One of my favorite animals to raise is the rabbit. Rabbits are inexpensive to purchase, inexpensive to feed, and provide food, fur, and fertilizer.
My sons are grown up now but when they were young they raised show and meat rabbits. Their years of experience were invaluable to me. Although the rabbits were their responsibility I helped with many of the chores and even ended up showing my own rabbits.
One of the things I liked about rabbits, aside from the fact that I love the way they taste, is that their droppings can be used as fertilizer immediately. Unlike cow manure and most other manures, rabbit droppings are not “hot.” This means there’s no waiting for it to be useable. It will not burn your plants. And it’s one of the best manures I’ve found! Some people prefer to compost rabbit manure before using on vegetables but I’ve never experienced a problem with the fresh manure.
Rabbit manure builds your soil’s structure. It improves the porosity, allowing water to penetrate easily and allowing roots to spread more easily. It holds nutrients for plants as well as other organisms in the soil. Worms and beneficial nematodes love it!
Being able to harvest and use rabbit fur is a little more complicated but worth it. Rabbits hides can be used for clothing, toys, blankets, and more. You can even make and sell your own rabbit foot charms!
The meat of rabbits is exceptionally high in protein and low in fat. This means you can eat less and get the benefits of eating larger portions of other meats. Rabbit can be cooked in the way that any other meat can be prepared. You can fry it, stew it, use it in soups, and even make jerky. Our continuing series on rabbits will feature recipes.
It’s easy to start raising rabbits. You just need a few things.
If you’re keeping your bunnies in a safe place like your basement you can simply buy cages. If the rabbits will be anywhere a predator (like raccoons) can get at them be sure they have a totally enclosed area they can retreat to when needed. Don’t leave your rabbits on a solid floor (all wood) because it will get really wet with urine quickly and then you’ll end up with rabbits with infected feet and respiratory illnesses. Keep rabbits in separate cages. A male in a female’s cage will get beaten up by his lady love and two does won’t get along that well either. The Animal Welfare Act gives these requirements for floor space based on the weight of the mature rabbit:
|Breeds weighing 4.5 to 9 lbs||3 sq ft|
|Breeds weighing 9 to 12 lbs||4 sq ft|
|Breeds weighing over 12 lbs||5 sq ft|
Water bottles are better, in my opinion, than bowls. Water doesn’t benefit your bunnies if they spill it. Bottles for rabbits are just like the ones for hamsters but bigger. You’ll also need feed dishes but, again, be sure they attach to the cages or are heavy enough not to be tipped over.
You’ll need to feed your rabbits and that means a good quality rabbit pellet. Try not to buy the pet store stuff. It’s usually lower quality and won’t provide your rabbits with the nutrients they need to stay healthy and produce babies. I would advise finding an ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) show nearby and talking to several breeders about feed. Not all brands are available in all areas.
Kitten nail clippers work really well to keep the nails trimmed. If you don’t trim your rabbits’ nails they’ll grow long, curl, and eventually they can actually grow back through the foot. At the very least, long nails can easily be torn out and cause your rabbits pain and bloodshed.
Meat rabbits (those raised to provide the maximum amount of meat for the age of the rabbit) are considered “Six class” rabbits. That means that, for showing, there are six classes: Junior Bucks, Junior Does, Intermediate Bucks, Intermediate Does, Senior Bucks, and Senior Does. To start, consider purchasing one buck and two does of Intermediate or Senior age. These rabbits are either ready or near ready to begin to breed.
The most popular rabbits raised for meat are the New Zealand followed by the Californian. Given proper feed, cage space, and water these rabbits reach a weight of about 5 lbs (fryer size) 8 – 10 weeks after kindling (birth).
A nest box is necessary for breeding rabbits. The doe will begin to pull fur from her belly shortly before kindling and place it in the nest box. There are a number of companies that sell nest boxes but we’ve always built our own. A good example of a nest box can be found at www.azrabbits.com.
In future posts I’ll discuss breeding (how to breed your rabbits, determining if your doe is pregnant, preparing for kindling), butchering, recipes, and everything else you need to successfully raise rabbits.
As always, if you have questions or comments we’re happy to hear from you!