Saturday, October 4, 2014

Velveteen Lop Mini Rex baby bunnies at Litengård - Little Farm

Although we've had her for almost two years, Hunny has never had a litter before.

We tried, lord how we've tried.

There was the first time, when I met a Velveteen Lop breeder in the parking lot of a rabbit show 2+ hours away and she had her first "date" with a sweet orange-colored Velveteen boy in the back of my Envoy XUV.

There was some action.

27 days later, she nested, but no babies came.

[Nesting is when a rabbit doe builds a soft nest in the hay of a nest box and lines it with fur pulled from her own belly.]

And then there were several attempts with our own buck, sometimes bringing her to him every day for a week before she would accept his advances.

More nesting, more empty nests at day 31.

I thought perhaps she was infertile.

An infertile rabbit?  Is there even such a thing?

And so it was with some trepidation that I asked a friend of mine if we could borrow their Mini Rex buck for a few weeks.

Hunny's boyfriend, a Mini Rex buck, in our mobile rabbit pen on pasture

Enough of this dating stuff - they were going to live together, and I would find out once and for all if she was infertile or just highly particular about her dates.

She seemed to like the Rex almost immediately.

And by that I mean she didn't beat him up or run away and cry like all her other dates.

They were getting along!

I even saw him attempt to breed her - albeit on her head.

I left them with some privacy and crossed my fingers they would figure it all out.

I also marked the calendar.  27 days - put in a nest box.  30 days - start checking for babies.

A couple of weeks into the cohabitation she started vocalizing.  Rabbits don't make much noise, one of the benefits to raising them.  I have never hear Hunny make noise unless she is crying and running away from a date.

This was new, and weird.

Hunny our Velveteen Lop rabbit in her mobile pen on pasture

Also her dewlap grew.  On some does this will happen either if they gain too much weight or during pregnancy.  They store their extra fat there.  She had not done this with any of her false pregnancies before.

On day 27 she nested.  The other pens still had all the big nest boxes, so we swapped out her little one for one of the bigger, nicer ones.

I checked her box for the next 3 days - she did not rebuild her nest.

I figured she must be infertile after all.

Hunny and Papa

On day 31 I checked her nest box - no nesting, no babies.  Then I moved her mobile pen to a fresh new patch of grass.

And then I saw it - a tiny grey baby on the ground.

She had laid it "on the wire," which means birthing a baby outside of her nest box.

I quickly scooped it up thinking it would be dead.  A solitary baby lying on the cold grass would not live more than a few minutes.

It was chilly but not dead, and in fact was pretty active considering its dire straits. I had arrived just in the nick of time.

I held under my sweater against my warm belly and rushed into the house where I continued to hold it against my skin as I set up a kennel and heating pad and soft towel.

Once it had warmed and I felt it was OK to leave it in the kennel for a few minutes, I rushed around getting the nest box into the house and moving Hunny inside, too.

If a mama lays one baby "on the wire," they often lay the rest that way.  This is not uncommon for first time moms, and she was an older, first-time mom.

At least in the bathroom I could check on her frequently and if more babies came, get them into the nest box right away.

Velveteen Lop Mini Rex babies in a nest box

As soon as I set her in the bathroom into the nest box she got right to work delivering 6 more babies and covering them with her belly fur.  I placed the now-warmed up first baby into the nest as well.


After she left them I checked on the litter - one big dark one was not moving around as much as normal, healthy babies move around.  Not a good sign, and indeed, it died within a couple of hours. Again, not uncommon to lose a weak one or two shortly after kindling (birth).

But the rest were alive and wiggly.

Hunny is a soft grey with an almost peach undertone.  Her Mini Rex boyfriend was a silver grey.  I figured all the babies would be light grey.

The skin will show some color but you can't really tell until the fur comes in a few days later what colors they will really be.

So far it seems the babies are shades of grey to black with a few light grey like mama, one slightly darker grey and two very dark greys.

dark grey Velveteen Lop Mini Rex baby bunny at Litengård - Little Farm

I am beyond thrilled.

Out of this litter we hope to keep one female to be her ever-after buddy, and sell the rest as pets.

Rabbits are after all very social creatures - but they are quite particular about who they want to socialize with.

Mamas and daughters make nice companions.  The male offspring need to be removed by 11 weeks of age to prevent breeding back to their mamas, but male and female kits even of different litters have gotten along quite nicely in our colony in the barn during the winter until they are of breeding age.

Velveteen Lop Mini Rex baby bunnies at Litengård - Little Farm

I am so excited to see how these babies look as they grow up.

Will they have lop ears or the little upright Rex ears?  Will they have the super soft coat of their mama?

Only time will tell.

But if you are in the market for a Velveteen Lop Mini Rex baby come mid-November, look us up.  We should have five weaned babies ready for sale.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl now has Velveteen Lop Mini Rex bunnies for sale

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

One of the many blessings that have arisen out of my 6-dozen egg experiment is that I have met a wonderful group of knitters and spinners and I have been learning how to spin.

And I don't mean spinning as in putting-on-gym-clothes-and-pedaling-fast-&-furious-while-remaining-in-one-place, while a too-fit-to-be-human instructor shouts things at you to make you pedal faster.

I mean spinning with wool roving and a wheel while someone nice-and-very-human gives you gentle instructions about how to pedal, or rather treadle, slower.

peddle - or treadle - slowly!
Lesson #1 - treadle slowly!
Without breaking a sweat.

getting the twist right
don't over or under-twist your yarn

give it a whir!
Once you've spun two spindles worth of yarn, you ply them both together - again using the wheel. But don't turn the wheel the same way you spin! If you do, you'll get something resembling poodle hair.

To ply, spin backwards!
to ply, spin backwards! 
Plying two strands together yields a two-ply skein of yarn. To get it into an organized skein, you use this funny little tool called a "knitty knotty."

knitty knotty tool for wrapping your plied yarn into a skein
knitty knotty fun
When you take it off the knitty knotty and twist it, you have a skein.

Hand spun wool skeins

Some folks prefer to knit from a ball of yarn.  You can make a ball by hand, wrapping it over and over on itself, or use this nifty ball winder tool.

ball winder

And some day, if you practice a lot, you could be as good as my teacher Pat, seen here demonstrating spinning at the Colors of Kendall celebration.

Pat Ellsworth demonstrating spinning at the Colors of Kendall

If you've ever been interested in learning how to take wool from a roving to yarn, I highly recommend taking a class or finding someone who spins and giving it a try.

Your first yarns will look ugly - like mine, above - but you will have fun.

Without sweating.

Cheers -

Friday, July 25, 2014

Gardens at Seed Savers, Decorah, Iowa

I have been wanting to return to Seed Savers Exchange since I visited Decorah a couple of years ago. Only this time I was not in search of ancient memories from places on Water Street; rather, I wanted to revisit Seed Savers Exchange, a magical place where saving seeds from heritage plants has been the mission since 1975, making it "the largest non-governmental seedbank of its kind in the United States."

Steel Cow paintings available in the gift shop at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa
Lina, White Park cattle painting by Steel Cow
Not only do they save seeds, they showcase them in their gardens and test trial plots.  It was these gardens and plots I wished to return to see again.  With my camera.

Structural elements at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

So I twisted the arm of my good friend Mary to join me for the day and oh what a day it was.

My beautiful friend Mary amidst the corn and cosmos at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

We both loved all of the raised beds in Diane's Garden, dreaming of ways we might incorporate more of these structures into our own gardens at home.

Raised beds in Diane's Garden, Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, IA

Of particular interest to both Mary and I were the willow structures constructed in a child's garden by Willowglen Nursery, also of Decorah, IA.  Mary had taken one of their willow trellis making classes this summer.

Woven willow structures by Willowglen Nursery, at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

But for me, it was all about the flowers.

Cleome flower at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

I love flowers, and I've missed growing my own since moving to the Little Farm.

Cosmos and cleome in the gardens at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

Ironically, I used to grow hundreds of flowers from seed every year when I lived in places where I had no land to plant in - now I have more land than I know what to do with, and no time to cultivate flower beds!

Hollyhocks at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

A rainbow of colors at the gardens of Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

Old favorites like cosmos, zinnias and hollyhocks grew in abundance alongside veggies and other varieties of plants I didn't always recognize like this beautiful striped maize, an ornamental corn from Japan which yields gorgeous burgundy kernels. Seed Savers has kindly labeled many of their plants so we could learn as we wandered.

Japonica Striped Maize, Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

One of the most famous flowers to come out of Seed Savers is Grandpa Ott's Morning Glory, an easy-to-grow flowering vine with deep purple flowers which I had been purchasing for many years before learning it was one of the first seeds given to Seed Savers when it all began.

Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories - Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

For me, no trip to SSE would be complete without going out to see their herd of Ancient White Park Cattle, a heritage breed from the British Isles dating back to pre-Christian times.  The farm hosts two distinct herds of more than 80 animals and have helped the breed move from "critical" to "threatened" status by the Livestock Conservancy.

Ancient White Park bull watches me closely at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

We probably could have spent more than the few hours we did, wandering, perusing, and gathering ideas (and seeds!) but eventually we needed food and water and to sit down and rest our backs.  So we drove into Decorah and stumbled upon the Nordic Fest - unintentionally, but a nice bonus to end our day!

I enjoyed several pieces of fresh-from-the-griddle lefse - a taste that can never be replicated by refrigerated, store-bought lefse, and we enjoyed wandering down Water Street, watching people and ducking into gift and art shops.

My only regret is that I don't live even closer, as I would be a much more frequent visitor to this area of Iowa.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl visits Seed Saves Exchange in Decorah, Iowa

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Karma is on the fence about which kitty to stalk

It happens so rarely.

Too rarely.

Sitting still outside after a long, hard day.

Just sitting.

Not doing.

Watching and listening to the evening settle in around the farm.

A thought pops suddenly into my mind - "I should see if the bleeding hearts are still in bloom, and if so, grab my camera."

white and pink bleeding hearts at the Little Farm

I do so love the old-fashioned bleeding heart plant.  I have grown these at every property where I have been allowed to put things into the ground.

white bleeding heart plant

Victorian ladies dancing, that's what these little blooms remind me of. 

pink bleeding hearts at the Little Farm

The kitties come out of the house to join me, one by one.

ten ladies dancing...
Karma checks out my flowers

All except Kali, who is no doubt out having her own adventure stalking rodents in the pastures.

After snapping flower photos, I go back to the front steps and sit again.

The kitties put on a playful act for my entertainment.

Karma and Zoey take turns stalking Mojo.

Karma stalks Mojo

Can we be friends?

Mojo is not enticed to join in on the kitty games

Mojo pretends to ignore them all, confident that he is still the Big Dog of cats in the household.

Mojo is above kitten playfulness

So they commence to stalk each other.

Zoey stalkin

Karma investigates something to pretend she'snot stalking Zoey

Zoey is onto Karma's ploy

"Hmmm... foiled again."

I breathe the clean air and feel the dusk settling.

The kittens romp and play some more.

Zoey enjoys an evening outside

The grass is cool and smells so fresh.  A breeze flutters the leaves of the maple tree.

I am fully present, and content.

The End

Blessings -

Gypsy Farmgirl writes about kitty meditations

Monday, May 5, 2014

'Lil Liza Jane

We have five new farm flock members!  All three of our Icelandic ewes gave birth to twins last week, which caused quite a stir since we weren't planning for any lambs this spring.

{Apparently the "wethered" rams we got last year weren't entirely "wethered."}

All three little ladies delivered unassisted - Berritt's early Monday and Elli's early Wednesday, with Finn holding out on us until late Friday night.

Berrit had two ewe lambs - dubbed Oopsy and Daisy - and Elli had a ram and a ewe lamb.  Unfortunately Elli's ram lamb died before I even found it in the paddock.  Her ewe lamb is thriving however. She has one black eyebrow and after polling my Facebook friends, we're going with "Shiner."

Oopsy, Berrit's ewe lamb

We would have missed Finn's delivery entirely - probably with dire consequences - had I not been in Minneapolis for the day, returning to the farm around 11:00pm.

Earlier that day we had put Berrit and Elli and their babies and Finn, who looked like she should have delivered several days ago, into a very small electric net paddock to start teaching the babies about electric nets.

Everything on our farm moves around the pastures in electric net fences. It is very important that all of the animals learn to stay away from the fences, for their own safety.  Although touching the fence one time will merely give a little jolt, getting tangled in the fence can be lethal.

So with Berrit and Elli's babies a few days old, it was time to start their lesson.  After herding all of the ewes out of the barn and into the tiny paddock, we stood and watched them for a bit.

Sure enough, a small, curious nose soon touched the fence and the lamb quickly jumped back.  First lesson successful.

I've been told by other shepherds its better to teach lambs about fences when they are quite young, a day or two old, before they are completely boisterous and can run full-speed into the netting.

Everyone was doing fine, and I left for Minneapolis leaving Papa Bear in charge of keeping a close eye on Finn for the day.

Later in the afternoon PB texted me a photo of a little tarp shelter he put up for the ewes, since it had been raining on and off throughout the day.

tarp tent for the ewes and lambs

{Awww, ain't he sweet?}

When I got home that night, he asked if I wanted to see the lambs.  I assumed he meant Finn had delivered her babies, but he chuckled and said no, but would I like to see the ewes inside their little tarp tent?

Of course I did.

Finn with her twins - male lamb and 'lil Liza Jane

So we bundled up and went back outside.  As soon as our flashlight shone across the paddock I counted five tiny white lambs where there should have only been three.

Finn had just delivered her twins!

It was apparent that one was very small and weak.  After watching for awhile to see if mama could get it up on its feet but with no success, we decided to take it inside and get it warm.

Zoey, mama and 'lil Liza

So for the second time in a week, I found myself with a cold, wet ewe lamb on my belly.

After warming her up for awhile we brought her back outside and brought both her and Finn into the warm barn. She was still weak and could not yet stand on her own.

We went to bed around 1:00am, trusting the little lamb to fight for her life and the universe to help her make it through the night.

We figured, if she was alive in the morning, we would continue to assist her.  If not, then she was apparently too weak out of the gate.

She lived.  Not only that, but she was up walking around the next morning.

Papa Bear with Finn's male lamb

However, Finn had bonded only with her male lamb and was rejecting her daughter.  And by rejecting I mean head butting her into the walls whenever she tried to nurse.

We painted her with Finn's placenta soaked in water in hopes the scent would help her mama accept her.

We spritzed both lambs with essential oils to confuse mama's scent-based recognition.

Nothing worked.

It was evident we'd need to try to bottle feed her and get her some colostrum ASAP.

A lamb is born without any immune system at all.  The only immunity they get is from their mama via her colostrum.  Without any colostrum, she'd surely fail to thrive and probably be very sickly if she survived at all.

But of course, we didn't have any colostrum, since we hadn't been expecting any lambs this spring.

So Saturday morning was spent zipping around to everyone we knew with sheep getting lambing supplies - raw milk, colostrum, bottle nipples, lamb replacer, even a catheter and syringe in case a tube feeding was necessary.

Jersey cow's colostrum from our friend Daffodil was the best we could find on such short notice, so after warming it up I tried giving it to the little peanut in a re-purposed Diet Coke bottle with a Pritchard lamb nipple.

Papa watches Finn and her lambs in the Cheep (sheep?) Shed

To my complete amazement, after chewing on the nipple for awhile, she started sucking down the colostrum.


We are still hoping mama will accept her, but it's not likely at this point.  However, we have seen her snitching milk several times while her brother is nursing.

She is nothing if not determined.

So we continue to supplement her with raw cow's milk.

I've been taking to calling her "Little Liza," as in Nina Simone's "Little Liza Jane."  She's just a little peanut - only four pounds at birth - smaller than our Siamese kitten.

But she continues to amaze us with her will to survive, and endear us with her sheer determination.

So, 'lil Liza, welcome to the Little Farm.

Boo checks out the newest members of his flock

Oh I've got a friend in Kendall.... Little Liza Jane....
The alpacas are confused by these little white fuzzballs...  Little Liza Jane.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about Little Liza Jane

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