Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hollywood and Dallas at the Rabbit Show

After feeding everyone this morning, I loaded up Hollywood and Dallas and a Bourbon Red turkey that I had sold, and headed to the rabbit show.

There were hundreds of rabbits at the show, from tiny dwarves to the huge Flemish Giants to the Angoras who look like cotton balls with eyes.  Everyone has their favorite breed or breeds.  The people and judges are so nice and everything is very laid back.  For the most part, you have prepared your rabbits before the show, so once you are there, it is mainly a matter of listening to make sure that you don't miss your class. 

Dallas is young for his age group and is also really a breeding stock quality rabbit so he did not place at all.  The judges did like his short body and build, but his head is a little long and his crown is a little narrow. 
Hollywood's classes only had two rabbits, including him and the other rabbit was older and nicer.  The judges did like Hollywood's shoulders and haunches and felt he would improve with age.  He was also losing his baby coat and while the hair was not flying loose, his color was patchy.

No rabbit is perfect, so the you take what you learn and try to use that knowledge to improve your herd.  So the best doe to breed to Dallas will have good head and crown.  Dallas is currently bred to three different does, all a little different and all with different strengthes and weaknesses.

Narrow Gate Farm Flower, senior Chinchilla Holland Lop doe
One of the does that he is bred to is Flower. She is a little bit older and probably will not have as many kits as a young doe, but I think that she will be a good cross with him. 

Narrow Gate Farm Diva, Broken Tortoiseshell, Holland Lop doe

I bred Diva to Dallas and will have to see if that cross produces any keepers.  Neither has a good crown, so breeding them together could compound the problem.  Some people do not breed two brokens because they will produce what are called "Charlies" (after Charlie Chaplin).  Charlies are broken patterned rabbits that are minimally marked ( but they usually have a little colored moustache).  They are quite beautiful but if they have too little color, then they may not be showable.  Charlie's do have a place in a breeding program in that when a Charlie is bred to a solid colored rabbit, the resulting offspring will all be broken patterned (no solids).  Sort of like breeding a homozygous pinto horse.  However, for that to work, the rabbit has to be a Charlie genetically as well as having the phenotype.  Some rabbits can look like Charlies but their genotype is that of a broken patterned rabbit.

Campo's Twilla, Blue Tort Senior doe

Twilla brings in the dilute blue color, so I am excited to see what her kits look like.

Hollywood, broken Chinchilla junior Mini Lop buck

Hollywood doesn't have a girlfriend yet, but I am keeping an eye out fo a doe that will compliment him. The boys were glad to be back home this afternoon and back in their own cages.  They were both asleep last time I checked on them.  Showing is hard work!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Showing Rabbits

Chores seemed to take a long time today or could it be that I am just getting older and slower???  Nah!

I was enjoying the sunshine and warmer temps for sure.  I gave all of the pigs big mounds of hay and they are all out sleeping in the sun right now.  Full bellies + sunshine + a comfy bed= happy pigs!

Narrow Gate Farm Dallas-broken black Holland Lop buck

I have been wanting a chance to photograph some of the rabbits and today is a perfect day for that too.  Hollywood will be a bit of a challenge since he has no fear of jumping off anything from any height.  He can be a bit of a pill, but he is new here and still figuring everything out.

Musical Bunnies Hollywood-Broken Chinchilla Mini Lop buck

Right now Hollywood is playing in my office floor-leaping and bucking and conducting solitary rabbit races around my Pyreness (who is oblivious).  Basically I am trying to get the "ants out of his pants" before going outside for our photo shoot!  Dallas will have his turn next.  He loves to get let out to play.

Tomorrow I am taking a break from the farmer's markets to go to a rabbit show.  I am taking a couple of the young boys to see how they do.  I still have a lot to learn and these are not top quality show rabbits but I am interested to see what the judges say about them.  It is all a learning experience and everything that I learn will help me to improve my herd.

I have always loved rabbits and at different times, there have been house rabbits and yard rabbits and even pasture rabbits.  I like the lop earred rabbits although I always think of the words of a prominant tan breeder who says that they "look like puppies and that he likes rabbits that look like rabbits".  They do have a puppy dog look and they are so cute.  I also love anything spotted, so I have several "brokens" and some dilutes, which are my favorites.

In preparation for the show, I have had the boys out clipping nails, brushing them, posing them and just basically handling them and reminding them what it is like to be picked up and posed and moved around.  At a rabbit show, when your class is called, you place your rabbits in  a "coop" (one of a long row of small cages) in front of the judge.  The judge then takes the rabbits out one by one and handles them.  You cannot really tell the body type of a rabbit until you put your hands on it.  Once you hold them, you can feel the thickness of the shoulders, their body condition, fur condition etc.  The judge then moves the rabbits around in the coops with the higher placings going to one end and the others going to the opposite end. 

The most beneficial part of a rabbit show for a breeder is that after the judge has sorted out the rabbits, he/she will then comment on their reasons for each placement.  The judge's comments (as well as the placing in the show) are a tool for helping to evaluate your rabbits.  Rabbit shows are also attended by people who like rabbits (they are like potatoechips, you can't have just one) and buy them.  The shows get your rabbits out in front of people who like your breed and who may buy from you.

I have three Holland Lop does bred and set to kindle at the end of January.  The does are all different with different strengths and weaknesses.  Any kits with disqualifications or obvious faults will be sold as pets without pedigrees.  I will keep the rest of the offspring until they are about 3-4 months old.  At that time, I will choose one or two of the best ones to keep and show. 

Narrow Gate Farm Diva, Broken Tortoise Holland Lop doe

When you purchase rabbits, no breeder is going to give you his absolute best stock, so you usually purchase the best that you can and then improve your herd through breeding and culling.  Rabbits have a quick turnaround, so a herd could be improved quite quickly with judicious culling.  By culling in the case of a pet and fanciers breed (as opposed to a meat breed), I mean that the rabbits not kept in my barn for showing/breeding will be sold as pets and as brood stock (not eaten).

Although it would be fun to place well tomorrow, the best win for me will be from rabbits that I have bred myself.  I think that Mike and Joanna could attest to that as far as goats go!  The two rabbits going tomorrow are from local breeders.

Meat rabbit brood does, fertilizing the garden to be-a New Zealand and a NZ/Californian cross

I have a different criteria for culling meat rabbits and those culls do usually go on someones table.  With the meat rabbits, I weigh litters and actually keep track of how many pounds of rabbit each doe produces per year.  I keep my replacement breeding stock from does who wean large litters with heavy weaning weights.  This means that they are good moms who produce a lot of milk.  The New Zealands and Californians that I currently have are commercial rabbits and are not pedigreed, so I will not show them.  I do hope to add some pedigreed NZ and Cals soon.

Well, off to get the car packed for tomorrow.  More tomorrow on how we did.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Breeding Animals-It's as easy as......

Lady Bug- a 2 year old Alpine/Saanen doe

I had a friend who once bred English Angora rabbits-she bred them for years and never had one single baby born, and these were rabbits!  Sometimes reproduction is a little more complicated these days then just throwing together a male and a female (of course, if a male and a female get together that you DO NOT want to breed, then offspring will be produced 100% of the time!).

Dorper and Katahdin Sheep

Today as I walked through the sheep and goats, staring at filling udders to see how everyone is coming along, I was contemplating on how kidding and lambing might progress this year.
A little over 5 months ago, I put a young Dorper ram in with the sheep and a young Boer buck in with my dairy goat herd.  The emphasis here is on young.  I always mark my calendar with when the boys are put in and removed, when ewes and does are seen to be in heat and when I see actual breedings occur.  The less I am in the dark about when those babies might arrive, the better I like it.

The goat herd was mostly older girls and all of them were in heat the day I put the Boer buck in.   The younger girls had cycled a couple of times each but were not currently in.  The buck fell head over heels in love with a two year old who was definitely not in season and wanted nothing to do with him.  He followed her around for weeks while the older, larger does were in full blown heat.  I could have killed him-he was messing up my breeding schedule.

Meanwhile, my Nigerian buck, who knows how to get the job done in under 3 seconds flat, was about to tear all of my fences down trying to get to the big girls.  The older girls went out of heat and came back in.  Boer boy still seemed clueless.  I was despairing at him ever getting anyone bred when he finally seemed to start to get an idea about who was ready.  The end result, I believe, is that those does are going to be spread out all over the place.  As opposed to the Nigerians that I bred which will all kid within a day or two of one another.

2010 Katahdin & Dorper lambs

Last year I used a full Katahdin ram on my ewes and was not happy with his lambs, so this year found me with a new, young Dorper ram.  He went right to work scouting out the girls and was not intimidated even by my big Dorper ewes. Sheep, however, are not as prone to public displays of affection as are goats (mine at least). So, I marked down on the calendar which ever ewe he was interested in and the date, but never saw him breed a one.  The girls are out there waddling around, so he did his job, he just didn't want to be watched.  The flock is composed about half of older ewes and the other half are first timers, so it will be interesting to see how they are spread out.  So far, all of the older girls look ready to go within a couple of weeks, with one Dorper ewe being so wide and deep as to be frightening me a little bit.  She looks to be having a whole litter!  Oh well, there is colostrum in the freezer and milk replacer in the feed room-stay tuned!
Red, a Katahdin/Dorper ewe and her 2010 ewe lamb, Emma

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Guardians at the Gate

My best boy, Honky Tonk, an African

Happy Geese on Grass
 Some people have guard dogs, I have guard geese (and donkeys, but I'll get to them later).  Geese have an undeserved bad reputation.  They are actually beautiful and intelligent and can certainly be a useful addition to a self sufficient homestead.  Geese can provide meat, eggs, feathers and breeding stock to sell.  American Buffs are one of only three breeds listed on the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

Like all animals, different breeds of geese have different dispositions.  I have owned Africans, Chinese, American Buffs, Gray Saddleback Pomeranians, Pilgrims and Embdens and liked all but the Chinese.  Chinese are the chihuahuas of the goose world-loud, snappy and yappy!  All of the other breeds are fairly laid back and a lot quieter then you would expect.  My American Buffs are probably the quietest, only making noise when they first see me in the mornings, or when I come home or when there is an intruder on the farm.  The rest of the time, they graze and play in their water and go about their goose business.  American Buffs and Gray Poms are quiet beautiful out grazing on a bright green pasture. 

 Geese will get a little aggressive during breeding season which is from about February to June.  Ganders will hiss and display more but mine have never bothered me.  Geese are excellent parents and both males and females help guard the young.

Rare American Buffs and Gray Saddleback Pomeranians

Geese need water, but a pond is not necessary for either geese or ducks.  Mine use a half barrel and an old cattle mineral tub to play in and wash their faces.  Geese are heavy grazers and need very little in the way of supplemental feed.  They will flourish on good pasture in the warm months but will need whole corn or some other poultry feed once the grass is gone.  Waterfowl are easy to raise , they have few predators as adults and they are healthy and do not catch a lot of the diseases and parasites that other poultry are more prone to.  They are also very long lived.  Honky Tonk, my one African, is about 11 years old now and still a pet and a big baby.

I  sell processed goose and breeding stock of Gray Poms and American Buffs.   Processed goose must be reserved as quatities are limited and they sell out faster every year.  Goose is a traditional Christmas dinner in Germany and some other countries and some prefer goose over the traditional turkey for Thanksgiving. 

American Buffs and Brown Chinese

Friday, January 14, 2011

Permanent Residents

One of the best parts of having a farm full of livestock are the "characters" that stand out from the herd or flock and bring a smile to your face every day.  Sometimes they standout because they are intelligent or funny or even a bit annoying.  They can make you laugh, cry and curse, often all in the same day.  So, I will introduce you to a few of the farm's permanent residents, starting with Rufus.

Rufus is a mini potbelly pig.  He is unusual in that he appears to be staying quite small and he is "blue" and white as opposed to the more common solid black color.  Pigs are intelligent and stubborn and hardheaded.  Rufus knows exactly what he wants (food, a warm place to sleep, companionship, food) and he spends a great deal of his day working out exactly how he is going to get what he wants.

I decided to add a miniature pig to the farm in order that visiting children could see and touch a real live pig.  Most kids think of pigs as being those fat, pink things with a curly tail.  They don't know that pigs do not have hair, but bristles, that they come in an assortment of colors and they get cold easily or that their noses are like plow blades for rooting up grubs and plants. Someone once said that pigs come with a plow on one end and a fertilizer spreader on the other!  Rufus surprises kids by coming when he is called, sitting for treats and then hanging out with the group as we tour the farm. 

Rufus spends part of the time in the house and part outside.  He likes to go out and visit with all of the "outdoor" livestock and do a little rooting around.  He runs to his fenced pen every morning and waits to for me to catch up and to give him his reward.  By nightfall, he is cold and squealing to be let back into the house.  I laugh every night as I release him and watch him scurry to the back door, grunting and talking the whole way.  He is very fast-so much for fat, waddling pigs!  Once inside he goes up to all of the dogs and has a little pig conversation and greeting with each one.  Pigs are very social and have a large vocabulary of sounds-grunts, whines and even barks-to express themselves.  After inspecting every corner of the house for fallen crumbs, and having his dinner in the kitchen with the dogs, he is ready to get warm and snuggle for the night.  He spends a lot of time trying to convince the dogs to let him snuggle with them on the dog beds.  He  eventually wears them down and ends up sleeping with one of them either on top of the dog bed or more often underneath it!

In the morning, he is always happy to see everyone stirring and moving around and he runs through the house squealing and whining to see that all of his friends are awake (and that extra bonus- breakfast may appear soon).  Sometimes he gets into things and makes me shake my head and say words that should not appear in print, but mostly he makes me smile and laugh and that is not a bad way to start, or end, the day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thoughts for the New Year and AWA Certification

I have played around with this blog a little bit but never really done it justice but I find that I really do like to start the day with a little writing and a cup of coffee! So, I am going to endeavor to indulge two of my passions (writing), which always gets put on the back burner and good coffee (a necessity of life!).

The middle and end of 2010 found lots of changes happening on the farm and 2011 will bring even more changes as we grow and diversify even more. I have added pasture hogs, meat rabbits, show rabbits, ducks, more geese, more heritage chickens, more meat chickens, changed to Dorper sheep, bred for more meat goats and am slowly getting started in beef. The end goal of all of these changes is simple:

(1)To produce the safest, cleanest, most flavorful food that money can buy.

(2) To produce this food with the highest standard of natural animal care and respect for the animals that provide these products.

(3) To protect and be good stewards of the land, water and wildlife of the farm

In keeping with those goals, I decided to pursue having the farm Animal Welfare Approved certified. AWA is a third party certifying group with very strict standards of animal care for livestock raised for their meat, milk, eggs and fiber. Each species has a very detailed set of standards that are to be met in order to certify the products from that type of animal. The standards require that all species are raised humanely on pasture, allowing the animals to express their natural behaviors and treating them as humanely as possible. Breeds used should be those, like heritage chickens and breeds of hogs, that flourish on pasture, not breeds bred for industrial (confinement) agriculture. Even the processors that we use have to be AWA certified. I liked the idea of having the farm AWA certified because I found that their standards were in line with how I wanted to raise my livestock. Now my customers get the added benefit of knowing that the farm has been "vetted" by a third party, and will continue to be visited by AWA on a regular basis. As always, anyone is invited to visit the farm, but this gives peace of mind that the animals are well cared for to those who might not be able to visit.

The New Year started out with a nice surprise-an email from AWA letting me know that the farm had been Animal Welfare Approved Certified-yeah!