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Kittens and Chickens and Bunnies, Oh My!

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

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Vin and Elend

Ashley and I (Nick) had been wanting to get farm cats to control the rodent population on the farm. We got an almost immediate response after posting on a local farm-related Facebook group that we were looking for kittens. A local family had two 8 week old kittens that needed to be rehomed. The young woman seemed very eager to get rid of them. We arranged a time and place to meet that afternoon. When I arrived the couple told me they had gotten the kittens for their 1 year old son, but he was very rough with them and tried to rip off their heads! They had just gotten them from someone a few days prior and decided it was best to find them a new home. The kittens were handed over in a box with a blanket and food dish that contained some dry cat food. When I got home Ashley said to me, "I don't think these kittens are quite 8 weeks old. They aren't even able to eat this food!" These little ones were very small and lethargic. Luckily we had some canned cat food in the house. As you can see in the photo above, they ate it ravenously! We're pretty sure they hadn't eaten in days.

After filling their kitty tummies they became playful and full of energy. We named them Vin and Elend. These are the names of two of the main characters in the Mistborn trilogy. I had been a huge fan of the books for several years and recommended them to Ashley. After she finished the series we decided that our first female and male pair of guardian farm animals would be named after these brave protectors of Scadrial. These little kittens will protect Riggin Farm from rodents and several other nuisance animals. We took them to the vet as soon as they had an opening. It turned out that they were only 5 weeks old! These poor babies should have been kept with their mother until at least 8 weeks of age. They got a clean bill of health except for a few fleas which we got a topical medication to get rid of them. At 8 weeks old they will have a follow-up appointment and receive their first round of shots. We are thankful that we could rescue them from what might have been an unfortunate fate!

Vin and Elend are strictly outside cats. They are living in one of the greyhound crates we got for free from Southeastern Greyhound Adoption. A heat lamp keeps them warm at night, and they're free to roam around our back deck during the day. Once they get a little older we'll move remove their heat lamp and move the crate to the underside of our deck. They'll be free to roam the entire property but still have a safe place to sleep at night near our home. These sweet kittens have already formed an incredibly close bond to us and love to play and cuddle. We are absolutely in love with these little felines!

New Chicks and Lots of Eggs

Our order of baby chicks arrived from Hoover's Hatchery on March 4th. These birds will be raised specifically for meat. We received 25 Cornish Cross and 10 Rudd Rangers. Our last batch of meat birds consisted of 26 Cornish Cross. We ordered 25 but got an extra for free! Those came from Meyer Hatchery. They were running a one-day sale for $1.00/chick with a minimum order of 25. The original plan was to only get 10, because we were still at our old house at the time and didn't have much room to raise more than that. When the chickens were almost 5 weeks old we sold 10 of them as live birds for $5 each. With the price of the chicks and the feed they consumed we profited $2.46 from each. $24.60 isn't much considering our processed chickens at 8 weeks old profited us $17.33 each, but we didn't have the space to grow out those additional birds. That batch of chicks was raised in our mobile chicken coop from the day we got them until the day they were processed.

These new chicks are being raised in three brooders that we made out of the same type of dog crate the kittens use for their home. The hinges were removed and the doors were fixed into place to become the floor of the brooders. An approximate 20" section from the center of the crates was removed to shorten them when tipped onto the fixed door. The backs of the crates that consisted of 12 gauge steel wire became the door/roof of the brooders and was attached with door hinges. We lined each of the floors with weed fabric, because the doors had several vent holes drilled into them. This will prevent their bedding from falling through and creating a mess. When the dog crates had been fully transformed they were placed on some scrap pieces of wood to raise them off of the ground and prevent flooding them when it rains. Baby chicks like to stay dry! We are using the deep litter method to keep them clean and sanitary. Thin layers of pine shavings are used to cover their mess every few days. We will empty and clean out the brooders when the chickens graduate from them and move into the fenced area on grass. Our ducks and current egg laying chickens were raised in a similar way, and all of them are still alive and well seven months later. These babies should do fine as well.

The Cornish Cross chicks were split into two brooders, 12 in one and 13 in the other. They have a 250 watt heat lamp to stay warm, plenty of chick starter feed, and clean water at all times. This particular breed is what is most common in grocery stores across the United States, because of their extremely quick growth rate and a disproportionately large breast. In America, most businesses want to make as much money as quickly as possible without regard to quality or the impact on human health and/or the environment. Those commercially raised chickens live in an 8 inch by 10 inch cage for about 6-8 weeks and don't see natural sunlight until they are on the truck that takes them to be processed. Just like people, chickens need a healthy diet, exercise, and natural sunlight to be healthy. Our birds are raised outside their entire lives and have access to fresh grass, forage, and bugs once they move out of their brooders. These animals live a more natural life with us than they ever would at a commercial chicken house.

The Rudd Ranger chickens are Hoover's Hatchery's version of the Red Ranger. They are based out of Rudd, Ohio. See what they did there? This is a slower growing meat bird that will take 12-14 weeks to get to the same weight that the Cornish Cross will reach within 6-8 weeks. We are purposely raising these chicks in a separate brooder and feeding them from a different feed bag. This will allow us to track the expense of raising them versus the Cornish Cross for meat production. Another reason we wanted to try this breed was to see if there is a difference in meat quality. They have a more proportionate body and should yield an almost equal amount of white and dark meat. Many people find raising Cornish Cross to be a cruel practice, because they grow so quickly that they can develop health problems. An unhealthy chicken does not make for healthy food. The slower growth rate of the Rudd (or Red) Ranger prevents such ailments. Our Cornish Cross actually have the room to get some exercise and not develop the health issues that occur in a more large scale commercial setting. In fact, we have a Cornish Cross chicken, Big Bertha (another rescue), who is almost a year old and still thriving. Other farmers, homesteaders, and backyard chicken enthusiasts that we talk to are shocked that she has lived this long. She is just some of the proof of how well we take care of our animals. They live better lives on Riggin Farm than anywhere else!

Our 16 egg-laying chickens have been consistently giving us about a dozen eggs every day. We get white, brown, green, olive, and blue eggs from our hens. Every dozen we sell has at least one of each color. We got these blank egg cartons and attach a custom label on each one. As part of our effort to promote sustainability, we ask that our repeat customers bring back their empty cartons when getting a fresh dozen. This packaging is not cheap, and it is much better to reuse it rather than sending it to a landfill. Easter is coming soon, and buying from us will save the time and money of coloring eggs! Not only are they beautiful, but they are more delicious and nutritious than anything you'll find at the supermarket. The cherry on top: you know that these are the freshest eggs when you buy directly from the farm!

Bunnies of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Zelda, one of our Dutch rabbits, had eight babies on December 30, 2021 and was a very good mama. She had three black, three brown, and two grey kits. Some had short fur like her, and some had longer fur like their father, Hugh. He's a Dutch/Lionhead cross and kind of goofy looking. Thankfully, he produced some absolutely beautiful babies. As you can see in the picture above, one of them was born with part of its ear missing. A young woman who visited the farm fell in love with this unique little guy and took him home with her. The grey one was the last bunny from this litter to find a new home, and now this hutch is currently empty.

Po, our black and white Dutch rabbit, had five babies on Valentine's Day. They all look just like her. These babies have gotten a lot of interest, and we've already pre-sold one of them. They'll be ready to leave mama in about a week from the time of this entry being posted. These sweet babies will be moved into the empty hutch at about 5 weeks old. They can safely be taken away at 4 weeks, but we like to give them that extra time to ensure they're going to be fine on their own.

Madeline had eight cute babies on February 20th. This part of the farming business has been fun and relatively easy. We have made our money back on the original investment of our breeders, wire cages, feeders, and waterers from the bunnies we've sold so far. Our rabbit business will be officially profitable after selling these babies plus a few more litters depending on their size. We currently pay less than $15 for a 50 lb bag of feed that lasts about month, so one bunny sale per month puts us ahead. Our four females have all had between two and eight babies each. Their gestation period is about a month, and we give them two months after birthing before breeding them again despite being ready six weeks sooner. We like giving them a little break. At this rate each female will have an average of four litters per year. Sixteen litters of about 5 babies each should give us about 80 or more new bunnies every year, and about 70 of those bunnies sold will be pure profit. This is a small portion of our farm business and won't yield much revenue, but it's a little extra for not much more work or space. Their manure is also great for the garden, saving us money on the cost of fertilizers (and its organic). Raising bunnies is definitely going to be a part of this farm for many years to come!

Soil Blocks and Seedlings

We start the majority of our seeds in soil blocks. These blocks are made with screened soil, coconut coir, perlite, compost, and a little lime. Water is added to the mixture until it forms a brownie batter consistency and then hydrates for at least an hour. We use soil blockers to create these uniform cubes with a hole for the seeds. With soil blocks, roots are air-pruned and transplant shock is greatly reduced when moving seedlings into a pot or the garden. They're also more environmentally friendly because of the reduced need of plastic cells or pots to start seeds. This method is amazing for gardeners growing on any scale. The one time investment of the equipment is well worth it, especially with the increased germination and growth rates we've seen compared to seeds started in plastic cells. Transplanting is not only better for the plants, but it's much easier for us as well!

These hibiscus plants had already grown so much after only five days from the seeds being planted in the blocks. They have been growing under our indoor grow lights. This setup has been crucial to get a head start on the growing season with our crazy north Georgia weather swinging from the high 70s to the low 20s on a weekly basis. Young seedlings are fragile and most can't handle the freezing temperatures at all. Within the next few weeks we should expect our last frost, and we will be able to transplant everything into the garden as well as sow more seeds directly into the garden beds. We'll be starting to sell at the local Farmers Market at the end of April, so we are very excited to watch everything grow over the next several weeks and months as we begin this new chapter of our farming journey!

Grass Growth

We have done so much over the last year and a half to transform our property from a pine forest into a farm. There are still years worth of work to do to get it even close to our vision, but we're dedicated to making this dream come to fruition. A logging company began a clear cut of the property in November of 2020 and finished in just 7 working days. They left a 40' perimeter of trees around the property lines to give us a buffer of where we can do various things without encroaching on someone else's land. They also left a 20'-40' buffer on either side of our creek, but that was because of the complications and dangers associated with doing the work in those areas. A huge mess was left for us to clean up with just our little tractor. Fast forward to November and December of 2021, and we rented a mini-excavator and skid steer to pull up stumps, clear debris, and grade a few areas of our property. There were all sorts of problems that came from that, as you may have seen in several of our YouTube videos.

About a month ago we had 20 tons of lime delivered for us to spread and till into the soil to raise the pH. Although most grass seed that you buy comes with a coating of lime, we wanted to ensure that the grass flourished and all future growth would have the perfect growing environment. We spread grass seed at the front entrance of our property and around the chicken & rabbit area. We used both clumping and creeping fescue as well as annual and perennial ryegrass. The chicken area also got a pasture blend that contained fescue, ryegrass, orchard grass, white clover, and red clover. About two weeks after we spread the seed we noticed a little growth near the northern side of the chicken fencing. A few days later we got some sprouts on the southern and eastern sides. We were a little hesitant at first about planting grass seed this early in the year, but it's been doing well so far despite a few below freezing mornings. We'll be posting tons of pictures and videos as the grass continues to grow. Subscribe to our YouTube channel, because there will be a new video coming out on March 14 that'll update you before we make another blog post.

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