Saturday, April 13, 2013

Temporary Rabbit 'Outage'

Hello Everyone,

          It's been months since I have last written a post, and I apologize for that.   A number of people probably know the news by now, but I wanted to announce that I have temporarily gone out of rabbits.

          It has become increasingly difficult over the last several years to keep up with the amount of work that a large herd and 3 angora breeds requires.  When my kids were young they were home most of the time (and also homeschooled), and that made it possible for me to feed, groom, and raise a herd of rabbits very diligently.  I did not work a lot then either, which helped as well:).

          Now my boys are all teenagers and the oldest has begun college, so while they are much more independent, they are now out and about everyday, getting their drivers' licenses, going to athletic events, visiting friends, and engaging in a wide variety of educational and non-educational activities.  They are still homeschooled, but our time at home is pretty much non-existent now with all the chauffeuring going on, and my husband and I have had to take on more work to afford food/clothing/college bills, and everything else growing kids require.  Because life is so busy (and increasingly expensive) at this point, I have had to take the painful step of temporarily selling off my herd.  This was one of the worst decisions I have ever had to make in my life and I FULLY intend to return as soon as things settle down, but for now I will not keep rabbits if I cannot properly care of them, and the angora breeds in general require maintenance that I cannot keep up with:(. 

          I will keep this blog and my website up, positively, since so many people refer to them.  If time allows I will also add posts occasionally, but for the next four or five years my focus will have to be on my family and I will not be online as much:(.  People continue to email me with questions about their buns and that is WONDERFUL----but I will not be as active on the lists or at public events.

          Again, this move is DEFINITELY temporary, but I did want to explain it to the people I know in the rabbit community.  I expect to be back within five years once the kids are 'old' and I am not running around like a maniac every 5 minutes, LOL.  Many families who raise rabbits have their kids actively involved but mine were never interested in raising or showing, so I did the work myself.  I plan to have a new barn constructed in the future with much more space and plenty of room for different breeds, but until then I will have to bow out for awhile and hope that everything settles soon:).

           Anyway---best of luck to everyone!  To my good friends who so GENEROUSLY took my rabbits and are continuing my line as I speak---thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!  I will be back as soon as possible---I promise---and there will be many more FAs/SAs/and GAs in the world:-).

Thanks again.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cages---Part I

       I thought I'd start a series of posts on Cages this week, considering that it is a huge part of rabbit raising and something that new owners (in particular) may not know much about.

        Cages for domestic rabbits are important for many reasons (aside from the obvious ones).  They keep rabbits safe, they keep them clean, and they clearly prevent unwanted mixing between sexes and breeds year round.   For angoras a cage and the quality thereof can be more critical than for other breeds given the long coats and the need to keep them clean and undamaged during the show season.  The design of floor wire preventing rabbits from having contact with their own feces also keeps diseases such as coccidiosis at bay, which tend to run rampant in populations that run outdoors or on the ground in a colony situation.
         The best cages are made of galvanized-after wire, and the top and sides are constructed of a 1 X 2 inch mesh. Floor wire should be laid so that the 1/2 X 1 inch mesh is smoothest on the top (if you look at the wire you can see which side should be flipped upward to prevent strain on the rabbits' feet). Also, a thing called baby-saver wire is available on cages built for does, which decreases in mesh size from top to bottom so kits do not fall or crawl out of cages.  Baby saver wire should almost be considered critical for breeding cages.

           The door of a cage should be wide enough so that A) you can easily remove a rabbit of the size that you raise in your rabbitry, and B) you can extend your arms into the cage far enough to reach the back and both corners in order to remove adult and babies.  It is an excellent idea to put plastic or wire guards around all edges of the cage doors in order to prevent your arms from getting cut or prevent ripped wool out of angoras who are being placed in and out.

            Many people inquire about urine guards, which are often included automatically with kit cages.  The function of a urine guard is to prevent rabbits from spraying urine out the lower half of the cage onto a neighbor, but I have found that more often than not these backfire because rabbits tend to back up to them and spray their own coats when they urinate.   Many years ago I removed the guards from all my cages and have had no problems with backspraying since.

              In terms of size, the size of a cage will be determined by the breed you raise.  In the case of angoras, the size of a coat may also determine the size of a cage---sometimes far and above the weight of the animal itself.  The English Angora is the smallest of the angora breeds at 5-7 lbs, but it is also known to possess the largest coat (particularly in show lines).  For this reason, a 30 X 36 inch cage is desirable for bucks and does of this breed.  For the French, Satin, and Giant angoras a 30 X 36 inch is warranted as well due to the adult size and weight of these breeds (including their coats).  Some people choose to house large angoras in 30 X 30 inch cages, but it must be remembered that space is essential for adequate exercise, for breeding, and also for keeping the rabbitry cool in summer when more space between rabbits means greater air circulation.  A smaller cage (such as a 30 X 30) is useful for juniors or when weaning litters, but it should not be used very often for any angora in full coat.

                Another thing to consider when determining size of cages is breeding.  A doe with a litter will absolutely require a 30 X 36 inch space to accomodate a nestbox or litter of any size, particularly as the babies grow.  It is not uncommon for the larger breeds (particularly French and Satin) to have litters of 8-10 or more, and it is critical that the cage have space to accomodate a litter of this size through the weaning stage.  Doe cages that are too small will result in overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and also---in the warmer months----an increased likelihood that a lack of air circulation will result in dropped ears on babies, rendering them unshowable.  For years I considered 30 X 36 to be the standard for doe cages in my own rabbitry, but in the future I intend to extend those dimensions to 30 X 48 in order to accomodate the largest litters.

                 Another consideration when deciding what cage design/size to use is the height and reach of the manager.  A short person with shorter arms may want to design a cage that is long but shallow in order to easily reach the back.  It is appropriate to decrease the width of a cage (as long as it is still big enough to accomodate a nestbox), but loss in space has to be compensated for with greater length in order to give a large rabbit room to move and turn comfortably.  The height of a standard angora cage should be 18 inches.

             Feed dishes may come into play when designing a cage if you wish to use J-feeders that are mounted on a cage by cutting through the sidewire.  If you intend to permanently alter your cages in this way then you must be certain that the feeders you use are wide enough for an angora (with furnishings) to get it's head inside them and consume the feed right down to the bottom without grinding fur or wool off.  You must also be sure that you have modifications in place to accomodate litters, which will require unlimited feed and may also need a larger feeder or additional dishes inside the cage.

                More again next time about various cage setups and the advantages and disadvantages of each.  Hope everyone is having a wonderful fall breeding season so far!!:-)

Friday, June 29, 2012

FA Babies!!

     Hi Everyone!

          Well, school is over and so is work and baseball (finally!) will be done this week.  I am currently in the process of catching up with the bunny work I've been behind on, and here I have a posted pictures of just a few of the babies that have come out of the nestbox this Spring.  I am focusing heavily on quality this year so most of the babies are one of only two colors (REW or Tort:)).  I have gotten past the first cull and what is left looks consistent, which is a happy thing in the bunny world--*grin*.  I will be posting pictures of some of the other babies/breeds in the barn as soon as I get settled completely.  It'll be nice to take a break and focus on bunnies again:-).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Baby Trivia:-)

        Someone asked me a question about rabbit moms and litters recently, so I thought I'd make a list of baby facts:-).  As someone who routinely runs her litters back and forth each day for feedings I will have different experiences than someone who leaves them with the does 24/7, but there are several neat things I've noticed over the years (probably as a result of this practice) that I thought I would post here.

1)  When a litter is late it is usually because it is small

2)   When a litter is a day early or right on time, it usually means there will be 7 or more babies present:)

3)    The size of a litter is usually directly proportional to the amount of milk a doe is able to produce

4)    Litters tend to decline in size once the doe reaches 3 years old or more

5)    Does who turn around before leaving the nestbox (after nursing) will usually detach hanging kits in the process, making them less likely to drag their babies out

6)    Does who go into and out of a nestbox in a leisurely fashion are also less likely to be 'kit draggers'

7)     Does who jump in and out of nestboxes fast without turning much at all are does who are at the highest risk of exposing kits

8)      Does tend to nurse litters longer in the first 1-2 days because the milk has not yet come in and it takes longer to fill a litter up on colostrum

9)      You can always identify a litter that has been fed because their stomachs are wide and full, and they are digging frantically into the nest material

10)   You can also identify a litter that has been fed if you stick your hand into the nest and the babies do not 'pop' frantically at the disturbance

11)   It is completely unnecessary to cover kits or arrange nest material over them after feeding.   The litter does this automatically on it's own according to how warm/cold it is outside.

12)   In the summertime, kits will leave a nest open on top and lay higher up (and closer to the surface) for better ventilation

13)   In the winter kits burrow much more deeply, covering themselves completely with wool and hay and retreating to the bottom of the nest.

14)    The eyes of a litter open at 12 days, at exactly the same time as the ears come up

15)  A kit who is failing to thrive (unable to compete, unable to consume milk) will be impossible to save in almost every instance despite every measure taken, and will expire anywhere from the third day forward.

16)  A kit is generally large enough at 3 weeks of age to walk safely on floor wire without slipping through and injuring itself.

17)  Footboards MUST be removed when kits are released into a cage because the openings on most boards are beveled and will create a slippery leghold trap for kits in which their legs slip through the holes but cannot be pulled out again.

18)  A doe's milk production (and a litter's appetite) peaks at 3 weeks.  After this the litter begins to consume solid food and the doe scales back production accordingly.

19)  While good mothers are generally defined as good milk producers before the age of 3 weeks, the litter begins to watch and imitate her behaviors after this point (once the nestbox is removed).  When she eats, they will eat.  When she drinks, they will drink, and when she grooms, they groom.  These behaviors would certainly occur anyway if the doe were not present, but they do seem to be facilitated more quickly in the presence of the doe as soon as the litter is mobile and out of the box.

20)  Kits can make their own heat by the 10th day (and will not die of exposure after this point).   Danger of being dragged out also ceases to exist at this point because they become too heavy for the doe to pull and they can no longer support their body weight with just their teeth:).

            Anyway, these are just a few little baby observations that I've made (and continue to make in all the litters I raise).  I am sure there are more and I am certain that others have noticed things in their herds as well.  I will continue to post trivia as I think of it in several different areas:-)

Have a great week!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fan Time

Well, it's impossible to predict the weather, but it does seem as though this summer is going to be a hot and early one, if only because we haven't had much rain and we've already had 1-2 days of near 90 degree temps here by mid April:(. I took my fans out and dusted them off today, and now they are set up in the bunny shed and ready to go. The next thing to do will be to fill up soda bottles and freeze them, and I have already decided that I will begin a policy this year of keeping absolutely everyone bald the entire summer with the exception of show bunnies coming into coat and possibly a good wooler or two whose wool I will grow and sell to a spinner here who uses it for her local business. The Giants especially do not handle the summer well, and seeing as how my schedule has become busier over the last year or two, there is no point in fighting with coats if it isn't necessary.
It has been a productive week here in terms of litters. Every doe I've bred so far this spring has kindled, though several first timers scattered their litters and had to be re-bred as a result. This week a purebred litter arrived out of Zaragevna (her first), Zsa Zsa had a litter of F1 SA/FA crosses, and Esperanza gave birth to two purebred babies two days ago (also her first litter). Evita had a purebred litter of six, and Gypsy had a litter of 9 which she unfortunately lost when they were scattered on the wire while I was away at work:(. Esperanza's tiny litter has been fostered to another doe and she has been re-bred, and Gypsy has been clipped again and will be re-bred as soon as I can get her to cooperate with her chosen boyfriend, LOL.
This week will mark the typical daily chores along with more juniors (especially Giants) being sheared down, and I will also be replacing all footboards, feed dishes, and water bottles throughout the barn. It is a thrill to be able to work longer into the evening now that the daylight hours have increased, and the bunnies have been very happy with the mild weather we've been having in the 50's and 60's, especially the nice cool nights:-).
More again next time and have a fabulous week!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

First Satin Litters

It was nestbox cleaning day last week (these babies have since gone into the cage with mom full time), so I decided to take pics of the first phenotypic Satin litters that were born here this spring:).

I bred a purebred Satin buck to two SA/FA crosses, and the resulting two litters are shown below. The first breeding was between a red (purebred) buck and a Fawn crossbreed, resulting in 3 Fawns and 4 Reds (first two pictures).

Some different things I noticed about these babies as compared with French litters, is that their colors can be much harder to determine, LOL! I am not as familiar with SA colors so this doesn't help, but an unexpected factor that turned up was the fact that the reflectiveness of an SA coat can make it difficult to identify color, particularly in the beginning. For ex. a baby that seems Fawn in the beginning may begin to look like a Tort when turned in bright light, and colors that are very obvious on a French from the beginning do not seem to pan out until much later on a Satin. Of course, this probably changes as one gets used to identifying them, but the shine does seem to throw things off:).

Also, it seems that this is a breed that probably doesn't show well in certain colors. While (virtually) every color that is showable on a French is showable in a Satin, the Satin sheen just does not seem to display well in certain varieties, therefore it would be hard to obtain maximum show results with just any color. When you break down the points for the SA coat in the standard, Density is still the most important characteristic at 20 points, followed by Texture at 15, Length at 10 and Sheen at 15. Also, a complete lack of sheen is a DQ.

Obviously anything in the Wideband category shows well in this breed. Red is a wonderful candidate to show off sheen and brightness of color, and this would probably include Tort and maybe to a lesser extent, Fawn. I could see where the Self colors would be difficult to get a lot of Sheen on, but I think Agoutis would do fairly well as the Chestnuts and Coppers in particular have enough Orange/Red in them to show well, provided the ring color is crisp and well defined.

The Reds in this litter have great sheen so far but the Fawns, not so much. Originally I thought one of these babies was a Tort but it is becoming harder to tell now, and it may simply turn out to be a Red with lots of smut:).

The second litter born is shown below. The dam of this litter was an FA/SA Chestnut cross, and the sire was a purebred Red. In this litter we have what is clearly a Chestnut, an Opal, a Red, a Fawn, and what I originally thought was a Chocolate Agouti but which I am watching closely now because it is getting more coppery by the day, LOL. Since a Copper must have black ear lacing, etc. I am inclined to think it is still a Choc. Agouti because the tipping is definitely brown, but we will see how things go and develop over time.

And this last picture here is of a purebred French litter that I included for the sake of comparison. There are (clearly and VERY obviously, LOL) 3 REWs and 3 Torts, which in FA litters are discernible by the second or third day at the latest. Also, since my FA herd is very linebred at this point I can predict with almost 100% certainty what colors each pair will yield, so this helps with identification as well. Another interesting thing to note in a French litter vs. a Satin is the difference in texture, readily observable as well. Here the Satin babies obviously have much finer wool as it lays down and 'crumples' much more easily. The French, by contrast, have much 'starchier' coats that do not look so 'tousled' and are clearly not as fine.
Anyway, tomorrow I am headed off to the Rhinebeck show (my local club show) where I will be a Registrar again . I do not have any rabbits in coat at the moment since everyone is either bred or in the nestbox, so I will not be showing and am expecting a fairly easy day.
More again next time, and hope everyone is having great luck with Spring litters!:-)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Giant Report--Long:)

As I mentioned several months ago, I embarked on a Giant breeding project focusing on the Black and White varieties. I acquired some purebred Giants and then actively started breeding them in with French and also some French/NZ crosses in order to boost size, weight, hardiness and breeding ability. The first crosses I did (F1 gen.) were all over the map with a huge disparity among litters. Some babies were large, some were small, some were furnished and some were not, some were robust, and others were frail. I weeded the first litters out ruthlessly, preserving only the heftiest, hardiest rabbits, and I disregarded wool almost completely since I knew from experience with the FA/NZ crosses that the wool would come back quickly and easily and that it was type and weight that would be most difficult to set.
The first generation produced turned out to be good breeders for the most part. Anyone who lagged in that department was promptly removed from the gene pool since I could not, under any circumstances, encourage poor parents. The wool on almost all of these rabbits was extremely out of balance as one would expect in a cross, and the second generation I produced was a combination of crosses with purebreds and also, in one or two cases, a combination of crosses with crosses that produced 'pure' giants, 'pure' French, and assorted combinations of both:).
I noticed a substantial improvement in the 2nd generation in terms of wool, and even though there were occasional well-typed animals there were many, many, MANY culls, and out of nearly 100 offspring I ended up only being able to save about 8. These 8 were large, hardy, and meaty with good type, and they had far fewer ear furnishings than the original animals. Right now these rabbits are growing out and should be ready for breeding next Fall. Hopefully the next generation will improve again, and there will be something to show over the next year or two.
I nearly gave up on the GAs after repeated breedings did not produce a large quantity of good stock at first. I was having to breed ridiculous amounts of litters to produce a tiny, working gene pool, and it was getting a little too prohibitive in terms of labor and cost:(. As this breed is generally new and unsettled, it will take a closed herd and intense breeding over a considerable length of time to get more consistent results, and the work involved with that is mindblowing to say the least, LOL.
Anyway, the traits that have been most frustrating up to this point are:
-massive appetites without any accompanying weight gain or improvement in meat condition (1 1/2 cups per day--at least--on some animals, without an appreciable increase in weight)
-heavy, HEAVY furnishings on some animals that were difficult if not impossible to maintain and resulted in chronic matting between the ears
-a tendency to slow down or stop eating entirely on or around the 4th month of growth despite a prime coat and no signs of slippage
-a lack of meat 'density', meaning that when I lifted even the largest animals up I felt no 'heftiness' or brick-like quality compared with other angoras or meat rabbits.
-the virtual impossibility of maintaining a GA in full coat due with just a slicker brush due to the density and multiple layers of the coat.
I have been trying to adjust for the excessive feed consumption by using only those rabbits who gain on smaller rations of feed (for ex. 1 1/4 cup instead of 1 1/2-2 cups), and I have been culling extremely hard for the kind of low maintenance ear furnishings that Louise Walsh (creator of the Giant Angora) originally intended for the breed. Correct Giant ears (according to the standard) are "lightly fringed and well tasseled", meaning that the bulk of the 'hair' is restricted to the tips and there is nowhere near enough wool on the ears to make them matt and stick together. They should not have English ears or head furnishings, in other words.
The tendency to go off feed is not unusual for Giants, from what I understand, particularly since they were derived from the German Angora which is bred to adhere to a strict 3 month growth/harvest cycle. People I know who have owned German Angoras say that they tend to reach a certain point and go off feed as well despite the fact that they do not molt. I have heard this attributed to the discomfort of a heavy coat and possible other factors, but the fact remains that a show rabbit (angora) must be able to go beyond three inches in order to be successful on the table, and they must be able to keep eating for a lengthy period AFTER hitting the prime phase so they do not lose meat condition and are able to make the most of the prime phase of their coats. I am going to select for longer-holding coats and also buns that are just plain good eaters and drinkers. An excellent eater will be able to put on the weight necessary to fill out, and a good drinker will display a healthier coat and much less of a tendency to woolblock.
As far as the meat density goes, it has often been said that an angora cannot achieve the 'hardness' of a meat breed, and this may well be true since much of the protein they consume goes toward wool growth. However, it is certainly possible for them to achieve very respectable meat condition as many current FAs, SAs, and EAs have shown, and I am sure it is possible to beef up the GAs as well with selective breeding and a constant leaning toward heavier, denser types.
The grooming for GAs is substantially more difficult than that of the French. Some Giants seem to have no more wool at each harvest than a French, but the denser ones in particular can be hard to approach with the slicker brush as it is next to impossible to get down to the base of the coat. A blower will be almost imperative for this breed on the showtable, and I suspect that as the coats get thicker it will be necessary to use the blower during regular grooming as well, reserving the slicker for only wool tips, face, feet, and ear furnishings.
Below are pictures of a few of the F2 FA/GA bunnies I produced this winter. I interspersed the photos with some of French Angoras of the same age (born at the same time) so you could see the difference in wool.
First is a black GA cross with a very clean head. Though there are next to no furnishings on this doe's ears, she is large, dense, and sturdy, and she will be able to produce litters with the correct furnishings when bred to a more heavily furnished buck. This doe had incredible density even at the age of 12 weeks. I took a closeup of her wool, (below) which has the kind of excellent crimp I would expect to see on a good Giant. There will only be two fiber types on this rabbit which make it incorrect for a Giant coat, but it's a good start.

And this is a photo of a black French Angora buck named Spang's Lusaka. He was born around the same time as the bunny above and is an excellent rabbit, but it is clear that he does not have the same wool type as the cross above, and not as much density as the cross at 12 weeks.
This is a Tort GA cross doe who is also going to have great wool with good crimp and density. I included two wool shots for this one---the first showing the multiple layers of wool coming in as the coat matures, and the second showing the overall texture and crimp of the coat.

This last photo is not of a GA, but of a purebred REW French doe. This is one of three fabulous REW does that were born in the barn this winter. All have beautiful, smooth type and wonderful wool, and they should be very competitive on the first senior coat. Two of the three girls are out of Spang's Zsa Zsa, one of my best does, and the third is out of Spang's Marin, another REW with NZ blood that produced both the third REW and Lusaka, the black buck. I included a close up of this doe's wool below, and there you can see the classic 'halo' of a French coat that is produced by the gap in length between the underwool and guard hair on a balanced coat. This doe is 12 weeks old as well.

Anyhow, that's about it for now. There will be more pics and stuff again later in between work, spring cleaning, and baseball practice:-).