Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bad Haircut Day

Fritz says, "Oh dear heavens, what have you done to me!?"
To see what Fritz looks like in full coat, click here.

It was time for Fritz to be sheared. As always, he looks horrible now. I generally go for the quick haircut, rather than the stylish approach. We use a pair of rounded tip scissors, like you might buy your kid to cut construction paper with. Since they're not pointy, I won't accidentally stab him if he suddenly decides to make a break for it, and since they're not razor sharp, I'm not likely to cut skin with it (again, if he suddenly moves or something). We do this about every three months, with periodic combing and checking for mats in between. Since it is currently cold in our unheated bunny basement, I didn't clip him very close.

Some folks also use electric clippers for their buns. I understand that there are special brands designed specially for rabbits, but as I'm to cheap for that I can't advise you on it.

Keep in mind also that some angoras shed or molt naturally every 3-4 months. Usually such bunnies are double or even triple coated, so that even though the outer hairs are shed, there is still a full coat underneath. The mom of our recent litter does this. She is a French angora. When they are in molt, you can gently pluck the already loose hairs.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Baby 'Bits Growing FAST!

The little rabbits are growing fast! They're now 28 days old and topping one pound each with an inch of soft fluff! Seems they've inherited their mom's lovely, delicate crimp as well. The photos below were actually taken last week, so the buns are a little bigger now. They seem to be gaining about an ounce of weight per day!

They'll be ready for new homes in a couple weeks. If you'd like to reserve one or ask more about them, please contact me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Preserving Heritage Breeds

The following is a snippet from a NY Times article:

Located on a 45-acre estate in Newport, Rhode Island, SVF is the only organization in the country dedicated to conserving rare heritage livestock breeds by freezing their semen and embryos.

About 45,000 semen and embryo samples from 20 breeds of rare cattle, sheep and goats are preserved there in liquid nitrogen. Each time the foundation freezes a batch of embryos from a new breed, it thaws a few and transplants them into surrogate animals.

While commercial livestock have been bred for consistency, heritage breeds have not been continuously "improved" by humans. They have been shaped more by natural selection and survival-of-the-fittest forces. They are a valuable resource to the livestock industry.

Before SVF, the preservation of heritage livestock was through natural reproduction and organizations like the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Read full article in New York Times

As a fan of heirloom plants, unique characteristics and genetic diversity, this piques my interest. Line bred plants and animals are for commercial farms. They're boring but predictable. They can be high output and uniform, but can also be rather demanding for feed and maintenance. Small farms and home growers have the opportunity to work with something more interesting and unique and self sustaining in heritage breeds and heirloom plants.

Looking further into the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, I find they also have several rabbit breeds listed. These are mostly rabbits originally selected for fur and meat, so not the true "naturally selected" hardy breeds I would consider heritage, but they are endangered as rabbits have fallen out of favor for fur, and though they are still bred for meat by some it is on a small scale only. Angoras, of course, are still kept and bred for *wool*, not pelts, but obtaining and propagating these heritage breeds, as well as careful interbreeding with angoras, may produce some lovely wool rabbits with hard to obtain color and different textures while improving genetic diversity of the angora. Of course, if you have space, you'll also want to help keep the heritage breed itself going, but by at least obtaining a kit from a breeder support is provided for those dedicated to the breed.

Something to think about.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Comments on Cages

Sorry for the fuzzy photos here, folks. Can't seem to get the knack of photographing constantly moving bunnies. These photos were taken a few days ago (at 15 days). Over the past week they've been increasingly mobile, advancing from crawling to a little hopping. They groom and snuggle with each other still, and although they're still nursing they're also eating a little hay now. Good thing too, because mom occasionally give them the hairy eyeball- they have teeth now. We get them out at least once a day to handle everyone so they get used to it, but because they're young they go right to sleep as soon as we put them back. They're very cute.

Thought I'd talk a little about cages. Even if you're going to keep a bun as a housepet, he'll still need his own spot. They're good at getting into all kinds of trouble, such as chewing on cords along with an assortment of other troubles, etc, so its generally a good idea to both bunny proof and also keep your bun in a cage or pen when you're not at home. The cage will also be where the bun's litter box and food is kept. Primarily I'm going to talk to the house rabbit owner here, with one to a few rabbits.

At a minimum, I'd suggest a cage 36" long x 30" high (to allow "periscope" room for your bun to sit up and look around) per rabbit. Bigger will of course be appreciated, especially if the critter will be cage bound. You can find rabbit cages in the pet store, but I feel most styles are too small for French or German Angoras as they are average cat size. There are also an assortment of other types of commercial cages you can order online.

An easy cage to use is a dog crate. Dog crates with plastic tray bottoms are great. You can find them at the pet store, online, new or used. You can also modify them to have a suspended floor of hard wire cloth if you're not litter training. Fritz here (the little 'bits' dad) lives in a dog crate. You can see his littler box and hay rack (which is actually a spice or small item rack that works with modular pantry shelving) in the back there.

Look for a 36-48" crate with a removable plastic bottom (makes cleaning easier!) and a door on the long side and top for easy access if you can find it. Fritz' cage only has a door on the short size, which is ok, but that means sometimes I have to lean into the cage to clean or grab things. Sometimes crates are tall enough to build a second level perch if you like. Here's a really fantastic modified dog crate cage. Depending on your household, you may also find it acceptable to simply designate a bunny corner and use a dog exercise pen to contain the bun when you are not around. If you go this way, though, get the tallest one you can find. French angoras are spectacular jumpers. Go for a pen that is a minimum of 3 feet high, and/or get some extra panels to make a lid for the pen (especially if there's a hidey box inside the pen - they'll hop on top and over).

You can also build a rabbit condo. A really popular method is with the collapsible wire storage cubes, as it uses readily accessible materials and can be done with no woodworking skills. Here are several websites to get your creative juices flowing:
How to build a rabbit condo (with YouTube link)
Ed and Beth Bunny condo tutorial
Awesome gallery of home-made wire cages

There are lots of other cage styles that you can build with a few basic woodworking skills. Here's a different approach. I also recently saw a multilevel cage made from a cheap wood shelving unit. If you have the skills, have fun with it!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Photos of the 10 day old kits

Maddie's kits are growing at a pretty fast pace. They're showing evidence that their ears are open and registering sounds, and they're eyes are starting to open a little too. So far, we think what we have is Ruby Eye Whites (which may carry either the Agouti gene or the Chinchilla gene) and Chinchilla babies. Most likely blue Chinchilla. They're all very adorable at this stage with their wobbly little legs and occasional peeps.

Mom is eating a lot these days, since she's nursing and regaining the weight she lost during pregnancy. We're giving her lots of alfalfa-grass hay blend, as well as still offering her typical timothy, and more pelleted feed with an added allotment of fruit and veggie slices, a few black oil sunflower seeds, and a little plain granola. She's happily gobbling it all up.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Baby Bunnies!

Our girl Maddie, an Agouti French Angora doe, recently had this litter of 6 kits by our German Angora Fritz, who is a Chinchilla Blue. At a day old, three of the kits are pink, and three are dark. In a few days we'll have a better idea of what colors they'll actually be. Babies will be ready for new homes around Valentine's day 2010.

I thought I'd post some of what we've learned so far for anyone thinking of breeding their rabbits.

First, Maddie's demeanor changed while she was pregnant. She became less tolerant of intrusions into her space (i.e. she would give me the hairy eyeball and grunt when I cleaned the cage). Within perhaps a week of breeding, she began nesting. She was constantly re-arranging the hay in her cage to different corners and boxes. Gestation is 32-35 days in angoras, and at 31 days she began plucking large amounts of hair from her body for the nest. That evening, I pulled everything out of her cage and cleaned it out. I removed the fiber from the box, cleaned the box she had chosen as a nest and put in fresh litter and hay, then cut up the fiber and put it back in the box. The next morning when we peeked in the hair was twitching. Further inspection revealed 6 tiny little buns warm in their nest of momma's fiber.

In talking to other breeders, we learned that as prey animals, rabbits protect their nest by not actually spending much time in it, in hopes of not drawing attention to the kits. At this age they only nurse once or twice per day for 5-10 min at a time. You will likely not see mom do more than check over the nest unless you remove the nestbox and only place them in the cage for a short period of time. But as long as the kits have round, fat bellies, and are warm and toasty, you will know they are being cared for.