Things We’ve Gotten from Raising Rabbits

The Rabbits Bought my KeurigThis morning I made myself a cup of tea and looked hard at the Keurig machine. It’s getting old – not the sleek styles you can find available today, but it still gives me a great amount of joy. Why? Well, because the rabbits bought my Keurig!

We’ve been raising rabbits for several years now. Back in the day, the first time we had any extra money above the feed costs and facility costs, I bought a Keurig with the rabbit money!

There have been seasons where we have bred very hard and seasons where we have not. We have left certain breeds and added others. But in general our principles of raising rabbits as naturally as possible, toward the ARBA standard of perfection, and allowing the rabbits to be part of a larger homesteading lifestyle… well, those things are still there.

We rarely make money with rabbits. On good months we’re able to break even with feed costs. Going to shows can be expensive, especially if you load up your entire car with rabbits when you go like we do! We don’t raise rabbits to make the big bucks, we raise rabbits for the other lessons we get which are invaluable:

Our children value life. We raise our rabbits as a family. As a family we care for them. We process as a family. The kids, generally, value life. They realize that if the animals aren’t fed, they aren’t going to be fed because they have stewardship over these lives and that’s important. They know that each life has a purpose and those purposes may look different but they are all valuable.

Our family understands healthy competition. When we go to a show, of course it’s an opportunity to see how your breeding program is doing. You’d love your rabbit to win the top honors! But it’s more importantly an opportunity to interact with other breeders, to encourage one another, learn best practices, and admire these animals. Showing rabbits has helped us cement that WE are our main competition… if we haven’t done our personal best we aren’t winning at anything.

We’ve learned science in a hands on way. Rabbits are an amazing tool for understanding genetics. I honestly can’t see any other area that would give us as much knowledge in a practical way about genetics as raising rabbits. Now… has that led to some interesting conversations? Why, yes! Once my dear child told me that with my naturally horrible eyesight I ought to be glad I’m not a rabbit because I would have been culled from the breeding program! Ha! But there is a reality that these experiences help us understand natural order and scientific inquiry in a whole new way.

 

I could go on and on, but I will stop now because my tea is getting cold. The tea that came from the hot water from the Keurig that our rabbits bought. These rabbits, they are always bringing us important things!

Falling in Love All Over Again

Image may contain: textGuys… things have been busy around here. The kids are growing up and they have various interests and so I haven’t been puttering around the rabbitry like I used to enjoy doing with my free time – the free time has been minimal!

So let me share with you how exciting it was to evaluated the juniors we have and realize they may be my favorites in a really long time! It made me immediately want to drop all the things and just wander around the rabbitry with my heart going pitter patter.

I think I’m even more aware of how much I love them because we aren’t attending the National Show this year. It’s been on the calendar for two years, since they announced the location and it was closer than a days drive away. But then, in August when the kid’s soccer schedules came out, I learned that having four kids in traveling soccer and trying to attend a rabbit show in October is not a good combination. Sad days.

Alas… we’ll be planning for shows in the future and hopefully change our current lame track record. Showing really adds to the excitement of raising rabbits, and I miss my show friends!

When the Show Must Go On… (Or, how do you take care of the animals when you’re sick yourself?!)

 

Taking Care of Animals When You're Sick Too

What do you do when you’re sick but the animals still need daily care?

One of the worst things about raising animals is how they are so darn needy on a daily basis. Seriously – they want food. They want water. They need milking. They need grooming. It’s just so… regular.

 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week because our family has been hit hard by some type of sickness that’s going around. It’s been about a two week period and it’s cycled through all six of us. Assuming it doesn’t offer the pleasure of a repeat round I think we’re about three days from being totally done of it…

And all during this time we’ve still had to feed and water the rabbits. Milk the goats. Collect the eggs.

Animals don’t care a whit if you have a 103* temperature and chills.

Fortunately in our case the sickness we’ve had has been staggered so there’s always been someone healthy enough to do the chores, but it reminds me of the stories of early pioneers who were found dead in their tracks on the way to the barn while the rest of their family is dead in the bed. The last one standing in that situation was obviously overcome with the immensity of it all.

Morbid, I know. Sorry.

My goal in sharing this was actually not to be depressing and speak of death, doom, and destruction, but to point out the need for a plan when things go bad.

We know that life is always going to through curve balls at us – so when it comes to our animals, how are we prepared? Who is your back up to call and take care of the fur babies if you’re suddenly ill? On vacation?

This has been the greatest discussion in our family when our daughter first brought up wanting dairy goats. We know that with a milking animal our schedule will be much more limited and our travel adventures will slow down. However, we’re moving into a season of our family where that fits… so we can make a sacrifice of time and effort for this season.

How are you prepared for an emergency?

 

 

 

In response to our growing microfarm adventures, I’m taking another look at our emergency plan (initially created after I wrote this post a few years ago) and making sure it’s up to date. My plan is to turn it into a fillable .pdf and make it available to all of YOU so your leg work in creating your own plan is a little less stressful. Hopefully it will be out by the end of next week!

In the meantime, may your animal adventures be calm and that Murphy’s Law thing stay far away from you!

I’d love to hear from you about how you handle emergencies and travel plans! I feel like we should create some sort of a web-based service (like the Babysitters Club) where people could schedule others to come and cover chores!

Our “MicroFarm” is a MacroDeal

Mad Hatter Microfarm LogoOne thing you’ll notice in the future is that we’re expanding our horizons from simply “Mad Hatter Rabbits” to “Mad Hatter MicroFarm.” We admit it, the rabbits were our gateway animal! They got us into this happy homesteading lifestyle and we will always be grateful for this!

Part of our commitment when we first started in rabbits in 2012 was that we would be on the lookout for additional sustainable living options that we could do on our urban property. Over the years that has expanded as we’ve taken one small step at a time toward a more wholesome lifestyle.

Rabbits were our beginning. Lots of research, lots of practice, and we felt like we were getting the hang of it. Four years ago we started with our gardening projects, and the last two years have really ramped it up where we can actually supplement our family’s diet with what we grow. Last spring we ended up with both quail and chickens, and this spring we are expanding our efforts with a dairy goat.

At the root of all of these changes is a desire to be as close to our food processes as possible. We aren’t certified organic anything… but we do our best to be as close to organic as possible. I like to think of it as attempting to copy the way our grandparents lived life, when a full-service WalMart wasn’t within a 20 mile radius of practically everywhere and our meat didn’t come on styrofoam trays!

Our movements toward this lifestyle have been gradual, but our blog will now reflect the various aspects of learning and exploring we do to create this high-altitude homesteading, microfarming experience at 7,000 ft. Hopefully by bringing all of the various aspects of our life underneath one blog you’ll see more frequent posts and find yourself exploring ideas and learning for your own self-sufficient dreams!

You’ll still find this site when you search for “Mad Hatter Rabbits,” but over time we’ll be using Mad Hatter Microfarm more and more. Don’t get confused! It’s still us!

A Toast Goodbye

This spring we decided to narrow our rabbit breeding focus and stop raising Champagne d’Argent rabbits. We’ve had several people ask us why, and it seemed fair to respond publicly since they have been a stable in our rabbitry for six years.

 

The reason is multi-fold. First and foremost, our children are begging us for additional breeds. They like our big meat rabbits, but they also like breeds like Satin Angoras, Dwarf Hotot, and New Zealand! We are big believers in letting them experience as much as possible, so we have gradually said yes to bred (even cavies!!!) and that means eventually we have to say no to something else.

 

Sadly, our champagne d’argent herd buck Mister died this past winter. He was the first rabbit we had born here and he was a fabulous boy. Every single one of our champagne d’argent does was bred to him or had him in the background. Even as an old man he had a fabulous prime stripe and was just the sweetest you could imagine.

 

We knew he was getting older, and there was a comical text conversation between us when I tried to breed him this past summer and I thought he was going to have a heart attack! He did get the job done but it took him quite awhile to recover from his exertions!

 

So when he passed it wasn’t a surprise to us, but it did cause some grief. I kept looking around at the champagnes and nothing was the same.

 

So when the kids jumped through the hoops we asked them to to “earn” additional animals, and it became necessary to keep our numbers at a manageable total, and we were missing Mister… well, the champagne d’argents ended up on the chopping block.

 

We’re excited that the majority of our herd is only about two hours away and another trio is three hours away. We expect to see these beautiful rabbits again at upcoming shows and look forward to their updates!

Dr. Seuss’s Guide to Using Heat Lamps with Rabbits

I can take zero credit for the creativity you’re about to see. It is a straight copy from a thread of comments on the Facebook group page Backyard Meat Rabbits. However, it’s pretty fabulous what can happen with the collective creativity of people – and it deserves to be recorded! The advice is also quite sound!

 


 

“When the internal temperature of hay rises above 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celcius), a chemical reaction begins to produce flammable gas that can ignite if the temperature goes high enough.”

Don’t use heat lamps!

Don’t use heat lamps!

Don’t use heat lamps!

Don’t use heat lamps!

Don’t use heat lamps!

Don’t use heat lamps!

 

 

Could I, should I, in a nest?

You could not, should not, in a nest. Having a fire would not be the best.

 

Could I, should I, in my barn? Surely that will cause no harm.

You could not, SHOULD NOT, in your barn! A blazing fire brings MUCH harm.

 

Do not use them here nor there.

Do not use heat lamps anywhere.

 

You could not, should not, in a barn.

Not in a nest, on any farm!

Not in a cage, not in a herd – they don’t need heat lamps, you silly old bird!

Do not use them here or there, don’t use heat lamps anywhere!

 

Could I, should I, in the cold? My little kits are not too old.

You could not, should not in the cold. The nest has fur, the heat to hold.

 

But if my doe does not pull fur… could I, should I, then for sure?!

You should not not! Not for sure at all! Just grab your doe and pull it all!

Do not use them, Steve, my dear. They’ll be fine! Do not fear!

 

Can we use them for their dad? Frozen water makes him mad.

You cannot use them for their dad. For EVERY bunny, they are bad!

 

 

Credit for this rhyme goes to Justin Beilstein, Stefanie Ryne Godfrey, Nick Gunnells, Jekka Lynn, Steve Detmer, Savannah Berniquez, Linda Wilson, Jeremy Lawson.

 

Our Rabbit Tattooing Essentials

Every year around the time of the fair, I have an opportunity to help 4H students with their rabbits. One task in particular is in high demand… tattoos!

 

Since ARBA requires that rabbits at a show be marked with a permanent, legible ear tattoo. This is so helpful in many ways, the main one being that rabbits tend to look a lot like one another! (I have sworn I could pick out our rabbit for specific characteristics, and then gotten the rabbit on the table and realized that I have no idea which is ours!) Permanent tattoo markings are a safety net to the original breeder (no one wants to think of it, but a distinctive tattoo keeps rabbit breeders honest when they might be tempted to buy a new rabbit and fudge a little, calling it one of their own breeding), to a buyer (I’ve had people contact me with a rabbit they bought from someone else and been able to track down a pedigree years later based on our distinctive tattoos), and it isn’t harmful to the rabbit.

 

However, actually tattooing a rabbit can be a concern to many people. What equipment do I use? How do I do it? How do I make sure it’s legible? These are common questions! There is a lot of diversity within preferences, but I’m happy to share the things we’ve found to be really useful for our own rabbitry.

 

The Bunny Burrito. Obviously, this isn’t an official name, but I use what I call a bunny burrito to hold the rabbits in place while I tattoo. I started out using a towel wrapped tightly and it worked… but then a friend got out of rabbits and I inherited the burrito. This wrap is made of fabric and has three hook and loop fasteners to hold the rabbit in place. IT IS AMAZING.

Because I inherited this lovely piece of equipment, I had no idea where it was purchased. Then, randomly, I saw a post on facebook the other day and found the original source! It’s a Wrap-n-Tat! I promptly ordered new Wrap-n-Tats in a smaller size (since our original was made for big meaty buns and now we have some super teeny little ones) and I am so charmed by the fabric and the durability of the workmanship!

Obviously, one of these has been used A LOT and two are brand new… but don’t worry – I’ll be breaking them in shortly!

 

KB Tattoo Pen. There are a lot of choices when it comes to tattoo pens (or clamps) but we chose to go with the KB Tattoo. I’ve tried others over the years and have never found one I like better. For the price and the quality it can’t be beaten. I’ve replaced the batteries twice and needles once in six years. That’s not a bad deal! I’d also recommend getting the ink that they sell with the pen – I’ve tried other inks and the tattoos have faded quickly or never even seemed to really stick.

Healing Ointment. After every tattoo I blot the ink off of the tattoo and then dab a little ointment on it. Sometimes I use Aquaphor and other times Bag Balm… I imagine Vaseline or almost any healing ointment would work just as well. I just think it helps the tattoo heal better.

 

A few more tips for the beginning tattooer:

 

Banana. I have recommended that before tattooing for the first time, tattoo a banana. The flesh of the banana helps give you an idea of how hard you’ll need to press down to get a clear tattoo.

Be Bold. When you decide to tattoo, fully commit. Do it quickly and firmly. If you are tentative the rabbit will likely give you grief whereas if you tattoo confidently you will be done with the tattoo in a jiffy.

Tattoo System. Choose a tattoo system that is identifiable to you and your rabbitry. For us, our breeders always start with a letter “H”. (If you’d like to know about our tattoo system this blog post goes into it in more detail, The Quirky Art of Tattooing

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