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How to Raise Rabbits

Raising Rabbits
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When it comes to self-sufficiency, replacing the grocery store seems to be the biggest hurdle for most preppers. Gardens are most commonly thought of because we as humans collectively seem to think, ‘how hard can it be’ to dig a hole and put a seed in it? Regardless of how prevalent gardening and farming are and have been in our culture, most people do not have a garden or expect maintaining one will be quick and easy. The rude awakening comes the first year when the summer months cause weeds to grow like evil vines choking out everything that in the spring was nice and tidy. Bugs begin to eat all our tender vegetables and the idea of eating one more zucchini makes you sick. The first year of gardening can make you think that there is no way these tomatoes are worth all that effort. For us, if you consider the cost of time, materials and effort that went into our first garden I know the vegetables were about $10 a piece and many lessons were learned.

Having a garden that is growing and producing fresh food that your family eats is a tremendous benefit, but what about protein? Aquaponics is another growing hobby, but the initial setup can seem daunting and still requires an alternate power source. Sure, it would be nice if we all had a working farm with livestock but that simply isn’t going to happen. For one thing, most people don’t have the land or money but more importantly experience, to keep a farm going. There are ways that preppers can provide all the meat you would need to live on in a smaller and easier package. Enter the humble rabbit.

The interest in raising rabbits for meat is growing as preppers are constantly trying to find ways to feed their families in the event the local supermarket is out of commission. Once you have considered the prospect of having your own source of food, the question turns to how to raise rabbits and that is what I hope to discuss today. Raising rabbits gives you the benefit of fresh meat, but it is also healthier and devoid of the chemicals and hormones found in most grocery store meat. While you are feeding your family, they are also getting healthy food that has been raised by you so you know exactly what has been put into the food that makes it to your families table.

A lot of people know that rabbits are prolific breeders, but exactly how many rabbits would you need to feed your family? A single female has on average about 8 babies or kits per litter and rabbits have a gestational period of 28-31 days so it is feasible for your rabbit to have one litter per month but more likely a little less. If you start with three rabbits (2 females and one male) you could have well over a hundred rabbits in the first year. Of course you would be eating these rabbits so the population would need to be controlled to support your family, but it is easy to produce enough meat so that your family could survive on a relatively small number of rabbits. You would just need to figure out how much meat you would want to produce and adjust your breeding accordingly. This gives you the ability to raise more meat though so it could be used to feed other people or barter.

Building a rabbit cage is simple.

Building a rabbit cage is simple.

What type of rabbits are the best

There are three breeds most commonly used as meat stock: the Californian, New Zealand, and Florida White. The American Chinchilla, Satin, Silver Fox, and Champagne d’Argent are also great choices. It is best to speak to a local provider as each breed has their own advantages. For breeders in your local area, you can check out RabbitBreeders.us who has a searchable rabbit breeder’s directory.

What do Rabbits eat?

There is commercial rabbit food, but primarily they need hay. You should have a hay rack in your rabbit cage and make sure it is full of hay. Some recommend using Alfalfa, which you can easily grow yourself right in your home. Making sure your hay is cut into manageable lengths will help the rabbits out as well as keeping their cage clean. Rabbits can also eat vegetable scraps and lawn trimmings but make sure you are watching what they eat to remove anything they turn up their noses at. Carrots are always a favorite, but monitor their intake of too many green vegetables as it can cause them to get bloat or diarrhea.

How do you make a rabbit cage?

There are many ways to prepare a home for your rabbits from buying new manufactured rabbit cages online or used rabbit cages for sale at yard sales, in the local paper or on Craigslist. The more industrious can also find free plans to build your own rabbit hutch all over the web. The basics of any rabbit cage should give them shelter from the heat, protection from predators and enough room to move around. You also want something easy to clean because everything that goes in the front of the rabbit has to come out the back. A close wire mesh floor will allow the manure to drop on through and not be trampled under their feet.

How do you kill a rabbit?

For most people I assume the act of having to kill and butcher your own meat is the biggest psychological hurdle to raising your own food. Some even have a complete disconnect with the fact that all the animals we eat have to be butchered and killed before they can make it to those shiny packages in the store. It is one thing to pluck a tomato off the vine, but quite another to chase a chicken down that you have been raising for eggs and wring its neck, let alone plucking it and the butchering process.

I had another post on our site that shows both the process of humanely killing and skinning a rabbit that used the following video. Be aware that the video below is not for the faint of heart.

Are rabbits a food source you would consider for your home?

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  • usmarinestanker

    Another great part about raising rabbits is that they are fur-bearing animals. I work with leather and have tanned and made plenty of goods from rabbit skin. If you raise your own backyard chickens you can use the “egg tanning” method which is much simpler and less messy than brain tanning.

    Here is one of many resources out there. Remember, you need to smoke the skin for it to be waterproof and bugproof. http://heartfelthomestead.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/tanning-rabbit-hides/

    When you’re done you can make hats, gloves, slippers, rugs, blankets, or even cloaks. If you don’t know how to sew, you can sell the prepared hides.

    • That sounds like another great post idea! 🙂

      • usmarinestanker

        Yeah, it could be – there are already quite a few articles out there about egg tanning, though the slant on how to make items after the hide is prepared would be a new angle and equally useful because the same patterns and methods can be used with almost any material to get functional clothing.

        I would want to post pictures though since seeing is half the battle, but I don’t have any supplies at the moment because I like to use the thicker, more lush winter fur (as do the majority of fur users).

        Things to think about.

  • Bobcat-Prepper

    I recently bought a rabbit trap for my garden, as they were causing some damage. After a few catches, I realized that the trap was a great addition to my long-term emergency equipment, as I could catch a few rabbits in hard times and let them breed, and eat the rest of them I catch.

    In a pinch, rabbits can live off the weeds in your yard or nearby fields, so feeding them when SHTF would not be difficult.

    If you get about 2 pounds of meat from a rabbit, a family of 4 would eat one rabbit per day, to give you the 1/2 pound a day that provides the 2 oz of protein minimum RDA. How large would your herd have to be to allow you to kill one a day?

    On a related note, there is a condition called “Rabbit Starvation”, where relying on the virtually fat-free meat leads to diarrhea, bloating and other problems. Still, if you have other food containing fat, rabbit would make a great low-cost easy protein supplement.

    http://thewannabehomesteader.com/why-rabbit-meat-is-not-the-best-survival-food/

  • Maximus

    I have also heard that rabbit droppings are great fertilizer for gardens.

    • Absolutely! I ran out of room to include that benefit and it might even be worthy of another post. I have read that you don’t have to worry about the nitrogen as much with rabbit as say Chickens. Still reading up on that.

      • Horser01

        My mother refuses to use chicken manure because it can ‘burn’ certain plants, making the leaves turn brown and shrivel. I don’t know if it’s because of the nitrogen or not, but something to keep in mind… And rabbit manure is easier to spread, because it’s in little ‘pebbles’ instead of a smear of stuff you have to liquefy in order to spread properly… And it’s easier to collect, for the same reason…

  • Horser01

    …That… actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting… As someone who accepts the possible inevitability of killing another human being to protect myself or my family as par for the course, I have a strange sensation of queasiness when I think of killing an animal for food… I enjoy a hamburger or piece of chicken as long as I don’t think of it before it was a slimy pink thing in the frying pan. Even I think it’s illogical and strange… But anyway, I was somehow expecting that rabbits death to be much more violent… And the skinning and gutting to be much more gory and difficult. I’m feeling a bit better about it now, so thanks. Especially as I’ve always thought they’d be a necessity with so many uses. Weed control (they love dandelions), fur, meat, bait for predators, barter, and bones and manure for fertilizer… The organs can be made into ‘slop’ (dog food), or for fishing bait… Thanks again!

    • Thanks Horser01! Our dog loves liver so there shouldn’t be any waste…

      Pat

  • Horser01

    A rabbit takes 6-8 months to grow to full size, though the maturity rate does vary slightly through the breeds, as does the amount and quality of meat… And after they reach full size they will continue to ‘fill out’ until they are 1 year, 2 for the large breeds… But even if you let the kits grow for 6 months before slaughtering, and you got an average of 8 babies each month… 31 divided by 8 would be 3.875 litters. So 4 reproducing females, plus the male and offspring that are less than 6 months… That works out to 32 kits you have to keep each month for 6 months, equaling 192 kits at any one time…
    But then, you also have to consider that the more often the female is bred, the quicker she ‘wears out’. She’ll have smaller litters, smaller and fewer surviving kits, and the quicker she’ll become infertile or die of old age. She’ll also have less weight when you slaughter her… So it would be better to keep 8 females and breed them every second month instead of every month…
    And the more inbred they become, you get the same symptoms as above, plus additional ones. So it would be good to have several males you could rotate through as well… Unless you are supplementing with wild stock, but that also has bad points…

  • If you get Jersey Woolies and/or Angoras, they can be little mini “sheep.” Shear them every so often (more frequently when it’s hot, if it regularly gets over 80 degrees) and you can spin your own yarn which is many times warmer than sheep wool and softer, too. There are many properties it’s touted for, and when in professional grade, is quite pricey and luxurious. Graze the herd (or two, if you want to control breeding) in a large pen and throw in branches. They love to chew and rearrange them.

    Grooming them is great for your blood pressure and cortisol under ongoing stress. If you’re not calm, the prey-instinct rabbit isn’t either. It gives you literal “biofeedback,” (look up the medical therapy) a tangible chance to concentrate and control your state of mind.

    I guess this might be more of a homesteading/sustainability/long term thing, since making your own cloth is way outside the usual suspects for preparedness. Ostensibly you already have plenty of clothes and blankets. Permanent TEOTWAWNI, with barter and trade expected, instead of just SHTF. Or maybe just hobby or extra income in the “ordinary” life.

    As a vegetarian, I would want to avoid killing if possible, but the skills are valuable to know for a worst-case scenario. Thanks.

    • Thank you so much for the extra tips!

  • Dan

    I have been raising pet rabbits for several years now, and they are pretty easy to manage if you are not looking for a long life span (rabbits can live for years). For meat rabbits alfalfa would be a great hay to use, but not so much for your pets that you want to live longer than a few months. If you want to keep a particular doe or buck around for a longer period for breeding purposes, use a grass hay. Timothy is the best. I would also recommend that if you use a cage with a wire floor that you be sure to leave sufficient area for them to stand that is not wire as the wire can cause pain to their feet. Even animals being raised for harvest should not be treated cruelly, I think most of us can agree on that point.

    With all of that being said, I could never eat my pet rabbits as they are indeed my pets. They come when they are called, they enjoy being petted and played with they are even litter box trained! When the SHTF, I will keep them fed and cared for. I have prepped for them, but I will also use my knowledge to raise meat rabbits that I will not bond with.

    One last thing that I did not see in the article, rabbit poo is wonderful fertilizer. My gardens are always grown with “bunny love”.

    Great article, and great site.

    • Thank you very much Dan!

      I thought I covered the manure in some place, but that could have been a post on chickens. After this many articles they start to blur a little… but you are right. That is another great benefit of raising animals. What goes in must come out and we can use that too.

      Pat

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  • Sondra Dudley

    It’s sad that so few people read these articles. For me this info helps to refresh my memory of very long ago. We raised rabbits but as a child I paid no attention to specifics. Boy what a lot I missed. Thanks for refresher course.

    • Thanks Sondra, and a good number of people are reading these articles. We will surpass 9 million views in the next 30 days. I am always encouraged at the number of people who seem interested in these subjects.

      Pat

      • Sondra Dudley

        The reason I said what I did is because the post I could see were over a year old. I don’t know where or how to find newer post. I really love your site.