Baby Bunnies and the Chicks

Moonstone, the new angora rabbit doe I acquired last month, gave birth on 10/13 to a litter of three babies.  They are healthy, well fed little guys.  Mama bunny made a nice warm nest for her fawns with hay and fiber she pulled from her tummy.  I  supplemented the nest with fiber from a supply I keep just for the purpose.

Here is mama bunny Moonstone, shortly after she arrived at the farm.  And below is a shot of the proud father, Marble, my albino angora buck.  I’m not sure why this litter is so small.  Rabbits usually have 5-9 babies at a time.  The doe was maiden and not too thrilled by the mating process.  The pair only mated a few times that I observed, so perhaps that’s why she had only a few fawns.  I’m very happy with what I got!  At least one of the babies is showing signs of developing darker hair than white, so fingers crossed I get a nice sable or chocolate doe to keep.

Proud daddy Marble

In other news, the September hatch of Ameraucana chicks is now four weeks old.  The chicks are well feathered.  The oldest chicks (one day ahead of the youngest) are starting to sprout feathers on their heads.  These babies are very active.  They spend the day alternating between filling up at their feeder and running off to free range in the hedges and over the lawns.  I think they will be well ready to face the cold weather once winter arrives.  To date we have had less than ten frosty nights.  The temperature has not gone below about 30F.  The days and nights continue unseasonably mild.  That’s fine with me and my barn full of babies!

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Velvetleaf

Here is a new plant to me, one I’ve never seen on our farm or anywhere else.  I discovered this foot-tall specimen growing in the turf near the gate to the horse paddock.

A search with Google images led to identification as Velvetleaf, Chinese jute or Indian mallow, a member of the mallow family native to China and possibly India.  It was brought to America in the early 1700s for use as a fiber source in rope manufacture.

Since then the plant has escaped into the wild and become a pest of various crops, particularly corn and soybeans.  It seems to have several scientific names, the most common being Abutilon theophrasti.  Velvetleaf is edible and in Asia the plant and seeds are part of native cuisine.  

The velvet name is due to the very soft texture of the heart-shaped leaves.  Feels almost like moleskin it is so fine.  The large, strange seed pods or fruit attracted my attention.  The plant also has yellow-orange flowers up to 1″ across.  All the flowers were closed on the specimen I found.

I suspect the seed for this plant either dropped off the tractor of the local farmer who helps me spread manure or possibly came in grain for the chickens or horses.  Velvetleaf is found in midwestern cornfields and a tough-coated seed could have sneaked into the processed grain then passed through an animal’s digestive system intact.

Following my policy of identifying any new plants found on the farm, I realized Velvetleaf would be an unwelcome addition.  It is a prolific seeder, highly competitive with other plants.  The last thing I need is another invasive weed.  I pulled little Velvetleaf and popped it in the garbage before the seeds could mature.

Vintage Hull Art Pottery Bowknot

This recent thrift shop find is a rare sugar bowl by Hull Pottery in the Bowknot or Bow Knot pattern.  It was made between 1949-1950.  This short production run is likely why such pieces are hard to find.  Hull began producing art pottery in the 1920s and by the time this was made they were in their art heyday.  I love the organic lines and lovely muted colors of this pattern.  And who can resist the adorable bow on top?

This is a large sugar bowl, measuring about 5″ high with the lid.  The base can hold a lot of sugar, at least a couple cups!  The sugar bowl is part of a set that includes a teapot and creamer.  Due to the rarity, these pieces can get pricey.  The glaze is called matte but feels smooth and satiny to me.

My find has a 1/8″ chip in the foot and light, fine crazing over most of the body inside and out.  Crazing usually occurs when the glaze and body cool at a different rate after firing.  The glaze shrinks too quickly and something has to give.  I actually do not mind crazing most of the time.  When stains get into the craze, I’ve found that soaking in a strong bleach bath will greatly reduce the stain.

This is what makes scouring thrift shops, flea markets and yard sales such a fun adventure.  I acquired the piece for less than $6, cleaned it up a bit, and have it listed for sale for $30.  A somewhat nicer example with less crazing and no chips sold for nearly $70 recently, so fingers crossed!

Painted Lady Butterfly

It seems to be a good year at the farm for butterflies.  Little yellow Sulphurs are everywhere.  I have seen several Monarchs.  The past few years, Monarchs were becoming rare sightings.  Perhaps the nationwide attention and emphasis by private individuals on planting milkweed has helped this species.  Another butterfly that sometimes feeds on milkweed is the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui.)  This insect has orange wings with black and white markings.  There are four eye spots on the outsides of the bottom wings.

We have a good supply of Painted Ladies this year.  Here at the farm the caterpillars feed on thistle, mallow, milkweed and aster, among other plants.  They are not such specialized feeders as the Monarch, perhaps helping their numbers to stay more plentiful.  The Painted Lady larva need to finish munching on the fall asters soon, turn into butterflies and head south.  The very mild weather we have been experiencing the past week, with near-record warmth, will not continue.  The butterflies migrate all the way to Mexico to over-winter.  They need to get started before the frosts come to Maine.

Already our tree leaves are turning color and beginning to drop.  There has been no frost yet, but the decreasing light has triggered the trees’ autumn show.  As long as the heat continues, the zinnas will bloom in abundance in my vegetable garden.  When frosts hits, they die immediately.  Painted Lady butterflies seem particularly fond of zinna nectar.  I often find several of these insects on the flowers at one time.

Sunday the temperatures soared to near 90F, yesterday we hit 86F at the farm and today promises more of the same.  This is idyllic weather for the two week period that comprises the life span of the adult Painted Lady butterfly.  As they begin their trip south, the insects will continue to feed, mate, lay eggs and die.  The progeny will progress toward warm Mexican winter homes, sustaining the Painted Lady population for another year.

Smooth Carrion Flower

I found this plant last year.  It grows on our land along a rock wall in partial shade beside an orchard and pasture.  The bunches of berries caught my attention.  Two days later I returned to photograph the plant and all the berries were gone!  This year when I spotted it, I took pictures immediately.  The plant is called Jacob’s Ladder or the Smooth Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea.)  It is a member of the catbriar family although it has no thorns.  The large bunches of berries provide an attractive display in the early fall woodland.  This particular vine is at least eight feet long.

The plant is an herbaceous vine that dies to the ground in fall.  It is a perennial native to Maine and the eastern half of the US and Canada.  The Smooth Carrion Flower is distinguished from other species of Smilax by the lack of hairs on the underside of the leaf and by the very long stem that holds the berry bunch on the vine.  The vine grows up to eight feet long, supporting itself by curling tendrils around the stems and branches of woody neighbors.  The plants are dioecious, meaning they are either male or female.  One of each sex is required to produce fruit on the female plant.The leaves are somewhat shiny and heart-shaped.  The plant’s name is derived from the smell of the globular bunches of greenish-yellow flowers.  They stink like rotten meat.  The scent attracts carrion flies, the main pollinator.  The round berries average 3/8″ in diameter and are a deep purple-blue color.  All the parts of this plant are edible.  It is browsed by deer.  The berries are eaten by birds and small mammals.  The shoots and tendrils can be consumed raw or cooked like asparagus.  The berries are edible.  They may be made into jam or jelly.  A gelling agent can be extracted from the root.  

It is too late in the year to find shoots or young tendrils on the plant.  I tasted a raw young leaf and found its flavor very leaf-like (haha!)  The berries I tried were dry and pulpy inside, not juicy.  They tasted bland and vaguely sweet.  The berry skin has a mild grape-like flavor to me.  I don’t know if the berries may be juicy earlier when they first ripen, I suspect not.  There are six seeds in each berry that resemble grape seeds.  The berries stained my saliva deep purple.  I suppose if I were starving in the woods, I would welcome a belly full of the berries, otherwise, they aren’t very exciting to eat.  They are nice to look at.

The native Americans used the plant as food and medicine.  Root extract is said to analgesic and the leaves were used as poultices for burns and boils.  Early American settlers used the root as an ingredient in root beer along with some parched corn, molasses and sassafras.  I prefer not to devour the plant.  It’s better to let it grow to provide seasonal interest and food for wildlife.

Fall Chicks

Usually people think of chicks hatching in the spring.  There is no reason why chicks can’t be hatched right through September here in Maine.  By the time real cold weather arrives the young ones will be two months old, fully feathered and ready for frost.

I acquired a lovely new silver Ameraucana rooster in August.  There were still eight laying hens active in the coop, so I decided to collect eggs and try to get some offspring as soon as possible.  The babies hatched out yesterday through early this morning.  Seventeen new chicks have arrived here at Phoenix Farm.  They are so cute and very robust birds already.  They do not seem to require as much heat in the brooder as some of my hatches.

Four of the babies are black and the others have the chipmunk markings typical of the silver Ameraucana variety.  Some of the photos have a slightly more yellow tint than real life due to the light bulb in the brooder.  The little ones are mostly fluff at this point.  The thick down helps keep tiny bodies warm.  They typically sleep cuddled up to each other.  If they spread far apart to sleep, they are too warm.  If they try to sleep standing up, the temperature in the brooder is too cool.  The chicks resting in the above photo feel just right.

I have read that it is possible to tell the gender of silver chicks by their markings.  The females are said to have sharp, well defined caps on their heads while the males have more blurred, indistinct marks.  Using this information, in the photo below, the baby in the center on the feeder would be female and the one right behind her would be male.  I’m going to count how many of each I have based on the markings.  It will be interesting to see if this is an accurate method of differentiation.  Right now I can’t reliably tell the sex of a chicken until they are about 2 months old.  At that age the little roosters tend to show larger combs and brighter feather patterns.  Even at two months, I get fooled at least 10% of the time. It would be very convenient if the silver chicks have sexual dimorphism.

In a week the chicks will be old enough to go out in the barn.  I’m hoping the very mild weather we’ve been experiencing for the last few days holds through the end of September.

Meet Moonstone

Yesterday I was just messing around on Craig’s List after I posted a couple ads to sell chickens when I saw a listing for an angora doe rabbit.  Something about the ad spoke to me, maybe it was the part where the seller said she just didn’t have time for the rabbit.  I had been noticing that my only rabbit, Marble the buck, has been acting lonely.  He is accustomed to having other rabbits around for company.  So I messaged the seller and drove an hour to pick up a new doe for my rabbitry.

What a pleasant surprise to see the bunny’s pedigree and discover her color is chocolate!  The seller didn’t know what shade the rabbit was and the pictures in the ad made her look black.  I’ve been longing for a chocolate doe since my lovely one passed away several years ago at the age of eight.

Not such a nice surprise was the condition of the rabbit’s coat.  When she said she didn’t have time for an angora, the seller meant it!  I think she was in way over her head.  Caring for an angora takes dedication.  She also brought the rabbit in a bin lined with shavings.  Anyone who has to brush an angora does not put it on shavings.  The bits of wood tangle deep into the hair.  I gave the lady her money, popped the rabbit in a paper-lined cage and brought her home to the farm.  On the drive home I decided to call her Moonstone.

The coat had obviously not been groomed in months.  Angora rabbits need weekly brushing to remove loose hair.  About every three months the entire coat is shed and must be removed.  Otherwise it turns into a giant mat.  That is what happened to Moonstone.  I would not be surprised if there were as many as three sheddings matted on her body.  The felted fiber was three inches thick!

I set to work on her with some sharp scissors and my fingers.  The way to remove mats is to get your fingers between the rabbit’s skin and the clumped fur.  Then it is safe to cut the mat away above your fingers.  After thirty minutes the bulk of the mess was gone.  There was a shopping bag full of matted fiber!  Moonstone seemed very happy to be clear of her padded hair coat.  She tossed her head the way happy rabbits do and hopped around looking for a treat.  Other than the mat coat, the rabbit is in good condition and seems healthy.  There are still a few small areas to de-tangle.  A job for later today.

Moonstone’s pedigree says she is one year and three months old.  She is a cross of French, English, German and Giant angora, quite an interesting mix.  I would say she most resembles French with the face clear of furnishings.  I love her fluffy ears.  Last night and this morning I let Moonstone and Marble sniff each other at the buck’s cage door.  This morning Moonstone wanted to hop in with him so I let her.  In no time they had mated twice!

I will put them together again this afternoon and tomorrow to make sure she ovulates enough to create a full litter.  Fingers crossed there will be some babies in a month!