Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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When raising livestock, there is nothing more important than having animals with a strong instinct to care for their young. A new mother who refuses to let her baby nurse is frustrating and angering, especially when you end up having to bottle feed poor baby. Those animals are not kept around the farm long, whether it is a goat, sheep, cow or whatever.
We've had several nests of rabbits born over the past few weeks, and all had seemed to go very well. Rabbits tend to be a bit more unpredictable, I don't know why, but I've had does that did wonderfully one litter and then terribly the next. Since the rabbits are more for my own enjoyment than farm income, I tend to be a bit more sentimental about who I cull. Plus, since the gestation period is only about a month and you end up with 4,6, or even 8 rabbits each time, you're not investing a whole lot in a lost litter compared to, say, a cow who carries for 10 months and has only a single calf. But the other night, as I did chores, I could tell something had gone wrong with the litter that was in the hollow log in an outdoor run. It was rainy and cold, and there was a baby bunny outside. In the past, with a different doe, it meant that the wind had carried much of the mother's fluff she uses to build the nest away and the little blind bunny (it takes a few weeks before they open their eyes) had crawled out looking for warmth. In that case, I merely had to block the wind, put the baby and the fluff back in the nest, and Scotchie, the mama bunny, took care of the rest. As I investigated, though, the rest of this nest was dead. The whole nest needed to be cleaned away, as it was pretty gross. This doe had been feeding these for a week prior, so I don't know what happened to make her abandon them. I picked up the soggy little living one. Dan thought it was dead too, but I saw that it was moving and making small, pitiful noises. As I climbed out of the run, I found a second baby from the same litter, in the same cold condition. It had crawled even farther.
Now I had a dilemma- what to do with them? Trying to get the doe to care for these seemed as good as just letting them die at that point. It would be less cruel to just put them down, at least it would be quick. Option #2 would be to try and hand-raise them. I've tried this before, even going as far as carrying the tiny things to my job (even to a staff meeting 40 miles away!) to feed them regularly, but unlike with the sheep and goats, I was not successful in getting them to eat, and they died anyway. Losing babies is always hard, it's worse when you're directly responsible for them that way. So I mentally ruled that out right away. So I could put them down...or...there are 2 other well-cared for nests here at this point. One contained babies just a day old, and I hesitated to disturb it more than I had that day by checking for stillborns. I didn't want to place these little ones in there, who already were long shots at surviving, only to upset another mama and lose another nest. No, that wouldn't be a good idea.
The other option was the doe I call Hunny Bunny. She has a litter of very well fed babies who are about a week older than the orphans. Hunny is diligent about her nest- removing the fluff during the hot spell we had recently to make sure they don't overheat, putting them all back in the nest box and covering them when the temperatures dip again. She also doesn't get upset when I handle the babies. That could work, but at this point the orphans are cold and wet. So I took them inside, put a dish towel on my bathroom counter, and gently blow-dried them to get them warm quickly. They began squirming and trying to suckle my hand. I couldn't just let them die without trying something. So I went back outside and opened Hunny's pen. I placed these little ones with the rest of the litter, covered the whole group back up, and hoped for the best. I had no doubt that Hunny would still care for her babies, but I was unsure about the orphans. Would she notice? Or care? I figured the worst that could happen is that she would throw them out of the nest and I would find them dead in the morning. Or they would be dead in the nest anyway, due to the stress they had just undergone. Either way, it seemed like a slim chance, but one worth taking.
Yesterday morning, I went to see if they had made it though the night. If she hadn't fed them, it would be obvious at this point. At first, all I saw when I moved the fluff was a bunch of sleek, healthy rabbit babies. No dead ones, and nothing out of the nest either. But I had to find the two I put in there to make sure. As I looked, I realized they were right on top, warm and with full bellies. They had eaten, Hunny had accepted them, if not as her very own, at least as ones she was willing to care for. It may get a bit tricky when the others open their eyes soon, but for now, all is well.
The tan/grey one in the center is one of the fosters, its grey sibling is just beneath! The "big sibs" seem to be surrounding them and everyone is warm on this rainy morning.
Posted by Emily
@ 11:17 AM EDT
The corn is put up for the year, one more task to mark as "done" on the to-do list. Two bushels seems sufficient for my husband and myself. Though a little time consuming, I really love my vaccuum sealer for putting up food. I used it on 3 dozen ears this year, so I should have sweet corn well into spring! We always freeze whole kernel corn as well, and this year for my birthday Dan got me an American Corn Cutter- a little kitchen gadget that consists of a long piece of plastic which is curved to fit the shape of the ear, and 2 metal blades in the middle. The blades can be adjusted for whole kernel, creamed or shredded corn. I love my Roma food mill and kitchen gadgets in general, so he though this would be a time saver and something I'd use. I can't work it to save my life!! I tried on Monday, and figured I had the blade adjusted wrong. It was really frustrating, so I set it aside and used a knife and cutting board. Yesterday, Dan helped me and he had no problems. He gave me lots of helpful advice, like not pushing down so hard, changing the angle, etc but I still couldn't do it. So I gave him the cutter while I husked, and he was done far more quickly than I was the day before with my knife. Many times in farming, and life, you just have to know when to just ask for help.
One of the many things I love about being on the farm is how easy it is to find a use for things that might otherwise go to waste. Freezing 2 bushels of corn leaves a lot of husks, cobs and silk behind, but we never throw them away. My bunnies love it so much, they run up to me every time I walk by, hoping for husks and cobs. The cobs still have a bit of corn on them, and the rough inner part is good for a rabbit to chew. Their teeth never stop growing, so I have to make sure they have chew toys or they will use the hutch itself. The stalks are still full of nutrients and the cows and horses come on the run when they see us cutting and throwing them over the pasture fence.
Well it's off to town now for jars and vinegar- I still have canning to do for this weekend and I need to get moving as I have family visiting later this week. I just want to say thanks to everyone who reads this blog as well, I was amazed to see Pleasant Valley Farm at the top of the most popular blogs yesterday. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures as much as I enjoy living them!
Posted by Emily
@ 09:47 AM EDT
Monday was a real emotional rollercoster. I found out the agency I work for (away from the farm) is laying everyone off for the month of August due to the fact that as the Pennsylvania state government can't pass the budget, so our agency won't receive the grant money they use to pay us. While I feel for the families who depend on our services and the employees who rely soley on that paycheck, I am kind of excited to have a whole summer month to be on the farm. Dan and I had just been discussing plans for reopening the farm stand, so for me, the timing couldn't be better. But knowing I still had to spread the bad news to the employee I supervise the next day, I started evening chores with a lot on my mind. The animals always seem to have a way of taking your thoughts back to the present though, and this day was no exception. I heard the sound of newborn goats as I was tending to the chickens and found both Lolly, a Boer, and Callie, a Boer/Pygmy cross, had kidded. In the same spot. The babies were all mixed up. But Dan and I got everyone down to the nursery barn, both mothers and all 4 babies. We determined that Callie again had a single baby and that Lolly had triplets! However, Callie was feeling so maternal she wanted to take care of all 4 babies, even the little triplet who wasn't looking so good. Sometimes when there are 3, one is weak and won't make it. This appeared to be the case- the poor little guy wouldn't stand and appeared he might die before we even left the barn. So we put him in with Callie and her little girl, figuring if she had an interest in him, he might have a little better chance of making it. But as he was on death's door, we didn't think it mattered very much anyway, so that was pretty sad. But chores needed to be finished, and the suprises were not over. I found a litter of 5 healthy baby rabbits! And as we were finishing up the chicken chores, Dan asked me "Why do I hear peeping?"...a little bantam had been sitting on a nest and hatched a little bantam chick, who was making all that noise!
After dinner, Dan checked on the goats again, and I expected to hear that the little guy had died. But when Dan checked on them, he was standing on his own, nursing. I'm happy to report that as of last night he seemed to be healthy and doing well, although I always hold my breath and usually don't name them for the first week or so. They always seem so frail! But the 3 born on Thursday are doing splendidly. Mama's little girl is the picture of heath and quite possibly the cutest thing ever born. Mocha has settled into motherhood as well, and her twins are also healthy and active. We're even getting a fair amount of milk from Mama, so it looks like one less thing I'll have to worry about buying while I'm laid off, which is always good.
We are looking to open the farm stand, located roadside at the farm, on Saturdays for the remainder of the summer. We are hoping to open July 25, but are in the process of rearranging some other commitments. I will be posting dates and times on our website, www.pleasantvalleyfarm.weebly.com, as soon as the details are finalized.
Posted by Emily
@ 08:41 AM EDT
After getting home from work, I checked Scotchie's nest box and she had 8 babies after all! I am so excited that my first-time bunnies have been such good mamas. Both Scotchie and her sister have raised 8 without any losses. I am just anxoius to see the new ones hopping about in their pen, they should open thier eyes in a few days.
We are expecting piglets soon too, possibly as soon as the weekend. Both sows had 7 each last time, and raised a total of 13. But we're hoping for even more this time around! However, we only keep as many babies to raise up as we have orders for pork. They just eat too much :( So if anyone reading this is interested in a whole or half hog please contact me for more information!
I am so excited, our seed order from Seed Savers Exchange came on Monday. The packets show such beautiful plants, I can't wait to start them. I was also impressed because each packet tells you how to preserve seed for next year. I did some last year, but only green beans and sunflowers, so I appriciate all the information I can get! We hope to do that this weekend, but first we have to finish a chicken coop & run, as we wintered over our Phoenix chickens and a few Delaware pullets in the greenhouse. We need to move them before starting the seeds, because otherwise my beautiful seeds will just be expensive chicken food!
Posted by Emily
@ 09:40 AM EDT
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