We’ve done it. We have moved on to our next phase of homesteading in order to live a self sustaining life. Meat rabbits have been added to the property AND one pet bunny. Five years ago this would have never crossed our minds, and now it has become a reality…how did we get here? And the bigger question, how will we handle it?
When we first establishing our homestead we had a five year game plan, and a major item on the list was to harvest our own humanely raised meat ~ chicken, quail, rabbit, guinea and even duck. I often stop and think about who we have become. The desire to homestead and step away from the industrial food market captured the essence of who we are, actually the essence of who we wanted to be. We wanted a food source that was clean of chemicals and GMO free, plus we wanted meat and eggs to be raised with compassion and love. We basically wanted something the market could not give us and we knew that we would have to be responsible for this.
We will continue to purchase items such as pork and beef from small local farms in our area, but in regards to purchasing other meat items from the market? This is occurring less and less for us, and we couldn’t feel better about it! This is the first winter in which we will be growing a garden utilizing a poly tunnel, and I’ll be honest when I say that it will not fully replace our market trips, but it does minimize it quite a bit.
To be able to raise and butcher your own meat takes a strong individual. There, I said it. Not everyone can butcher their own meat, but that’s ok. The world of bartering was established for a reason, and individuals can always trade for items. I get asked how we can do it (and I mean, often), how can we butcher animals that we have raised and cared for and I always tell them the same thing. It’s because they lived a good live. They are loved and respected, cared for very well, and they lived as they deserved to live, humanely. That’s the hat I wear when I bring in meat animals; I know what each animal’s function is when they are brought to the homestead, and we stick to the plan.
Our children are very active in the care of all the animals on the property. They help us with the feeding and handling as well as, the clean-up of the coop and hutches. We have never forced them to be a part of the butchering process, but they have watched and have asked many questions. The farm kids are not the norm in their school or among their friends, they know things that many children do not know or understand. These kids of ours truly understand why we have chosen the path that we are on and if asked they will stand on their soapbox and recite why. I don’t have to tell you why this makes us proud!
For our breeding stock we brought in 2 does and a buck which can provide us up to roughly 180 pounds of meat a year, meat which is high in protein with very little fat content. We strayed away from the typical meat breeds and went with pedigree Harlequin rabbits, also known as Non-Commercial meat rabbits. Our thought process was to be able to provide meat for our family and raw fed dogs, but to also generate money by selling the pedigree rabbits for show, as pets, and to the 4H community. Another goal of ours is to generate enough meat to be able to sell to the raw fed pet community in our area. We know that within a year our buck and two does will have paid for themselves over and over.
Rabbits are excellent and easy to raise in both the country and suburbs, and aren’t generally considered livestock by many government agencies. BUT before you rush in and add a small herd to your property check with your county zoning department to confirm that raising rabbits for meat is indeed legal.
They are the most economical meat item to raise and if you plan to supplement a portion of their diet with foraged plants, herbs, vegetable scraps, or even pasture raise them it can cost you less than a dollar a day, per rabbit to raise.
Our goal is to pasture raise our herd between spring to early fall. In the winter we will supplement their diet with hand picked foraged items, providing pellets in the evening. If you do not plan to supplement their feed with natural items an adult rabbit requires about a 1/2 a cup to 1 cup of pellets per day; pregnant and nursing does should be fed free choice daily, a handful of grass hay, like orchard grass, is a good choice of plant protein and should be offered daily. Another great source of protein that we will offer is raw oats and BOSS (Black Oil Sunflower Seeds), which we always have on hand for our poultry.
Housing can as simple, or as elegant (thanks Pinterest!), as you’d like it to be, but in all actuality cages take up very little room since they are stackable, creating a community of mini rabbit condos. If you’d like, you can build a beautiful chalet type of hutch for your rabbit housing ~ which happens to be on my dream list of things to build. *sigh* Remember, when you are building your housing that protection from the weather is very important, rabbits can tolerate the cold more than they can handle the heat. Until the barn is done, we temporarily placed the rabbit condo in the shade against the coop wall, this will protect them from the wind, sun, and rain. The average size cage for a doe and her litter is a minimum of 6 square feet in area, a buck requires 5 square feet, and the height of the cage should be at least 18 inches high.
I know that some of your jaws just dropped in regards to the dimensions of the cages, but you have to remember, the more room a meat rabbit has to move the more muscle it will form, which causes a tough piece of meat.
We will butcher our fryers as early as 8 – 12 weeks which puts their dress weight between 5- 6 pounds. Currently we have no idea on what we will do with all of the fur pelts, hopefully we will find someone to sell them to. I am more of a cotton type of gal verses fur, so they gotta go!
Hopefully you will stay tuned with our rabbit husbandry adventures, this is just beginning for us, but we are very excited to share our journey with you all!
I wanted to include a few related rabbit articles from seasoned bloggers to help you along your journey:
Rabbit Hutches by Timber Creek Farm, http://timbercreekfarmer.com/product/habitat-housing-for-rabbits/
Raising Meat Rabbits by The Fewell Homestead, http://www.thefewellhomestead.com/search?q=rabbit+care
How to Keeps Rabbits Cool During The Summer, http://www.happy-days-farm.com/2015/06/rabbit-safety-in-summer-heat-exhaustion.html