Natty Zickuhr

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since Apr 03, 2013
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Recent posts by Natty Zickuhr

Thought I'd weigh in on rearing methods with my limited but positive experience with rabbit tractors.

My friend and I decided when we moved "up North" this past summer to Ashland area in WI that we were going to raise rabbits for food, fur, and the learning process and found ourselves in the housing quandry also. I found some rabbit contacts in the area including an old friend who had been raising rabbits in a rabbit tractor with success. I ended up borrowing his tractor and eventually making a larger one to house more rabbits.

This tractor I designed has the cross section of a child's drawing of a house (think triangle on top of rectangle) and is about 8 feet long. One side is two plywood pieces (for wind/sun/rain screen depending on season) and the other is 3/8 inch hardware cloth. For the bottom I thought about slats but was worried about weasels entering under the gaps at each end. Consequently, I instead surrounded the whole perimeter of the floor with about 5 inches of hardware cloth and had overlapping 2x4 inch mesh wire which sits on the ground. This leaves a pasture of 7 feet by 3 feet for the mother and young housed therein. Hypothetically a weasel could burrow under the hardware cloth, but this hasn't happened yet...knock on wood. (our cats did kill a weasel near the rabbits though!) On one end we have a nest box measuring about 3x3 feet and a foot tall with a hinged door.

This setup has worked remarkably well for us with no sickness (since starting in July) or any adult mortality issues. Pasture was not lacking on a friend's hayfield site, so we moved them around multiple times/day chasing the best mix of grass, clovers, and other good forage. We also fed the rabbits any "weeds" pulled from the garden and fed them about a cup/day of our sunflower seed/bread crumb/oat groat mix that we make up. Our original doe Nightshade kindled first in early August after living in these environs for the second half of her gestation. Nightshade raised nine healthy babies (she killed #10-the runt of the litter) all survivors of which grew with vigor. These young have never eaten pellets and besides the daily protein sunflower mix get all of their calories and nutrients from forage and household vegetable scraps. We routinely give brambles, willow, dandelions, catnip, wild strawberry leaves, lambsquarter, velvet leaf and a ton of other weeds and edge browse plants in season. This setup worked quite well, but we were a bit too slow to move the adolescent gang away from their mother which we learned the hard way when they smothered her next litter Despite this loss, all of the young grew to a decent butchering weight in about 20 weeks. I know that this is slower than a pellet-fed rabbit, but considering their food is largely free, they are consuming a large amount of healthful and medicinal plants, and their organs and internal health during butchering all showed perfect signs of health, I have no complaints thus far.

Now that it's winter, we have the tractor stationary with a tarp around it and about 18 inch deep snow piled over the whole structure but the plywood doors which we keep bundled with blankets. We've also added several inches of straw which we routinely add to and clean out about every three weeks. This winter arrangement has worked well for the surviving rabbits (now four does including Nightshade) though we now need to begin separating them as one of our young does just kindled for the first time (!) and she and her seven little ones need some privacy! Happy news, but we again have a need for additional housing which we will temporarily meet via an XL dog carrier.

Here are a list of my thoughts on the success we've had:
1) Nightshade is a silver fox and her babies are 1/2 sf, 1/4 new zealand, 1/4 flemish giant - Silver foxes are known for doing well on pasture
2) Nightshade, although previously eating a diet high in pellets and corn, was also tractored getting pasture as more of a supplement before
3) We weaned Nightshade off her pellets over the course of a week or two substituting larger and larger portions of sunflower seeds and breadcrumbs before removing pellets all together
4) I believe that all animals need great diversity in their diets for optimal health - pasturing the rabbits on an the old hayfield was the easy solution
5) Using a large mesh floor works well for the rabbits to harvest their own food and still keeps them from burrowing out

Here are some limitations our system has had so far by our reckoning:
1) The tractor took a bit of time and effort to make...we need more!
2) Despite being more room than the average hutch, we feel that these tractors are too small for very many adult rabbits and are ultimately better as maternity wards
3) Having only one nest box means that territorial disputes will enter into the box causing unnecessary stress for all the rabbits.

This upcoming spring, I hope that we will be able to make two or three more tractors each with two nest boxes attached. This would allow us to keep our four does - 2 each sharing a tractor, a buck, and young rabbits all with minimal competition. The buck will be alone only for short periods as he can cohabitate with the does well until they are ready to kindle. In this arrangement my hope is that we would also fence off a larger area to use for an exercise run that would have burrows, and interactive features for jumping, play, and exercise. Does anyone else have plans for a similar "playground"?

6 years ago
from their website:

"Waters Edge Nursery & Gardens is Located on the property of
The Draw LLC, a land-based regenerative community on the south shore
of Lake Superior. We are listed in US agricultural zone 4B with a growing season of 120-150 days. Our plants are well suited for our unique bio-region and most will grow successfully in zone 4 (some zone 3,2,1).

We use only biological controls attempting to create cultivated ecosystem. In our nursery we focus on root growth to produce healthy plants that will thrive in your landscape. We invite you to come and see first-hand our cultivation practices. It is best to contact us to set-up an appointment; though you can just stop by as we are usually around. We
will be happy to help figure out the right plants for your situation.

Plants
We are excited to provide healthy and unique multiple use plants. We
are interested in helping create diverse and productive self maintaining landscapes. To that end we offer the following species.

Fruit: Grafted Apples, Pears both European and Asian, Plums, Quince, Medlar and Sweet & Sour Pie Cherries. Seedling and clonal Juneberries (several species and varieties), Chokeberry, Hawthorns, Bush Cherry, Manchurian Apricot, Sand Cherry, Bounty Plum, European Bird Cherry, Black Cherry, Nanking Cherry, many varieties of Red and Black Currents as well as Gooseberries, Rugosa Rose, Elderberries, many Blueberries both low bush and high bush, many species of Cranberries, Paw Paws, Persimmons, Grapes and many species and varieties of arctic hardy KIWI!

Nuts: We are nuts about nuts and think that any decent civilization must be founded on the mast of the forest! We offer: Northern Hardy Pecans, Shagbark Hickory, Chestnuts-American, Chinese, European and lots of their crosses; Hazelnuts, Filberts, American Beech, Ginkgo Biloba, Carpathian Walnuts, Heartnuts, Black Walnuts, Buartnuts, Butternuts, Buart Black Walnuts, Swiss Stone Pine, Korean Stone Pine, Limber Pine Dwarf Stone Pine (note a stone pine is a pine tree that produces pine nuts), Popcorn Shrub and lots and lots of Oaks.

Groundcovers: Our groundcovers are selected to provide multiple functions. Bearberry, Wild Ginger, Wintergreen, Salal, Arctic Pink Rosemary, Groundcover Raspberry, Comfrey, Cranberry and Ligonberry.

Nitrogen Fixers: This useful class of plants makes it possible for life on Earth. Without these plants the soils of our planet would quickly degrade. All of our nitrogen fixers have multiple uses such as edible and medicinal fruit or animal forage. Most are drought and wind tolerant. Goumi, Seaberry, Siberian Pea Shrub, Buffaloberry, Black Locust, Red Alder.

Shrubs: Leather Leaf, Honeyball Bush, Lemon Grass (great house plant), Daphne, Osage Orange, Oregon Grape, Lilacs and Yuccas.

Trees: Sugar Maple, Red Alder, Cherry Birch, White Ash, Eastern Red Cedar, Tamarack, Amur Maackea, Dawn Redwood, White Pine, Black Locust, White Willow, Northern White Cedar, Basswood, Eastern Hemlock, American Elm as well as all the trees listed under "nuts".

Our catalouge lists and describes in depth all the plants we offer."

It's worth noting that their catalogue has in depth info on each plant and is quite extensive. It can be downloaded on their site as well.
7 years ago
Hey Joy,

Not sure where in Wi you are exactly, but if you are up North, you might want to check out the Draw permaculture community and their Water's Edge Nursery. They maintain a small permie-oriented nursery which includes a who's who of all the good permie trees and shrubs. They're located up near Lake Superior between Cornucopia and Bayfield. They're really at the end of the road from most folks though...and they like it that way! Here's a link to their website and their plant offerings. Cheers!

http://www.thedraw.org/Waters-Edge-Nursery---Gardens.html
7 years ago
Hey Penny,

I'm moving back to the Ashland WI area from Minneapolis in a few weeks...Ashland is along the south shore of Lake Superior and a stone's throw (in rural distances) from MI. I would be interested in knowing what's going on with the planning of the conference as well. Look forward to hearing about it!
7 years ago
Thanks Jordan, that answers most of my question. I'm wondering though based on your response, does this mean that you harvest them in the fall? Or just before they drop their seed? Right now there are a bunch hanging on the trees that have had full exposure to the elements for the last 6 months here in MN. Would these still be viable? Since they're a temperate tree they presumably need some amount of exposure to germinate, right?
7 years ago
There is an apartment complex near where I live with a huge grove of Black Locust trees. In late May/early June the perfume is amazing. Now all of that growth is on the ground in the form of millions of tiny lentil-like seeds. I have fallen in love with this type of tree and their multitude of uses and want to plant a bunch on my future homestead as I'm getting out of the city and into the forest in a few months. So....who's had luck, and with what methods? I have read varying accounts online and thought I'd put it to the forum for advice.
7 years ago
Any reliable info on sprouting avocados would be helpful. I have tried many times and followed the instructions of several websites (basic gist - toothpick pit, lower half submerged, put in warm sunny place)...never any results. All I grow is algae. I've tried peeling the pits, different water depths, adding liquid fertilizer, and burying them in a potting medium. No roots. What am I doing wrong? Is there a minimum germination temp?
7 years ago
Hey Iamme,

I have no doubt that you still have edible nuts under those dried hulls. It'd be interesting to see if they'd sprout or not...I know white oak acorns for instance cannot be dried before germination(these are the ones that tend to germinate in the fall under the parent tree). I think red oak acorns can dry somewhat since they need a period of dormancy.

...Actually as I was typing this I became curious and instead of dumbly speculating, I looked it up. This is an interesting article on planting walnuts. The pertinent info is halfway down:
http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/naturalresources/dd0505.html
By what the article says it sounds like your nuts may not be viable but it does give good ideas about planting walnuts for those interested.

Alright, time to go collect some maple sap and get off the dern internt! Cheers!
7 years ago
As long as they are allowed to properly dry, the walnuts can remain unhulled for some time. If they are bathing in their degrading hull like in a bucket with other unprocessed walnuts, that's another story. I'd say they last a month or so this way but I wouldn't push it. But crack one- if you have had black walnuts before you will know if theyre bad or not. If you haven't, the nutmeat center should be dry and firm and creamy white not yellow or brown, and should taste like a mildly astringent banana-y walnut. Like other walnuts they have a thin seed coat that is light to dark brown. Also, if you harvest them on the ground, there will be small weevil larvae in the hulls that start to appear once they get black. If yours have been sitting for a few months the larvae are probably either pickled or dormant as pupae by now. I think these make it into the hulls from eggs laid on the walnuts once they fall. Regardless, they're harmless, but some more squeamish types might want to process them before they get this far along.

A note on harvesting black walnuts: we don't have many other species of nut trees around here in Mineapolis besides of course some oaks, so the squirrels really go crazy when these things fall. I prefer to harvest them in a nearby park where they are rather spaced out and therefore have a rather large and low spread with the first branches at around 10 feet up. Since I rather enjoy climbing, I use this to my advantage by waiting for the first few walnuts to fall and then scaling the tree and shaking the branches. I try to use my body weight as much as possible to do this because it becomes rather tiring. Usually one or more people are below to pick up the green torpedoes as they drop on them from on high. I think wide open areas with lots of trees to choose from are best because you can find the ones with the largest nuts and harvest those first- they vary widely based on genetics it seems more than growing conditions. The same trees have the same size nuts year after year. For those of you who have harvested small black walnuts and gone through the work of processing them, I'm sure you can relate how frustrating it is to get them all dehulled only to find they're impossible to shell. The big ones not only have much bigger nutmeats, those are way easier to extract. Large ones are bigger than tennis balls and yield half dollar sized nuts.
7 years ago
Like Austin, I've found what has worked for me many times is rolling them under my feet with old sneakers on. I usually collect several bushels in the fall and process them either green or once they turn oozy. I prefer to process them green, but rarely get around to it in time. I pour maybe two gallons out on a concrete surface and use one foot at a time to roll the hulls off. Works pretty well for me. After I dehull them, I throw em in a bucket and when it's two thirds full, I pour a bunch of water over them so they're barely covered. I then take a broom handle or something similar and vigorously stir them, rinse and repeat. This gets enough of tannic ooze off them so that you can safely handle them without dyeing your skin although gloves are important for this. Its helpful for the bucket to be mostly full with walnuts when you do this because the texture of the hulls abrades the hull fragments off better when they're all jammed in against each other. The first rinse can be saved if you want to use it for dyeing wool, hair, or using for vegetable tanning (which is traditional tanning with TANnic acid vegetative matter). The hulls are also an important herbal medicine for fungal conditions, intestinal parasites, anemia, lymph stagnation, and is constitutionally warming among other things.

Seems to me there's no "easy" way to dehull them, but after trying several other methods this has been pretty satisfactory to me. I'd reckon I can dehull 6 or 8 finished gallons per hour (approx. 3 bushels unprocessed).

One question I have to throw in the mix is about cracking. I have found a hammer and a well placed crack to be the most effective way to extract the nut. My buddy dropped 100$ on a black walnut cracker on eBay that was truly disappointing. Anyone have any other techniques?


Cheers,
Nathanael
7 years ago