Monday, November 3, 2014

16 Reasons Why You Should Add Rabbits to Your Homestead


To most Americans, rabbits are considered nothing more than cute, furry pets.

While they certainly can be, that is not why they were domesticated in the first place.

Domestic rabbits have been raised for their meat and fur for centuries, leading to the creation of nearly 50 distinct breeds. European rabbits have been bred in captivity since at least Roman times, and is well documented during the Middle Ages in Europe. All our rabbit breeds then, did not descend from American wild rabbits, but the European rabbit.

A photograph showing a Roman mosaic featuring a hare.
[www.show.me.uk]



The average American probably recoils at the thought of eating rabbit, but this is not the norm in the rest of the world. Besides, rabbit is appearing on people's plates more and more, lately.

There is a VERY good reason for that! Well, at least 16 that I could come up with, anyhow.

As far as livestock goes, rabbits have to be one of the best choices out there. They have so much versatility.

Here are only a few good reasons why you should consider including rabbits in your repertoire of farm critters.......


1. Healthy Meat

[foodgps.com]

       One of the main reasons rabbit meat is so highly prized is for its low fat and cholesterol content. Now, us real food fanatics aren't afraid of a little animal fat (or, a LOT in my case). While domestic rabbit is very lean compared to other livestock, they still develop SOME fat on their carcass. And if you think a home-raised rabbit would taste like a wild cottontail, you would be wrong. It's kind of like comparing a backyard broiler to a wild partridge - it's a completely different, very mellow flavor.

Rabbit, or if you prefer the technical French term Lapin, is very versatile, and can be substituted for chicken in almost any recipe.

They are also easier to process than birds, since they don't involve plucking.

2. Fast Turnover Rate

        Rabbits, for the most part, are good at making more rabbits. Meat breeds usually reach breeding age around 6-8 months of age. They can breed year round, and have a gestation period of 31 days. Depending on the breed and genetics, they can have as many as 12 kits per litter. This adds up to a LOT of meat fast! A 10 pound doe has the potential to produce up to 320 pounds of meat every year. At 8-10 weeks, the meaty breeds typically dress out to 2-3 pounds each. A fryer's carcass is  more than 80% meat and 20% bone. If you have 2 does having a litter of 10 kits every month, that adds up to roughly 40 pounds of meat for your freezer! This, of course, is the best case scenario, but you can see the potential. It's hard to beat that with any other livestock, for the amount of space they require.
[www.moma.org]

3. Food For Your Gardens
       

        So far, this has been one of my FAVORITE reasons to have rabbits around. In fact, even if I wasn't raising rabbits for meat, I think I would keep them just for what drops out their back ends. Rabbit manure is what is known as a "cold" manure, which means that you can plop it straight onto your plants without burning them. Or if you want, toss it on your compost pile and let it break down some more. This stuff is BLACK GOLD. 

Even though I've only had rabbits for 7 months, I've seen a huge difference in my plants. I sprinkled it on my potted blueberries, houseplants, herb gardens and vegetable garden. There was a noticeable improvement in plant health within weeks after application.

This stuff has massive healing potential for your land. A homestead meat rabbitry can crank out a good wheelbarrow load every week. This can be put to good use not only in your gardens, but anywhere the soil needs improving. Works like a charm!

4. They are Quiet

       One reason neighbors are put off by livestock is the noise. Roosters crowing, cattle bellowing, goats bleating - this can make a racket for anybody who doesn't enjoy it. (Personally, I think they can just get over it, but you know.....)

This is where rabbits can really be useful. They make very little noise. The most noise they make is thumping around their cages at night (they are nocturnal, after all). If you give them toys (which they really do appreciate, by the way) they can make a fair amount of noise tossing and rattling them around, but that's about it.

You do have the occasional buck who squeals and whinnies when he's making love (very entertaining, FYI), but other than that, these guys are very non-obtrusive. If you live in a suburban neighborhood and set up a rabbitry inside a shed, most people would probably have no clue that you even had rabbits.

5. Low Space Requirements

       In my mind, this is one of the biggest pluses when it comes to rabbits. Currently in my 6' x 12' shed, I have 5 adult rabbits. If I hang a second row of cages I can house as many as 10, including two 36" x 30" cages to grow out the young meat rabbits (or fryers) in. Each grow out cage could hold as many as 10-12 rabbits each (until they are around 8 weeks old). The adult rabbits, weighing around 9-12 pounds, also will provide food when their breeding careers are over. That's a lot of meat housed in 72 square feet!

For large meat breeds (like Californians or New Zealands) you really need at least a 30" x 30" cage. They can live in smaller, but it's nice to give them as much space as you can afford. If you were to purchase stacking cages, you can save on horizontal space in an area like a garage. Housing can be very versatile for rabbits. Don't discount the smaller breeds! You can technically eat ANY rabbit breed. Florida Whites are a small, compact meat breed that take up less space than New Zealands.

So if you are limited in your homesteading endeavor because you live in a suburban area, rabbits are always an option for you.

6. Legal Livestock

        In our country rabbits are classified as "pets" by the USDA. While this can be really frustrating when seeking veterinary care, it has huge benefits for homesteaders stuck in the suburbs.

[www.backyard-rabbits.com]
If your rabbitry is artfully hidden within buildings or obscured by fences and hedges, nobody would be the wiser that you are raising healthy, sustainable meat for your family.

7. Low Overhead

        While there is certainly cost to be considered when getting started with rabbits, it is generally much lower than that of hoofed animals like beef cattle or dairy goats. Breeding stock in larger livestock breeds can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. While prices can vary quite a bit depending on who you're buying from or what you're looking for, you can usually buy good meat rabbit stock for $30-50 per head. Housing is pretty much the biggest expense for rabbits. You want to invest in good cages and a place to keep them out of the weather and away from predators. Still, this is chump change compared to the housing needs of larger animals.

8. Make a Little Moolah

        While you shouldn't expect to get rich quick with rabbits, they do have a TON of marketing potential. They can easily pay for themselves in many ways, and possibly line your pockets with a little extra. Here are a few ideas:
  • Manure: Gardeners LOVE this stuff. You can dry it out and sell it by the bag, sometimes for a pretty penny. Try selling it at your local Farmer's Market or get in touch with a Horticultural Club. I can guarantee you will find somebody to buy it. That is, whatever you're willing to part with yourself.
  • Meat: I almost hesitate to include this one since the laws vary so much from state to state. I wouldn't want to steer you wrong in any way. Typically, at least in my state, you can sell live animals and then offer to process them for your customers. If you start selling frozen, processed rabbits to the public or to restaurants, you're going to need a USDA inspected facility, which opens up a whole other bag of worms. Not to say you couldn't pursue this, but there will definitely be costs to consider. In some cases, you may even be able to barter your rabbit meat among your homesteader friends for food or services.
  • Breeding Stock: This is why you should invest in the best rabbits you can afford. You will always have extra rabbits to sell. Even if they aren't pedigreed, you can still get a decent price for your meat stock. You may even come up with a line all your own, combining different breeds to get the traits you want. Just know that purebred animals will usually sell easier and for more money.
  • Pelts: The market for pelts will vary depending on where you live, and if you want to sell them to commercial suppliers, you're going to need only white pelts and a lot of them. You could consider selling your pelts to local craftsman as well.
  • Wool: Wool breeds or "woolers" as they're called, can add another bonus to your rabbitry. You can typically harvest about one to two pounds of wool annually from a French Angora, for example. You could try selling raw wool, but if you are handy with a spinning wheel, you could make yarn skeins to sell to local spinners. If you know how to knit, you could create lovely, soft products to sell.
  • Pets: This is one way to sell the animals that don't have the best breeding traits for your rabbitry. You must know, however, that most people looking for pet rabbits are wanting the dwarf breeds. Large breed rabbits can be difficult to sell as pets.
This is just the beginning! Get in touch with your inner entrepreneur and I'll bet you can come up with even more ways to make a little money with your rabbits. 

9. Composting Worms

[ourfarmthisweek.com]
Worms can add another layer of sustainability to your rabbit operation. You can build raised beds under the cages to catch the manure, as well as any food or hay that gets dropped underneath. Buy yourself some red wrigglers and voila! you have worm beds. It's a little more involved than just throwing them in, of course. It takes a little extra management, but this can turn into yet another profit venture. (This is something we plan on doing in the future.) You will have the Platinum Label of garden fertilizer: worm- composted rabbit manure. It doesn't get any better than that. Plus, you will have worms to sell as well (fish bait, anyone?).

10. Easy to Handle 

        Because of their small size, you don't have to have heavy duty equipment or huge muscles to move rabbits around. Not to say that rabbits can't bite and scratch the fire out of you (been there, done that), but you don't need a big cattle chute or a dozen people to wrangle a rabbit. Even children can usually handle them with ease (supervised, of course).

11. Break Out The Spinning Wheel
[www.thetimes.co.uk]
Another option for your rabbitry is to select wool-bearing breeds. In addition to meat and all the other valuable by-products, you will have some super soft prime wool to sell or turn into some nice hand-woven articles.

12. Get a Little Tanning Practice
[www.motherearthnews.com]
Rabbit hides can be sold or turned into clothing or crafts. Tanning rabbit pelts doesn't take nearly as much space as large livestock hides. Plus, the raw pelts store very easily in the freezer until you are ready to use them

13. Raw Food for Pets

        For those of us who like to feed our pets a natural raw diet, meat rabbits are an added bonus. The offal, heads or other parts you don't like will be graciously enjoyed by your dog or cat. If you are feeling generous you might even offer them a whole rabbit from time to time.

We also happen to keep snakes that are used for educational programming. Their regular diet is home-raised rats, but any stillborn kits or young rabbits that die from other causes can help supplement their diet as well.

14. Show Potential
You may even wish to venture into the world of rabbit showing, if it's something that interests you. It is much more laid back and less cut-throat than dog showing. Rabbit people for the most part, aren't in it for the trophies or monetary gain. They're just a bunch of normal folks who like to show off their rabbits. You will need to invest in show quality animals, of course. One mantra that rabbit breeders live by is "breed the best, eat the rest."


15. Kid Friendly

        You don't have to worry about kids getting gored by horns or trampled by hooves when you have rabbits. They are naturally quite appealing to children anyhow, because of the cuteness factor and that soft, soft fur. Rabbits can be a great way to introduce kids to raising their own food and learning the responsibility of animal husbandry.

16. It Can Be Fun!     

        I inserted the words "can be" just because ANY time you raise animals it ain't all smiles and rainbows. Each species carries its own shortcomings and frustrations. You will certainly experience trial and error, as well as the sorrows of the learning curve.

Ouch

Heck, just seven months in and I've had just about every problem a rabbit raiser can have.

Despite all of that, I really enjoy my rabbits. I love walking outside and handing them tidbits from the yard or garden. Just being around them is relaxing and refreshing.

Looking forward to my first litters (I hope) here in a few weeks, I can't wait to really get this rabbit coaster a rollin.'

Rabbits may just be the perfect homestead critter.

So why not give rabbits a try?


7 comments:

  1. Very thorough post; thanks. We no longer have rabbits, and quite honestly what I miss most is their poop! We used to dump it into the compost, where we also toss the chicken poop. I didn't think losing the rabbit poop would make much of a difference, but it did. Our compost decomposes much more slowly without it.

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    1. That's interesting about your compost. I wonder if it has anything to do with the gut flora of the rabbits, since they are a hindgut ruminant. Their poop is some amazing stuff!

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  2. This is such an interesting post!! I have goats and chickens, but have considered raising rabbits quite a few times. I would love to raise them for meat but they are so cute I think I would struggle with slaughtering them! After reading this though I may just have to look into them again for fiber...and poop. Homesteading sure is all about the poop, isn't it?! Thanks for the great post!

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    1. Killing cute things isn't much fun. But luckily, I can always get the hubby to do that part if need be. :) French Angoras are a nice breed, if you don't mind regular brushing. Sarah Cuthill at fmicrofarm.com has got some good info on them at her webpage if you're interested. Thanks for stopping in!

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  3. I love my bunny and the bunny berries he gives me for my garden!

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  4. We have just started on our rabbit journey and are enjoying it very much. We will vsoon have four or five rabbits to process.

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