Guest Author - Jacqueline Rosenbalm
Whether you are homesteading or just trying to live more sustainability, raising rabbits is worth your consideration. Allow me to touch on a few facts about rabbits so you will understand the pros and cons about raising rabbits. This may be helpful when it comes time to consider a sustainable source of meat or additional income for your family.
The “Pro’s” of raising rabbits:
Rabbits are by far the most productive meat producers of any homestead animal. They take minimal space and can be bred year round. Rabbits are the only meat producing animal I know of that does not require a heat cycle to produce off-spring. The average litter size usually range from 5 to 10 kits (baby rabbits) per litter.
Gestation takes approx. 28-34 days and the kits are generally weaned between 6-7 weeks old. However, the doe can be re-bred when the litter is 4-5 weeks old because it is easier to get the doe to conceive while the kits are in the hutch with her. This allows the doe to produce 5-6 litters per year.
How much meat can one doe possibly provide?
If a doe produces 5 litters a year with an average of 8 kits per litter she will produce 40 rabbits per year. Commercial processors prefer harvesting at 4-5 pounds, what is commonly referred to as a “fryer.” Generally, half the live weight equals the processed weight. So by using these numbers 1 doe and 1 buck will potentially provide over 80 pounds of meat for your table per year.
Is there any other reason to raise rabbits besides meat production?
Yes, rabbits have a beautiful soft fur that can be sold as pelts or can be tanned. Although the pelts are not strong enough to be used as clothing they are suitable for trimming coats and boots or lining gloves.
There are special breeds that produce wool. The Angora rabbit is raised primarily for their wool. It is combed out or spun directly off of their fur every 30 days or so as it sheds the hair naturally in cycles.
Some producers raise rabbits for sale as pets preferably around Easter when the demand is greatest. If the rabbits have pedigrees they can be shown or sold to breeders as replacement breeding stock. Rabbit shows are a great place to network and to sell bunnies, especially if your rabbits are winners!
Other markets for young rabbits are as food for pet snakes or use as lab animals; although my conscience rejects those avenues for profit, they are viable markets.
Rabbit manure is a wonderful fertilizer that can be used fresh because it doesn't burn tender plants like other types of fresh manures can. The manure can be tilled directly into the garden soil before the seeds are planted. It can also be bagged and sold to neighboring gardeners for an additional income source.
You will find as the manure drops through the wire cages it tends to accumulate under the hutch. A little accumulation is good because it becomes an earthworm habitat. By turning the manure with a pitchfork you will unearth prime fishing worms for the taking with little extra effort. These worms are a bonus item that can provide an extra income if you live near a waterway or have fishermen in the area.
The above markets make it possible to become closer to your goal of the sustainable home we all desire. It is possible to raise rabbits anywhere you live. They are very quiet animals that require little space.
"Con's" for raising rabbits:
If you are a vegetarian or cannot stomach killing an animal for food then raising rabbits for food would not be a good choice.
If you have children that tend to want to make pets out of the kits they will want to keep them all. This defeats the reasons for raising the rabbits in the first place. In this situation, do not raise rabbits because they multiply quickly and will become a financial burden rather than an income source.
I hope you consider raising rabbits as a way to become more sustainable in your quest to live a natural lifestyle.