Good Friends and Happy Surprises

When M and I left on a two week adventure last month we were able to leave Jimmy and Socorro, our pair of American Chinchilla rabbits, at my friend’s house. Elizabeth has been my best friend since freshman year of our sub-par high school. Thank goodness we had each other. Throughout the years, Elizabeth has pretty much been the best. Moral support and moving support–only the best of friends help you move more than once. And now…rabbit support. Elizabeth’s partner built something of a rabbit hotel on what has become their little urban family farm/garden (garm? farden?). The hotel is pretty awesome as you can see from the photos below. The design allows for removable dividers and a bunny stacking. And lucky for me, the bunny hotel had a vacancy and my generous friends took our two charges on for two weeks. Seriously, these folks are the best friends.

All went well with the hotel stay, until about a week and a half ago when I got a message from Elizabeth telling me about a little hiccup in the room arrangements. Her partner, she found out, may have let our two buns in the same space together for a minute or so in order to do a little cleaning. The tricky thing is, rabbits do tend to breed like rabbits. It takes about 10 seconds. However, I didn’t know if anything had come of this little snafu. I thought that, as this possible encounter had taken place the day after they were dropped off, the rabbits might have been a little too shell-shocked to…do what rabbits do best (and I don’t mean poop everywhere).

By the time last week came around, I was pretty certain Socorro was not pregnant. In her two past pregnancies she started nesting well over a week before the birth. Now she showed no signs of wanting to build a nest. Then, on the day I thought she could possibly be due, I got a message from M at home. Socorro was trying to nest. Of course. Luckily, M was home and he rushed a nestbox into Socorro’s cage and gave her lots of soft hay to work with. She went to work like a lady on a mission. A nest was made by evening. The next morning any doubts about her condition were erased. Surprise! Socorro had filled the nest with her fur and I counted nine little chubby balls of bun curled up in their soft bed. All warm, full, and happy. That Socorro is such a  good mama.

Surprise!
Surprise!

The only reason I had not bred Socorro myself was that we are in rental-purgatory right now. The owner of our rental put the house on the market about two months ago and we don’t know if we’ll have to move in the near future or not. Best case scenario for us is that the house does not sell and we can at least continue renting through the spring. But who knows! Gosh, I suppose not having a mortgage is nice, but I can’t wait for the day when we have a farm that we can truly call our own.

Oh, and those hides? They’re a mixed bag. Two turned out fairly nicely and I have images of fur brimmed knit-wool hats flitting around my head–maybe we’ll have a winter this year? Two are a little oddly shaped and the fur got a little matted, but I suspect we can find  a use for all of them. The lessons learned from this first round of tanning are 1) don’t scrape too much off the hides 2) be very careful when you actually have to wash them; apparently rabbit fur will mat.

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The whole rabbit

*Warning: pictures of rabbit hides below

It turns out when you start raising meat rabbits, you just might end up with bags of poorly labeled rabbit hides in your freezer. Luckily, I’ve wanted to work with rabbit hides since the idea of raising rabbits first came up.

The moment finally came to pull one of those suspicious-looking bags out of the freezer and start the first tanning experiment last week. I followed the directions in this article (M is helping too), starting off with four hides.  The hides are now part-way through the process, which in condensed form includes the following steps:

  1. Soak washed hides in a water/aluminum sulfate/salt mixture for two days.
  2.  Soak washed hide/separate (or “flesh”) tissue layer from the actual skin.
  3. Rinse and put hides back in the original mixture with additional aluminum sulfate and salt for approximately one week.
  4. Check to see if done.
  5. When done, wash and partially dry the hides.
  6. “Break the skin” or work the partially dried hide with your hands by pulling and working small sections.

We are currently on step 3, so I can’t vouch for the article, but I can say that the process seems relatively clear and simple so far. But does it work? Time will tell.

On Saturday we fleshed the hides which was a little tricky. M and I ended up using different tactics to remove the tissue. I held the whole skin in my hand and tried to peel of as much as I could in one go and picked at the rest. M laid his flat on a table and used a rock hide scraper to flesh a couple. Both methods seemed to work relatively well, although I think M was having fun using a tool that would have been traditional used by Native Americans. After fleshing, the hides are looking more like tanned hides, which I take as a good sign. I can’t wait to see if the whole process works!

Upcoming blog posts:

  • An update on the tanning process.
  • An anecdote or two about our journey to the East where we had many an adventure and saw a lot of inspiring farms along the way.