Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dandelions (the Bunny Miracle Food)

-another post from the old blog

Dandelions today are viewed as modern day nuisances that are impossible to kill, but in reality this weed is nothing short of a miracle food for bunnies and humans alike. They were grown as an extremely valuable medicinal plant long before they popped up in the cracks of our sidewalks, so I thought I would research the benefits of this important plant and list them here.

Here are a few facts about the Dandelion (taraxacum officinale) that I dug up on the web earlier today. After reading about all the benefits this so-called weed offers, you will understand precisely why they are so healthy for bunnies and why you may want to start feeding them to your own family in the future as well!

-Dandelion leaves are higher in beta carotene than carrots
-Dandelions have a greater iron and calcium content than Spinach
-Dandelions contain more potassium than bananas
-Dandelions contain more lecithin than soybeans
-Dandelions contain 64 nutrients and health promoting substances, including the vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, thiamin, and riboflavin
-There are approx. 14,000 IU of Vitamin A in 100 grams of Dandelion
-Dandelion root contains the sugar 'inulin' (helpful to diabetics), along with numerous other medicinal substances
-Dandelions are high in trace minerals
-Dandelions are considered a traditional tonic. They strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder, working as a gentle diuretic to improve the way kidneys cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients. They also act as a general stimulant to the system, especially the urinary organs. They are helpful in use with kidney and liver disorders, and are also beneficial for the bladder, spleen, pancreas, stomach, and intestines.
-Dandelions detoxify the body and are a great invigorator. They help to cure woolblock, ease indigestion, stimulate milk production in lactating does, and stimulate appetite in general. They also boost the immune system.
-Early colonists brought dandelions to America from Europe to plant in the New World because of their well-known medicinal properties.
-The reason Dandelions are so rich in nutrients is because of the long tap root (extending 2-3 feet in some cases). The roots are able to grow down into the mineral rich subsoil, suck the nutrients in and transport them to the surface.
All parts of the dandelion plant are edible, but the roots are more potent than the leaves.
-Dandelions are so healthy that they can be used as the sole diet for animals off feed, capable of sustaining life for weeks.
-Dandelions can be taken regularly and the entire plant can be dried for use during the winter

Basically, for the Angora bunny, dandelions have three great functions. They stimulate appetite in bunnies who have gone off feed for any reason, they stimulate milk production in does with large litters, and they cure woolblock:). Since they have started to grow again in the yard and garden I will be passing them out regularly to my herd, (particularly on hay and seed days), but considering that there are so many other good things about them, I am also going to start adding them to our own meals in the form of salads and maybe even teas:).

*Note---ALWAYS be sure never to use dandelions for yourself or your bunnies that have been directly sprayed or are located in the vicinity of any kind of chemical herbicide or fertilizer. Grow your weeds naturally for the sake of your bunnies and family, LOL:).

Sunday, June 21, 2009


--This is a post from the old blog, but it seemed relevant to re-post in the middle of the Spring/Summer breeding season.

Someone at a show recently asked that I write a post about breeding, so here it is, LOL.

Some people have a great deal of trouble getting their angoras bred, and others have very few issues at all. I believe that there are several factors involved in a successful breeding program, and different lines and breeds may exhibit different rates of conception as well.

First of all, it is very easy to encourage and increase problem breeders in your herd. What I mean by this, is that angora breeders generally focus on breed traits such as wool yield and coat quality to the extent that the more basic fundamentals of rabbit raising often get overlooked, and a herd can become less "functional" over time. As I have often said before, the strength of a breed such as the French Angora is that it is a true multi-purpose livestock animal. It produces heavy wool yields on a commercial quality meat body, and is pound for pound one of the most efficient livestock animals that exists. It is important, with a breed such as this, not to neglect it's meat value at the expense of wool only. The FA is primarily a Fiber animal, but when we fail to select for strong breeders in our herds we make it impossible for the meat aspects of the breed to perpetuate themselves, and the wool qualities fail at the same time.

If you have reluctant breeders in your herd----or rabbits who almost never conceive/fail to get milk, etc.----do NOT keep these rabbits or any of their offspring in your herd if you are serious about improving your production. A heavily line/inbred herd will normally have a decreased reproductive rate to begin with due to homozygosity, so it is a good idea to occasionally introduce an outside doe if you find the vigor of your herd declining. If your herd is NOT heavily linebred then basic culling is the only answer----do not keep those rabbits who are poor mothers or poor milkers, and eventually the production of your herd will improve. Selection for these types of traits is not always something that Angora people think of, but we need to remember that rabbits are rabbits, so if we fail to pay attention to the basics of herd management we will have nothing to show or harvest to begin with:(.

Conception can become a problem if a doe is allowed to sit dormant for an extended period of time between breedings. In my own barn I try not to let 'older does' (the 2-3 years and older) go for more than 2 months between litters after weaning. What I try to do is keep only those bunnies who are capable of being championed early so that they can have their first 3 legs by the time they are 9 months--1 year old. At this point I clip them down and breed them immediately to get the first litter out of the way, and then if the doe happens to be one who can bounce back with good wool growth and type again after the litter, I bring them back to the show table again, and then shear and breed them again. If a doe is retired from showing OR it is a doe who was never shown to begin with (a "parts rabbit", so to speak), then those rabbits will be bred all year round with one month off between litters until approx. 3-4 years old, when they are retired completely due to their age.

The does who are the most heavily bred have the best conception rates of all. They almost never miss breedings and almost always have good sized litters who grow up healthy and robust. It is important to note that the longer an adult doe goes unbred, the greater the opportunity exists for fat to build up around the internal organs to inhibit reproduction and make it less likely that the doe will ever conceive. A good rule of thumb is to get your bunnies championed early if possible (if you show), and then don't be afraid to breed heavily afterward and continue a tight schedule until their retirement. A rabbit in good health is essentially a breeding machine (as any good meat producer will tell you), so it is important to encourage good production by maintaining a regular breeding schedule.

Other things to remember when preparing to breed are to breed at appropriate times of the year. Rabbits breed all year round if kept on a tight schedule, but the ideal seasons are Spring and Fall (particularly Spring). In Spring even the hay we feed contains a higher amount of a compound called 6-MBOA (6-methoxybenzoxazolinone) which stimulates reproductive readiness in wild animals and enhances libido. The length of the days are also directly related to receptivity, and the sperm counts of younger bucks are quicker to bounce back after the heat of summer into Fall as well.

Here is a list of other tips to encourage the breeding process:

1--clip bucks and does down before breeding so that the coat is out of the way and the doe's wool will only be approx. 1 in. long when it comes time to kindle (making it less likely to wrap around baby necks and feet).
2--Breed once first thing in the morning, and then again one hour later.
3--Cage reluctant does next to smelly bucks at least 2 hours before breeding to increase receptivity.
4--take the doe for a ride in the car along bumpy side roads.
5--make positively certain that your herd is well-nourished with a good quality pellet that contains adequate supplies of Vitamins A and E. Supplement brood does with lots of green, leafy plants and herbs which contain a great deal of Vitamin A such as Comfrey before breeding and during gestation.
6--If you feel that your does are overweight, place them on a restrictive diet for 3-4 weeks before breeding to enhance conception rates. In sophisticated meat operations, rabbitry owners are careful never to let their breeding does get too fat----they want them lean and mean, not overweight and lazy:).
7--Try to keep bucks as cool as possible in hot weather. Whenever the temperature goes above 80 degrees F for any length of time, the fertility of bucks will almost always decrease. Younger bucks recover their sperm counts fairly quickly, but older ones can remain sterile for up to 4 months.
Restrained breeding is a technique that some breeders use when a doe seems reluctant, but the conception rates for this method is lower than if you simply let the doe and buck breed naturally. Try to let nature take it's course whenever possible.

To summarize (here at the end now), here are the best ways to encourage good production in your herd:

----Select away from bad mothers, reluctant breeders, and bad milkers, and breed only the offspring of those does who have an excellent track record in the production department.

----Keep your herd does in production, working show dates around your litters, and then keep them constantly bred afterward until they are old enough to retire.

----Clip coats down before breeding and expose the doe to the buck ahead of time (in separate cages).

----Maintain a healthy herd with no vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

One more thing I forgot to mention comes back to what I have often said about the importance of maintaining a predictable schedule in your rabbitry. If your rabbits are managed in the same way every day with no surprises or changes in routine, they will have much lower stress levels which contribute to increased readiness for breeding. A well-cared for herd is much more likely to perform better in EVERY area, including showing, conditioning, and most definitely breeding.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bunny for Sale

I have a very nice bunny here for sale out of a litter born last winter on 1/25. She is a Fawn out of Spang's Morwenna (a Tort GC with 3 legs) and Spang's Henryi (a Fawn buck who will be registered next week:)). She is very solid with a good body and really fantastic wool and density.

There were 3 does in this particular litter, and since I am keeping 2 I will not need the third, LOL. This girl will have a 3 generation Red/White/Blue pedigree with 8 Grand Champions included, and she will be priced at $125.

For more info. please email me privately at amy@spangangoras.com. I will be moving litters around all week (now that work is finished. Yippee!:)) and getting ready for the next batches of litters that are due at the end of this month. More to come later on. Hope all of you are having a great week!:-)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Frankfort, NY Show

This past Saturday the Mohawk Valley Club held their annual show in Frankfort, and I zipped out for the first time in several years to attend it. This is a very nice show in a very nice venue, and even though it was a warm day the doors on the ends and sides of the hall were all open so there was a perfect flow of cool air coming in throughout the day.

I normally don't have anything in coat left at this time of year, but I did manage to dig 4 bunnies out (LOL)---one near the end of her coat, one near the end of her jr weight limit, and two who were NOT in full coat yet but will have to be clipped soon anyway for breeding and for the upcoming summer temperatures.

There were about 25 FAs entered in the shows with 5 exhibitors. The judge for the first show was Helen Brose, and the judge for Show B was Paul Jurgelonis. In Show A the BOB went to Spang's Fabrice and the BOS went to Spang's Sabini (Spang's Karenina picked up her 3rd jr. leg also), and in Show B the BOB went to a Jr. buck that was owned by Marilyn DeMaree and BOS went to a Colored Sr. doe who was owned by either Marilyn or Charlotte Schweikart (sorry, I should have found out exactly who owned these bunnies, LOL).

Here are several pics that were snapped during the show:

The first is of the Angora grooming area (which actually took up a lot more space than just this one wall, LOL).

And these are my own bunnies resting in their carriers after grooming:

This is a picture of my good friends Brian Sawchuk and Donna Grimm who live near my house and are also members of my local rabbit club. Brian is a judge already but Donna is currently working on her license. This was her 6th show out of 8 toward finishing the whole thing up.

This is Dru Shepherd moving stuff around and taking care of her pretty EAs (Hey Dru!:-)

And this is Nancy Platte who came to the show with her buns and also with her husband who was judging. Nancy writes for him often at the shows and occupies herself in between classes with knitting (as any wool person will:-))

And these are Linda Cassella's bunnies (also EAs):

This is Marilyn DeMaree and myself watching the judging in Show B:

And this is the judge in the second show lining up one of the FA Senior classes on the table.

Now, I do not want to openly criticize this judge (I do not know him and this is the first time I have ever had him at a show), but there is no reason whatsoever to be lining angoras up like this in front of their cubbies, mashing them together harder like sardines every time they moved, and then leaving them there during the entire course of judging while checking for DQs and everything else. I realize that not everyone here raises wool breeds, but long term judges like these should at least be aware that random, comical stunts like this result in nothing more than matted coats and overheated, ANNOYED rabbits. I won't say anymore because I do not want a verbal lashing from anyone (at least not tonight:)), but it was a very good thing that these rabbits were healthy and a VERY good thing that it was the end of the show season rather than the beginning:(. I am glad he found this amusing and got a kick out of it all, but it is not the way to handle ANY wool breed, particularly one in full coat in 80 degree weather (end of commentary:( )

Anyway, so that is about it for this week. The next few days here will be spent in separating and evaluating babies since everyone else is pretty much clipped (whew!). Hopefully we will luck out and have a nice cool summer, and the next litters will be born in 70 degrees.

More next time and have a great week!:-)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Posing and Handling

--Another post from the old blog:

Here are some interesting excerpts from an article I found on Handling and Posing rabbits in the ARBA Handbook (pg. 35), written by Joey E. Shults. Joey writes:

"Proper handling technique is very important for the safety of not only the rabbit, but the handler as well. Before we begin, I would recommend the beginner should wear long sleeves for added protection. First and foremost, remember that you do not handle the rabbit in a rough or careless manner---rabbits have feelings, too".

"How do you safely take a rabbit out of its cage? To remove a rabbit from its coop (cage), if you are right-handed, put your left arm in the coop. Place your left hand palm down over the rabbit's shoulder with your thumb in front of the ears. Gently cup your hand around the shoulders and squeeze your thumb against your index finger, grasping the rabbit to the point that you feel you have control of the rabbit. Then put your right hand in the coop underneath the rabbit's belly, lifting the rabbit to the cage door".

"It is very important to lift rather than drag the rabbit toward you, so as not to pull or break the rabbit's toenails on the wire."

A few paragraphs down Shults goes on to say, "When placing a rabbit back in its coop, use the same procedure, being sure to place rabbit back in cage tail end first".

At shows, in particular, I have noticed that people have many different ways of handling their rabbits:). Joey Shults advocates removing them from the cage head first, but other breeders prefer removing them tail first, and placing them back in the same way. The head first method is fine as long as you make certain to LIFT the animal at the same time to avoid ripped out toenails, but never grab the skin over the shoulders and drag a rabbit forward under any circumstances:(. At home in my own barn, I almost always take bunnies out of their cages rear-end first. I turn them so that their backs are facing me, and place one hand underneath the chest and the other directly under the hindquarter to lift them straight up and out. When removing rabbits from upper level cages it is a good idea to use a stepstool so that you are at an even level with the cage door. If you remove a rabbit tail-end first there tends to be less chance of getting bitten or scratched since you are not approaching the rabbit head on and they perceive you as less of a threat, but DO always remember to speak as you approach so they are all aware that you're coming.

Shults also gives excellent advice about posing in the same article (pg. 36). He says,

"Posing, by definition, is to "strike an effect", or in this case to put a rabbit in a comfortable position so one can determine conformation and bone structure. To pose the rabbit, place the rabbit on the table and put the tip of the front feet even with the eyes and the tip of the rear feet even with the hip bone. The hipbone is the bulge of the thigh on the rabbit's side while in the sitting position. Be sure that the rabbit's tail is showing and not tucked underneath the body. The rabbit should be allowed to assume a comfortable pose, but should remain still for close scrutiny".

"Many rabbits have been beaten at a show, not for lack of type, but for lack of being able to show off that type to the judge, or pose. The rabbit should never be poked rudely, or pushed down during the posing. Remember, the properly handled and posed rabbit is not only a joy to behold, but a joy to handle as well."

Even with a breed such as the Angora, the importance of posing cannot be underestimated. When I attended the Convention in IN last year, the posing ability of the animals on the BIS table was nothing short of remarkable, and I am certain that it had at least something to do with their excellent placements. If a well-typed bunny can freeze on the showtable long enough for the judge to get a look at it from all angles, it certainly has a chance to do well, or at least get a more accurate evaluation. Whenever you take a bunny out for grooming, set it on the table in the commercial pose and put it back into place every time it moves for approx. 5 min. If you repeat this exercise often enough you will eventually have a rabbit who poses automatically whenever it is placed on a table, and you will have a better chance of showing your bunnies to their best advantage.