks old. I’ve learned quite a bit about birthing and caring for rabbits through this ordeal, but I’m not sure if I’ve learned the right lessons.

First of all, when you look for information on rabbit breeding in the most reliable source – the Internet – you find a lot of really scary stuff. Evidently infant mortality among rabbits is high. I’ve heard tales about does canibalizing their kits and about terrible digestive disorders among babies. I’ve heard that you have to be very picky what your kits eat and at what time they should start solid food and when they should be weaned.

In our case, all that was pretty much crap.

This has been easy. Our New Zealand doe is a terrific mom. Easy birth (six kits in about a minute and a half – seriously). Not too protective (though at first she would nip at you when you put your hands in the box). And in a testament to how great she is, last week we had a friend call with a rescue: a tiny baby cottontail had been found in their yard when her nest was destroyed due to spring yard work. We picked her up and put her in a new box with Ruby (our doe) for three nights, and Ruby assumed the nursing mother position once more.

And the kits have been awesome. They’re as healthy as can be. The transition to pellets came quickly and easily. It happened quicker than we thought. At three weeks we caught them eating Ruby’s food pellets, and even the green “treats” we slipped her. We also walked in to discover them stretching and straining their little bodies up the side of the cage so that they could reach the water bottle. At first I was freaked out about the babes eating greens (though I didn’t care so much about the pellets). I’ve read horror stories about how greens can destroy a kit’s gut. So we were careful about only giving greens to Ruby. But what the heck – rabbits eat grass, right? So slowly we began introducing more and more clover, henbit, and wild violet into their diet. Now, each time we clean a different part of the garden or yard, we bring big handfuls of fresh “weeds” to the cage and drop it in. They devour it. No dreaded diarrhea.

I haven’t seen the kits nurse in about a week. I would say they are successfully weaned. We’ll try to sex them tomorrow and separate the males and females. That shouldn’t be too hard since some of the boys are already putting the moves on their sisters. Ewww.

After that, it’s a matter of growing them out and – well the bloody business. I’m looking forward to some rabbit in the freezer and a big, fur Russian hat. But I’m not looking forward to the look on the kids’ faces.

Bunny Progress: Week 2
March 3, 2012, 6:30 am
Filed under: Livestock, Memphis, Rabbits | Tags: , ,

should have a bee post right now. The weather is incredible here in Memphis (mid-70’s today) and I should have gone out to the bees this week, but time just wouldn’t allow. So in lieu of a spring Memphis beekeeping update, I’ll give you a quick update on the kits (rabbits).

They’re two weeks old as of yesterday. It’s been interesting to be a part of new rabbits. We’ve birthed several litters of pups here, and the experience is completely different. First of all, the birthing process of pups was much different. Jessie’s (my momma Jack Russell Terrier) first labor was an all night affair, with the first puppy getting stuck in the birth canal. It was somewhat stressful. Ruby, our doe, gave birth to six kits before I could get off the phone and take a look. Boom – it was over. No mess, no fuss.

Second, baby rabbits are much less needy. Pups seem to always be nursing, or at least trying to, and generally, bitches oblige. Not so with kits. The doe seems aloof, hardly showing them attention. Evidently this is the way of rabbits. In the wild, does generally abandon the kits during the day to keep from drawing attention from predators. Then they come back to feed the babies at night. Now, don’t get me wrong – Ruby is quite the mom. If you move too quickly in and out of the cage, she’ll come after you. You must pay a toll before picking up any of her babies by stroking momma first. After that, she doesn’t seem to care what you do with them.

In case you’re wondering, the kits were quite able to roam around their box almost immediately. By ten days their eyes were open, they had put on quite a bit of fur, and their ears were perked up to the point where they looked less like naked mole rats and more like – well, like rabbits.

The fluffy bunny factor is going to be hard to get over. Everyone in the family is quite taken with them. Bringing down the axe is not going to be easy.

Day 2 Of Bunnypalooza
February 18, 2012, 5:13 am
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The kits made it through the night. Ruby (mamma) must have done her job overnight. This morning all six babies were warm and fat. Let’s hope she keeps it up.

February 17, 2012, 12:14 am
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Well, about 10 minutes after my last post, the kits arrived! We have six little bunnies squeaking away.