Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Benefits of Keeping Rabbits

The benefits of raising rabbits as small livestock are many, especially if you live in a neighborhood and dream of farming on a miniature scale.  The fact that they require very little space and are quiet is nice for your neighbors nearby, who may never even know you're raising  them.  If you have a fenced backyard you can also let them out to get exercise for a few hours while you're gardening and can keep an eye on them.

The nutrient rich compost gathered from under rabbit cages works perfectly into a small farm permaculture plan, used for top dressing beds and natural fertilizer for the vegetable garden.  It's nice to know that all the feed you buy is utilized and converted into a most useful product.  They also can be bred through much of the year and have short pregnancies of around 31 days.  Housing costs are minimal, you can either find new hutches through your local feed store or look on craigslist for nice used ones.  If you're handy you can easily make your own hutches.  Storing their feed is simple as you don't need a large area to put a bag of food and a bale of hay.  Buying rabbit food through the feed store in 50lb bags is economical, along with buying a bale of good grass hay like orchard or timothy.  These will both last rabbits a long time.

Finding the right breed is a part of the fun, and visiting different rabbit breeders allows you to view a variety of rabbits and their housing set ups, as well as talk with an experienced person who's been raising rabbits usually for some time.  My focus has turned from pet rabbits when my children were small to now raising American Chinchillas and Champagne d' Argents which are both  medium sized meat and fur breed of rabbit.  Typically meat and fur rabbits weigh between 9-12 lbs.  The main focus in our rabbitry is to raise quality purebred and pedigreed rabbits to sell.  I sell them for between $30 to $40 each, if I can sell them for that price they will not be for meat.  If however I have extra's they will be for meat.  We haven't quite gotten over the cute factor on our small farm yet, as you can see they are very cute and personable.  So my goal in our rabbitry is for a little side money along with compost, and an enjoyable hobby.  Will we harvest any we don't sell? The answser is yes, I think it may get easier with experiece.  I am going to research the different humane ways of processing them (I can hardly bring myself to say butcher) but that is the reality on a small farm, and the meat is one of the finest  meats and is very popular in Europe, I will share what I learn about the various methods.

It takes time to set up a rabbitry for breeding.  You can buy quality young stock at 8 to 10 weeks old, this is the most common method.  You need to allow them to mature until they're 6-8 months old before they're ready to be bred.  Study books on rabbits and find out all you can to be successful.  One area where I've really learned is regarding their feed, I was feeding them more like my goats with their daily ration of alfalfa rabbit pellets and alfalfa hay, I gave them dry cob (corn, oats and barley) as a supplement.  An older book on rabbits advised both of these things, since then I've learned rabbits are leaf eating animals, they do much better on a mostly leafy diet, they need to have a daily ration of  quality rabbit pellets, plus I give them additions of dandelion greens, lettuce, carrots, apples and many other fruits and vegetables, but the basic everyday feed should be a high quality rabbit feed around 16 to 17 percent protein, along with always providing grass hay for roughage in their diet, they need all three things, fresh raw foods, rabbit pellets and grass hay.  A good quality grass hay like timothy or orchard is better for them than feeding too much alfalfa, I give them alfalfa as a special treat, or if it's really cold outside.  What they don't need is a lot grain products like corn, which mine happen to love.

The litter of American Chinchilla kits in the photo below is from Serendipity's breeding to Tobin, the buck from China Moon rabbitry.  I kept one doeling and sold the other doeling and buckling to a nice young lady who bought them to start her own backyard meat production.  In addition I have several people now on a waiting list for the next litter, due in about a week. 

The American Chinchilla's I can't say enough good things about, overall I love their personalities and they have beautiful long eyelashes.  In my experience so far they're good mothers and have nice litters.  The ratio that is ideal for me is 3 does and 1 buck.  I keep them outside where they get fresh air and morning sun.


carey said...

Those look like great rabbits! We have been toying around with the idea of having a pet rabbit and to use the manure on our garden. I have never heard of the American Chinchilla breed, but I love the looks of them.

Jewel said...

Hi Carey, You would love this breed, they make wonderful pets.

As a mother who's raised rabbits around young children, I can share this from my experience, if you want your children to be able to handle the rabbit/rabbits the smaller breeds are much easier to handle for them. We had Mini Rex's when my children were young and I still have some, they are calm and easily trained.

Good Luck, and thanks for commenting!

Unknown said...

This is on our to-do list as well! It's impossible to find good rabbit meat at a good price around here, and we love rabbit. Especially in hapsenfeffer. I doubt we'll ever try to sell any for breeding stock; just acquire a few for breeding for the freezer.

LuckyRobin said...

They are beautiful. Are there any books you would reccommend on raising rabbits? I'm more interested in raising them for meat if that makes a difference.

Mich Heywood said...

I love rabbits, always had one when I was a little girl.
Mind you I enjoy eating rabbit now Im an adult. Lol
We have wild rabbits on the farm but no domestic ones.
Im not sure my partner would eat rabbit tho; he has been a veggie for over 20yrs and is only just slowly beginning to eat meat again.
So far beef, venison and sausages & bacon!