Today's Quote

“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The economics of rabbits

Good morning! I thought I would talk a little bit about raising rabbits for meat. I know many people can't get over the cute fluffy bunny pet thing, but for those of you who think you might be able to give this a try then this post is for you. Even if you have a hard time getting around the cute fluffy bunny, that's can read along too just in case. All rabbits can be used for meat, but some breeds tend to be better suited for such a purpose. The most common meat breeds are New Zealands and Californians. There are other breeds such as the Florida white, but they tend to be harder to find when looking for breeders to start with. The Dutch is also a good little meat rabbit even though it is a medium size rabbit. It tends to have a really nice meat to bone ratio. Usually you can pick up a trio of rabbits, one male and two females, to start with for about 30-40 dollars. Rabbits can be housed in a colony setting or in separate cages. Colony settings provide a more natural environment for the rabbits, but disease spreads easily and it is hard to keep up with litters. To me cages are easier. You can either purchase cages, cage kits or make your own with cage wire. Or you can do like I did and mix it up a bit. I have a couple wire dog kennels that work just fine as grow out cages for weaned bunnies and I have some homemade hutches that are made from wood and wire. Wood floored hutches truly are not the most desirable and need to be cleaned and disinfected quite often. However, if you are working on a budget start with what you have and replace as funds become available. For my rabbits that are in the wood hutches I have litter boxes available which helps to keep the cage cleaner and more sanitary. I started my rabbits with one buck and one doe. My doe had two litters by that buck of which I kept a doe to add to the herd. Then I had to replace the first buck because he died due to an impaction. I purchased another buck and bred him to the two does. I now currently have 5 does, 4 in production and the one buck. I have kept a replacement buck and doe from a couple of this springs litters to add to the herd. So my breeders will be 7, two are still little and with their mama. The cost of feeding these breeders is not much compared to the amount of meat. My does that are in production consistently give me 7-8 offspring in each litter. Gestation period for a rabbit is 31 days and I leave my babies with their mom's until they are 6 weeks old. At week 5 I rebreed mama so she has a new litter 3 weeks after the previous litter has moved to the grow out cage. Since I grain and natural feed my rabbits they do take a little longer to grow out than pellet raised rabbits, about 16 weeks. One rabbit provides enough meat for our family of 4. Last year my girls provided enough meat so that we had rabbit 2-3 times a month. This year with a few more breeders we can increase that amount. The rabbits breed heavily in the spring starting about February and ending with the last litters born in June. Then they get the summer off and in October I will breed each girl for one more litter of the year. I don't breed through the winter because I don't want to worry about babies getting too cold. Now what are the benefits of rabbit meat? Well, first it is a white meat that is very lean. In fact a diet of only rabbit could lead to what is called "rabbit starvation" because there simply is no fat in the meat and our bodies need some fat. But if you are looking to add a low fat meat to your diet then you can't beat rabbit. Rabbit is also very high in protein. Having a 20.8 % protein, which is easily digestible it beats out any other type of meat on the market. Being low in fat it is low in cholesterol and also low in sodium, so for folks concerned about these things that is a definite benefit. Rabbit meat has a fine texture and can be cooked just about anyway that you wish. My children love fried rabbit, just like you would fry chicken. Feeding the rabbits doesn't cost much either. I estimate that the rabbits cost me about 20 dollars a month to feed and that is with the grow out cages full. In the winter I have been having to buy hay, but this year I am hoping to eliminate or at least reduce that cost due to making my own hay for the rabbits. During the winter months I buy about 1 bale of hay per month just for the rabbits so that is usually about 6.00 a bale. Total winter cost for hay is about 30.00. Rabbits are also easy to process. I can process from kill to freezer a litter of rabbits in about an hour and a half. Chickens take me longer. Then if you are really industrious you can learn to tan the hides and make things with them. We haven't done this yet, but would like to learn and do plan to in the near future. One more advantage of rabbits is that they don't take up much room. You can raise them anywhere. Some folks even raise them in their basement. Rabbits are also something that can be raised in the city since they are typically not considered livestock. Just a few rabbits and small investment can provide a family with a great source of meat relatively cheaply. Rabbits don't require too much in the way of veterinary care as long as they are fed well and kept in a clean environment they stay pretty healthy. Sometimes there are issues and I have had my fair share of first time mothers losing their litters or rabbits dying, like my first buck. But the benefits do outweigh those things. So think about rabbits as you are planning your journey towards self sufficiency, they can definitely be a benefit to any plan. Blessings from the farm, Kat

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