The Wonder of Rabbits!

Hello from Clanton Creek Rabbitry! We are a 4-H family involved in raising pedigreed English Lops, Holland Lops, and English Angoras for 4-Hers and rabbit enthusiasts here in Madison County. We have been raising rabbits for over 40 years, and enjoy learning about different breeds and new trends in the care of rabbits. 

If you are thinking about adding a pet to your family this spring, why not consider a rabbit? Rabbits are easy to care for and come in many sizes, colors, and fur types. They can be kept indoors or outside, and are usually easy to litter train. Rabbits can coexist happily with other pets (ours live with dogs and guinea pigs), and can be taught to do tricks.

The diet of a healthy rabbit includes good quality rabbit pellets, plenty of timothy hay, and fresh water. Our rabbits also enjoy treats such as apple, carrot, and pineapple chunks, raw spinach and kale, and blueberries or strawberries. We make a homemade “bunny booster” to add to their daily feed ration that includes old-fashioned oats, black oil sunflower seeds, and calf manna. This combination promotes a shiny coat and a healthy digestive tract. 

We breed our pedigreed does once a year in the spring after they reach one year of age, but it is possible to rebreed does every 12 weeks year round if their body condition remains good.. We have found that many does need multiple tries at motherhood before they become comfortable with it. Hormonal changes can sometimes make does moody, so care must be taken in handling them during breeding season, gestation, and for the first few days after giving birth. 

Baby rabbits are called “kits”, and are born nearly hairless and blind. Smaller rabbit breeds usually have 2-4 kits, but larger breeds (such as our English Lops) can frequently have 10-12 kits. The kits grow rapidly; they are usually covered in soft baby fur by day 3, eyes open on day 10, and eating rabbit pellets at 2 weeks old. Our kits stay with their mothers until they are at least 9 weeks old, although the does usually wean them between 5 and 7 weeks. Siblings stay together until they are are 4 months old, and then we separate the genders to avoid accidental inbreeding.

We would encourage anyone considering adding a rabbit to their family to research different breeds, sizes, and fur types. For example, our Holland Lops are small (3-5 lbs) with gentle personalities, while our English Lops are large (10-15 lbs) with quirky, mischievous attitudes. Our English Angoras are laid-back and easy to handle, but their long wool coats require frequent maintenance. Currently, many of our local 4-H exhibitors enjoy Rex rabbits (Standard or Mini) for their super-soft fur and endless variety of colors and patterns. 

During the Madison County Fair, you will find 4-Hers exhibiting their rabbits in either a 4-class or 6-class format. Fancy rabbits are divided by age into junior does and junior bucks (10 weeks to six months old), or senior does and senior bucks (six months and older) and compete against other rabbits in their breed class. Commercial (meat) rabbits are grouped similarly with the addition of an intermediate class for 6-9 month old animals. This year we are also adding a “pet rabbit” class for rabbits that have been spayed or neutered. 

Rabbits are hardy creatures and require minimal preventative care to keep them healthy. We worm our rabbits seasonally with liquid wormer, and watch for excessive scratching, which can indicate mites. The occasional runny nose or chest congestion (called “snuffles”) is easily treated with oral antibiotics. Their toenails can be trimmed with common fingernail clippers.

Rabbits can thrive in colder weather as long as they have a dry, draft-free environment, and can be comfortable in warmer temperatures with fans, frozen treats, and plenty of fresh water.

In conclusion, here is some rabbit trivia! Did you know that rabbits can growl? Many of my smaller rabbits (especially does) make a grunting noise deep in their throats that sounds like a growl. It can occur when they are happy, hungry, or feel threatened. 

We hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the things we have learned about rabbit-keeping over the years. Thank you! 

Heather Jamison and Marshall Eddleman 
Clanton Creek Rabbitry, Winterset Iowa

Miniature Horses

Have you ever seen those little horses at a show or in a pasture? They melt your heart and are so adorable. Many people think they are only lawn ornaments with no purpose. That is FALSE! I want to share some information with you that may change your mind about these mini’s. The correct terminology is miniature horse not miniature pony. They stem from over 400 years of selective breeding in the lineage of Quarter horses and Arabians. There are a variety of colors. They must stand no taller than 34” and weigh on average 225-350 lbs when full grown. They can have a lifespan of 35 years. The oldest miniature horse on record lived to be over 50 years of age.

Miniature horses can be used in the show ring. There are multiple classes to show these unique animals in. Halter classes judge on the conformation of the miniature horse. They are shown in classes with other miniature horses like themselves. They can be shown in showmanship classes where the judge is judging how the handler shows the miniature horse. They can do obstacle courses in hand. This means that the miniature horse is led around the different obstacles and is judged on how easily the miniature horse moves through the pattern. There may be bridges to cross, gaits to be changed, backing experiences between poles, and other more challenging obstacles.  There are classes for in hand hunter/ jumper, costume, and liberty. The liberty classes are extremely interesting to watch. They show how responsive miniature horses can be to owners that take the time to train them in this freestyle musical class.

Driving is another common class for miniature horses. They can pull up to 3 times their body weight. The miniature horse should be at least 4 years of age prior to starting these competitions to avoid health risks. They can be entered into many different types of driving classes depending on what your preferences are. The training begins at an early age with ground work and it builds from there each year. There are videos available online to show the different competitions for driving classes. I was surprised to see a barrel race driving class and chuck wagon multi-hitch competitions.

The American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) was begun in 1978. This allowed competitions amongst those who love this amazing creature. These small equines are very calm and adaptable to many different types of classes. If you would like to learn more about these incredible creatures visit the AMHA.

AMHA – American Miniature Horse Association, Alvarado, Texas

In recent years, the ADA allowed miniature horses to be service animals. In the past only dogs could be a service animal. The ADA has made provisions for miniature horses that qualify in the following areas:

  1. They must be housebroken.
  2. They must be under control of the owner.
  3. The facility must be able to accommodate the miniature horse’s size and weight.
  4. The horse’s presence does not present a safety concern for the facility.

If interested in more information about miniature horses and their service capabilities, you can read more about it at this link. 

Miniature Horses as Service Animals – Anything Pawsable

Miniature horses need to have a balanced diet. They should not be overfed since that can cause issues not only with internal organ function, but also increase chances of lameness. As small equines they require the core vaccinations such as Tetanus, Rabies, Eastern and Western Influenza, and West Nile immunization. It is important to do regular dewormings, hoof care, and teeth floating. They can develop a dense winter coat, so it is important to monitor their weight during the winter months. It can be difficult to see weight loss with that heavy coat. They enjoy hay and grain just like the larger horses but be certain to consult with someone experienced with mini horses to help you know what volume is appropriate for them.

Many years ago when my kids were younger, my father decided to bring these adorable miniature horses to his place. My daughters got to enjoy an afternoon of loving on them. They were so excited to be able to interact with them. We had seen them in pastures before but were never able to interact with them. I could not resist a photo opportunity.

If you are looking for a unique family pet, miniature horses can fit the bill. Be careful though…just like dogs….it is hard to have just one.

Llamas and Alpacas

Kelsey Gerwig, a Winterset High School graduate who is now in her sophomore year at the College of Veterinary Medicine is our guest blogger this month. Dr. Lonna truly appreciates Kelsey’s contribution since her knowledge far exceeds Dr. Lonna’s. We intend to feature different species during the 2021 year. There may be other guest bloggers during this year. Enjoy Kelsey’s blog and photos. Dr. Lonna sure did. 

One of the first questions we always get about our llamas is, “Do they spit?” Llamas and alpacas can both spit and use it much like how horses bite and kick, cattle and goats head butt, and dogs and cats growl and hiss at each other. They use it to establish a pecking order in the herd, to keep others away from their food, as a defense mechanism, and to keep annoying males away. Occasionally people get stuck in the crossfire especially during feeding time. In rare cases, they will spit at people, but it is because you are doing something they don’t enjoy or they weren’t properly handled when young. The next question we usually get is, “Are these llamas or alpacas?” The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at their ears.  Llamas have long, curved, banana shaped ears whereas alpacas have short, straight, pointed ears. Llamas are also double the size at 250-450 pounds versus alpacas 120-200 pounds.

Llamas and alpacas are members of the camelid family and originated in the Andes Mountains of South America in Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. They were domesticated from their wild counterparts the guanaco and vicuna 4000 to 5000 years ago to be used as a beast of burden and for the fiber and meat. Today llamas and alpacas have a variety of uses.  Both can be used for their fiber which is softer, warmer, and finer than sheep’s wool. It is hypoallergenic so not as itchy as sheep’s wool. Llamas can produce 3-4 pounds and alpacas 6-8 pounds of fiber a year which can be spun into yarn and used to make socks, scarfs, gloves, sweaters, blankets, and rugs. They can be shown at the local fair and at regional and national shows throughout the United States. Classes include conformation which judges what the animal looks like. The conformation classes are divided into 5 fiber types for llamas and 16 fiber colors for alpacas. Fleece classes judge the animal’s fiber. Showmanship classes judge how you show the animal. Performance classes are divided into 3 classes, obstacle, public relations, and pack. Each of these classes has 10 obstacles which can include jumps, bridges, gates, water, backing, tunnels, petting, and many more. Some shows also have cart driving classes where the llama pulls a cart around and through obstacles. Well trained llamas and alpacas can be used as therapy animals and can be taken into hospitals and nursing homes to bring the patients and residents unlimited joy. Llamas can also be used as a guard animal for sheep, goats, and poultry. They will bond to their flock and protect them by alerting them to danger. They will protect from coyotes by either chasing them off or by stomping and biting them until dead. Lastly, llamas can be used as pack animals to carry hiking, camping, or hunting gear in and out of the wilderness. Llamas are very sure footed and have a low impact on the environment because of the soft pad on the bottom of their feet. Llamas can carry a third of their body weight which is about 80-100 pounds of packed items.

Llama and alpacas are relatively easy to care for and quite hardy. Llamas can live 20-25 years and alpacas live 15-20 years. They are a herd animal and do best when they are together as either a pair or more. They need a few pounds of good quality grass hay or fresh pasture, some grain, free choice minerals, and fresh water daily. Llamas and alpacas need a basic shelter to get them out of the rain, wind, snow, and hot sun. One great characteristic of llamas and alpacas is that they use a communal dung pile which allows for easy cleanup of the barn and pasture. Routine health care includes trimming their toes about 3-4 times per year, deworming them either monthly or seasonally depending on the expected parasite load, and giving them an annual CD/T vaccine or 7-way or 8-way vaccine. One of the biggest parasite concerns for llamas and alpacas is Meningeal worm or Parelaphostrongylus tenuis which can be readily found in the white tail deer population and rarely causes signs or clinical disease in deer but in llamas and alpacas it travels through the spinal cord causes stiffness, muscle weakness, circling, paralysis and eventual death. Treatment of this can be effective if it is started early in the course of the disease. It includes multiple dewormers, anti-inflammatories, vitamins and minerals, supportive care and physical therapy. Llamas and alpacas also need to be sheared yearly to harvest their fiber and keep them cool in the hot summer months to prevent heat stress. Signs of heat stress include staggering, reluctance to move, open mouth breathing, and high body temperature (Normal is 99.5 – 101.5°F). Shearing the middle or barrel of the animals is a great way to help prevent heat stress because it allows ventilation to their belly and armpits. On very hot days, fans, wading pools, and cool water sprayed on their legs and belly can also help to keep them cool and comfortable. Llamas and alpacas do love to sun bath and will lay out on their side just soaking up the sun. They look like they are dead. We have had people stop by thinking they were dead. Gestation is 11 ½ months for llamas. They will have a single baby called a cria. Llamas are induced ovulators, much like cats and rabbits, which means they will ovulate only after being bred. Llama crias are born weighing 20-30 pounds and alpaca crias weigh 14-18 pounds, and it takes about 3 years for them to reach full size. Males crias should be weaned and separated from females at 5-6 months of age to prevent unplanned babies. Most breeders geld males around 18 months. Between 2 and 3 years of age males will have their fighting teeth emerge. These are 6 sharp pointed canine like teeth. They use them to bite at other males and cause serious injuries. These should be trimmed.

Overall, llamas and alpacas are easy to take care of on a daily basis. They are a very versatile animal and bring great joy to both their owners and others who get to interact with them.

https://www.alpacainfo.com/academy/about-alpacas

http://www.shagbarkridge.com/about.html

https://secure.lamaregistry.com/

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