Vela Creations is an in-depth resource for off grid living. The site documents our research and experiences, hoping that they might help others interested in pursuing this lifestyle. This blog is designed to document our day to day experiences as we build our new, sustainable homestead. If you are interested in seeing more photos and videos, we have a flickr account at the following url:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rabbit drama

The last couple of weeks have been extremely eventful for us as far as the rabbits are concerned.SANY6207

First of all, Abe went out to see them one day and the mama of a two week old litter was jumping all around, flopping about and just generally freaking out. Abe looked at her wonderingly and there on the floor was a huge rat snake with a white baby halfway down its throat. Abe killed the snake, but it was too late for the baby. We normally only kill a snake if it is right up near the house and poisonous (rattlesnake), but we also cannot allow a non-venemous snake to take up residence with the rabbits. It was so big (4 feet) and beautiful though that I skinned it and have been tanning the hide. Today is the last day of painting both sides with a glycerin/alcohol mix and it'll be ready to use. When this all happened, we took Leo out to the rabbit shed to show him - we are trying to install in our fearless ranger a sense of fear in some things, you know, like rattlesnakes. Ever since then, he'll periodically say in a tiny, sad voice, "Poor rabbit" and then shout angrily "Bad snake!".

SANY6090The next major event was the twelve week birthday of our first litter. We kept two females and one male, but the other four met their end. I won't post photos of this process, as some of you I'm sure do not want to see it, but don't forget, this is the reason we are breeding rabbits! We dropped Leo off at a friend's house, then processed the four young ones. We are tanning their furs too. While Abe did the grimmer side of the affair, I helped skin and then cleaned the skins and put them in a water/acid/salt mix. They have now been there for a week and as soon as I finish this post, I will go and peel the flesh off the furs and then they'll go back in the acid for another week. If it all works out well, I plan to make quilts, purses, etc. out of the fur. For the past week, we have been eating rabbit, cooked all kinds of ways, and it is truly delicious.

Two days later, we noticed Obama - our prettiest and biggest female - dragging her hind legs around. We thought that maybe she had just jumped wrong after the stress of the snake, but we seperated her from the others just in case. The next day, one more, Kiwi, had the same symptoms. Abe did some research and figured out what the problem was. They have a parasite called Encephalitozoon cuniculi (EC). Apparently over 80% of all rabbits have it, but only 15% ever show symptoms. We have started medicating them with a drug called Panacur and after three days they have already got some use of their legs back. They will be on the medication for three weeks and we're hoping they will fully recover. We will also be medicating everyone else too, as they probably all have it, and the medication does not harm them even as a preventative measure.

SANY6202We also made an outside pen for the babies that have been weaned. Right now we have just two females that are breeding, so there aren't that many babies at one time, but we will be putting two more females with a male this month. At the moment, there are only three young rabbits in the pen, but they love going outside, and they have a tree to play under.

SANY6190Just so that we end on a positive and happy note, Coco had five more babies the other day. They are precious (although they don't start to be pretty until they're a week old). Reina and Coco have now had two litters each since being here (the first of which happened right after they arrived at our place). For a while we were thinking that all the other females might have been bred, as Frisky got into their pen last month. But though his name is fitting, he was either too young or not in there long enough, and noone had any unplanned babies.

For more photos (none of butchering), click here.

Solar Food Dehydrator and food preservation

SANY6171 This week, Abe made us a solar food dehydrator, an essential component of any self-sufficient homestead. It has a see-through top and front, metal sides, and space for 4 trays, 4 feet by 2 feet each. It has screened air vents at the top and bottom so that hot air rises up through the produce, pulling out the humid air and thus speeding up the drying time. It is great. We got a couple of hundred apples from a neighbor the other day, so it has already paid for itself. We can dry 40 apples at a time in two partially cloudy days. For photos of the dryer being made, click here.

Anyone that has a garden knows that when something is producing well, you have way more than you need or want. For example, the first squash of the season are so exciting and so tasty, but after eating squash every meal, every day, you're almost happy to see the plant dry up.

The key with this imbalance of food is to preserve it in some manner or other, so that you can eat it during winter. There are several ways to do this, each with their own advantages.

Drying is my favorite, as it conserves a lot of the original nutrition and taste, and I consider it safer than canning (which might just be that I'm fairly new to canning and am a little afraid that I won't do it right and will end up poisoning my family!). You can then store the dried produce in cans, bags, containers, whatever. They don't take up much space and will last a long time (provided that you dried them properly). We use the dried fruit as snacks, eaten as is. Vegetables can be rehydrated in soups or eaten like chips. It is truly amazing what you can dry, and how well the flavor is preserved.

SANY6206We can some things. Canning keeps the moist quality of your produce. For example, we pickled and canned some cucumbers a couple of weeks ago. They are delicious, and everything, including the dill, came from our homestead.

We don't have a freezer yet, so not an option for us, although we would probably only freeze meat, and only for a short amount of time.

SANY6181Another great way to have fresh food in winter is to grow things that naturally last, like winter squash. I still have one winter squash left over from last year! We have now collected the first of our pumpkins.

We are still slowly building up our homestead, and each year we increase our systems. We look forward to having the pantry ready for next year and being able to fill it in the main growing season.

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