by The Mid-west Mrs.
Can I Raise Meat Rabbits In My Backyard? Yes, You Can!
I had rabbits when I was young but only as pets. Our children had rabbits growing up, again only as pets. We now have rabbits but they are for food. You have most likely a basic understanding of rabbits so this article focuses on how we manage our rabbit husbandry. We maintain 3 does and two bucks.
Getting your rabbits
It is not so much where to look but what to look for. Uncrowded caging, clean fur, no drainage from eyes or noses. No smeared loose looking poo in the cage bottoms and clean food/water bowls.
Check the fur for parasites, look in the ears to make sure they are clean. And no rabbits sneezing allowed!
Check for the sex. It is not too hard once you know how. Here is a link
We found our rabbits on Craig list. The young boy wanted $6.00 for each and since everything looked good I was happy to hand him the money. We brought home one white buck and one brown brindle doe at about 10 weeks of age.
Transport them in a cardboard box or small dog kennel. Place hay in the container if possible because they will pee and poo even on the shortest drive. Do not use newspaper. They may eat it and cause a blockage. Take note of the weather and road conditions too, you don’t want to transport them in the back of your pick up if it is freezing outside or you have a 4×4 road to drive on.
Plan on quarantining any new rabbits you bring in from your current stock of bunnies for at least 10-14 days. Keep them as far away as possible during this time.
Here is some info on breeds http://www.arba.net/breeds.htm Maybe you will want Angoras for spinning their wool? Be careful, they require lots of grooming too!
Housing your rabbits
Colony or protected caging? I have never utilized colony style housing of rabbits so I will only discuss protected caging.
Your rabbits need to stay dry, cool and safe from predators. A portion of their cage needs to be covered or needs to be under a lean-to, in a building or such. It needs to be high enough to stay out of reach of raccoons and coyotes. Could you imagine every night being visited by a beast that is trying to get you?
We think we have a pretty good solution. Our rabbits are housed in a “dog trot” shed. This is a long rectangular outbuilding with solid doors on each end. On the entry door end, DH also put a screen door on the inside made of poultry wire and wood frame. On the other end, it can open up into a fully enclosed chain link fence area. (Think dog kennel). Since the fencing butts up against the shed the 4th wall of fencing was put to use as the top. A prop pole sits in the middle underneath for support for when it snow or rains as we have it covered. We have strong white tarps on the top, north and east sides. It is open on the south while the building is on the west. We can close the door between the shed and the “yard” when we want but rarely do.
This yard serves several purposes. The bunnies do get to run in it but mostly it is so we can pick grass and food for them in bad weather without getting wet and to have a cooler spot for them in a hot weather spell.
While we do employ frozen bottles for them when necessary in a grid downtime we plan to just turn the cages over on the door side with the door open and the rabbits will be able to dig down in the ground to get cool. I have seen some amazing excavation work done by them. You do need to be careful in not letting them dig too close to the edge of the fencing.
The cages are one per bunny and are set up on rail shelves attached to the walls of the shed. On these rails are triangle shaped sticks with the cages sitting on top of them. This gives the cages support and yet leaves almost no area for urine or droppings to collect. Round rails would be best also for the same reason. We have regular board rails and I do have to clear them from time to time. Some folks prefer to hang their cages instead. I don’t because I do not like the idea of them swinging as I work around them.
Do plan on scrubbing cages at least quarterly because rabbit urine has a lot of calcium in it that builds up on the wire and when mixed with shedding fur can make for some crud accumulating on the wire.
Make sure your cages allow for your bunnies to stretch out, take a hop or two and to stand up on their hind feet. The floor must allow the droppings to pass through and it should be at least ½” grid. ¼”grid is too small for most meat rabbits. Doors should be big enough to allow nest boxes through.
You can buy your cages or make your cages. We have done both and have lots of different sizes and configurations.
We find we clean out from under the cages about every 2 weeks and since the floor of this building is wood (wish it was dirt) we use straw or dried grass to help soak up moisture from the urine. In never gets too smelly and generally does not have any fly problems.
By the way, we keep our bucks caged across the shed from the does. When we had them side by side it seemed we had less breeding success and smaller litters. Now that there is some distance between them we have better results. Maybe this has something to do with the does being induced ovulators.
Feeding your rabbits
In order for rabbits to help sustain you in a SHTF situation you would want to feed them as cheap and as easily as possible. We have chosen to go as natural as possible. We feed a lot of grass, weeds, garden leavings, brambles, herbs, tree twigs and sometimes a little fruit or dried bread (treats!) and grains. We still feed some pellet food regularly but very little.
Grains are chicken scratch (unmedicated), grass seed heads, corn, sunflowers and other kinds of seed. These are fed sparingly, only about a tablespoon a day in the winter to all and only to lactating does and growing kits otherwise… Check out this link. http://www.homesteadingtoday.com/showthread.php?t=211220. Grain will put fat on your rabbits. You will see it when you butcher. Too much fat can make it hard on your breeding program though
I think this year we will use the gutter gardening technique we learned from the Wolf Pack. We will install the gutters on the chain link and therefore have even more available food growing space for the bunnies close at hand. You gotta just love being able to pick fresh food in the rain and not get wet!
If you use green food introduce it slowly over a two week period to your bunnies. You need to give their gut time to develop the correct bacteria for digesting new foods. In doing so I have never ended up having any trouble with diarrhea. If you do then back off the forage for a day and give a saltine cracker or a small piece of dry bread. Keeping them on both bagged food and green food can help out in case one or the other food source gives out. You need to make sure you feed both types at least every other day to keep them used to it.
I look for food and water bowls at thrift shops and garage sales. This saves a lot of money because you will want at least 3 times the number of bowls you think you need. I will not pay $5.00 per bowl at a pet store or farm outlet! The soup bowls that look like a coffee cup are great. They are squat, heavy and don’t tip easy. We prefer crocks or bowls because rabbits spray urine and it is a pain to disassemble the hook on feed bins to clean them.
In the winter fill the water bowls only halfway full. This saves room in the crock for another filling later and less switching out of the frozen bowls. Do the watering first and while the bunnies are tanking up go about your other hutch chores. Re-check the water levels just before leaving. This has worked out so well in the winter for us. Bring full frozen bowls back to the warmth of the house to thaw out in a bucket.
Breeding your rabbits
We breed only in the spring and fall. Some of this is in consideration of food availability, rest for the does, and heat tolerance in the summer.
I sometimes breed does back to back litters depending on how many kits they had. Every doe we have had has been a great first-time mother. I do believe that tendency can be genetic and also on making sure your does are between 8 and 11 months old for the first breeding (meat rabbits). Any earlier or later the physiological and mental states of the rabbit may inhibit success. This is my own findings, not scientific in basis. It seems to work for me so I go with it.
I also breed the does about one week apart from each other so I am not overwhelmed at birthing time or butchering time.
I let the buck have 2 successful attempts in the morning of the day of breeding and then again about 4 hours later. This can take as little as a couple of minutes. I have found that the doe seems “entranced” immediately after the act and that this is an easy time to get the doe picked up and back to her cage. Wait too long and she will be up and running again. Here is another link for detailed information
For replacement stock, I choose from our spring litters. This gives good grow out feeding on natural foods readily available at that time. We also have “baby savers” this is a miniature fence wall we put around the opening of the nest box to catch baby bunnies if they catch a ride out of the nest box on Mom before they are old enough to come out. This keeps them from crawling to the side of the cage and out between the wires to fall on the floor.
THE FOREGOING MAY BE DEEMED UNSETTLING FOR THE SQUEAMISH OR JUST PLAIN GRAFFIC!
Butchering your rabbits
Ok, so you know the whole purpose of this is to be able to raise rabbits for food. This does mean you have to end their life by killing them.
I do not handle our rabbits a lot unless I am picking replacements for breeding stock. I do not give them names. Everyone in the family knows they are raised for food.
On the chosen morning I offer prayers for the rabbits. I ask that I be swift, deliberate and gentle all at the same time. I do not take this action lightly. They have not eaten since last night and I do not remove them from their mother.
I choose to break their neck/skull by stepping on the head and pulling (a good swift yank) upwards with the back legs. This is similar to the broomstick method but only requires one person. They will twitch and quiver for a few moments but they are already gone. I take them back to the kitchen sink and cut the throat for blood drainage and proceed to skin, gut, and process the meat.
More links http://www.rudolphsrabbitranch.com/rrrpt1.htm this is all words, scroll down towards the bottom of the page.
This is a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iali_mkReYA yes, graphic content.
One last note…it is a little unnerving to sometimes see a heart on the kitchen counter still with a heartbeat but that just proves that the saying “it’s just nerves” is true.
Cooking your rabbits
Rabbits have been a Godsend to me. I am allergic to chicken but with rabbit and rabbit broth I can still have a lot of Chicken type dishes. Rabbit can even masquerade as burger and sausage. Hoppy Joes anyone? The DH makes a great Hoppy Joe. A little Worcestershire sauce and beef bouillon cubes mixed with browned ground rabbit in the basic tomato paste sauce with some spices and there you go!
He also makes a chili dog sauce and we make Italian sausage for pizza too. One of the best rabbit dishes though is an adapted recipe for General Tsao’s Chicken. Just substitute rabbit and enjoy! Here’s the link http://www.chinesefood-recipes.com/chinese_poultry_recipes/general_tsao_chicken_recipe.php
I can rabbit both with the bones and without, I make broth too. We make and freeze sausage. We save the ribcages for making soups/broth. The rest can easily be used for almost any dish.
Now, most of our rabbit we pre-cook in the pressure cooker, even for fried rabbit. The exceptions would be for ground rabbit recipes and sausage. The DH doesn’t get to eat much chicken anymore because of me and pressure cooking it seems to bring the texture closer to what he thinks store-bought chicken is like. It’s the least I can do for him.
So here it all is. I’m sure I have left a thing or two out but if anybody has questions just ask. Hopefully, this will give those who want to try to raise rabbits some needed information and please remember to take these ideas and adapt them to your own situations, whether it is backyard suburbia, farm or apartment…