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RABBITS AND REDWORMS- Sustainability Above and Below!

Creme D Argents over worm bin

WORMS AND RABBITS TOGETHER

When raising rabbits if you have a few cages or a large rabbitry you can raise, grow, and harvest worms and compost under your rabbit cages or hutches. Raising worms under your hutches this will help control the smells and insects that can be a problem with the acculmated waste under the cages and hutches. The worms will reuse the rabbit manure and wasted feed from the hutches and turn it into a dark, nutrient-rich, finely-textured humus

Raising rabbits and worms together works so well because the nutrients in rabbit droppings and the wasted rabbit food and hay contains the perfect mix as a food source and as a bedding for the worms.  You can also raise the worms in compost bins or vermicomposting bins using the rabbit manure as a top dressing, for worm feed, and also as a worm bedding. Keeping worms under the rabbit cages also allows you to raise worms for fishing bait, chicken food, vermicomposting and this adds another bartering item you have on your homestead. This helps you to produce another potential source of income from your homestead and also improving your sustainability and another great fertilizer for your gardens.

Growing worms with rabbits is easy, I am in no way a worm expert. This post is what works for me in my rabbitry.  I have found that the best kind of worm to use under rabbit cages is the red worm or Eisenia fetida. They are also known as brandling  worms, manure worms, tiger worms, panfish worms, trout worms and many  other names. But whatever you call them, they are the best choice of worm for under your cages and for composting.

I started by building my worm beds underneath my existing rabbit hutches back in the early 80s.  I dug a trench under the hutches extending 6 inches out from the cages on all sides. Digging the trench about 12 inches deep to make my beds. This worked fine and I raised MANY worms for fishing bait using the trench system.

The rabbit cages should be at least three feet above the worm beds. I have also constructed beds under hutches and cages from 1x12s or 2x12s and putting them on their sides and screwing together to make a raised worm bed under the hutches. This can be built very inexpensively as the wood frame can be made from scrap lumber or pallets. Just try to make the worm bed about 12 inches deep. Remember to make the worm bed itself about four to six inches wider than the hutch or cage area to catch all the rabbit droppings, urine, and wasted feed. You can use the pit or trench system as mentioned earlier. It is best if you can add a base layer of sand or gravel for drainage this is weather you are using either the trench or raised bed method.

Placing 5 to 6 inches of bedding material in the bottom of the worm bed is sufficient for starting the worms. I use a mix of carbon type materials such as shredded paper or cardboard, leaves, hay, straw, and peat moss. Most worm growers prefer peat but I like what I can get around the homestead for free. I have found that the worms will general only use the top 6 inches of bedding unless certain circumstance’s make them go deeper, such as cold weather.

Moisten the bedding with water and let your rabbits do their thing until the surface is covered with 1 to 2 inches layer of rabbit manure. Mix the rabbit manure and bedding material together and wet it down. Rabbit manure is considered a cold manure, but by mixing the carbon and nitrogen materials it will generate some heat due to the natural composting processes, so keep mixing the bedding and lightly water it once a day for about 2 to 3 days.

On the third day, do the hand test by putting your hand into the bed to feel for heat. If the bedding material is hot, keep mixing it once a day until the heat is out of the bedding, Make shure it is cooled before you begin adding your worms into the beds. When the bedding is cool to the touch, you can add your worms. They should disappear immediately into the moist bedding material.

When starting the worm beds you should begin with 200 to 300 red worms per square foot of surface area.  You can add less worms, but they will not  work as effectively at turning the manure into compost. But they will reproduce, and soon you will have pleanty.

If you are raising the worms to sell, do not use more than 200 worms per square foot to allow the worms enough nutrients, room, and food to grow large. People will be lining up for you large trout catching  worms!

Worms cannot eat dry, rabbit manure, you will need to maintain a moisture level so the bedding is just damp enough to squeeze out a drop or two of water when you squeeze it.  Sprinkling the beds with water a few times a week will help to keep the bedding moist, but remember to skip by the areas under the automatic drinking valves, water bottles, or water crocks as they are usually already wet enough. In the summer time, you may have to water once or twice a day if the top of the worm beds dries too fast.

To maintain the worm beds you should add an additional inch of leaves, straw, or hay a few times each month and mix the beds with a pitchfork from top to bottom to avoid packed bedding. I will remove the urine spots from the worm pile with a shovel about once a week. This prevents the beds from getting too salty and hot for the worms. I add this urine soaked bedding to my compost piles. Leaving the urine spots in the worm bed eventually leads to a bad odor and insect problems.

After about six months you can start harvesting worms and saving the great fertilizer your rabbits and worms have made. I do this about once a year, I will remove half of the bed, save some worms and add the rest to my gardens. Then add new bedding just as you did when starting a new bed. Over the next few weeks the worms will move to the new bedding, and the old compost can be removed and sold, bartered, spread over a garden, or set aside to use later.

Do not harvest any worms for at least a few days after harvesting, and be sure to check the temperature and moisture conditions the following day. If the material is too dry or is heating up, water and mix again for the next few days.

If you plan to use your worm castings as a soil amendment, make sure that the castings are kept slightly moist and protected from sun and bad weather when storing. Poor handling, such as storing in areas leached by rainwater,  will result in a loss of the nutrients.

THE RED WORMS LIFE CYCLE

Red worms are hermaphrodites meaning that each worm is both male and female. It still takes two worms to mate as they can not reproduce on their own. When a red worm is sexually mature you will see the bulbous gland around its segments this is called the clitellum it looks like a swollen band about a third of the way down the body. It takes 3 months for a newly-hatched red wriggler to attain sexual maturity. Adult red wigglers secrete a number of egg cocoons after  mating, and after an incubation period of about 21 days, between 4 and 6  juvenile worms hatch from each cocoon. The cocoon is a small yellowish grain almost looking like a grain of rice.  As soon as they are hatched the worms are ready to start their diet of rabbit poop. The hatched worms first appear as a tiny thread like white worm. After about 8 hours they start to gain their hemoglobin and change to a pale pink then turning to a brick red color. It takes up to four months for a healthy and well-fed red wiggler population to double in number.

VERMICOMPOSTING

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to convert organic matter to compost. This process is as old as time. This is happening in the forests and pastures every day naturally. By using worms under your hutches you are creating a controlled system of vermicomposting and you can harvest the worms for bins and the awesome worm castings.

One of the greatest pioneers in vermicomposting was a Michigan biology teacher Mary Appelhof who started the idea of home vermicomposting. In 1972, she realized she wanted to continue composting in the winter months despite living in a northern climate, she started with 1 pound of red wiggler worms, or Eisenia fetida, from a bait dealer. She created a shallow bin in her basement, loaded it with bedding and added her food scraps. By the end of the winter, they had consumed 65 lbs. of garbage and produced worm compost that resulted in impressive vegetables in her garden. Her book “Worms Eat My Garbage”  Is a must have book for the homestead library!  This is a great way to continue your soil production through the winter months. I have a few bins in my basement for holding my worms and composting in the winter, this is my added insurance in case all my outside beds die off in the winter.

WORMS AS CHICKEN FOOD

I have mentioned using your worms as fish bait and vermicomposting, But remember your chickens LOVE worms! It gives them  a great protein intake. I sometime have problem’s with my Silkies digging up the beds and eating lots of my worms . You can harvest a few worms and toss them inside the coops or runs for them to eat off the ground, or put them in bowls. But there’s also a better way to feed worms to chickens. You can choose to dry them, and then grind or crumble them. You can dry worms by placing them under an electric light bulb, in a oven, or inside a greenhouse. When they’re dry they are ready to be crushed or ground up, you can then add the crushed worm pieces as an additive to your usual chicken food supply. By drying the worms they are easier to save as a winter food source. Red Worms as a organic chicken feed can be a good idea for you to promote on your homestead. Even to sell and saving you money on chicken feed. Worm is about 80% protein.

If I have missed anything or you have questions, please leave some comments. I update my post all the time when I get new ideas or information. Join the Rabbit Revolution! By subscribing to my site and checking us out on Facebook

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RABBITS UNWILLING TO BREED- Causes and Cures

Breeding rabbits is typically not too complicated. After all, The doe is the one that does most of the work. She gives her newborn kits all the nutrients they require by feeding them some of the richest milk in the mammal kingdom. The doe will feed her litter once or twice each day for about 2 to 5 minutes at each feeding. They continue drinking mothers milk until they are weaned at 6 to 8 weeks of age.
Rabbits are said to “breed like rabbits,” but this is not always the case with domestic rabbits in the rabbitry. Putting a buck and a doe in the same cage does not always guarantee a successful mating.

Before breeding your rabbits you should always do a pre-breeding inspection looking over both rabbits to make sure they are in good condition. I trim nails and do some preventive natural mite treatment and note any problems with the rabbit. I gradually increase the feed of underweight rabbits to get them in the ideal condition for breeding. Rabbits in good condition, and with the right nutrients can have up to 40 bunnies per doe per year (5 litters a year) or even more in a high production setup.

Pelleted feed is complete at the time of manufacture, but Vitamins A and E are vulnerable to poor or prolonged storage. Both are needed for the willingness and ability to breed. Instead of increasing the pellets, I suggest feeding about a tablespoon of black oil sunflower seeds for Vitamin E and a good handful of dark leafy greens (dandelions, plantain, raspberry,and Kale are fine) for Vitamin A. If the rabbits have never had greens, start with just a couple of leaves and work up to more.

If the doe runs around in a circle, this is not so bad. I’ll let her run a few laps then I’ll put my hand in the cage and stop her for the buck to breed her. Most of the time the doe will accept the buck.

There is a so called shy buck syndrome that happens to some bucks as they do not seem interested in mounting the doe’s, they just want to hang out and check out the the doe and her cage. Some bucks are just not aggressive breeders! The buck may have had some unsatisfactory experiences early on from being bred before he was mature enough. He may have had a mean doe attack him and did not get the reinforcement of a completed breeding, he may have lost interest or confidence. If you have one of these shy bucks, try to build up their interest and confidence by only breeding them with older willing does. After a few of these breedings, the shy buck is often ready to breed any doe.

Some bucks tire out too quickly. They just run out of energy before they can complete all of the running around and miss-mounts that may occur in natural breeding. They may be overweight or need a larger cage to get more exercise. Fat bucks tend to be less interested in the ladies. So give your bucks a bigger cage or put out on pasture for some exercise.

Another problem that a buck might encounter is vent disease. If breeding is uncomfortable for him, he is likely to not pursue it. Since you should be conducting a pre-breeding check, you would find the vent disease at that time. Check the doe’s vulva. We are looking for a pinkish red color to indicate she is receptive. A pale white color is not very promising. If the penis is red, swollen or blistered, do not breed at that time. Treat for vent disease and then retry the breeding. I would use Combi-Pen (Pen B), given subcutaneously at a dose of 1/10 cc per pound, once a week for three injections. Because vent disease can be symptomless except for infertility, you may not be able to catch all cases by examination. This is not to common of a disease but thought I might mention it, but you should ALWAYS do a pre breeding inspection.

I find that both bucks and doe’s are more reluctant to breed in the high heat of summer(July, August, September). You may get better results breeding first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening, in the really hot weather.

Some virgin doe’s take to being bred the first time like pros. But normally, virgin doe’s are much more difficult to breed. They may take a lot more interest in the buck’s cage or become very frightened to be in contact with another rabbit. Sometimes they can try to defend themselves. I will make breeding sessions short until she is bred or becomes more comfortable with the process.

One capful (1-2 tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar per gallon of drinking water may also help doe’s and buck’s get in the mood. Giving doe’s cider vinegar in each bottle of water for a week for a doe who is refusing to be bred should cure the problem. If you breed by moon phases it is said to breed stubborn doe’s just before and during the full moon.

I would say the black oil sunflower seeds works best and I would swear by it takes about 4-5 days of sunflower seeds and they change their minds. I have had success with a small amount of wheatgerm oil on the feed and a small amount of oats. You might also try a change of scenery. Put the rabbit in a dog pen on the grass to contain the rabbit. Be sure they have food, water, and shade out there, and hopefully cover from aerial predators (hawks).Many times the doe’s are so happy to have some running room that they will breed when they would not before. Some times I will put a stubborn doe in a carrier cage and take for a ride in the truck and try breeding when I get her back home.

Also take the buck to her cage but be careful (watch carefully as she may try to protect her territory) as this is not the normal practice, usally you only bring the doe to the buck but this will trigger natural instinct in the doe and may cause her to want to breed.

It has been found that giving the rabbit’s 12 to 14 hours of light will help a lot. This will trigger the pineal gland a may cause the rabbit to think its spring and time to reproduce.

Some people have reported that Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger tea the day before mating has helped the doe get in the mood. It’s one of those “can’t hurt” ideas. I have no statistical information on the effectiveness of the tea, but several people who were having problems getting their rabbits bred are very happy with the results of using it.

Have you tried the cage switch? Put your doe in with the buck as per normal. If they still don’t breed, take the buck out and put him in the doe’s cage, leaving the doe in the buck’s cage. Leave them overnight. Next morning, grab the buck and put him back with the doe. She has by that time had the entire night to enjoy the aromas of the buck and get accustomed to it. Most times this works! (but not always!).

If the doe sits down or tries to climb the sides of the cage, I’ll wait for 5 minutes. If she won’t stand still and accept the buck, I’ll take the doe out and try her again in 8 hours or the next day. And the next day if necessary. If she doesn’t accept the buck, I will wait for a couple of days and try again.

If all else fails first time doe’s can be difficult to breed and some doe’s are forever that way. If you are trying to restrain then place your hand under the doe to lift her hips. There is also a spot on her back (kind of behind the shoulders) that causes a reflex of her raising her hips and lifting her tail. It’s tricky to find but it is there. I have found that most forced breeding do not work as the rabbit is a induced ovulator and the doe will not drop eggs to get fertilized during a forced breeding.

AGE
The biological time clock affects rabbits just like humans. Females typically can be bred for the first time at five months. Males usually reach sexual maturity by six months of age. However, these times vary. Larger breeds are slower to reach sexual maturity and smaller breeds sooner.

WEIGHT
Research has shown the most common cause of breeding problems occur because doe’s and buck’s are under or over weight for their breeds recommended weight. Underweight rabbits may be physically incapable of breeding successfully. Overweight rabbits may not show any interest in mating and can have a hard time becoming pregnant if mating does occur. Establish a “target” weight prior to breeding according to the specific breed standards of your rabbit for greatest success. Adjust the feed intake of your rabbit to maintain an ideal weight.

TEMPEERATURE
Environmental temperatures can affect reproductive performance in buck’s. Temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit can cause heat induced sterility. Keep buck’s in a cool area when used for breeding purposes. The buck’s may remain sterile for up to 3 months.

FREQUENCY
How much is too much? The active breeding life of a rabbit can range from 4-6 years. Females on a more intensive breeding program (more than five litters per year) will be productive for fewer years than those bred less frequently. Frequency of breeding can also affect the performance of males. When used in an intensive breeding program, keep one buck per 10-20 does. In cool weather, fewer buck’s can be used more often. Doe’s that are infrequently bred may become overweight which may lead to breeding difficulties. But most doe’s that are kept bred are the most willing to re breed.

LIGHT
Keep the amount of light constant for 14 hours each day to maintain constant breeding throughout the year.

Be sure your rabbits have reached sexual maturity and are the proper weight and condition for their breed prior to mating. Monitor the amount of food your rabbit eats to prevent overeating and excess weight gain. If a more intensive breeding schedule is desired, a high production pellet formula is recommended. Formulated with extra protein and nutrition it enables does to produce up to 64 bunnies per year (8 litters per year).

Hope this post helps you with any of your unwilling rabbits and may your rabbits breed and produce many litters!