Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bucket Lists and the Fibber Cup

ARBA National Convention, San Diego

Bucket Lists and the Fibber Cup

Before leaving for San Diego and the ARBA Convention, I asked my senior English students to make slideshows for their bucket list projects. They were asked to come up with about ten items they would like to experience, see, or achieve before they died. The intent was to help them think about their futures and what they would enjoy doing in their adult lives. I made an example slideshow and demonstrated to them what my expectations were for their projects. I had one slide showing my desire to witness the Aurora Borealis. I also made a slide that examined my desire to win a class in New Zealand reds at the ARBA Convention.

Upon returning to the classroom, I informed my students that I would not be able to cross off an item from my bucket list. My daughter and I had earned a second, a third, a fourth, and a fifth, but no firsts. A first would have to wait until the ARBA convention comes west once again. But we were happy: all of our winners had come from just two litters. Our success was proof that we could keep our rabbitry small (8-10 litters per year) and still compete at the national level. With our San Joaquin Valley summer heat, raising rabbits is confined to the air-conditioned garage, with limited space; however, this year we are jumping from three to six does and we will use five bucks.

Now that we are back home, it is time to start breeding again for the 2017 season. We hope to show at the Kern County Rabbit Breeders Association show and the West Coast Classic in Reno. Our first litters should be ready for new homes around Christmas time. Hopefully, we will have some juniors that will be competitive in Reno. We were lucky to start our breeding program with quality foundation stock from Manuel Hidalgo. We quickly learned that reds were well-known with ARBA judges for having weak shoulders, so that became our priority. A heavily patterned red broken buck from Manuel has solved our shoulder problems. We are now producing reds with good body length, big butts, and full shoulders.We have also received comments on our reds’ good color. Another goal for this breeding season is to try and select brokens for breeding stock that are as calm as our reds. For some reason our broken reds like to run in circles and squeal like pigs. Does anyone else have this problem?

On a personal note, it was fun to meet Wendall Tisher. I had read articles about his famous New Zealand reds and how he travels to rabbit shows throughout the Midwest. It was nice to talk to someone else about breeding reds. I also learned it is a small world and that Mr. Tisher was also from the world of education.

Lastly, My family would like to thank everyone involved in putting on the ARBA Convention. It was smooth running and a fun experience. We didn’t know about the RabbitCon until after we had made reservations, but next time, RabbitCon will be the goal.

Once again, we cannot update our website due to lost files on a computer that crashed. We will rebuild over Christmas vacation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Website will reopen after Christmas

My laptop computer has crashed and rather than purchasing new website publishing software like CS5, we have decided to rebuild with a cloud based website design company like Weebly.

The current website will remain visible until the redesign is complete. Tentative new start date is during our Christmas vacation.

Unfortunately, our rabbit customers will not be able to see any new additions or posts until the redesign is complete.

We are sorry that we were unable to meet this year's demand for breeding trios. We held back our best bucks for ARBA national and will have 4-6 very nice bucks for sale after the October convention.

We were not blessed with many does this breeding season, and  we will start breeding our rabbits again when we return home from San Diego. Some babies should be ready by Christmas. We are going to increase the number of does we breed to 6. Hopefully, we will be able to better meet the needs of our customers during the 2016-17 breeding season.

Thank you everyone who expressed an interest in purchasing rabbits from

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Porterville Fair

The Porterville Fair

The Porterville Fair has come and gone. I have recuperated from early morning trips to the fairgrounds before work to feed and water my daughter’s rabbits. No more mad dashes after work to the fairgrounds to switch out fresh ice bottles for the rabbits’ cages. Everyone survived another year of overpriced fair food. In fact, although small in numbers, our little Springville 4-H rabbit project group did quite well with their rabbits: Micaela, my daughter, won junior showmanship and best of breed and best opposite with her New Zealand brokens. Mason and his brother Eric seemed to have a good time also. Eric, a mini-member, won his ribbon for participation, and his older brother placed fourth in novice showmanship and won best of show with his Joe Lugo Dutch junior buck.

Community involvement is what keeps our little fair going. There are many county fairs, but few city fairs like the Porterville Fair. Local farmers and business leaders volunteer their time and produce a wonderful experience for the entire Porterville community. Each year my daughter takes off three days from school to show her rabbits, help friends with their sheep, pigs, and goats, and ride the midway’s old favorites and new adventures. I hope the simple joys and values of the ag lifestyle stay with my daughter as she ages and goes away to college. Maybe one day she will volunteer to help a committee at the Porterville Fair or make mad dashes to the fairgrounds before work to support her future 4-H daughter.

Although I enjoy the fair each year, I miss the community volunteer groups who used to cook and serve delicious homemade food. I cannot go to the fair and experience the mouth watering, giant barbequed ribs from St. Anne’s church. Gone are the strawberries and shortcake from the Job’s Daughters’ booth. I miss saying hello to community members I have not seen since last year’s fair. Remember the funnel cake with whip cream piled high? I know new regulations and a new fairgrounds necessitated new traditions, but the fair board should work to find ways to bring back the civic groups who volunteered and profited from feeding fair goers each year. Now, we just eat before we go to the fair or wait until we leave the fairgrounds. Why pay $4 for an under cooked corn dog, when we can buy corn dogs for $1.50 at the local Shell on Highway 65.

I suppose I should cherish these fair moments, like watching our daughter try to show a pigmy goat in the small animal round robin. Next year, she will be a big eighth grader and that will probably be her last year in 4-H and showing at the fair. With sports, AP classes, and scheduling conflicts due to the implementation of career pathways, she is unlikely to be able to participate in FFA and not many 4-Hers continue once in high school.

Lastly, a thank you to all who volunteer long hours to make this community fair special and continue the tradition of the Porterville Fair. Did I mention that there were 42 meat pens entered in the Porterville Fair rabbit show? Forty-two!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

West Coast Classic Rabbit Show Reno April 8-10, 2016

Wow! That was fun! Excuse the simplistic language and use of an exclamation to begin this blog, but that little, three letter “Wow!” best captures my reaction to the West Coast Classic rabbit show in Reno. We pulled our red Radio Flyer wagon, topped with rabbit cages and supplies, into the Reno Convention Center and immediately realized this was not the average San Joaquin Valley rabbit show. Rabbit cages, rabbits, people, lots of people, and vendors filled the convention hall from wall-to-wall. This was a temporary city devoted entirely to rabbits. I quickly wondered if we were all crazy to devote so much energy and resources to these furry critters. Why rabbits? I can only imagine the amount of money this convention generated, all in the name of rabbits.

But back to the main point: fun. Pure rabbit fun everywhere I looked: long eared English lops, giant French lops, fuzzy Angoras, little Lionheads, Flemish Giants, Checkered Giants, Dutch, Polish, and more. What were we all doing here in America’s “Biggest Little City in the World?” But before I could answer that question, “New Zealand blacks and brokens” were called to show table 27. From that announcement on, the show became a blur. Our judging table was in the front of the hall and our staging area and cages, neatly outlined by blue tape, were in the back. With rabbits under arms we began the rabbit shuffle: first broken junior bucks, next broken junior does, put those back and get junior red bucks. My daughter Micaela and I navigated the isles like running backs eluding NFL linebackers. Left, right, blocked by people watching judging, back around the other way. People sitting outside the blue lines, hurry back down the next isle. The Friday night show started right on time and finished on time. We were determined we would be ready for Saturday morning’s specialty.

With the Friday night specialty under our belt, we strolled in early Saturday morning confident and ready to go. Wait, 5 million English lops in both Open and Youth at show table 27, we will be here until midnight. I told my wife and daughter that we would have some down time before New Zealands would be called. My wife, who had been quietly observing this rabbit madness, said we looked like rookies: cages on the floor, supplies everywhere, and our chairs were even sticking out beyond the blue tape.  “I do not like this,” she said. So off shopping we went; the man from BunnyWood came to the rescue. With pine slats and slabs piled onto his cart, he followed us to our messy abode. With slight of hand and encouraging words, he set up our now professional looking show stand and grooming table. Amazing, now our chairs fit inside the blue tape! We were now professionals! Micaela, my daughter, came to life and started rubbing her hands and rubbing the rabbits’ coats back and forth. A little water spray here and there and our “fair” condition soon became “good” condition. When asked why she had never done this before at a rabbit show, she simply stated we didn’t have a “cool grooming table before.”

Finally, after lunch, I heard the announcement: “New Zealand blacks and brokens to show table 27.” The rabbit shuffle began once again. This time our judge was the ARBA president Josh Humphries. How cool was that? The ARBA president was judging our little juniors, and he breeds New Zealands too. Wait, what is this: “MH something, best junior red buck; MH something best junior broken buck; MH something best junior broken doe.” Those words were sweet. Our breeding program was heading in the right direction. Now we just have to take care of that “something” and improve our tattooing ability, or scrap the clamp and go with the pen.

I soon noticed something was changing, the adrenaline rush had left. The legs were not dodging and shuffling, they were just plain moving slowly. Open Show A was still to come. I told my wife that if she was tired of waiting, we could skip the Open show and go out and explore Reno. She asked if we had paid to enter Open Show A; I was doomed.  After 5,000 Cinnamons, which I didn’t even know was a rabbit breed, New Zealands were called to table 25. There we met a kindly, grandfather figure named Allen Ormand. This judge was very tall and friendly. He surprised my daughter when he engaged her in small talk about being a kid and showing rabbits. He didn’t have to do that, but I could tell he enjoyed talking with the breeders. He was a very nice man. I latter learned he was the retired fire captain for all of Salt Lake City, a true hero.

After a little contemplation, I realized why the West Coast Classic rabbit show had that “Wow!” factor. Lots of talented people worked very hard to put on this really neat rabbit show. In the end, I believe it was more than a rabbit show; it was an entire rabbit city or community. A group of diverse people from all areas of the United States came together in Reno to share a common bond with others: rabbits. Many of my students ask me, “why rabbits?” I honestly don’t know: I have memories of Pete and simpler times; I like rocking in my chair while I pet a rabbit; I just like the way they look; perhaps they symbolize simplicity and purity. I really do not know, but I know the ARBA convention will be in Del Mar next year and we already have our reservations.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter

Today is Easter. We will celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the rebirth of life itself. I should be happy and grateful, but today three empty chairs at the dinner table will haunt me. My wife will make a wonderful meal of baked ham and green beans and potato salad. Our foothills dance in greens, yellows, and oranges, while the Sierras sleep, still blanketed in snow. Baby rabbits explore their nest boxes and junior rabbits wait for their first sojourn in Reno.

Easter vacation has been productive: fences mended, house cleaned, saddles readied for spring riding. At dinnertime, we will give thanks. I will enjoy the company of my wife and youngest daughter, but I will see those three empty chairs. I have been told life continually changes, and that I do not adjust well. Where is my oldest daughter? I know my son is away at college on the East Coast, and I miss him greatly. I know my mom is in Heaven. I know; I know; I know, but I really don't. Life is confusing; I try to establish routines to hem in life and keep it simple and understandable. I know this is impossible and should cherish life as it appears anew each day.

Yesterday, I read my neighbor’s blog. Judy wrote about another neighbor, Darlene, who found out she had ALS. Darlene worked at my school; she was in charge of making sure parents sent their kids to school each and every day. Darlene reminded me of my mother; both were determined to deal with debilitating diseases on their own terms. One day, I watched from atop the steps as Darlene tried her best to walk from the office to the cafeteria. She fell, and I went to help her up. With her pride slightly wounded, but determined as always, she continued on to the cafeteria. I did not know how to put my admiration into words, so I made her a bouquet from my mother's irises. I think Darlene appreciated the thought behind those flowers; she talked about them often.

Judy wrote about how, after the the ALS progressed,  Darlene wanted to give her orchids to those who would cherish and nurture them. Judy's blog reminded me of my mother and her love of irises. With El Nino, the irises are blooming profusely and with each blossom, I’m reminded of my mom. I miss those conversations about life. I was the college graduate, but she was the one with wisdom. She seemed to take life on its own terms and rarely questioned it; she just found the beauty in what was in front of her. Unlike my mom, I question life too much.

In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman writes about the relationship between objects and memories over the expanse of time. When the Tulare County Master Gardeners Club tend to their new orchids, they will remember Darlene; when the irises bloom each spring, I will think of Mom; and when I see those empty chairs, I will be reminded that I still have much to learn. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Reno here we come!

A junior broken buck heading to Reno

The West Coast Classic in Reno will be our first rabbit show beyond our San Joaquin Valley home. We are excited, even though we only have two litters old enough to show. We sold off all the adults from 2015, except those we added to our breeding barn. Unfortunately, I didn't look ahead and keep back a few older rabbits to show in the senior categories. Oh well, live and learn. I am sure we will have fun showing our juniors.

We started off only breeding New Zealand reds, but after listening to judges make comments about reds being "long" or "low in the shoulders," we decided to try and use the white genetics from brokens to help improve our rabbits' shoulders. We purchased a very nice broken buck from Manuel Hidalgo. He was willing to sell it under the condition I realized its pattern included too much red. But since our goal for purchasing a broken was for improving reds' shoulders, I think the purchase will prove a wise decision. "Luke" has a very large red blanket and very nice shoulders and hindquarters. Both his  red and broken babies are improvements for our Mission Hill Rabbitry.

For the West Coast Classic, we will only bring six juniors since we only have two traveling show cages with three holes each. We currently have two litters that will be between three and four months old  at the beginning of April. One litter is from the heavily blanketed "Luke" and other litter is from Luke's father, who Manuel also kindly agreed to sell. We have named Luke's father "LoverBoy" and he has been a busy buck. His babies have his beautiful color and short, compact body. Needless to say we have been  busy breeding these two excellent bucks to our red does and, although not our original goal, we are excited about starting a new broken line.

With the addition of a broken line and increased interest in Mission Hill Farm reds, we have decided to increase from three to nine does. Three does for our "Mark" line, three does for our original "Max" line, and three for our LoverBoy broken line. This will mean more cage pans to clean, but I am having fun with the rabbits. I have even thought about cutting back with the mammoth donkeys and Katahdin sheep. I am not exactly sure why, but I really enjoy the rabbits. Something about those beautiful and comical creatures helps bring my blood pressure down. The brokens are even pretty and remind me of when we used to breed Mini Lops back in our college days.

We just hope snow doesn't close Interstate 80 on Friday, April 8.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fred and Steinbeck's "Hour of the Pearl"

Sunday morning of a four-day weekend in February, it doesn’t get much better than this. All in the house are still asleep, except the animals and me. After waking, I make my usual rounds, but at a slower pace. As every morning, Fred, the cockatiel, is first. He wants his nightly cage cover removed and wants his morning seed treat. If I delay too long, Fred grows impatient and rather loud in his squawking. I view Fred as a gift from heaven: one summer day, while irrigating a pasture, a cockatiel flew out of the sky and landed on the end of my hose; I guess he was thirsty. He walked up my arm and that was it; Fred became an official resident of Mission Hill Farm. 

Fred doesn’t produce food, just noise. He is clever and can sense the most inopportune times to get into an argument with the image in his mirror, which hangs in the corner of his cage. Maybe it is an argument; maybe it is a screeching love song. Whatever it is, it seems to be triggered whenever we want to watch something on television. The more important the scene, the louder Fred squawks. Pseudo threats of "quiet" or "roast cockatiel for supper" are useless. Fred is from heaven and has ruled his kingdom for over a decade. He is also hooked on routine and considers it an insult when I do not pull up a chair, sit down, and converse for a while: a few whistles, a few pecks, and a few “pretty birds” and all are blessed to start the day.

Next up on the morning routine is letting in the cat, Boots Junior. After her nocturnal hunting, it is time for her to relax on the rocking chair by the fireplace. Boots Junior, a 15-year-old calico, lives to sleep by the fireplace. She gets up once in a while to go eat or drink, then goes back to her rocker and falls asleep once again like the cat in T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

Next up is Marley, another 15-year-old cat who has outlived his nine lives by a factor of 10. Actually, Marley is a wild cat who adopted Mission Hill Farm as his official residence and anointed all humans as his minions. Our job is to let him out of the garage in the morning so he can begin his daytime hunting routine. He graciously shares the remains of his victims with us by placing them on the rug by the front door. He has the whole farm to leave his leftover rats, moles, gophers, and prized quail, but no; unfortunately, he is unselfish and must share his winnings with me. 

Marley is not just a proficient hunter; he is an apprentice locksmith too. We have a thumb grip front door latch, and Marley has learned to jump up and hang on the lever until it releases and then pull back until the door opens. He then wanders the house to find a suitable bed for a nap.

Next up on the morning routine is Anna, our LSG dog. Big, lovable Anna, I think she can read my thoughts. I have owned Labs, Border Collies, McNabs, but none show the intelligence of Anna. She seems to intuitively understand me.  Anna prefers to eat twice a day, so when she sees me taking Fred’s night cover off, she comes to the window and smiles reminding me not to forget that she is also waiting for breakfast. Anna is big enough to look me directly in the eyes when she stands on her back feet.  We had a bear problem recently. One day when I came home, Anna’s nose and muzzle looked like they had gone through a meat grinder. Her nose healed and I have not seen any bears since. 

With Fred, Boots Junior, Marley, and Anna content, I proceed to the garage to water and feed the rabbits.  I open the garage door to let in the early morning light. The sun has yet to crest Black Mountain with its silhouettes of Giant Sequoias.  According to Steinbeck, this is the “hour of the pearl,” a time before the day begins. It is a time when we can cheat time and steal a few moments before the day breaks. I understand the allure of the early morning, and I think the roosters do too. They proudly announce that the farm is opening for business. The donkeys have heard the bang of the garage door, and that can only mean their hay is coming soon. They join the barnyard chorus with brays that must be heard for miles. The sheep and goats begin to announce their impatience with their night's confinement. Before the suns crests Black Mountain, my daughter and I put on our wool beanies and jackets and gloves and head out into the early dawn in Grandma’s golf cart to feed the residents of Mission Hill. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reds, Rainy Days, and Ethics

The Dawn of a New Day

The pitter-pat of rain on the window announces the inevitable boredom of being stuck inside on a rainy day. I wait all week to go outside on the weekends, only to awake to wet patios, mushy pastures, and damp prospects for having fun. No walks with my dog Anna; no donkey rides with Jake or Beauty; no playing pickleball with my daughter Micaela. Bummer.

I guess the rain outside gives me reason to update my blog about New Zealand Red rabbits. It has been an interesting last couple of months with the rabbits. We now have two healthy litters: one with three brokens and one with one broken and three reds. Two years ago I remember my doe Jasmine had eleven kits in one litter; I had to redistribute the babies to other does. My litter sizes have declined for reasons I do not know. I let the buck breed the doe twice; I bring the doe back to the buck’s cage about four hours latter and let them breed twice again. I read where too much line breeding can negatively impact litter size; however, my current litters of three and four were produced by recently purchased bucks that aren’t even related to my does. If anyone who breeds reds has any ideas on increasing litter size, please send me a comment or an email.

As a hobby farmer, I have often thought about the ethics of breeding animals. When I bred Mini Lops in college, I didn’t eat the culls, but did sell them to a meat processing plant in El Monte; I needed a way to ethically get rid of culls because I had flooded my neighborhood with free pet quality rabbits.

While walking the isles at the Kern County Rabbit Breeders show, I noticed white boards announcing rabbits for sale --all breeds. I thought to myself, could all those rabbits from one breeder be show and breeder quality. I struggle with ethics when a customer inquires about purchasing a breeding trio from me. At what age can I really project the adult quality of a young rabbit? At what age can my eyesight accurately sex the kits? If the rabbit is show or breeder quality, why am I willing to sell it? These are questions I need to address to derive a viable and ethical sales policy for

I also breed mammoth donkeys and Katahdin sheep and I had to address the same questions as to what I believed was ethical.  Ten years ago riding donkeys with good size, conformation and personalities could easily bring $2,500 - $5,000. But with the housing crash and higher feed costs, the demand has diminished. Should I still breed just so I can enjoy the experience of a new foal each spring? I got greedy and bred my best riding jennet one more time; it did not end well for Daisy. I was heart broken. She was not just a riding animal, she was my friend. She never complained about our long conversations, and she was always eager to head out the gate for a trip down our country lane. I stopped breeding donkeys. I stopped breeding LSG dogs. What would I do with the extra Anatolian Shepherds that I could not sell? The sheep Anna guards I can eat or easily sell for meat or yard art.

This is why I have settled on breeding New Zealand Reds: they are a healthy source of protein. Although considered the first domesticated rabbit in America, the reds have fallen out of fashion. A reduction in red breeders has vastly diminished the gene pool. If one large red breeder lost his or her breeding stock that would be a genetic loss for all reds. When I started taking my reds to shows, I rarely found other reds at the show table. Last year, at our local Porterville Fair, there were three New Zealand Red meat pens related to my rabbits. Two of the red meat pens placed in the top ten. Reds didn’t win but it was improvement! Young 4-Hers and FFAers were raising and showing our reds. At the recent KCRBA show two red brokens won Best of Breed and Best Opposite.  The judge had to decide between the red broken buck and a red buck for Best Opposite. The reds had beaten a good selection of New Zealand whites and blacks. Once again, reds are making progress.

But I am still left with the ethical question of what to sell. I no longer sell babies right after weaning. Why not? I cannot honestly tell a customer that a six to eight week old kit will turn out to be a show winner or breeder. From experience, I have found some of my best show rabbits were initially misplaced in the cull pen. Now, I prefer to keep the babies until they are intermediates. The obvious culls go into the rabbit stew, and the remaining intermediates travel to local rabbit shows to see if judges think they are potential show contenders.

After a trip to a show or two, I can then tell which babies are appropriate for selling. I had an eight-month-old buck that showed well at the KCRBA January show; I sold him. I knew he would help improve someone’s red genetics. I could sell him because I had two or three others related to him. Was he perfect? No, but he was the best that I had bred up to that point. So this is how I would like to proceed: If you would like to purchase a single rabbit or breeding trio from me, have patience. Let me know what you want, send a fifty percent deposit in the fall or winter, and in spring, I will be able to deliver New Zealand Red[s] that will make you proud.

Currently, I only have three breeding does. Each has a litter and will be rebred in February for our local fair’s meat pen show. The does will be bred again after the May fair. So I project to have nine litters this year. Each litter is averaging four kits. Four times nine equals thirty-six kits produced this year. Fifty percent will be utilized for personal consumption. That leaves about eighteen kits for showing, breeding stock replacement, and sales. This year I will keep back four of my best does to increase my breeding herd for 2017. I probably will only keep one buck, since my current bucks are all under two years old. So I am at about thirteen rabbits that I will have for sale this spring. Eight of those will probably go to 4-H or FFA meat pens. That leaves me with about five-to-eight rabbits to be sold for show or breeding. Not many, but hopefully all show or breeding quality. Hopefully all will be good enough to improve someone’s red genetics. 

Let me know if you are interested in breeding New Zealand Reds.