Monday, April 01, 2024

Two years

April 1, 2022. It's been two years since I retired, after almost 34 years with the University of Maryland. I began my career with University of Maryland Extension (then Maryland Cooperative Extension Service) on July 18, 1988. I remember my first day. I put a computer desk together.

Combine my Maryland career with the almost three years I worked for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and I had a thirty-six year career doing agricultural extension work, mostly small ruminants, but also farm management.

Regrets about retiring?  None. I've enjoyed my retirement so far. I stay busy. I do webinars and speaking engagements. I do the web site and extension coordination for the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control. I currently have a writing assignment with the American Sheep Industry Association. I'm part of a few grants with universities. I try to stay connected with my colleagues at WMREC. 

In Northern Ireland with Lara

I expanded my farm. I now have meat rabbits, trios of New Zealand Red, New Zealand White, and Silver Fox. I got a few dwarf goats. Both the rabbits and goats are confined to the garage. I still have to figure out the marketing of the rabbits. I hope to sell breeding animals from each litter (that's why I opted to go with pedigree rabbits), but I need to secure a meat market for the rest of the litters.

The 2023 lambing season was the easiest ever, didn't have to pull any lambs. No lambs were lost at birth or early on, though I lost two lambs around weaning age. I bred 37 ewes for the 2024 lambing season, using the same two rams. This year's lambing has had a few more ups and down, but there are plenty of healthy lambs bouncing around the place. This year I have to invest in a new Katahdin ram.

I've visited a lot of local places since retiring (and Covid). I've taken up hiking. Easy hikes, so far. Ty is a great companion for these activities. There are many more places I want to visit and/or hike. Some of my favorite places are the C&O Canal, Martin's Mill Covered Bridge State Park, Catoctin Mountain Park, and Gettysburg and Antietam National Military Parks. There's so much to see and do in this four state area -- so much history and natural beauty. And, all close by.

I made my first international trips since retirement (and Covid). In August of last year, I was invited to speak at some goat hoof care clinics in Ontario, Canada. I spoke at two locations. I did a little touring while I was there and stopped at Niagara Falls on the way home. It was a great trip. In September, Lara and I spent almost two weeks in Ireland (Republic of and Northern). I footed most of the bill. So many memories and highlights. This year, I'll be going to England (Yorkshire Dales) and Scotland. I'm hoping to take at least one international trip per year. Iceland, Newfoundland, and Romania are on the short list. 

At the canal with Ty

I'm able to spend more time with Mom. While she has her caregivers from 10 am to 1 pm (or 12). I can take her places in the afternoon or on the weekends. I am able to take her to visit her friends and old acquaintances. She's still going strong at 94. I organized a birthday celebration for her this year.

Cash entered my life on June 24, 2023. I had to go to Ohio to get him. Greg went along with me. Cash was 12 weeks old when I got him. I had always wanted a Maine Coon cat, orange tabby, of course. I have thoroughly enjoyed his first year of life. Besides being a regal-looking cat, he is the sweetest boy. He was costly, but worth every penny I spent. Sadly, I recently lost my "free" cat, Crissy. I miss her so such. Girl animals are different. All my dogs/cats are now male. I might try to find another female orange tabby (kitten), rescue one in honor of Crissy. Crissy came from the shelter in Hagerstown.

Financially, I'm in good shape. No worries. I don't have an expensive way of living. Mostly I spend extra money eating out, buying techie-things,  and taking care of my cats. Travel is paid for by my side jobs.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Bunnies at the Baalands

I raised rabbits as a 4-Her. I had a few rabbits when I lived in Salisbury. Ever since I visited the rabbit research facility in Toulouse, France (in 2012), I have wanted to get rabbits. Finally (in retirement), I took the plunge.

I got my first rabbits in April of last year: two New Zealand White does and a Silver Fox buck. A couple of months later, I drove several hours into Virginia to get a trio of New Zealand Reds. Later in the year, I got two Silver Fox does and a New Zealand White buck. None of the latter three are old enough for breeding yet. All of the rabbits are pedigreed. I currently have trios of New Zealand White, New Zealand Red, and Silver Fox. This is my plan. I figure I'll need 18 cages for the 6 breeding does. I plan to breed the does four times per year.

Bertha and Alice - New Zealand White does

Initially, I bred the New Zealand White does (Alice and Bertha) to the Silver Fox buck (Sylvester). This is proving to be a good cross. Alice has already raised two litters (9, 6). Bertha lost her first litter and has since raised a litter of 9. The New Zealand Red does (Stella and Emma) took a few times before they conceived. Stella's first litter was 11. One died when it was several weeks old. Stella produced her first litter on the third try, and is currently raising a litter of 8 (1 died). Harry is the sire of the New Zealand Red bunnies.

I decided to dig deep into my pockets and buy high quality cages and accessories for my rabbitry. Initially, I bought six cages (24 x 36) from KW Cages in California. The next eight cages I bought came from Bass Equipment in Missouri. While still expensive, they are much more economical than the KW cages, and I like them just as well. Four of these cages are 30 x 30 (a little too deep for reaching rabbits). The other four are 36 x 30 for does to raise their bunnies in. 

The Bass cages have bunny saver wire along the bottoms instead of urine guards. I decided this was a mistake:  too messy. I've ordered urine guards and plan to install them on all the Bass cages. The KW cages came with urine guards, as well as deeper refuse trays. I up charge all my cage purchases to get heavier duty wire, galvanize after welding, and plastic poly trays. I stack the cages two-high and put castors on the stacks. Wheels are good and bad. The cages are easier to move, but the rabbits also cause the cages to move around too much. 

I have two more cages (24 x 36) on order from Bass and two "nurture cages" on order from KW. The latter two are quite pricy, but provide more space and enrichment for does and their bunnies. Besides being 48 x 28 in size, they have a raised platform. They come with nest boxes that attach to the side of the cage, providing a more "natural" burrowing experience for the does.

First New Zealand Red litter (Stella)

My feeders are Pro-B Feed Saver feeders from Bass. They are flush with the cage and are supposed to reduce feed waste. Rabbits are notorious for digging their paws in the feeders and scooping feed out. These feeders seems to be preventing this. I have an assortment of watering receptacles. Originally, I was going to use water bottles, but decided to use water dishes that attach to the side of the cages instead. They say rabbits prefer drinking from bowls.

I bought two creep feeders, but the kits don't seem to eat much out of them. Instead they eat from their mother's feeders or out of my homemade feeders: large bowls with a PVC cap in the middle to prevent them from sitting in the feeders and contaminating them with urine and feces. I also use homemade hay feeders that I attach to the outside of the cages. These are made from plastic containers that I get from Walmart. I got the idea from a YouTube video. I bought wooden nest boxes from a local 4-Her, who makes them with his dad.

Since the rabbits have to spend their entire lives living in wire cages, I am trying to provide them with a more enriched environment. I follow the research on this. Each cage has a resting board. I give each rabbit a wooden dowel to chew on. The hay also satisfies their need to chew, while being a good addition to their diet. I'm experiment with providing the rabbits, especially the young ones, with "toys" to play with (round balls that  make noise: cat toys). 

I've also filled toilet paper rolls with hay to give to the rabbits, especially the bunnies. They seem to like them, without making too much of a mess. My next project is to add a jumping platform to the cages. I have an exercise area (filled with hay) on the garage floor that I can let the rabbits explore individually. Mostly, I put the bucks in the pen. They are more docile and trustworthy than the does. I'm also planning to grow hydroponic fodder to off fresh green forage.

The first cage purchases

I haven't figured out my marketing yet. I sold a few rabbits from the first litter before putting the rest into the freezer. There is a processor in Martinsburg, WV, that will process rabbits for $5 a head. I've sold several of the New Zealand Red bunnies for breeding, but currently have rabbits from several litters that will need to be sold for meat. Facebook helps with live sales of rabbits for breeding. I need to contact some live buyers for the meat bunnies. The ease of marketing will dictate how my rabbit enterprise evolves. I'm hoping to make money with my little enterprise, but I know it may prove to be difficult. In 2023, the rabbit expenditures helped to offset the sheep income (for tax purposes). 

Sunday, March 17, 2024

I made it home.

I shared a post about my loss of Crissy in the "I Love My Orange Tabby" Facebook Group. So many people responded. This is the one that touched me the most. Not just for Crissy, but for the other cats I have loved and lost:  Max, Rex, and Jesse. Cats are so special to me. 

My boys

My boys. Oliver and Cash. More special to me after losing Crissy.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Backwards

I haven't had to deliver a lamb since 2022. I assisted a couple of ewes last year, but they didn't really need my help. I just wanted to speed things up. This year, lambing started on March 9, with a single ram lamb. Since then, there have been two sets of twins and four sets of triplets. Another ewe had triplets this morning. #1952 was in labor when I got back from taking my mom to breakfast. But she didn't seem to be making much progress. I pulled her first lamb. It was backwards.

Backwards can be a normal birth versus breech which requires assistance. In a backwards presentation, the hind legs are coming first instead of the front legs and the nose. In contrast, in a breech birth, the only thing that's in the birth canal is the bottom (tail). You have to pull the back legs forward into the birth canal in order to deliver the lamb (backwards). Pulling a lamb out by its hind legs is always risky, because it's possible for the umbilical cord to break before the head is out, in which case the lamb may drown.

The second lamb was also backwards. I had no problem getting it out. It was good I helped the ewe. Clearly she was in distress. Upon delivery, the lambs were yellow, indicating they were in stress, too. After delivery of both lambs, the ewe went to work cleaning them and encouraging them to get up to get a sip of colostrum. They are doing fine. The ram lamb is a big one. 

More Crissy

My Zoom companion


Mom and Crissy

Up on the china closet:  safe from Ty

Undercover Crissy


Max and Crissy, at the vet 

With the new kid (Cash)

Christmas 2023 - my three orangies