Purina® Rabbit Nutrition E—Newsletter

FEATURED STORY | Dreams Come True

June Johnson enjoyed showing and raising rabbits and goats, but never expected it would lead her and her husband, Terry, to start Dreams Come True Petting Zoo, a mobile petting zoo that they take across their home state of Arizona.

June has shown several different rabbit breeds at the county and state fair and even traveled to the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) National Convention in Rhode Island several years ago. She also introduced the Velveteen Lop breed to Arizona after bringing some back from a well known breeder in Houston. June breeds French Alpine dairy goats and has maintained the same bloodline since 1975. She was also quite successful in the show ring.

"We kind of lived the hobby farm lifestyle, with chickens, rabbits and goats, so we began doing petting zoos for our grandchildren's birthday parties," Terry said. "We ended up getting phone calls about doing birthday parties from our grandchildren's' friends' parents, and eventually for church functions and school carnivals."

"One night we looked at each other and said, 'duh,'" said Terry about turning their petting zoo into an actual business. That was 10 years ago, and five years ago, Terry started doing Dreams Come True full time.

Terry and June's goal with Dreams Come True is to connect with children as young as possible, which is why they only have small farm animals.

"We don't want anything that's going to scare a 3-year-old," said Terry. "The sooner kids can learn about animals and that they're nice and friendly, the better. The experience will carry on with them and enrich their lives."

One thing that makes Dreams Come True Petting Zoo unique is that the Johnson's can set it up indoors.

"We've done a petting zoo on the showroom floor of a car dealership and can do it on gym floors," said Terry. "We put down large, clean tarps and set up portable pens. When it's time to leave, we roll the tarps up and the mess leaves with us. It allows us flexibility and to reach places other petting zoos can't."

In Arizona, there is a farm curriculum requirement for kindergarten and first grade. Due to budget cuts and the slow economy, going to farms has been hard for schools, and in the Phoenix area there aren't as many farms as there used to be.

"For a quarter of the cost we can get the farm to the school," said Terry. "We do hands on things and answer questions about animals. It's a lot of fun for the kids, and it's a lot of fun for us."

A lot of the schools will have contests between classrooms or contests where if a certain amount of money is raised a teacher or principal will have to kiss a pig.

"Imagine seeing 400 kids with their cell phones out while the principal kisses a pig," Terry said.

Terry and June currently have about 200 animals on their farm outside of Phoenix including 20 rabbits of about 8 to 10 different breeds including Netherland Dwarfs, Flemish Giants, Velveteen, Rexes and Lion Head Lops; about 25 goats, both French Alpines and Nigerian Dwarf miniature dairy goats; 16 to 18 chickens of all different breeds including Polish crested, Cochin, Frizzle, and Silkie; a Bourbon Red turkey, that puffs up and struts for the kids, even letting them come up and pet him; and a few Potbellied pigs.

"Keeping rabbits in Arizona presents challenges, as they need to be kept in a climate controlled barn," said Terry. "We use coolers and misting systems to keep the temperature under 80 degrees."

The Johnsons bring a minimum of 20 animals to each event. To transport this many pets, Terry and June kennel each animal and put them in a 15 passenger van they purchased and removed the seats from, allowing the pets to travel in a temperature controlled vehicle, which is important in the hot Arizona summers.

With school out in the summer and high temperatures near Phoenix, the Johnsons travel to the northern part of state for festivals and arts and crafts fairs.

"We do the Standing on the Corner in Winslow Festival, different art shows in Flagstaff, and arts and crafts fairs in other smaller towns," Terry said. "We get out of the heat, and it allows us to continue in the summer."

The Johnsons feed all their animals Purina brand feeds— Purina® Rabbit Chow™ Complete for the rabbits, Purina® Layena® SunFresh® Recipe pellets for the chickens and Purina® Goat Chow® for the goats.

They feed their baby goats their mothers' milk, but through a bottle so the kids are hand raised and more comfortable with humans.

Since the Johnsons aren't a Grade A dairy they can't sell milk, but give it to their family and friends.

"We've had a few grandchildren that were allergic to cow's milk and formula, so they were raised on goat milk," Terry said. "Our friends also make soaps and lotions, so we give a lot to them to help them out with their business."

The Johnsons give their extra eggs to the nursing homes and assisted living facilities they visit. "I take two or three extra dozen eggs with me so the residents can have eggs from petting zoo chickens the next morning," Terry said.

Initially focusing on children, Terry and June had no idea what their petting zoo would lead to. They've seen amazing reactions when they've visited residents with Alzheimer's and children with special needs.

"You can never tell what it might be that people will respond to, but our bunnies make great therapy pets," said Terry.

At one of their events, a woman with Alzheimer's spoke for the first time in years.

"I put a young bunny in the lap of a lady that has Alzheimer's, and when she felt the bunny she started rocking it and calling it a beautiful baby," said Terry. "It turns out that she had been a pediatric nurse, and the people at the care home were astonished that she became so animated. Some of the aides were actually in tears because they had never heard her speak before."

The Johnson's work with a Christian preschool that normally can't accommodate children with special needs, but four years ago a 7-year-old boy with autism enrolled. Terry noticed the boy was sitting off by himself, so he took one of the small rabbits, sat next to him and put the rabbit so it was touching his leg. After a few minutes the rabbit touched the boy's hand and he began to pet it. Once the rest of the children had gone back to class, Terry and the director, Pastor Debbie, gave the boy the opportunity to pet the other animals.

"The whole experience really seemed to open him up," said Terry. "I got a call from director the next day saying she got a call from his parents. He went home and told them about all animals—which ones were there, their names and what they felt like. This was the one thing he responded to."

His family now owns a dog, cat and a fish. He's mainstreamed into a regular school and does very well with animals in the classroom, so each classroom he's in is required to have a class pet.

"Every time I see Pastor Debbie she gives me an update on his progress," Terry said. "Twenty years from now this is definitely something I'll look back on. It's turned out to be a great thing and it's been a lot of fun."

For more information on Dreams Come True Petting Zoo, visit http://dreamscometruepettingzoo.com.

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RABBIT TIPS | The Effect of Weather Changes on the Health of Rabbits

Everyone loves the changes in the seasons, especially the advent of spring. However, if you're a rabbit, these changes can bring on some challenges that may not make you feel so good. Rabbits thrive on consistency, and they will do their best and are their healthiest when everything is the same. This also includes the weather.

Changes in weather, particularly temperature, affect how much a rabbit will eat. Typically before a cold spell, rabbits will increase their consumption of feed in preparation. If a major storm comes through, even if they are protected in a good weather-proof hutch, they may not consume much food during this time. So when the storm clears and temperatures moderate, rabbits will jump back to their feeders to make up for the meals they missed.

Rabbits are "hind-gut fermentors", with a large cecum. This is where a rabbit will digest their fiber. Digestion is actually carried out by millions of microorganisms. Since the rabbit does not produce the enzymes needed to digest fiber, cecal microorganisms carry out the digestion.

When a rabbit has a consistent feed intake, feed is digested very evenly. But when food intake varies - no feed consumed for a period of time followed by large levels of food intake - the microorganisms do not adjust well. This leads to excessive microbial activity, which produces the proverbial "upset stomach" in a rabbit. Often referred to as "enteritis", the end result, so to speak, is typically loose, sticky fecal pellets or even diarrhea. In severe cases, food intake will drop off and the animal may become severely dehydrated.

If enteritis occurs in your rabbits, there are a few steps you can follow to help your rabbits recover quickly:

  • At the first sign of enteritis, reduce the amount of feed offered. Feeding 1/4 to 1/2 the amount of feed usually fed is a good level to start with.
  • A long-stem grass hay can be offered. Grass hay is high in fiber, and is consumed slowly. This will help stabilize cecal fermentation, which will firm up the loose fecal pellets.
  • After 2-3 days, food intake should stabilize and fecal consistency should improve. At this time, feed intake can be gradually increased to normal levels after 5-7 days.
  • A constant supply of clean, fresh water should be available at all times.
  • If symptoms worsen or persist, or if your rabbit becomes dehydrated, depressed and lethargic, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Besides weather, other stresses like sudden dietary changes or treats, changes in lighting, predators around cages, and environmental disruptions like noises can potentially lead to enteritis. The above steps can be followed to get your rabbits back on track. Feeding a high-fiber rabbit food like Purina® Rabbit Chow™ Complete provides sufficient dietary fiber to promote healthy digestion. Again, rabbits thrive on consistency. By managing your rabbits to promote consistent food intake, you can help avoid the digestive problems.

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GET TO KNOW | Purina® Rabbit Chow™ Garden Recipe® Natural AdvantEdge®

Purina® Rabbit Chow™ Garden Recipe® Natural AdvantEdge® rabbit food is not only fun for your rabbit to eat, but it also provides the wholesome blend of pellets, nutritious vegetables, fruits, and seeds it needs to stay healthy. Its special formula is great for all breeds and ages of rabbits.

  • The Natural AdvantagEdge—superior, consistent, natural* nutrition FREE from all fillers, preservatives and artificial colors.
  • Complete, natural nutrition—requires no supplements.
  • Variety of textures—dehydrated carrots, dehydrated papaya, oats, black oil sunflower and dehydrated celery for healthy teeth and enrichment.
  • High-quality plant protein—loaded with natural nutrients found only in plants that optimize vitality and support immune function.
  • Chopped timothy hay—for optimal digestive tract function.
  • Stringent quality standards—ensures the industry's highest quality ingredients are used.
  • Constant nutrition formulation process—compensates for naturally varying nutrient levels in ingredients for greater nutritional consistency bag after bag.
  • Total rabbit nutrition formulation system—considers all key nutrient levels in ingredients and their interactions with each other to better support overall rabbit health.
As always, when changing your rabbits from one feeding program to another, make the change gradually, over a five- to seven-day period. Mix the new feed with the old, gradually increasing the amount of the new feed (it's always important to allow time for the rabbits' intestinal flora to adjust to any new feed.) Continue to feed at the same time each day—evening is best. Clean the feeding dish daily so uneaten food does not become stale and moldy. And always provide plenty of clean, fresh, cool water to rabbits at all times.

*with added vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients

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