Don't let their small size and cute reputation fool you, rabbits are a great multi-purpose addition (or beginning) to any 21st century homestead. From pets and 4-H projects to terrific sources of wool, meat and manure ? backyard rabbits make a fun, easy project that fulfills a variety of needs. With minimal time, space and financial requirements, raising rabbits is a great introduction to homesteading, or, for the more established, a simple way to make a little extra money.
As with most animals, different rabbit breeds are naturally suited to different purposes. Mini rex is the standard for pet rabbits, followed by Dutch, Mini-Lop and Netherland Dwarf. Famous for their luxurious fur, Angoras are an excellent breed for wool while Californian, New Zealand and Giant Chinchilla are bred for their tasty, high-quality meat. Regardless of their purpose, rabbits in general produce potent, relatively weed-seed-free manure. The average rabbit will generate 1 pound of manure per week, or about 50 pounds each year! Less likely than some other manures to burn your plants, it makes great fertilizer and is a good choice for plants that need heavy feeding, such as roses and azaleas.
Rabbits have basic needs ? shelter, food and water, and a cozy place to nest. If you're adopting a couple of pet rabbits, the most economical approach is to purchase a hutch, since you'll need just one habitat. Building two or more, however, generally costs less than purchasing multiple pre-made models, and building is as quiet and simple as the critters you're building for. Basic carpentry skills are sufficient for constructing the feeder, nesting box, watering device and wire hutch (wire is light and durable, and the rabbits will soil and gnaw on a wood hutch). With a few materials and regular household tools you'll be well on your way to a successful rabbit enterprise!
You can learn more about building a wire rabbit hutch in this e-handbook from Mother Earth News. It offers detailed hutch-building instructions, plus tips for creating the best living space for your rabbits and a great guide to additional sources.
Do you raise rabbits for food, meat, manure or even just for fun? Share your tips and stories by posting a comment below.