Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Raising rabbits on our homestead has been such a joy for me, personally. It is a livestock that can be inexpensively taken care of, and is easily handled, processed and cooked. Not to mention, rabbit meat is making quite the comeback in modern cuisine in the United States and Europe. Rabbit is, in fact, one of the most common meals that our ancestors ate, and thousands of groups of people all across the world still thrive off of rabbit meat as their main source of protein.
I'll be honest, though -- raising rabbits wasn't always a joy for me. I wasn't really keen on the idea of raising rabbits when my husband first mentioned it. To think that I would have these tiny little bunnies one day, and dinner in the freezer the next, didn't quite appeal to me as a woman who loved cuddly things. But the more my husband talked about it, the more I became intrigued.
• Rabbits are high in protein and in most cases, can replace chicken in your diet. They are completely all white meat, with little to no dark meat. Many times, you can replace chicken with rabbit in almost every chicken recipe.
• Rabbits are 90 percent more effective to process. It takes 5 to 10 minutes to process a rabbit, where it can take 30 or more minutes to process a chicken -- depending on your methods.
• Rabbits are more cost efficient than chicken and other "livestock". They are much easier to raise and very independent. When put on pasture, there is little cost in feed. However, if you live on a property without pasture available, that's ok too - feed cost is still quite low for the production that you'll need. Their diet primarily consists of hay (orchard grass and timothy hay) and feed (pellets or organic mixes). As well as other all natural treats (carrots, greens).
• Rabbits aren't considered "livestock" in most cases. This means they are a great option if you live in a subdivision or have a small backyard or an apartment with outdoor space. We live on a half acre (currently looking for more acreage) and know others that live on less than a 1/4 acre and raise their own rabbits for meat.
• One to two does (female) can produce offspring that can bring in up to 300 pounds or more of meat per year, depending on the breed and care they receive.
• Most does are amazing mothers and raise their own kits (babies) — no incubator or brooder necessary. Rabbits are also very easy to breed, only taking 30 minutes per breed.
• Rabbits do not need an abundance of land to roam on. They are happy in "play areas" and in their cages when interacted with regularly. Most of your breeding rabbits will become like pets.
These were just a few reasons the thought of raising meat rabbits lured me in.
We first began our meat stock with Flemish Giant rabbits. They are what we refer to as the "gentle giants" in the rabbit world. In order to get a good meat offspring, the Flemish does needed to be bred with another large, but less boney, breed. We found that breeding our Flemish does to a slightly smaller New Zealand or Standard Rex buck really made for a fine meat rabbit. The key is always to make sure your buck, no matter what the breed, is smaller than your doe. This allows the doe to have a better pregnancy and less chance of her babies being too big for her to deliver. With Flemish rabbits, this also allows your doe to have larger litters.
If you are in a small apartment setting, I cannot suggest Flemish Giants for you. I'd consider something such as the Standard Rex or New Zealands. Flemish Giants can weigh well over 15-20 pounds when full grown, and they need a lot of cage space in which to roam, especially mamas.
After choosing your meat stock breed, you'll be able to tell after the first two litters how quickly you'll be able to harvest your rabbit meat (which is also dependent upon which does you match to bucks). Most of our litters are processed around 14-16 weeks, as we like a little more meat on them. But some breeds can be harvested by 12 weeks. We have harvested rabbits as old as 6 months, and they are still just as good and tender as the younger harvests.
Now that rabbit is one of our main sources of food on our homestead, we've really gotten efficiency down to a science. With a mixture of being on pasture seasonally and part-time, feeding timothy hay and non-gmo feed, our eight adult rabbits are only costing us about $25-$40 a month, depending on the weather, season, and how many grow outs we have in one particular month. We currently have a litter of nine in the nesting box, which are just now starting to eat pellets and hay. You will find that the more you offer wholesome foods and snacks to your rabbits -- such as pasture and timothy hay, and treats such as carrots and greens — the less expensive your feed bill will become.
Our homestead rabbits aren't just here for our dinner table, however. In an effort to make everything we raise on our homestead have a purpose, we also raise our standard Rex rabbits with pedigree's and some offer show quality stock. The selling of kits from certain pedigreed litter's, in the long run, helps offset the cost of raising our meat rabbits. We are able to do this effectively by keeping one to two Flemish Giant does for meat breeding's, and crossing them with our Rex bucks for meat kits. The kits from the pedigreed straight Rex breeding's that are not of good color and show quality go into our freezer as well. This means that we are not "losing" anything at any point, as our pedigreed Standard Rex rabbits are also a great meat rabbit, even when bred straight out with Rex as sire and dam.
All of our animals, no matter what their job is here, are loved and cared for. Raising meat rabbits has been an amazing adventure, not only for my husband and I, but for our son as well. It has been an extremely easy outlet for us to show him how to properly care for an animal, since they are easy for him to tend to. From the beginning of their lives to the end, they are cared for deeply and earnestly by all of us. It helps us teach our son how to be more self sufficient at a young age, and it creates a new found respect for the animals that we raise as our main source of sustenance.
Meat rabbits might not be for everyone, but they are certainly something to consider on your homestead. Whether you live on a 1/4 acre or 100 acres, homestead rabbits will never disappoint!
Amy Fewell is a work-at-home mom, homesteader, blogger and writer. Her and her family live on a mini-homestead in Virginia where they raise Icelandic Chickens, standard Rex rabbits, ducks, and more! For more information about their homestead, visit them online at The Fewell Homestead.
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