Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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If you've ever stopped by the farm,
you've likely seen our free range critters. The turkeys, ducks and
chickens frequent the front yard (and occasionally, much to my
irritation, my front porch). You'll often see a cat or two (or
four!) as well. But lately, there have been a few other critters
on the loose.
A few weeks ago, Dan and I decided to
trim down the amount of livestock on the farm. We sold off anything
that we felt we weren't going to benefit from by feeding over the
winter, so we found new homes for some roosters, small turkeys,
peachicks (baby peacocks) and rabbits. The rabbits are under my
total control- they started out as pets in my home before I met Dan,
so he lets me use my own judgment on who to keep, who to sell, when
to breed them, etc. I have a few does that are big pets and I won't
consider selling, but I've also bought and/or bred others that I keep
depending on personality and mothering instinct. So after rounding
up the ones I was willing to part with, I also moved the remaining
rabbits around to minimize the number of pens that need to be used.
Even one less pen seems to make daily chores go faster! A day or two
later, I took some laundry outside and was shocked to see a big,
brown, cottontail-like rabbit right next to the house. It didn't
startle when I stepped into the back yard, at least not any more than
I did! I have never seen a wild rabbit in the yard, or really that
many on any part of the farm, so this was strange. Then I realized
it was one of my does, the one I call Hunny Bunny. I tried to pick
her up, as she's really quite tame, but of course she hopped away and
hid in the woodshed. Then I looked around and saw a gray rabbit.
And a black one. This would be all the rabbits that were in one of
the pens, so I checked it and found that there was a hole where two
sections of wire had been fastened together. We must not have refastened it securely enough when we removed some of the others that were in that pen. I though about securing it,
but then decided to make it even larger, thinking perhaps I'd catch
one of the escapees if they went back in after food.
I worried when the rabbits disappeared
over the weekend. I saw no gobs of fur or any other sign they had
met with a bad end, they were just gone. Dan and I though it very
strange, as there was lots of grass to eat, and we've had a loose
rabbit before that stayed for months around the yard. (He lost his
free-bunny privileges one day after eating the better part of a row
of broccoli.) The next day, Dan went to the barn to move hay around
in preparation to put in our second cutting. When he came back to
the house, he said that all three had been spotted in the haymow! He
also though Hunny was craving salt, as she hopped over to Dixie (one
of the workhorses) and began licking the sweat off of her leg. I was
sorry to have missed seeing that, it will probably never happen
Over the next few days, I would see the three of them, sometimes in the
back yard, other times in the barnyard or near the poultry. I
eventually caught the gray one, as she really did hop back into her
pen for something to eat one day. I walked over, shut the wire, and
that was done. Dan and I worked together with a big net and caught
Hunny. That left only the little black buck, whom I had kept partly
to try and provide some company for my other buck, Leo, over the
months where I didn't want a female in his pen. I hate to see
anything forced to be alone all the time. One windy afternoon, I saw both
bucks...in the yard! The black one was not being kind, he was
actually biting and chasing Leo. I ran out, just as it started to
pour, and saw the wind had blown open Leo's pen door, but that he had
run back to the safety of his home. I quickly got the door shut, but
at this point I was unsure about what to do with the small black one,
as he obviously wasn't going to make a nice penmate. So Dan and I
have been kind of enjoying having a yard bunny, it's entertaining to
see him hop about. I find it interesting that the poultry and cats
pay him no mind. He's nearly full grown, so the cats don't see him
as a snack, which is nice.
What is not nice was that two days later,
Leo found a weak spot in the wire and busted out again! I've seen
the two boys happily eating near each other at times, and separate at
others, but no fighting. Leo often grazes just on the other side of
the wire from the girls, but both boys are getting pretty smart. If I'm
going out to the garden or doing chores, I can walk feet from the
rabbits without making them nervous. The second I pick up a net to
try and catch them, they know. And take off for the nearest
hiding place. My little renegade rabbits. Perhaps they will wander
back into the pen when they get hungry. Perhaps you'll see them
hopping about the next time you visit!
I'm open to suggestions for naming my
all-black mischief maker. (Houdini is out, as another rabbit is
already called that.) If I get a good one, I'll reward you with
something tasty from the farm stand!
Posted by Emily
@ 12:24 PM EDT
We had a couple days of spring thaw
here last week. The snow all but melted (so much so that the creek
in the barnyard overflowed its banks with nothing falling from the
sky!) and the temperatures were in the 50's to near 60. Something
about that kind of weather is enough for me to feel like spring is
coming, and it's time to get busy with all the winter projects if I
have any hope of completing them before we start plowing. The warm
weather meant not just the snow was thawing, so it was a great
opportunity to get the frozen manure out of the corners of the hog
pens and chicken houses. It felt like spring cleaning!
The next project we stated was
replacing the main rabbit hutch. I enjoy my rabbits and usually keep
5-6 does (females) in the main pen, plus I have smaller &
moveable pens to separate out the buck (male) and any does about to
give birth or pens of young rabbits I'm raising up to sell. But the
main hutch has been in bad shape for some time. It was well-used
when it came here quite a few years ago, so it's simply lived out its
useful lifespan. Wood is rotting and sagging, wire needs replacing,
and we decided it wouldn't be worth the effort to try and rehab it.
So Dan told me to dream up some plans to make something really
interesting, and we'd figure out what would be possible with the
materials on hand at the farm. So I came up with a nice big living
space (8' x 3') with two separate lofts(2' x 3'). While you don't normally think of
bunnies as climbing animals who would use a loft, our girls are well
used to ramps. They have a nice yard to play and graze in, and use a
ramp to get into the hutch where the food, water and shelter is. So
we put two lofts in. I fancied it up by outlining bunnies on the
doors, Dan cut them with a jigsaw, and those are the windows. We
have real windows in the center, and large doors with wire on the
bottom. This pen should last for a very long time. The sides are
made from cast off pieces of steel roofing. The roof is green and the
sides a nice purple. Once we escape from the deep freeze, I have
some leftover paint in nearly the same shades for the wooden parts.
It's a great thing to get all the construction leftovers from Matt &
Dan's contracting business...we always find uses for them at the
farm, and they never go to waste! Literally, the only thing bought
for this pen was the hardware cloth for the floor. The rest was
found and/or recycled!
The purple bunny palace, or our new hutch.
I know it's hard to see...but here's Dini up in the loft (it doesn't help that she's all black, except for her nose...) It did not take long for them to adjust to the indoor ramps!
Posted by Emily
@ 08:45 AM EST
Although they don't get much attention in this blog, we also raise rabbits here at the farm. I just like them, and I'll have young rabbits for sale periodically. I can watch them out my kitchen picture window while I'm cooking or doing dishes. The pens all have outdoor access, and some are moveable "tractor" pens which make great mowers as I move them across the back yard. One such tractor is currently right outside my window and houses Honey Bunny, who basically looks like a wild cottontail, and Leo, our tan and white lop-eared breeding male. He's got a short face that looks like he's got some Lion Head rabbit in him, and he's quite adorable. Both bunnies are quite tame and docile. Although that might sound like a weird thing to say about rabbits, I've lost more blood to the bunnies than all the other farm critters combined (including the cats!) They have legs made for digging and sharp claws, and if they kick and scratch you while you're moving them to a different cage, it's often worse than a cat scratch.
Anyways, Honey and Leo have been in the same pen for about two months, so yes, that means there are babies! Usually I do try to take the buck (or male) out before the blessed event, otherwise there's a good chance the mama will be pregnant again before the litter is weaned. It's hard on her to not have a rest between pregnancies, but things have been so busy I just let it slide this time. There are 5 little rabbits who just opened their eyes a few days ago. When I looked out at the pen yesterday, I saw Leo, Honey, and a small, grey-white baby bunny outside. The rabbits get outdoors via a ramp, so I have to put up a small piece of wood to keep the babies from falling out- I call it the "bunny baby gate." By the time they are old enough to climb over it, they seem to be smart enough to get back up into the warm, dry enclosed pen. However, since the baby didn't seem to be distressed, I figured I could finish what I was doing in the kitchen before climbing in the cage to catch it and put up the gate. There isn't much cuter than a farm baby, and tiny bunnies are so fun to watch! It seemed to be snuggling up to mama until she went inside. Now, many people who raise animals of any kind will tell you it's a bad idea to let a breeding male around the babies because no matter what species, the males will harm or kill the little ones. I'm not denying that this can happen (I've had male rabbits fight until one was severely injured) but I also think giving an animal the kind of environment it was designed to live in eases this. Our lambs are born and live on pasture and Rambo the ram looks after his whole flock, babies included. When we bred goats, I never saw the male harm the little kids, although other females would head-butt them away from their own offspring. Leo has been in with babies before and I had no worries about him, but I found it truly fascinating to watch him with this little one. I looked away, and when I next checked, the baby was nowhere to be seen. Leo appeared to be grooming his toes or something. On closer inspection, Leo was actually grooming the baby by licking its little head and letting it cuddle into his fur just like a mother would do. And yes, since the parents look nothing alike, I'm sure it was papa. When I caught the baby and put it back upstairs, it was Leo who seemed to be guarding the rest of the nest.
Raising livestock in a more natural way means that they get to interact with each other in ways more meaningful than just through the bars of one cage to the next. While the disadvantages to this are that yes, sometimes they can and do fight for dominance, and accidents can and will happen, all farm animals are social in nature. I do try not to treat the animals as human, but when you interact with them you can see that, if you get to know them, they all do have personalities and even emotions(some more strongly than others). I think an important part of raising animals naturally is allowing them to have a social life, with members of their own kind and even across species. To me, it's fascinating to watch how these interactions play out, whether it's a bunny family's dynamics, how a mother hen protects her chicks, or how the cat sunning himself reacts to an inquisitive turkey. I often think I'd be $10,000 richer if I could only capture some of these moments for America's Funniest Home Videos. But in addition to providing me with constant entertainment, being observant about these things helps me to be a better farmer. Giving them natural interactions means my animals will be less stressed, and if I use their natural reactions to my advantage when I handle them, it makes life easier for all. That, and lots of snacks!
Posted by Emily
@ 08:42 AM EST
Thanks to everyone who stopped by to see us at the stand's reopening on Saturday! After being closed for over 3 years, we weren't sure what kind of turnout we would have. Once the stand opened, everything ran smoothly, but we did have a little more craziness than expected that morning. Frankie Blue Eyes, a rabbit, has been on the loose for about a month, but as he was doing no damage, we didn't try real hard to catch him. Of course, Saturday morning he discovered the cabbage transplants we had set out 2 weeks ago and was systematically eating them all. After catching him, which required both Dan and I and a large net on a pole, we had to catch the other 2 boys from that pen. They have not been out since we put wire on the floor of the moveable pen months ago, but not only were they hopping through the yard, but the cats were chasing them. Now the cats have never chased Frankie, but the other boys must have looked like lunch because the cats were really being aggressive. Finally the rabbits are put away, the stand is stocked, and I go to change into something a little nicer than muddy jeans and wet sneakers. Having a few minutes to spare, I thought I'd go into the barnyard and cut a bit of chammomile to pretty up the checkout counter. As I, in a skirt no less, am cutting stems, around the corner of the building comes Wilbur, our boar hog. Now the last thing I wanted was a mud covered 800 pound creature coming to rub all over my nice clean clothes, but Wil thought I might be interested in scratching his back like usual. I'm not sure he understood my threats of turning him into bacon if he got any closer, but we settled on a compromise...I scratched behind his ears and decided that I had enough flowers!
I got to the stand and hoped my animal excitement was over for the day. However, Puff had other ideas. Puff is a great big fluffy housecat that I raised by hand after his mother was killed on the road. Puff was 3 weeks old then and is now 8 years old and spoiled rotten. Puff strode into the stand as if he owned it, and being carried back out several times did not deter him. He thought about jumping up on my table of sauces, probably because they are all in glass jars and they'd make a great mess if he knocked them onto the cement floor. Luckily for me, that was too much work for a lazy cat. Then the people started coming in. I was excited to have customers and Puff was excited to have visitors! He lay in the very middle of the floor and seemed quite pleased to have new friends to pet him. Apparently there were too many new friends because he jumped into the horse drawn sleigh and went to sleep. After awhile he'd feel more sociable and be back down oon the floor, then back to the sleigh again. I will be back at the stand on Saturday from 10 am-2pm and I imagine "Puff the Farm Stand Mascot" will be too. We hope to see you there!
Posted by Emily
@ 11:09 AM EDT
Hello to everyone online! I've never blogged before, so please be gentle :)
Signs of spring are popping up everywhere on the farm these days. This morning, we have a new litter of baby bunnies! A quick check of the nest box revealed 4 new ones, but there may be more hiding in the "hair coccoon"...I'll be checking better tonight to make sure everyone's ok, but I didn't want to upset momma too much this morning. She's a first time mom and I always get nervous that they won't take good care of the babies. We've had good luck with the rabbits so far though, this is the third litter this spring and all have been successful so far...
So far this year we've also had 5 Dorsett cross lambs born (3 black and 2 white!) and 3 Boer kids. We have 1 goat and 1 lamb that ended up being bottle babies, but they seem to be growing just as well as the others. More goats should be on the way soon, so I'll keep you posted as best as I can...
We are anxiously awating our seed orders to come in the mail. Dan has been plowing a little and I can't wait to get started in the greenhouse!
Posted by Emily
@ 10:59 AM EDT
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