Death on the Urban Homestead
By Anne-Marie Miller
Editor’s Note: The Urban Farm U community is made up of conscious eaters, including vegans, omnivores, and everything in between. At Urban Farm U, we have not taken sides on the ethics of raising animals for meat, but hope to provide balanced information from both perspectives so that urban farmers can make that decision for themselves. That being said, we’d like to note that the humane treatment of animals IS very important to us. We hope that, if you do consume animals and animal products, you consider how that animal might have been treated before it reached your plate.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this article. I almost wish I could paint a pretty picture of urban farming success, a beautiful picture of abundant gardens, rabbits and chickens running around under foot, but I want to be real for you. I want to paint the picture as it really is.
When I began raising rabbits, I wanted them to have the best life possible. That meant letting them feel the ground under their feet, the sunshine on their shoulders. Giving them the freedom to dig, jump and have a life that was as close to a wild rabbit that I could provide, while still keeping them safe from harm. This way of life was so important to me.
I raise a heritage breed of rabbit; Champagne D’ Argent. They are named after the province in France that they originated from. They start out black as babies and turn a beautiful elegant silver as they age.
The rabbit pellets of poop that they produce has been a wonderful source of fertilizer for my raised bed gardens!
I have become very attached to my breeding pairs. I have Buddy, who is everyone’s friend. He mates up with Adeline, who was bottle raised as a baby, but has turned out to be an exceptional mother.
The other breeding pair I have is Christopher, who is so clever that he lets himself out of his cage quite often. He is paired up with Dolly, who is so beautiful, but is very scared of human contact. We are working with her daughter, named Mystic River. Every day we take Mystic out of her pen and give her treats and love. It is so much easier to take care of an animal that is not afraid of you!
You can clearly see how my heart has been captured by these rabbits. Everything was going well with them. I had big healthy litters, which I was able to sell to other urban farmers, to help get them started with breeding pairs.
However, as the hot humid weather set in, my story took a sad turn. The villain entered silently stage left…. his name was coccidiosis!
Coccidiosis is a parasite that multiplies under warm wet conditions. It can be introduced to your homestead by something as innocent as wild birds. Once it takes hold in your rabbit’s’ intestines it is game over! Before you know the name of your enemy he has taken out the young. If you are lucky and smart he will not claim the lives of every animal on your homestead. I know that sounds alarming and I have to say, truthfully, that it is. In the last week, I have had to end the lives of the young rabbits in my care to cut short their suffering. This was the single hardest thing I have done as an urban farmer. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I ended the lives of these suffering little ones.
However, my urban farming community came in around me. I am so thankful to the support of my urban farming team! Following is how I fought this insidious enemy:
There are many in-depth articles on the internet listing the symptoms, testing and treatment options for Coccidia.
Short term I gave all the animals (chickens and rabbits) on my homestead Corid (9.6% liquid solution) at 1 tbsp per gallon of water for 5 days. Then, following the life cycle of my enemy, I waited 10 days before administering the same dose for 5 more days. While all my adult rabbits and chickens are doing well, out of 14 kits, I have 2 small survivors left. I also supported these young kits with colloidal silver at half a dropper twice per day and supported their immune systems with On Guard essential oil, from doterra oils on their ears twice per day. My 2 little champions are doing beautifully. I wish I could have saved more. Had I been aware of the enemy early on, I think they could have had a fighting chance.
Tragically, I am not alone in my fight. I have heard from farmers from Florida, South Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that have struggled with this parasite.
How about Arizona, you might be asking? Well, the dry desert temps might be enough to discourage this parasite from multiplying in the soil. However, the sad truth is that all rabbits carry around this parasite in their system. It is only when they are stressed, as from the heat, that it can overload their immune defenses and cause sickness and death. The young are especially vulnerable.
After discussing this condition with many of my online farmer friends, these are the things I will change to prevent this enemy from taking hold in the future.
- Have a shelf on all pens that the rabbits can use to get out of the damp soil in wet times.
- Change to bottle/nipple water systems which will keep water clean at all times.
- Change to feeding tubes that will prevent the young baby rabbits from jumping into and pooping in feed dishes.
- Make ground pens easier to move around homestead to fresh ground. (rabbit tractors?)
- Breed back to back from fall to early spring (ending breeding by the 1st of March in Dallas, Texas so that babies are growing out before the stress of HOT weather).
- Give all animals pumpkin seeds collected from Halloween pumpkins in October as a natural preventative to parasites and intestinal worms.
- Add grapefruit seed extract at 10 drops per gallon of water for 2 weeks twice a year as a natural preventive of parasites.
- Give all rabbits willow twigs and leaves to chew on in the Spring as a parasite preventative.
- Putting apple cider vinegar in water at 1 TBSP per gallon of water for 3 months on 3 months off cycles throughout the year.
While it is tempting to administer a preventative dose of medication in early spring, my vet cautioned me that creating a stronger more medicine resistant parasite is often the result of such a treatment plan.
I am hopeful that I can overcome this enemy. It does beg to ask the question: Can a small urban homestead become overused? Does the soil need time to rest and restore between animal rotations? What are some ways we can restore the areas of a homestead without closing it off as unusable for a period of time?
I would love to have you, as my urban farming community, weigh in on the answers to these questions. Again, I wish with all my heart that I could paint you a picture of rabbits and chickens frolicking amongst one another in health and happiness on the homestead. That is just not my reality at the present time. I am also going to ask you all to please come from a place of compassion when leaving your comments. I know there are all sorts of urban homesteads, some which agree with animal raising and some that don’t. I know for sure this homestead has had its share of heartache this spring/summer. So much so that we have considered throwing in the towel, so to speak. In fact, if you have a word of encouragement, this would be the time to use it. A heartfelt word of thanks, ahead of time, for your compassionate responses.
In the end, we are all in this movement of urban farming together. We are learning from one another’s mistakes and victories. We are determined to provide healthy, humanely raised food for our families and to teach a younger generation where their food comes from!
From our homestead to yours, wishing you a happy healthy summer. Blessings on you and yours, Dash.
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog: BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.