After dog sitting for Jess' parents dog, we saw how well Ultra got on with having a play buddy.  Zen and Dot are older and have earned their relax time at our farm.   Zen has put in his fair share of raven chasing and skunk killing.  And Dot, well, she is moral support and good at it.   So we went on the search for a buddy for Ultra. 

Female guardian dogs are know for getting along better with males.   With Ultra eating 5-6 cups a food a day at only 4 months we knew we wouldn't be able to have another LGD as our fourth dog.  So it was down to either a terrier type to help keep our vermin population down or a herding dog: heeler, aussie, border collie, mcnab blend.  The heeler brought up a concern for nipping.  And aussies, no way did I want another power puff to brush.  We are not your typical "little dog" people, so terriers were seeming iffy.  And I found out that jack russle terriers were a totally no go as they have major prey drive and kill everything small including chickens.  But other terriers, especially rat terriers stick to the smaller vermin. 

So after researching breed traits I had narrowed it down to a rat terrier or the right blend of herding dog.  I wanted to get a younger dog as it is easier to train and acclimate to all our animals.  But not a teenie puppy.  When looking at rescues I was bummed because many of the animals had issues and then the rescue also wanted to charge $300-400. 

So a craigslist scour of most of Northern California began.  I happened upon a listing in Happy valley of rat terrier pups needed homes.  After contacting the owner I told her about our farm set up and asked if the pup, who was a 7 month old Rat Terrier mix, was used to other dogs, cats, and chickens.  With some back and forth emails we both agreed that he seemed like a fit.  Luckily she was willing to share some of the drive and meet us in Williams.  We picked the little guy up and found out his name was Marley.  Our son is a big fan of Bob Marley so we kept the name.  It seems to suit him.

After Marley's the long trip of over 5 hours, the little guy he was tired and out of sorts.  That started the rough intro as Ultra, the not so shy giant, thrust her nose under the car at him with a friendly grin.  But Marley was startled and took off like a jack rabbit, bouncing all over our yard.  After slower introductions over that evening and the next day they were all fine.  In fact, Ultra and Marley soon became great companions.   She tries to use him as a chew toy too often but he holds his own and let her know his limits of rough housing.  She has a hard time keeping up with his fast and furious speed but she is getting faster and stronger.  Last night I peeked out and they were both sleeping on the same dog bed head to head. 

Marley is due to get fixed, with an appointment already set for July.  And then he will start his vermin hunting training with our friends rat/fox terrier Tao.  We also think that with Marleys moms size of 35 lb he has decker rat terrier in him, which would fit with his look.

We can't wait to see what fun these two will have together and are glad that it is working out.  They are both a great pair of farm dogs, both big and small.

Our little pup is getting so big.  She is about 4 months old and learning a lot.  She is working on walking well on a leash and getting used to the chickens.  She has sit, wait and lay down great.  We are still working on her returning when you call her.  Most days, when it get hot...well 80 - 85 here is hot, you will often find her staying cool and out of the sun in the rabbit barn or under our rosemary shrub.  In the picture she is enjoying a treat from Nanas visit. 

She has a new friend coming soon.  We are adopting a rat terrier mix, named Marley, that is 8 months old.  They should be a fun pair of companions.

I wanted to try something new with our rabbit meat and love mushrooms.  So what a perfect recipe to try.  Yes the recipe has a lot of steps and you can adjust some to your level of time and preference.  For example I am not sure I heated the part 2 Marsala wine separately at all.  I also think I made a roux and added the sauce to it not vise versa.  You will see.  I will adjust this as I refine my next attempt later this month, and hopefully take pictures.  PS you can also use chicken ifyou don't have rabbit.

Braised Rabbit With Marsala Wine and Wild Mushrooms

Part 1- Cooking the rabbit and beginning of sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onions
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup sliced carrots
3 cloves garlic peeled
2 rabbits, either whole or cut into serving pieces, I used thighs only for this. (I do 6-8 thighs)
2 cups Marsala wine
6 large dried porcini  mushrooms, or whatever your preference (but must be dried)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (sub 1 tsp dry if you don't have fresh)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter divided

Part 2- sauce and more sauce- completion
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced thinly (or whatever your preference, original recipe called for Shiitake)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups thinly sliced onions
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups Marsala wine, divided
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
Thick soy sauce
Roux brun made with 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Heat olive oil in the bottom of your stockpot or large dutch oven on medium heat. When it is hot, add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic cloves, and cook, stirring until the onion is translucent and everything is fragrant.

Meanwhile soak the dried mushrooms in just enough hot water to cover plus some.  Once re-hydrated remove and chop.  I reserve the juice for adding to the sauce. 

Lay the rabbit down on top of the vegetables, and pour the first two cups of Marsala wine over everything.  Then add enough water to just barely cover the rabbit.  Add the re-hydrated mushrooms, bay leaf, the first measure of thyme, the teaspoon of salt and the freshly ground pepper. Bring to a nice slow simmer, slow braising it the key. Do not allow to boil (most important to cooking rabbit). Turn the heat down and allow to cook uncovered for 1 1/2 hours at the same slow simmer (I cooked for 2-3 hours depending).  Test the rabbit meat–if it is properly fork tender (pulls away from the bone easily but not falling off the bone), remove it from the pot, drizzling a bit of the cooking liquid over it to keep it moist as it cools. 

Turn the heat up on the liquid in the pot and bring to a boil. Cook the stock down until it is reduced by half.

While the stock is reducing, melt the 1 tablespoon of the first measure of butter in a saute pan over medium high heat and allow to become foamy. Then, add 1/4 of the fresh mushrooms, and cook, stirring until they are lightly browned and tender and very fragrant and delicious. Set aside in a bowl. Repeat for the remaining mushrooms, using one tablespoon of butter and 1/4 of the mushrooms for each pan.

Take the second measure of butter and melt it in the same pan you cooked the mushrooms in. Add the onions, salt lightly and cook until they are a deep golden color. Add the garlic and keep cooking and stirring until the onions are a medium brown color and the garlic is golden and fragrant. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of the second measure of Marsala wine. Add the onions and garlic to the mushrooms which are set aside.

The remaining 1 1/2 cups of Marsala wine goes into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, simmer until it reduces by half. Turn off heat and set aside.

When the stock has reduced by half, set a colander over a large bowl, and scoop all of the vegetables out of the stock. Squeeze out the dried mushrooms into the bowl, and then squish the cooked vegetables in the colander so that all of their juices run into the bowl. Discard the dried mushrooms and vegetables, rinse out the colander and line it with cheesecloth. (NOTE: I actually kept the cooked vegetables and mushrooms and put them on top of polenta and then served the rabbit and sauce over it).  Pour the remaining stock into the bowl, straining it into the cheesecloth lined colander. Wash out your pot and put it back on low heat. Add the strained stock, the reduced Marsala wine and bring to a boil.

Heat your roux up in a small saute pan until it is bubbling. Scrape the roux into the boiling stock and whisk like mad until it thickens nicely. Whisk in the tomato paste until it is completely combined. Stir in the sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. If the sauce is too pale, add a teaspoon or so of thick soy sauce.

Remove the rabbit meat from the bones and add to the sauce, making certain to not accidentally slip any bones into the pot.

Stir the thyme and rosemary into the sauced rabbit, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over garlic mashed potatoes or polenta.

This should feed up to six or eight hungry adults.

Modified from a recipe off http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com

Pyrenees have this great ability to get so muddy and dirty and then later they are all white again.  But who doesn't like to have a warm soak anyway. 
We have an outdoor claw foot bathtub.  We were both done and Ultra seemed curious.  Jess plopped her in and she was having a blast, chomping at the water and chasing her wet swishy tail.  Now the problem was getting her out- typical kid.  We got her out and she went right back in by herself.  I was then worried that she would continue this and not be able to get herself out.  Well she flopped out just fine.  She went and dried herself in the sun by the chickens.

Now the only problem is, when we are filling a bath we have to watch out for her thinking it is her turn first.  Silly puppy. 

So I have been keeping rabbits for over 3 years now.  Seems a lot longer than that, but I have learned so much in that time.  Not only from experience but from connecting with other rabbit addicts and from selling rabbits. 

Looking back I have a few things that I would change. 
Location, location, location- We did of course move the rabbits to a better spot with more shade and better weather protection.  Knowing what I know now I would have started there, but putting them in the garden with the ease of moving poop around less made more sense at the time.  We bought a great yard cart so that eased the transport situation.  So lesson here is to start it right.

Replacements- There are a few rabbits that I wish I would have kept.  I had some great Silver fox does out of Hoshi and Galaxy.  At the time I was trying to wean my numbers down.  It is tricky on its own to try and manage space/rotation for rabbits and kits.  But then adding in space for replacement stock is even more so.  Some went into the freezer that I should have kept.  So now when I run across one that is good I hold it back.  If I find that I have done that too often then I can always sell it.  I did that with Yahtzee and her brother.  I kept her and sold him (I always too many bucks).

Mark the date and learn to palpate- A sad thing happen in March.  I had put Panda in with Wasabi during the breeding for 3 other does.  As far I I saw she hadn't lifted and I hadn't seen any falloffs.  I am also not good at palpating so I thought she wasn't pregnant.  When I put nest boxes in I often give a little treat hay (I know I don't do a lot, but they all start making such a noise that I do for those few days).  She never made any sign of hay staching nor digging in her corner.  I awoke on the morning that the other does were due and found 10 good sized kits but there wasn't a nest box so she had them on the wire and only 2 made it.  I fostered some of Yahtzees big litter over to Panda to even out the numbers.  But is was a sad loss, especially when I have lame does like Umi or Indigio that get nest boxes but then dud out and only use them as litter boxes.  So if they had the opportunity to breed then count that as a take.  And I really need to try and keep attempting to palpate.

Listen and Learn
Pay attention and listen to the cues your rabbits give.  If they are not eating then they may not have water or be able to drink.  If a good doe abandons her litter look around to see if there is an unseen predator or situation that is causing stress.  If a rabbit is sneezing then check for snot, wet paws, etc and quarantine as needed.  Most of the time if you catch issues early they can be fixed or at least the rest of your herd can be protected.  Your animals cannot speak but they can still tell you stuff. 

Three strikes or less-
It takes time and money to get a rabbit to breeding age.  So if they don't take the first try, have low number of kits, or loose the litter (even when due to neglect) give them at least a second try.  The general rule for rabbits is 3 strikes and you cull.  For me it depends on the whole picture.  Some I only give 2 chances and some I am more forgiving.  I have two examples.  The first one I had a rabbit that was smaller than I wanted (well technically that is one strike here).  She may still have had some filling out to do but was not even 9 lbs yet.  She took on her first breeding but then only had 5 kits.  She did raise them with no incident but I only could justify keeping her if she had larger litters or her kits were super growers (this being an example, the did not grow incredibly fast).  So I culled her.  The next example is Indigo.  She hasn't had the best breeding takes (she was molting at least one of the times) and she does have around 5 kits per litter.  But she is 12 lbs (not fat but big) and I can foster to her anytime.  Now that I have been breeding her to bucks that are not silver fox she seems to take better as well.  Not sure what that is about...?  But she gets to stay.

Be prepared- Last major thing it to be prepared.  Keep clean fur from molting rabbit or good pullers for does that don't pull any or enough.    Be mentally prepared to cull a kit at any age when needed.  It is hard but it is worse to let them suffer or compromise other rabbits.  And the rule of kits not being dead until they are warm and dead is very true.  Always try to warm a cold or frozen kit, unless it is smashed or squashy looking.

All in all the best lesson is that mistake will happen and the outcome is sometimes excellent and sometimes sad.  But try to plan ahead and then move forward with your past mistakes as lessons.
What happens when you take a great line of hefty rabbits and breed them with an excellent milker that has large litters?  You get a Yahtzee, which is exactly what I named her. 
I have been waiting for my meat hybrid project to yield such results and had the name in the back of my mind for such a rabbit.  Yahtzee, our black doe born out of Tribble by Reishi, was from a litter of 12.  She was 5 lbs 3 oz at 8 weeks and her brother (Fanter as we called him) was 5lbs exactly.  We sold him to some people who needed a good herd sire and I think he will be just that.  Before we sold him we did get a litter out of him with Ophelia.  While it was only 6 kits they are reaching their marks on weight with great success.  Most of them were 2 lbs 3oz at 3 weeks.  The other litters born at the same time are running a 1lb 14 oz or so.  Only time will tell but Yahtzees litter had 11 kits and those are the ones that are around 1lb 14 oz.  They are holding their own. 
Plus this winning rabbit is so sweet and always insists on getting pet when I reach to check her kits.  What a love and an all around success story for our little farm.  It really is the small stuff that can make your day.

We drove to Red Bluff and beyond to get our new little LGD (livestock guardian dog).  She is a sweet little pup that is 7/8 Pyrenees and 1/8 Akbash.  She was the pick of the litter from a group of 5 girls and 1 boy.  Her mom and the rest of her litter were living together in the sheep night pen.  She was learning the ropes of being a good keeper of sheep while playing with her fluffy litter mates and 2 bigger half brothers with Russian names I can't remember. 
So after going over details and visiting with her breeder we headed back the long 4 1/2 hours to bring this girl home.  A few little tummy upsets on our notorious roller coaster roads and much drool later we arrived home at 6pm. 

Our little Ultra had a big meal after her road tummy settles and meet our crew of old "seasoned" dogs- Zen and Dot our border collie mixes.  Friends yet...well no...but patience and plenty of sniffing we will settle for warmish acquaintance for now.  After such an exhausting day much sleep was needed.  So this little puffy of a pup snuggled in to an big fluffy dog bed and started her first night guarding the porch.  ;)  She is doing great with "coming" when called and we are working on "no mouth" when she tries to get too mouthy with her sharp puppy teeth.  The next lessons while reinforcing "come" will be "sit" and "be easy" with the chickens and cats to start.  She is pretty easy with the cats so that isn't much of a challenge so far.  Once we have basic mastery of the P&Q of puppiness we will work on socialization and the scope of the yard and duties. 

ULTRA's name has the meaning of "
on the far side of, beyond.”  But also means extreme or mega which we think this pup will be.  Beyond our expectations of wonderful.

This is Reishi in early spring of 2014, about 4 1/2 as well.
This is his buck with Ophelia. He is only 4 1/2 months in this picture.
Reishi was 3/4 Am Chin and 1/4 Cali, out of Moonshine and Obi.  He was a huge buck and one of my best breeders.  Always quick to duty with 3-4 fall offs within minutes.  If I had a doe being difficult to breed I would always put them with Reishi.  He lost him this fall,  I think to wool block or some kind of digestive issue.  Luckily we kept a couple of his bucks and we are keeping the one above.  He is filling out nice and looks very similar to his sire.   We hope he proves himself to be as good of a producer as his papa.
This is the last photo we have of Reishi. He was 11 lbs. We lost him in the fall of 2014. He is missed.
We have had some interest in the history of our rabbits and their parents.  So we have listed some of our late and great rabbits with stock that we have kept kits from.  This is the beginning of our Hybrid Project of crossing American Chinchillas with Californias.  We have a new Cali name buttercup and are going to cross her with Wasabi our current Am Chin buck.
Obi- pure Am Chin, 10 1/4 lbs. He sired litters with an average of 8 kits. We had to put him down due to an intestinal issue at 3 years of age.
Pocket- pure Californian, 10 1/2 lbs. She had litters ranging from 8-13 kits, with an average of 9.5 kits.
Moonshine- 1/2 Am Chin (sire Obi) and 1/2 Cali (dame Pocket), 11 1/2 lb. While she had an average litter size of 7.6 kits she was my best mother and her kits would reach 5 lbs between 8-9 weeks.
Reishi- 3/4 Am Chin (sire Obi) and 1/4 Cali (dame Moonshine), a solid 11 1/2 lbs and my best breeding buck. He passed away from a respiratory issue in fall of 2014. He sired litter with an average of 10-12 kits. We have kept a buck from him with Ophelia as the dame.

Here are the past Silver Fox we have had.  We have kept a few Silver fox but are mostly focusing on our Am chin and crosses of that.  We have sold off most of our SF stock.  Sebastian to Flying blue dog nursery.  And Calypso, Hoshi and Galaxy as part of a trio to a rabbitry south of us.  
This is Calypso. He was 10lbs and we also had his sire Sebastian, a black silver fox that was 10 1/2 lbs. We sold Sebastian after keeping his daughter, Luna bella, whose dame was Hoshi. She has produced good size litters and is a solid rabbit weighting 10 1/2 lbs. So this would be her half brother.
Hoshi was one of my best fur pullers and milkers. We kept a doe from her, Luna Bella. Hoshi was 10 1/2 lbs. She had an average litter size of 9 kits.
Jupiter was one of our blue silver fox. He was over 10lbs and a good breeder. We have kept a buck from him and Galaxy. We had to put him down due to a severe tooth infection. He usually sired 9 kits as an average.
This is Galaxy. She had an average litter size of 9 kits and was 10 3/4 lbs.