Friday, August 29, 2008

Picture Stuff

I am just posting a bunch of pictures I've taken of babies recently, though there are a whole bunch more coming up after that, LOL! The first shot here is of Giacomo right before his first clipping. At the moment he is growing in his first Sr. coat which looks very even and dense. He is a beautiful boy that I'm looking forward to showing:

And this is Arcadia, who has also been clipped and is rapidly growing in a new coat:

This is Evariste, who just weaned her second litter and is growing the rest of her coat. Time will tell if she will be ready to show this season or not, but either way she is a large doe with good type and really great adult texture.

This is Oberon, a buck out of Sadako and Dijon, who sired his first litters this summer with Morwenna and Juno and is also growing in his 1st Sr. coat:).

And here are a few of the 13-14 week old babies currently in the barn--a Sable Pearl (doe), a Chestnut (buck), and a Tort (doe).

This last bunny here is a really beautiful Black doe out of Evariste and Dijon. I took this pic of her earlier today before her first clipping at age 6 1/2 months. One thing I have noticed this year is that almost all of the babies born (that stayed in my rabbitry) seemed to hold their baby coats anywhere from 6 1/2-7 months, whereas the hold time previously was about 5-6. Even the cross rabbits (the F3 buns) all held for 6 months, which was very exciting to say the least:). Summer coats are generally slower growing and don't last quite as long as the winter coats so this is good news as long as the Prime period extends itself in addition to that and the quality of the coat stays intact. This girl here (along with the other buns her age in the barn) have only slightly begun to shed into the dropping pans, and the wool is still tight and grooms well.

More again next time---there are many more buns to clip tomorrow:-)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lots and Lotsa Bunny Work

I always have the same exact mixed feelings at this time of year. On the one hand spring and summer are my favorite seasons because they give me the chance to add new prospects to the herd, and they are also great because I get to see how (or if:)) my line has improved on the whole from last year, reflecting the wisdom of culling decisions that were made the season before that. The bad part about it all, is that it is a heckuva lot of hard work:(.

My rabbits have always been my own project and something that I have always taken care of myself with the exception of help from my dh with culling and with the Big Time (1X/2X a year) Deep Cleaning Job that has to be done in the barn. The kids come out to help me sometimes, but as every breeder knows there are things that just cannot be passed off to other people everyday, and while the boys like bunnies and love to play with them, they have never been the crazed, pathological, rabbit fanatics that their mother so totally is, LOL:).

Anyway, during the year it is a simple question of grooming and dropping pans (for the most part), and it is not a big deal to maintain a herd of about 30-40. During breeding season, however, it becomes a whole other situation. Babies need to be supplied with more feed, hay, and oats. They have to be weaned in several stages into new cages that have to be cleaned and sterilized in between every batch, then separated still further into single cages as they grow older. There is sort of a 'musical cages' situation taking place at all times when 10-12 litters are growing out in the same barn at the same time, and a huge amount of time is spent juggling rabbits around and evaluating babies to see who goes out ASAP, who sticks around for further development, and who makes the cut off the bat (a very tiny and distinguished group). In the meantime, moms who are now baby-less must be dried up, cleaned up, groomed, and clipped if necessary, while other adults who have been growing coats must continue to be groomed and also harvested when it's time, after which there is a period of 3-4 few weeks where nothing much has to be done (at long last:-D).

Every breeder who manages a herd of any breed (particularly wool rabbits) knows very well what I mean by all this, and knows just how crazy it can get during the busy times:(. This year I did something I have almost never done in the past, which was to basically replace my entire show herd in a single season, LOL. Last fall I had a sudden epiphany while checking over rabbits---sort of like an 'aha' moment that kind of hits you all at once out of the clear blue---and suddenly I knew exactly what direction I wanted to move in with my herd. Alot of time in most barns is spent treading water and moving in opposite directions in a breeding program (which has happened here too:)), but suddenly I knew exactly what I needed to do and exactly how I needed to go about it. I removed any rabbit from the herd who was being held for any kind of 'sentimental' purpose but who did not directly contribute to the quality of the line, and I retained only those animals who displayed solid consistency in more than one area: type, wool quality, vigor, color, pre-potency, and breeding/mothering ability. Those were the rabbits who were then used to do all the breedings for the spring and summer of 2008.

Though this drastic move cut the legs out from under me for an entire show year (LOL!!), I am pretty sure now that it was worth it. The babies coming up (and older juniors/young seniors) have more consistency quality than litters of the past. While I may have been lucky to get 1-2 nice babies out of a litter before, I am now seeing 3, 4 or even 5 possible keepers in a single litter, which means that the gene pool is becoming more uniform. Color and wool quality have improved and best of all, the type has risen dramatically, which is where an angora herd needs help the most:). The NZ crosses that came in helped wonderfully in this area, and though they are still separate from the herd and not yet registerable (or sellable), they are wonderful, solid animals with better compatibility to the FA breed than I would ever have expected. The culling talents of the previous breeder in this case (Elaine Harvey) came through with some animals who threw their good qualities almost immediately, building yet another excellent case for linebreeding:).

Anyhow, so what I am meaning to say after this long-winded post is that I am busy as a bee right now raising all these rabbits and moving into the next stage of this herd's development. Things should calm down radically in the next few weeks and there will be time again to get back to the leisurely schedule of grooming and (hopefully, this year) showing. I will post pictures of some of the new buns over the coming weeks (once I pick up a camera:)), and the fall should be interesting and alot of fun.

Have a fabulous weekend!:-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bottle Cleaning

I was just going through the rabbitry switching out and cleaning water bottles today, and thought I'd write a little bit about that since it is a job everyone has to do from time to time, especially in the heat of summer with lots of litters and full cages to deal with. Even if you don't use water bottles and have a watering system instead, it is still necessary to flush it out from time to time to eliminate mold and other undesirable bacteria that build up in a wet environment continually.

My favorite bottles in the absolute whole world are Lixits:-). Not only do they have a really simple hanging wire that eliminates complex brackets, but the bottles themselves are wide mouthed and tilted on a 45 degree angle into the cage, making them easy to clean and position for perfect access.

One easy, no-scrub way to clean a water bottle is to put a few drops of bleach into it, fill it halfway up with water, put the cap on, and then leave it sitting on the counter on it's side until the mold and dirt 'melt' off. You will need to clean the outside of the bottle by hand after that, or simply pop the whole thing in the dishwasher to sterilize.

If you have a limited amount of bottles and need to wash them by hand fast in order to return them to the cage right away, just grab a sponge with a little dish liquid on it, wipe down and rinse the outside of it, and then take a bottle brush (the kind with a brush at either end---large and small sized), and scrub the inside thoroughly.

Sometimes the brush is not enough to get around the mouth of the bottle and the little nooks and crannies around it, so at that point I take a sponge on a stick (or just a really soft sponge that I can squeeze part-way into the bottle), and scrub it out again (with lots of rinsing). I then wash the cap by hand because it is tough to get that totally clean in the dishwasher, and I use the small end of the bottle brush to push in and out of the zip tube a few times, because lots of slime and grimy stuff can hide out in hard-to-reach places like that:(. After this (if there is time), I put all bottles in the dishwasher on the top rack, and all caps in the utensil basket to get everything sterilized and ready to use.

There is nothing wrong with skipping bottles completely in favor of water dishes, and lots of people prefer those year round because they are easier to clean and much less complicated to use. With wool breeds, however, I find that dishes tend to be unsanitary and a downright disaster for long coats, especially when someone somewhere decides to stand in the dish in order to cool off and cakes the wool on their chest and dewlap into a solid, unremovable matt:(.

Anyhow, so this is a little bit about how I keep water bottles clean, though people everywhere may have alternative methods. I have maxed out my supply of feed dishes and water bottles completely with all the babies that are growing around here, so I am now doing cleaning and maintenance 24/7, and can't wait til the weaning is finally done so I can get things down to a manageable level again, LOL:).

Have a wonderful week!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Difference Between Bucks and Does

Bunny litters are born after a 31 day gestation period. At birth, the kits are approx. 2 inches long as well as naked and blind, but with daily feedings they begin to grow very quickly until their eyes open up around the 12th day, and they are climbing out of the nestbox by week 3:).
At about the same time as babies emerge from the box, they also begin to sample pellets and water, in addition to the hay and oats they have been munching in their nestboxes previously. Once they begin to eat solid food, it isn't long until they are eating alot of solid food, and in 2-3 weeks you are pouring pellets into food dishes around the clock, wondering how on earth so much food can disappear into so many little tummies, LOL. At this point, the kits are either weaning themselves or being weaned by mom (slowly), and by the 6-7th week they are ready to be separated from the doe entirely to begin an independent life.

When bunnies are initially weaned they are usually placed into a separate cage along with 1-2 other siblings of the same sex in order to minimize stress, and change is slowly introduced. At 9-10 weeks of age, angora babies are placed into their own cages to avoid ruining their growing coats, and they will live separately for the remainder of their lives with the exception of breeding and (in the case of does) raising litters.

At 12 weeks of age a growing rabbit begins to settle and hit adolescence. Weaned babies have established their own eating patterns and are beginning to fulfill their genetic potential, and this is also the time when differences in personality tend to emerge. Junior bucks are generally extremely "active" and somewhat on the hyper side (even more than somewhat in some cases, LOL), while does tend to be quieter at this age and much more relaxed.

At the 6 month mark, we find bunnies who have practically matured into adults, and a new set of behavior patterns surface. Physically, a 6 month old FA is nearly full grown (often weighing 8-9 lbs.), but many continue to hold onto their baby coats, though the first molt is probably right around the corner. At this point, the personalities of does and bucks tend to flip flop, and as the bucks quiet down and settle in, the does begin to get more and more antsy and temperamental. Hormonally, does are beginning to mature sexually which is something that has already occurred in the bucks (most bucks are ready to breed by 4 1/2 months), and along with the doe's development comes behavior such as cage territoriality, frequent digging and restlessness, and more of an "attitude" than you would encounter in a buck of the same age (so to speak:)). Not all does and bucks express these traits, but it is safe to say that most probably do. If the behaviors are indeed related to sexual maturity, then a breeder will find that they tend to slow down or be non-existent in off-times of the year such as winter, when breeding in the wild does not occur. Spring and Summer are prime breeding seasons with the most reproductive behavior taking place, while Fall and Winter show a marked decrease with considerably calmer and more tranquil bunnies:).
Later in life (2-3 years old or so), bucks often become extremely mellow, don't spray often (if they ever did to begin with), and are usually described as passive and calm. Does may continue to display breeding behaviors at certain times of the year, but they can mellow out quite a bit as well, in some cases becoming almost matronly:). Older does generally make wonderful mothers because of their experience and predictability at that age, and they are a pleasure to have around the rabbitry and on the showtable, where they have usually learned to sit very calmly in a picture perfect pose.

What most people normally think of as the ideal FA pet is a mellow older buck (older meaning anything over the age of 2). Does can make wonderful pets as well, but they tend to have different personalities due to their hormonal differences, and can be both terrible and entertaining depending on how you look at it:^). None of the personality traits listed above are carved in stone. There are certainly horrible bucks and fabulous does out there as most of us who breed can attest, but raising bunnies is also about genetics, and sometimes even the person who owns them and whether or not they "click" with the animal in question (we have all heard stories of bunnies who bit certain owners but loved other ones to death, LOL).
"Unpredictablility" is a term that will always apply to rabbits, no matter how we breed or raise them. One man's angel is another man's monster :^).
Hope you are enjoying the summer. I have been busy with birthdays, family reunions, and extra garden/bunny work, but it looks as though fall will soon arrive with angora-friendly weather (not that there's been anything to complain about the last few weeks in that department, however:)). Have a great weekend!