Needed: Man Bunny (and adventures in rabbit housing)

Copyright ©The Odd Emporium
Copyright ©The Odd Emporium

On Saturday M and I spent the greater part of the afternoon reupholstering, if you will, the bottom of Gunga and Socorro’s hutch. The girls’ former owner  used wide wire mesh to enable the hutch’s use as a “rabbit tractor”. A rabbit tractor is a contraption that can be placed directly on fresh grass, so the rabbits can freely graze, but with enough wire that they cannot tunnel out. Unfortunately, the wire used for our hutch was far too wide to raise above the ground as it was the perfect size for bunny limbs to fall through. I am certainly a fan of the rabbit tractor idea and would like to use one seasonally, but a Western Oregon November brings LOTS of rain and wet saturated ground…conditions not ideal for keeping healthy rabbits. So with a little sweat and ingenuity M and I replaced the hutch bottom with the recommended 1″ x 1/2″ welded wire mesh. And it is cool stuff! Now that the hutch is raised off the ground with mesh flooring, all the droppings fall right out where they are easily gathered and chucked into the compost pile. It’s the most sanitary way to go and the rabbits seem happy indeed. It must be great to be able to hop around freely and not sit in your own excrement (CFOs, take note).  The draw back is that the loose hay and veg also slide easily through the mesh when so inclined so a better hay-holding device is in the works. 

Over the weekend I also assembled a 30″ x 36″ wire mesh cage and have another not-yet-assembled model waiting in the garage. I am really hoping to incorporate at least one of those cages into a hutch/shelter this weekend. Because we need a boy! Those girls are eating lots of food and are no nearer to producing babies. Cute as they are, they need to start paying rent soon(hear that, ladies?).

And a side note: I plan on going into more detail about our rabbit housing choices and setup in the future. I would love to hear what has worked out for other folks (and what has not). 

Country Folk & Local Feed

There is something about chatting with good old salt of the earth country folk that makes small talk bearable and sometimes even downright enjoyable. First off, if you run into country folk, there’s a good chance you might also run into a friendly barn kitty, rambunctious pygmy goat, senile cow dog, spitting guard llama, angry pack mule or any manner of furry four-legged friends. But more importantly, a conversation can be had with someone who may or may not share the same politics,  beliefs, or background and it does not matter. Those topics are for another time and place. They tend not to come up when the conversation revolves around more immediate concerns of harvest and animal health.

I had one such encounter recently. Wednesday after leaving the office, I drove out to a local feed company. Being late November, it was, of course, pitch black by 5:00 pm. I drove west towards the Coast Mountains and  squinted at the black country highway trying to find the right turnoff. Five minutes, some brief backtracking and one pot-holed gravel road later, my car sat sandwiched between a modest house and a large storage barn. I got out and pet the sweet old cat crowing  for my attention on the porch railing. As I was doing so, an elderly woman came to the front door and told me that someone would be out to help in ten minutes or so. I could tell she would have thought it rude to leave me waiting in the cold. So instead she stood there with me, giving me the historical run down of not only the sweet furry pal I’d just found, but of the numerous dogs and cats her family had rescued from certain demise over what I surmised to be decades. The few cats I saw were certainly all healthy and friendly. You can tell a lot about caretakers from their animals, so I figured I was in good hands.

The place I had managed to find off the dark gravel road is Buxton Feed Company. In my quest to find rabbit food sold either in bulk, or in any quantity greater than the pitifully small bags available in traditional stores, I had found Buxton Feed online. The company produces animal feed which is fresh, local and GMO free–which I count as a double bonus. The rabbit feed is sold in affordable 40 lb bags. After my pleasant encouter I could rest easy on my way home knowing that the 80 lbs  of good feed in my back seat would keep me from having to make an emergency bunny food run any time soon. I feel so lucky to have found this locally available GMO-free feed right at the beginning of the bunny experiment.

buxtonfeed.com

The Fuzz Luv Factor

The last animal that I truly had in my life was Barley. From the age of four to the age of eighteen, Barley was always there, a big fluffy dumb-as-a-door-nail sweet ball of golden retriever love. He died a week after I left home to go to school overseas. He was old and tired and it was his time. Finding out that he was gone was one of the most difficult moments of my life. I just don’t know how dogs can do that to us. Even today, Barley’s memory is just as fresh in my mind as ever.

Rosie & Barley
Rosie & Barley

People talk about how great it is to have a dog in your life. They say that dogs are always happy to see you. That they are there to comfort you when you are sad or depressed. And it’s true. I loved Barley not only for his ability to make me happy, but for the companionship and laughter. And I’d like to think I gave something in return. He really wasn’t the smartest, but he sure was a character. It wasn’t until I didn’t have that fluffy love in my life anymore that I truly realized how much it meant to me–and how much I missed it when it had gone.  Barley’s passing left a hole that can never be truly replaced, but eight years later, I think the healing process has finally begun.

Rabbits are no dogs to be sure when it comes to companionship, but the simple act of going outside every morning to check on the rabbits, clean their cage, and feed and water them has brightened my days immensely. Having two goofy fuzzy critters that are happy to see me makes me happy. I know they only love me for my food, but that’s enough. Dogs will certainly come later, but for now it is amazing how fulfilling even two bunnies can be. So thanks, you gigantic fuzz luvs, it means a lot.

Fuzzy Luv
Fuzzy Luv

Bunny Poops

I have to tell you, I am seriously excited about bunny poops. And these monsters produce an astonishing amount of poop. Probably because they are eating an astonishing amount of food. I’m fairly sure that one of the reasons our garden was on the mediocre side last year–aside from inadequate sunlight–was inadequate fertilizer. But next season will be the harvest of the bunny poops and organic compost. A sure combination for success! What’s so cool about bunny poops you may ask? Well, for those of you concerned with such things, it is the most inoffensive poop out there. It consists of small hard round pellets that neither smell nor cause much of a mess at all. And even better, they require no additional processing or wait time before they can be used as fertilizer. You can literally pick up the poop and insert it directly into the garden soil. The nitrogen content is out of control too. Your garden needs nitrogen. Rabbit manure has a 2.4% nitrogen content, while the next closest is chicken manure at 1.1%. So yep. Bunny poop. Not gross, but completely exciting for this aspiring gardener/farmer. It’s the little things.

Little Girl with a Rabbit, Hermann Kaulbach (1846-1909)

First Frost

After an unseasonably warm start to the fall, I saw frost yesterday for the first time in months. It wasn’t the first freeze officially; I believe that happened on Thursday when the predicted 4 to 6 inches of snow turned out to be thin sheet of icy rain. But yesterday, the air was the crispiest of the season and the sun was out: a perfect day for a fall stroll. So M and I took a walk at our most frequented locale less than 2 miles from our house at Jackson Bottom Wetlands. The low November sun sparkled on the frost blanketing the millions of red and pink rose hips. And even the first frozen puddle of the season was poetically beautiful.

First Freeze
November puddle

A group of birders pointed out a flock of tundra swans. For a place like ours that sees very little snow, it was odd to see birds so obviously built for the white landscape. The season had surely changed now.  Thank you, fall, for being so magical.

Rosehips
rose hips

It starts with rabbits

Chickens? No can do

A little over a year ago when my boyfriend and I finally moved into a  house of our own (albeit a rented one), we knew we wanted chickens. We got a little taste of the chicken fever after taking on the occasional bird-sitting gig for our previous landlord in return for the girls’ golden yolked beauties .Completely sold on chickens, we figured our new place with a large, already fenced yard would be perfect for a handful of our own comical layers. Even though the city ordinance decried a minimum 7500 square ft lot, our sizable  5500 square ft lot seemed plenty big enough for chickens and we figure that well, with our well laid out map and plans for facilities that would be no where near disturbing any neighbors, we’d be good to go. Unfortunately, we were wrong. No discussion, no appeal. Just a flat no from the city. Of course it rankled us that our neighboring towns to the east and west both have a minimum requirement of only 5000 square feet. But chickens were not meant to be.

Life goes on. After a quiet year with no animals out back,  farm life inspiration has finally arrived  in the form of soft, cute, quiet–and delicious bunnies–or as ColdAntlerFarm puts it,  “the best chicken you’ll ever have”. These critters had been occupying my mind a lot lately and I realized that they were the only farm animal we could raise in our current situation. And their easy care, beautiful fur, quiet nature and delicious meat offered its own appeal. As a first time meat venture, it’s seems hard to go wrong. I mean c’mon, one of the illnesses a rabbit can contract is called snuffles. It’s hard to be too intimidated. And so with Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits in the mail and a plethora of library books scattered around the house, plans for step 1 of Operation Rabbit were put into motion.

Operation Rabbit

I expected Step 1 to include putting a great deal of thought and time into the rabbit facilities before bringing one home. But instead, Steps 1 to 10 happened rather more quickly than anticipated. At 10 pm several days ago,  I found myself emailing the owner of several large bunnies and a free hutch on craigslist. All bets were off and the following morning I frantically drove around before work to pick up feed and water supplies. I then drove to the other side of the city after work, braving rush hour to pick up the package deal, but upon arrival realized that the hutch would not ( though I measured the dimensions beforehand, I swear!) fit into my small old Hyundai with any amount of shoving. Then the dear, patient owners helped to partially disassemble the hutch in middle of a freezing wind storm so that it could shoved into my little car in haphazard pieces. And then before I knew it two gigantic bunnies in the passenger seat were being lulled to sleep by NPR while I white-knuckled home past fallen trees and whipping leaves.

Smoke & Ash

The Beginning

Quiet Owl Farm is an idea. It will evolve and change with time just as I will. It is everything I have and everything I want. It is an every changing jumble of my passions, dreams and fears. Quiet Owl is not a “real” farm. Yet. But it will be. As I work towards my ultimate goal of having a small family farm I want to pursue a realistically healthy and sustainable lifestyle along the way through what now comes from the rented backyard and what I later hope can be harvested from the back 40.

The reasons that this dream must grow slowly and organically are many. I am a woman with $45,000 in student loan debt and a full time job that requires travel. But those excuses prevented me from acting on my dream for too long. They have run their course. From here on out there will be no excuses, just action.

Animals, food and the great outdoors sustain me mentally and physically.  When any one is absent in my life, I feel less than.  Someday I hope they will  not only be in my life every day, but be my whole life. And so I come to you now as winter sets in with two new rabbits and a partially successful garden fading back to earth. This is the beginning of Quiet Owl Farm. From these humble origins, by imagination takes hold. And as a complete optimistic and hope-ful romantic I see the following vision for myself in the not-too-distant future. I see my land with fields and woods. I see a quaint farmhouse, an organic garden and a red barn. I see a root cellar. I see land full of growing vegetables and happy animals. Sheep, chickens, pigs, rabbits, horses, dogs, goats, and at least one barn cat. I even see some mud and poop, broken fences, midnight lambings, and pre-dawn risings.

This blog will be my motivation and maybe even yours.  It will  serve to ground me and help me approach my dreams at a speed that I can handle. And I hope too that  it will be a forum for honest discussion about farming, food and country life.

And so Quiet Owl Farm begins here. It begins with me, an in-debt introvert willing to share my hopes and dreams and plans with you, dear readers. And so please, if you’d like to stick around a hear more, let me tell you about Quiet Owl Farm.