“You eat them?!” This is inevitably the question that comes out of most people’s mouths when I tell them that our family is raising meat rabbits. After I tell them it is an wonderful way for our family to eat economical organic meat. It is often followed up with, “Are the kids OK with that?!” The answer is yes, our four girls understand why we are raising the rabbits. It actually has been a lot of fun for them, as there are almost always baby bunnies to play with! As the rabbits get bigger they scratch and wiggle around more, then the kids start losing interest in playing with them, so there aren’t tears when it comes time for the grown rabbits to be butchered.
I think it is important that our girls realize where meat comes from. I believe it gives them a greater respect for life. They have seen their dad butcher the rabbits, which he does as quickly and painlessly as possible. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for animal predators. One of our rabbits escaped the other day and was likely killed by a hawk. Lets just say, I found the rabbit’s remains and it wasn’t pretty. I buried it’s mangled body in my garden, where it will be eaten by bugs, and eventually turned into fertilizer which my vegetable plants can eat. Next summer when I am eating tomatoes grown in that spot, I will also be consuming my rabbit! Gotta love the circle of life!
If you are still reading this article… great! I haven’t completely horrified you yet so, read on! Another question I tend to get from the type of people who are easily horrified, is “How can you eat something that is so cute?” I suppose people think of rabbits as pets, like a cat or dog, (Which I haven’t eaten, but if times get real tough…Well…Here, kitty kitty!) yes rabbits are adorable, but so are cows, pigs, chickens, etc. and isn’t cute in the eye of the beholder, and if so, am I really only allowed to eat animals the majority of people have deemed ugly? I would rather base my eating criteria based on taste, nutrition, ease of acquiring, ease of raising, meat to feed ratio,and environmental impact, to name a few. Rabbits score well in all of these areas.
Lets begin with taste. If you like chicken, you will probably like rabbit. I’ve fooled more then one guest by feeding them rabbit and having them think it was chicken. Whatever recipe calls for chicken, I sub in rabbit. I’ve also had fun making up my own recipes for rabbit like this https://blacksheepandhoneybees.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/southwest-rabbit-soup/. Nutritionally speaking, rabbits packs a punch! It is high in protein, vitamin B12, and selenium and low in saturated fat. Rabbits are quite easy to find, I hopped on craigslist (pun intended) and found a girl raising New Zealand rabbits (the standard meat breed) just down the road from me. I bought a couple of females from her and bred them with our Rex male rabbits, which a friend had given me for free, they are known more for their great fur, but work as meat rabbits as well. Anyways, the saying “multiply like rabbits” is so true! Our rabbit farm grew by leaps and bounds within no time at all! A female rabbit is only pregnant for about a month and typically has around 6 babies. The babies are grown and ready to butcher in just a few months and a female rabbit can have about 4 litters a year.
Rabbits are quite easy to care for. Even a child could do it, in fact our kids do sometimes. I am the primary rabbit caretaker but, if I am busy I have my ten and six year old help out. We have our rabbits in hutches and one rabbit tractor, which is basically a movable shelter which allows the rabbits to eat fresh grass. Some people keep their rabbits in outdoor fenced in areas and essentially have “free range rabbits.” There are benefits and drawbacks to whichever type of shelter you decide to keep your rabbits in. I really like the rabbit tractor, but would like to try a different design, as the one we have is quite heavy. Maybe I could get my husband to build me a new one for my birthday! Some girls ask for diamonds, and some girls ask for rabbit tractors! When I first started raising our rabbits I fed them the conventional rabbit pellets from the local feed store, they didn’t offer organic feed and even if they did the cost would probably be out of my price range. I consoled my concerns by convincing myself that their diet was half organic, as I was feeding them local organic hay and lots of organic weeds from the garden. After a while I decided it was time to research rabbit feed alternatives and discovered hydroponically grown fodder. OK, don’t let that term scare you off. I basically just feed the rabbits sprouts. I’ve tried both wheat and oats. I prefer wheat. I buy both from local farmers I found via craigslist, 50lbs of wheat for $5 or 50lbs of oats for $7! If anyone wants more info on how I have set up my fodder system leave a comment letting me know and I will explain more about it in a future post. Lets just say, I didn’t have to spend a dime on supplies!
Since I just finished discussing the rabbit feed, let me point out that the meat to feed ratio is great. I’ve read that 4 lbs of food will equal 1 lb of meat. That’s great compared to other more popular meat choices. Now, to touch on environmental impact. If you are wanting to do your part to save the planet consider how much land and chemicals are devoted to factory farming. Raising your own rabbits will enable you to pull out of that destructive system. Plus, the rabbit manure is amazing fertilizer for your organic vegetable gardens! Bye bye synthetic fertilizers!
Raising rabbits certainly isn’t for everyone, and I can’t say I will do it for the rest of my life. I can say it has been a wonderful learning experience for our family. Plus, I have gotten so many adorable pictures of my girls playing with baby bunnies, which in and of itself is priceless! If this article doesn’t convince you to raise rabbits that’s OK, but if you meet someone that does, be sure to give them a high five from me!