Livestock: A Rabbit In Every Pot

rabbitI’ve been looking into the various classified ads locally for livestock I want, to get an idea on budgeting first for proper quartering and actual animals. Chickens are of course a first choice. Also want bees, been looking at hives and queens for sale. If I can site them properly, bears shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Goats are sometime in the future, will need more fencing than we’ve got.

On those classified pages I discovered an awful lot of meat rabbits for sale, and remembered some homesteader friends in Virginia about 25 years ago who were big into meat rabbits. At the time we’d recently become vegetarian and I rejected the idea for our just-started homestead, but all these years later I think the ease of raising rabbits might make them an excellent livestock choice… so long as I don’t have to be the one who slaughters and prepares them for sale. There are surprisingly ample markets locally for good rabbit meat, especially organically raised. Even including some of the high-end eateries and B&Bs who are my regular fresh organic herb and sauce customers.

I ordered a book entitled Raising Rabbits to Survive, which promises to be a very handy reference and educational tool. Even better, the book comes with 5 supplemental books covering just about everything you need to know.

In the meantime and most serendipitously, I also encountered an interesting 5-part blog series about the same subject, which is immediately accessible. Looks like this is something my homestead should be seriously aiming for, before the year is out.

Many of you, like me, will remember raising and keeping rabbits as pets as kids back when we lived in far more urban areas, and think bout how rabbits as livestock could be a considerable cog in our self-sufficiency machinery as homesteaders. Because homesteading these days isn’t always about living way out in the country.

Rabbits are quiet, they don’t take up much room, and with proper care and feeding will readily reproduce on an amazingly quick schedule. You might be surprised that there’s a market for rabbit meat, but homesteaders I knew a quarter century ago raised meat rabbits as well as chickens and goats, for that very purpose. They never could manage to saturate the market. Go surfing through some of the internet’s ample offerings of food and recipe sites for “rabbit recipes.” You’ll get way more than just a camp version of rabbit stew. Things like honey roast rabbit, Chinese sweet and sour rabbit, fried rabbit in breadcrumbs, Louisiana Creole rabbit… the possibilities are endless.

One Rabbit Recipe site notes that rabbit meat is high in protein, low in fat, uric acid, cholesterol, sodium and calories. It is also easily digested and is recommended in diets that restrict red meat. Rabbit is all white meat, fine grained and has a mild flavor. It substitutes well for any recipe calling for veal or poultry. I haven’t personally eaten meat (other than fish) for about 40 years, but I’m not averse to growing rabbits as an organic meat offering if I don’t have to do the slaughtering. I’m fairly sure I could find someone locally who would do the job for a cut of sale price at any of a dozen local organic meats suppliers and cooperatives.

So. How easy or hard is it to go with raising rabbits as a homestead food stock? Apparently not that hard, or even terribly expensive. If you’re willing to do the work. Here’s an overview of the series by DawnG I mentioned, and hope interested readers will take the time to check each installment out. They each contain valuable and useful information.

Part 1 introduces the many good reasons to consider rabbits as livestock, and lists some of the downsides. Such as how difficult it is to not love them as pets. Which for many of us, might be overwhelming.

Part 2 talks about food independence on the homestead, even if you don’t plan to make money (or trade) on your stock. Very good rundown on the details of proper housing for the rabbits, food and watering details, and things to look out for. DawnG also suggests supplying your rabbits with toys, as their teeth grow perpetually and they need things to chew on as well as to play with.

Part 3 looks in depth at rabbit food, commercial and supplementals. She includes the proper protein/fiber ratio for producing the best meat, and varying feed requirements depending on season. Some of the supplementals are things our homesteads can provide quite readily for free, which means they won’t be an added expense. Grass hay, sunflower seeds, fresh or dried fruit, fresh veggies and herbs, weeds and lawn clippings, etc. I figure all the bruised and otherwise compromised fruit and veggies I usually compost could go through rabbits first. Then I could compost the droppings!

Part 4 looks at the best breeds to get as your original breeding stock, and what to look for in each one as to health and pedigree. I had no idea there were so many meat breeds, or that there are show rabbits, and stud rabbits, and an entire sub-business involved in selling such rabbits to other homesteaders for starting their stock. Maybe that’s something a vegetarian could go for as far as participating in meat production.

Part 5 gets into the nitty-gritty about… um… rabbit sex. How old your buck and does should be before you let them breed, what to look out for, what records to keep to ensure your best breeders are the ones producing stock (and not getting eaten), and how to care properly for pregnant does and fresh litters. Also advice on paying attention to mothering traits, culling does that don’t measure up.

All terribly interesting, not very expensive an investment, and something to seriously consider as part of our homesteading adventures. The economy isn’t scheduled to get any better for at least a decade, as social support systems are scheduled to be cut to the bone or entirely eliminated. Self and community sufficiency is only going to become more and more important in the coming years, we homesteaders need to be ahead of the game.

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