This is the third part of a three part arti­cle shar­ing with you my expe­ri­ences with square foot farm­ing… well its not real­ly farm­ing but it involves both gar­den­ing and ani­mal hus­bandry so it may as well be. In part one, I explained some of my expe­ri­ences with gar­den­ing in small spaces… in part two, I shared some of my expe­ri­ences with rais­ing chick­ens for eggs… in this part, I will share with you some of expe­ri­ences with rais­ing rab­bits for resale and for meat.  This is not a com­pre­hen­sive arti­cle… it cov­ers some of my expe­ri­ences with rais­ing rab­bits for meat and resale… you will need to do some more research but this is a great place to start and lets you know who easy it can be.

Rab­bits are almost as easy to keep as chick­ens. How­ev­er, the laws regard­ing them may get a bit more Farm 1tricky, espe­cial­ly if you have a colony large enough to keep you fed with meat. Luck­i­ly, most peo­ple or gov­ern­ing bod­ies don’t regard rab­bits as live­stock so a few in hutch­es in your yard should­n’t raise any eye­brows (but a shed full of cages may). Rab­bit meat has a bad name, so to speak, because it is a lean meat and peo­ple can “starve” even though they eat rab­bit meat dai­ly. These peo­ple don’t real­ly starve, but they do have adverse health effects because the fats and min­er­als a body needs to func­tion prop­er­ly just aren’t present in rab­bit meat…. but it is a great source of pro­tein as long as it is part of a diverse, bal­anced diet.

Rab­bits breed… well, like rab­bits. An adult female (doe) can have sev­er­al lit­ters of baby bun­nies per year (strict­ly speak­ing, they can breed again as soon as they give birth) and lit­ters can be large (I have had 12 more than once). For argu­ment sake, lets say that a doe can safe­ly have 5 lit­ters per year (allows for rabbit meatges­ta­tion and wean­ing) and 8 from each lit­ter make it to matu­ri­ty (with 8 nip­ples thats a fair aver­age… but Ive had females that suc­cess­ful­ly raised 11)… that adds up to a lot of bun­nies which in turn adds up to a lot  of meat if youre rais­ing them for the table. If you’re look­ing to build a colony of breed­ers, does will reach sex­u­al matu­ri­ty from around 6 months to 9 months old depend­ing on the breed. Both bucks and does will reach their full size with­in a year. I keep medi­um size rab­bits (5–8 pound range) because they grow faster than the giant breeds and pro­duce more meat than the dwarf breeds. If you’re look­ing to be a pure breed breed­er, look at New Zealands or Rexs…. both are known for excel­lent meat and fur pro­duc­tion.  Don’t expect to get rich sell­ing baby rab­bits, even pure breeds… the demand isn’t very high and the sell­ing price will prob­a­bly be under $50 per bun­ny. As a small, back­yard grow­er the best you can hope for is to break even with your expens­es. I raise some for sale and any that don’t sell are des­tined for the pot. Butcher­ing is quite easy but I warn you not to get too attached to your ani­mals or the butcher­ing process will be dif­fi­cult… emo­tion­al­ly, not phys­i­cal­ly.

Com­mer­cial rab­bit cages tend to be small… and store bought hutch­es aren’t much bet­ter. I own sev­er­al store bought cages but use them for trans­porta­tion only, I built my hutch­es from my own design for about farm 3$150; thats about $100 cheap­er than some­thing com­pa­ra­ble and a much bet­ter con­struct­ed hutch than some­thing like this.  The the­o­ry behind the hutch in the link is great but it has a few problems…if you plan on buy­ing a hutch which has access to the ground, expect your rab­bits to get free (the live in holes under­ground nat­u­ral­ly)… also, expect the inside to chewed up and weaker/narrower wood will be chewed through.  What­ev­er you decide to use, make sure your hutches/cages have enough room for the rab­bit to move around and exer­cise, prop­er cov­er from the sun (rab­bits over­heat quick­ly on warm days), allow for waste drainage, and are pro­tect­ed from preda­tors… and nev­er use pres­sure treat­ed lum­ber in a hutch since rab­bits are vora­cious wood chew­ers. Using pup­py cages (like this), I let my rab­bits out of their hutch­es when Im out­side work­ing… it gives them exer­cise and allows them to nib­ble on grass but I wont leave them unat­tend­ed for safe­ty rea­sons.

My rab­bits eat pri­mar­i­ly hay and bagged food… but they do best on hay. Rab­bits have a slight­ly sen­si­tive diges­tive sys­tem so be wary of giv­ing treats such as bread and even some veg­eta­bles. Exam­ples: greens can be too rich for young bun­nies and corn can be tox­ic at any age, both can result in death. Hay and bagged food are best bets for a healthy rab­bit but mine get small amounts of veg­etable table scraps. I also allow a IMG_8153_Fotorcer­tain part of my lawn to grow long and full of dan­de­lions for the rab­bits ben­e­fit. Using gar­den shears, I cut clumps of grass or pull up dan­de­lions and feed it to them in their hutch­es… or allow them exer­cise time in pup­py cages in the longer grass. The fall is a great time of year for my rab­bits since the bruised fruit from my peach, apple, and pear trees goes to them. Rab­bits need to be fed the prop­er amount dai­ly, any­thing more and they will overeat and get fat. Ration food so that they eat just about all the food in their hay rack and pel­let bowl in a day…with the excep­tion of grow­ing bun­nies and pregnant/lactating moth­ers (they should be fed as much as they want).

Since you will be feed­ing and water­ing them dai­ly, make it a point to han­dle them dai­ly. Rab­bits as a rule don’t like to be han­dled and they wont ever real­ly like to cud­dle… but han­dling them fre­quent­ly makes IMG_6475them eas­i­er to han­dle for mov­ing around or for slaugh­ter. Han­dling them often allows for inspec­tion of coat, eyes, ears, etc. Ive had rab­bits with diges­tive prob­lems, ear cankers, and a mys­tery ill­ness­es that I nev­er quite fig­ured out, ear­ly diag­no­sis can save a rab­bits life and avoid spread­ing to oth­er rab­bits in the colony. Keep­ing a clean hutch/cage can help keep rab­bits healthy also. I hose my hutch­es out a few times a year (after remov­ing the rab­bits ofcourse) to remove any shed fur, manure, or food scraps from the wire… rab­bit urine is espe­cial­ly pun­gent as well so hos­ing is almost a must. I also rake/shovel any dropped food and manure month­ly (or before it starts to smell). Com­post­ing it and adding to my gar­den has made for great soil.

Don’t lim­it the amount of water your rab­bits have access too and change it dai­ly (twice a day if it freezes). I keep two water bot­tles per rab­bit on hand in the win­ter… I put in a fresh one in the morn­ing and anoth­er as soon as I get home from work, chances are the water has frozen with­in a few hours. I bought most of my hay racks, water­ers, and feed troughs at trac­tor sup­ply but here are links to a few links if you don’t have one near­by. Also, Ive includ­ed some links to books you will find of inter­est if you’re get­ting into rab­bits or chick­ens. While much of the infor­ma­tion you will need can be found through open sources on the inter­net, these books have most of what you will need and hav­ing a library of such books is a good idea as an ani­mal grow­er (Vet Book and Storeys Rab­bit Book). Feel free to ask ques­tions in the com­ments and Ill do my best to answer them from my expe­ri­ences.

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