Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Bunnies Have Arrived

ButterCup successfully delivered four babies to her Christmas nest box sometime during the evening of December 22. I was beginning to worry that I could not get our does producing again this year. Even though  ButterCup, Jazzie, and Wilma are only in their second breeding season, I was worried the summer layoff may have somehow  lowered their ability to conceive. Had my does grown too fat with a six-month layoff?  Had my bucks become sterile over the hot summer? Buttercup’s nest box only contains four kits, but they are a start to a new season. Perhaps one will make the show table in Reno or San Diego.

Hopefully, Jazzie will follow suit tonight with a litter sired by our new broken buck, LoverBoy. She seems interested in building a nest, but has not started pulling any hair yet. I was surprised at the lack of hair lining ButterCup’s nest, even on a cold night.

The thought of my does from last breeding season not producing has caused me to reconsider my breeding program. I have tried to keep only a limited number of does, but now realize how fragile that leaves the genetics of my herd. One bad break of luck and I could lose what we have worked hard to accomplish with the reds. Last year we produced some very consistent bucks and does, all with nice shoulders, good color, and strong hindquarters. I guess that means we will have to add cages so that we can increase our number of does to about eight. We currently have four does and five bucks.

To breed straight through summer has been the recommendation of many breeders who believe in breeding back at 42 or 49 days. Now even my wife says I need to follow others’ advice and breed year round. Breeding year round in Springville means installing an air conditioning system to keep garage around eighty degrees.

I guess breeding rabbits is like any other hobby in that “if you give a mouse a cookie,” you will be forever expanding, tinkering, revising, or learning something new. I guess that is what keeps us pursuing our hobbies, whatever they may be.

P.S. On the morning of December 24, Jazzie gave birth to three broken kits. She pulled hair for a very nice nest. The sire is our new Broken buck LoverBoy. Images of Jazzie and LoverBoy can be seen via our link to our Breeding Barn page.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Empty Nests

"Yes, that's right! There are no babies in here."

Two empty nest boxes: what a way to begin the 2015-2016 breeding season. The weather finally turned cooler and we have no babies to show for our labor. With great expectation, we bred our new broken buck to our best does from last season. They appeared to be successful breedings, but something must have gone wrong. I know some tell us to breed through the summer heat and keep the rabbits on a regular schedule. But I am a softy and cannot justify breeding when it is 110 degrees outside. So we wait for the frost to appear on the rooftops.

The frost is here and we still have empty nests. Perhaps LoverBoy shot blanks because of the summer heat or perhaps my does accumulated too much fat over the summer layoff. We are breeding with the goal of producing our show stock for the 2016 ARBA national convention in San Diego. Not an auspicious start, but I guess that is the nature of trying to control Mother Nature. So, we will remove the nest boxes and  try again. 

I will try LoverBoy again with Buttercup, but I will put LoverBoy's son, Luke, with Jazzie. I will keep the  lights on for about 17 hours in the breeding barn and hope for a bountiful winter.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Promoting rabbit as a healthy alternative meat

The Scott Rea Project

As a breeder and consumer of organic rabbit meat, I believe YouTube videos provide the breeder and consumer with a wide breadth of valuable information. On my "Links" page, I have tried to provide links to YouTube videos that show how to process, joint, and debone rabbits. Lately, I have discovered several rabbit cooking videos by Scott Rea; his videos make cooking with rabbit seem simple and the end meal always looks delicious.

I find it odd in this strange new world of interconnectedness that my inspiration in rabbit preparation is a tattooed butcher, who is showing the world how to cook rabbit from his kitchen in England. His enthusiasm for cooking and his ability to keep it simple has caught the attention of his fans all over the world.

Unfortunately, here in California, many think of eating rabbits as sacrilegious. This hesitation to eat rabbit or even think of rabbit as an alternative protein source presents a challenge to breeders of rabbit meat.

My grandma used to talk to me about victory gardens during World War II. In upper Michigan, many rural family's planted their own vegetable garden and raised their own rabbit meat. Two does and a buck could feed a family. Today, when I discuss the virtues of raising meat rabbits at our local 4-H meetings, I get the frequent, "You really eat those cute bunnies." That is the problem: rabbits are cute and cuddly. It is harder to raise rabbits on your own property, then explain to the kids why we are going to eat that cute little pet.

Local rabbit processing plants are paying good money for meat rabbits and list their demand as very high.  The processing plants have developed relations with upscale restaurants, and many health conscious urban dwellers are asking for a low fat, low cholesterol meat for their diningroom tables and dog bowls. Rabbit meat fits this demand in the marketplace.

The question everyone always asks is "Does it taste like chicken?" the answer I give is "sort of." Rabbit is much easier to process than a chicken; however, rabbit meat is more difficult to cook. Because of the low fat nature of its meat, like bison, rabbit can be tough when cooked quickly on high heat. This is where the Scott Rea Project comes in: His videos demonstrate how to cook rabbit so that it is both tender and delicious. I am encouraging my wife, who is an excellent cook, to visit my "Links page" so that she can get some new ideas on how to cook rabbit. I especially want to try Scott's "Bunny Burgers." They look great and healthy.

I try to advocate whenever possible the advantages of breeding your own rabbit meat or purchasing rabbit meat from a reputable breeder. What other animal can produce the same quantity and quality of meat in such a small space?

If interested, or at least curious, why not visit the Scott Rea project and dine on "Bunny Burgers" tonight?

And if you like what you see and want some fresh rabbit meat, give me a call.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Let the Breeding Season Begin!

Fall is the beginning of Mission Hill Farm's rabbit  breeding season

I admit it: I’ve been lazy. I kept waiting for the miserable summer heat to abate, but it kept coming back, day-after-day-after-day.

I told myself that I would get my rabbits going again after it cooled down into the 80s. But each day, even with the air-conditioner cooling and jazz music serenading, the rabbits looked hot and bored: too hot to go out and play in their exercise yard. They even yawned from boredom. Most of the day they just lay by their frozen water bottles dreaming of frosty mornings and falling leaves.

Well, today was it, even though we were once again in the upper 90s, the cages were cleaned; the spiders and their cobwebs were chased away; and the garage swept and hosed out. It is time to begin the Mission Hill breeding season for 2015-2016.

I took my new broken red buck, LoverBoy, purchased from Manuel Hidalgo last spring, and put him to work with my best doe from last year, ButterCup.

We tried something new this year: holding the doe, while the buck breeds on a breeding table. It worked surprisingly well. No more demolition derby races in the buck’s cage. Tomorrow night, I will breed LoverBoy to Lucy, another good doe from last year's breeding season.

I had forgotten that the ARBA national in Portland is at the end of this month. We wanted to show our reds, but couldn’t justify taking a week off from teaching and school; however, next year, the ARBA will be in San Diego, only a five-hour drive to Southern California. So that means those little bunnies that will soon be filling our nest boxes will be traveling with us next year to the ARBA national show. How cool! That will be our first taste of an ARBA national show.

But what to do with all the rabbits we held back to show in Portland? We have three bucks and a doe that we were planning on showing. We can breed the doe, but with five resident bucks, we really don’t have any need for the three more. Side view images of these three bucks will be posted on our For Sale page by next weekend. If anyone wants a nice, young red buck, send us an email and we will send head, top, and rear view images.

With my son away at college, I think I will reduce my show dates to just the January KRBA show, the Porterville Fair in May, and the ARBA national next October/November.

Today’s mission has been accomplished: rabbitry cleaned, rabbits bred, first blog entry completed and posted. Sometimes, we just need to get up and get going, even if the conditions aren't ideal. Now if I could just implement that new diet and exercise routine! Maybe when it cools down and the leaves start falling.

Monday, April 13, 2015

C.P. Gilmore and the History of New Zealand Reds

I have always been interested in learning new things. I guess that is why I went into education. When I became interested in breeding New Zealand Reds, I wanted to learn as much as possible about their history. After a little research, I found a link to the Library of Congress and the book The New Zealand Red Rabbit and Rabbit Culture by C. P. Gilmore, which was published in 1917.

Gilmore’s concern for his rabbits’ well being is established in the opening pages of this fun to read book. I wished I had heeded his advice about the proper cage size for New Zealand Reds. Gilmore wanted room for his rabbits to move so they could grow to their full potential, yet he also wanted the convenience of being able to reach the back of the cage. Therefore, a four foot wide and two and half foot deep cage was his ideal. I mistakenly purchased three foot wide and three foot deep cages; I regret this decision every time I try to reach a rabbit in the back of a three foot cage.

According to Gilmore, bucks and does should not be bred until eight months of age to allow for physical maturity. He was also an early advocate for the forty-two day breed back system.  Gilmore believed that baby rabbits were too often weaned at four weeks of age and recommended six to seven weeks for weaning age. Gilmore tried to utilize “natural” breeding practices: he took the doe to the buck’s cage but would only breed the pair once, then rebreed in five days to check if the doe was again receptive or “squealed’ to show she was already bred.  One idea I found interesting is that Gilmore did not believe a doe should be allowed to nurse more than six babies. To rebuttal advocates who wanted large litters of eight to ten, he counters that when compared pound for pound, a litter of five will out weigh a litter of ten at seven weeks of age.  I have often noticed in my own rabbitry that the kits from small litters mature much more quickly than kits from large litters.

Of special interest to me is Gilmore’s discussion of the New Zealand Reds’ history. Gilmore explores the different theories as to where the New Zealand Red originated. One story is that a John Henry Synder, of San Francisco, traveled to New Zealand in 1906 and returned with four does and one buck. Gilmore further states that the foundation breed for the New Zealand was the Otago rabbit  from Southern New Zealand. The Otago itself evolved from Scottish imports known as Scotch rabbits. The Otagoes were lighter in color and weighed about seven pounds at maturity. Gilmore further notes that these Otagoes were known for their hardiness. 

If you are interested in learning more, you can find Gilmore’s book at:

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Good Friday, Magdalene, and life on a farm

Good Friday was the start of lambing season here at Mission Hill. Right on cue, our ewe, Chloe, gave birth to a beautiful lamb, whom my son quickly named Magdalene.

The morning began as most: my youngest daughter fed the animals and completed her chores; soon, Micaela hollered for us to come down the hill. We had a new addition to our family. The lamb was already dry and nursing by the time we reached the sheep pen.

This birth symbolizes the cycle of life that renews the soul each spring when we witness the miracle of life. Our little lamb is full of innocence and beauty and possibilities.

Magdalene will not be alone for long; brothers and sisters and cousins will soon join her to run and play and bring the pastures to life. Up the hill, the rabbit nest boxes are filled with potential waiting to travel to Portland in the fall.

We are excited; we have never attended an ARBA national show before. What will it be like to see 15,000 rabbits under one roof? I must thank Manuel Hidalgo for selling me my New Zealand red breeding stock. 

I have high hopes that some little bunny in one of those nest boxes will shine on the judge’s table come next November. But if show success eludes our rabbits in Portland, it will be OK. We will return to Mission Hill, sit in our rocker, and watch Magdalene and the other lambs run and frolic for another year.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pete, Grandma, and the Helms Bakery truck

One day, while playing in the backyard, I spotted a hummingbird perched in my mom’s bottlebrush. I was surprised that he was not darting about and drinking from the flowers. I figured he must be sick, so I gently cupped him in my hands and took him into the house. I showed Grandma the hummingbird, and she suggested I put him in one of her canary’s old cages. We took turns feeding him sugar water with an eyedropper. Soon he was ready to fly, but every time when I released him, he would fly back. I was afraid that I was not ready to take care of a hummingbird for its entire life, so my dad suggested that I trade the hummingbird to one of his junior high students for a baby rabbit.

Pete was about eight weeks old and satin red when my dad brought him home. Unfortunately for Pete, my dad decided to make the cage out of two orange crates. We sawed a hole for Pete to see through and covered the hole with chicken wire. I must admit, my dad and I thought the cage looked cool, even if it was small. But I soon learned there was a problem with Pete’s cage: his rabbit droppings built up quickly. Soon, my grandma started to remind me that I needed to clean Pete’s cage. I guess the newness of having a rabbit had worn off, while the responsibility of owning a pet had not sunk in. Grandma warned that Pete would die if the cage were not cleaned. One sad day, after school, Pete did not come out to play; his body lay rigid. Grandma was right.

I suppose death is the ultimate teacher, whose lessons cannot be forsworn. More disturbing than seeing Pete’s lifeless body, was the absence of Pete’s frivolity. I used to enjoy watching Pete race through the yard and jump up and kick his heels. It was pure physical joy.  Grandma did not criticize me for not cleaning Pete’s cage, nor did she say; “I told you so.” She knew I missed Pete and tried to comfort me by purchasing donuts from the neighborhood Helms Bakery truck. I selected a glazed donut, while grandma chose a “maple cruller.”

Pete, Grandma, and Dad are all gone now. I often reflect back and wonder about the efficacy of my own parenting. Did I teach my children the right lessons? Did I listen enough? Did I set a good example? I used to think I knew the answers to these questions, but now I think the answers do not belong to me, but rather my children,  who will ask these same questions about their own children.

I still have rabbits, but now their cages are stacked three high in an air-conditioned garage. I make sure to honor Grandma and Pete by telling my youngest daughter about the importance of cleaning the trays at least once each week. Some fifty years later, I still enjoy hanging out with my rabbits, and every once in a while, I remember Pete and Grandma and hear a faint bell from the Helms Bakery truck.

Monday, February 16, 2015

So where do we go from here?

Daughter Micaela rocking  Buttercup

The website is complete; business cards are printed; flyers are stacked in a box; the Reds are breeding; and we are showing once again. But where do we want to go with

What are our breeding objectives?

While in college, I started dabbling with Labrador Retrievers. But I quickly became acquainted with problems inherent to the breed: Abby was a beautiful, mild mannered black show Lab, who loved to chase dummies in our lake. But when I went to have Abby’s hips x-rayed, she earned a less than satisfactory OFA evaluation, so there was no breeding. I did my research and sent away for a top field trial Lab from Oregon. I still remember the surprise when I looked in the kennel at the airport; this was a skinny, little dog. Quacker, however, loved to field trial. The dog was hyped. She would go bonkers whenever she saw the hunting gear. In the early 1980s people began to complain about how breeders had created two separate Lab breeds: the slow, show behemoth and the smaller, quicker, hyper field trial version. The AKC responded and started offering AKC sanctioned hunting tests  to make sure its show Labs possessed the retrieving instincts  and physical characteristics needed to work in the field. I thought that was a very good idea; this program promoted the whole Lab package: physical appearance, personality, and hunting instincts.

We are seeing the same split in Border Collies that happened to Labs: the stout show version, with its luxurious coat, and the lankier field trial dogs. The same problems appeared in English Setters and German Shepards. Someone’s ideal of beauty overshadowed sound breeding principles.

So what to do with the Reds? The common knock from ARBA show judges is that the Reds’ shoulders are low and backs long. One well-respected judge even bred Reds when he was younger, but moved on to other breeds because the Reds could not compete beyond the variety class. Why breed Reds if you cannot win BOB? Well, first of all I breed Reds because I like them and they taste good. According to C.P. Gilmore, they were the original domestic rabbit in the U.S. Perhaps they should be considered a heritage breed. And if they cannot compete with the other varieties of New Zealands, why not reclassify Reds as a separate breed and rename them by one of the original proposals: “California Reds”?

As I develop my breeding plan, I am cognizant that many important factors do not appear in the ARBA Standard of Perfection. Should I cull a young buck who grew very quickly, weighing 5 pounds at only seven weeks, because he had low shoulders? I did and have not produced another rabbit like him. He was also extremely friendly and he came from a line of does who were good mothers. I called him Tankasaurus because of his quick growth and massive hindquarters. He would have made a good breeding buck for producing fryers, but because of low shoulders, I sold him. I will not make this mistake again. Why? I have to define why I am breeding rabbits and create a vision in my own mind of the ideal rabbit to be produced by I like what I read at Crossroads' Rabbitry and will try to follow their recommendations on creating a sound breeding herd of meat rabbits.

First, I want Reds who exhibit the qualities conducive to being productive, healthy, and happy meat rabbits. I want the large hindquarters, for that is the section I enjoy eating the most: the rear legs. I personally do not care for the shoulder section. I also want rabbits that produce 8 kits per litter; I want the kits to be dropped in the nest box with good nest making skills and hair pulling characteristics. I want to breed lines that produce the highest total litter weight at 10 weeks of age. I like the big round heads, but must watch for any signs of malocclusion.  I want to produce the true red color, not the agouti with black tips, which some say comes from trying to improve shoulders through the introduction of the white variety. But most important to is the rocking chair test: if the rabbit isn't friendly and doesn't enjoy just sitting on my lap, as I rock back and forth, then that rabbit should be culled. I want to produce healthy, happy, meaty rabbits. I guess the shoulders will have to wait. When I get one line consistently producing: 8 kits per litter, who grow to 5 pounds quickly, with good teeth and true red color, and big heads and straight ears, and enjoy being handled, then I will start working on a second line; then work on improving the top line and shoulders. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lessons Learned

The Kern County Rabbit Breeders Association January Show

Woke the family up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning; loaded up the chairs and rabbit show cages; and ventured off to the Kern County Rabbit Breeders Association’s January show at the Kern County Fairgrounds. Relatively close to home and with lots of friendly rabbit people, this is our favorite show of the year. Despite the heavy Tule fog, the show started close to the 8:30 a.m. with a heart-warming rendition of our national anthem, sung by a local 4-H chapter. The judging proceeded in an orderly fashion and New Zealands were scheduled third up, behind the Satins and American Fuzzy Lops; our judge was Jennifer Milburn.

With time to explore, my daughter and I went to look for food, while my wife warmed up under the ceiling heaters. With homemade biscuits and gravy in hand, again provided by a local 4-H chapter, my daughter and I walked the aisles and looked over this year’s participants. We enjoy looking at all the “rabbit stuff” people bring to set up and get ready for the judging table. I admit our motto is rather simple: “no more than two, three hole carrying cages, a chair for each, and a bag of drinks and food.” I learned back in college that transporting enough Mini Lops to cover every class led to more work than joy, at least for me. So this time round, we keep it simple. In by 8:30 a.m., set up our chairs, look around, eat, get judged at one show, load back up and home by 2 p.m. with time to enjoy a Saturday afternoon in Springville.

This year, we learned, I learned, I have to start paying attention to my rabbits’ weights. In the past, I have had meat pens go over so I should know to weigh my rabbits often, but some lessons are hard learned. With four rabbits entered, two senior bucks and two senior does, we only had one non-disqualified rabbit. How could this be? Last year I learned that there was an upper limit to how much intermediate does and bucks could weigh. How could I have missed this page in the Standard of Perfection? Well, our 11 and 1/2 pound doe was over, but “she was so pretty.” So this year I learned that we can move intermediates up to seniors if they are heavy. But I have also been listening to other breeders telling me to keep my rabbits thin so they will breed. The result: three intermediates disqualified as seniors because they didn’t make minimum senior weight. Was that line I drew in the Campbell’s soup can really the amount that Purina recommended?  Should I start feeding ShowBloom or black sunflower seeds or wheat germ oil or grass every morning?

While waiting for New Zealands to be called to the judging table, we sat and watched the crowd. I now know why the guy sitting next to us went over to the KW Cages show display and came back the proud owner of a rabbit scale. Lesson learned, well, hopefully. We will have to wait until the March, Central Valley Rabbit Breeders Association show to see if we have made any progress in our rabbit education. Do they offer degrees in rabbitology? 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Christmas and the New Year

This year, my family and I spent Christmas at the Running Y Ranch in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Retirement in southeastern Oregon would be very nice, but perhaps, a little too cold. The kids enjoyed baking Christmas cookies; I enjoyed the exercise room; and my wife enjoyed relaxing by the fireplace. We almost had that picturesque white Christmas, but the snow flurries didn’t last.

Back at home, the nest boxes are filled once again, another sign that a new year is afoot. Hopefully, our rabbitry,, will begin to take shape: the website is now operational; business cards designed and sent to the printer; and the rabbits, chickens, and sheep are producing.

First up in 2015 will be the Kern County Rabbit Breeders Association show at the Kern County Fair Grounds on January 24. My daughter and I plan on taking two young red does and two young red bucks. The Springville 4-H rabbit project kids will also be encouraged to attend this fun show and search out that special breeder for their Porterville Fair rabbit. In February, we will breed to get ready for the meat pen show at the Porterville Fair in May. Our second show of the year will at the Central Valley Rabbit Breeders Association’s March show in Hanford. New for this year will be our first journey to the West Coast Classic in Las Vegas and the ARBA National Show in Portland this November.

If anyone is interested in New Zealand Red rabbits, chickens, Katahdin Sheep, or Mammoth Donkeys, let me know. Happy New Year!