November 2015
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Are Rabbits the Next Hop on Our Journey to Self-Sufficiency?

When we decided to get chickens, I knew that might only be the beginning. I’ve always heard that chickens are called gateway animals. Now I know what they mean when they say that. After enjoying the benefits of eating fresh eggs every day, our family started talking about what might be next. I have already tried my hand at aquaponics with Tilapia but I had mixed results. That will be discussed in detail in future posts.

Having just finished a nice Thanksgiving meal, I find myself thinking where would we get meat like that if times got really bad. Having a source of high quality meat would be very important, especially a source that is sustainable. We have chickens for eggs, but without a rooster we can’t make more chickens. So we either need a rooster, or we need to look at other options.

Now we’re thinking about rabbits.

We have learned not to jump in to things without doing our homework when it comes to the care of animals. At this point, we are still in the information gathering stage. In my research, I have heard much about the pros and cons of raising rabbits. The more I learn the more I feel the benefits outweigh the downsides.

Some of the advantages are:
• Rabbits are a good source of high quality protein. Most people say rabbit meat tastes better than chicken.
• They are not noisy like chickens. They can be raised without raising any eyebrows from neighbors or government officials.
• They don’t take up as much space as chickens. They can be raised in cages.
• Their manure is good fertilizer and does not require composting like chicken manure. It can be put directly on garden plants.
• They are easier to breed than chickens. No loud rooster is required. No incubator is required either. As the old saying goes, they breed like rabbits.
• They can be quite easy to feed. A typical diet is made of greens which you can get from grass clippings and garden vegetables to reduce the cost of purchasing commercial feed.
• They are easier to butcher than chickens. No plucking is required.
• Rabbit fur has uses and can be sold.

Frankly I have found no downsides other than the difficulty of butchering cute little bunnies. Yes they required daily attention but I’m already accustomed to that since we have chickens.

As I continue doing research with the goal of making a go or no-go decision, I need to learn what equipment and supplies we will need. I’m early in this part of the process, but some of what I’ve learned is:
• Cages. We’ll need cages for the breeding females and males to keep them separate. We’ll also need cages for the young rabbits.
• Food. We need sources of commercial feed as well as plants grown on our farm. I see rabbits in our field all the time so there must be plenty of food there. We will pay close attention to the contents of any commercial feed we buy. What they eat – we eat.
• Water. Rabbits need a lot of water. In cold weather, the water can’t be allowed to freeze.
• Manure. The manure needs to be removed and collected for use as fertilizer. It looks like the best system is to have trays right under the cages to catch the manure.
• Protection. The rabbits need to be protected from predators and the elements. They can stand some cold but not extreme cold. I will do more research and determine if they can be kept outside or if I will need to put up a new building for them.

So what’s next? The first thing is we need to determine if we like the meat. But to be certain, we’re going to buy some at the local Whole Foods and try it out. It would be a big mistake to take on this endeavor if the family won’t eat it. I’m told it tastes very much like chicken so I expect we will. We checked the price already. It goes for $10/pound. That sounds expensive but it’s a small price to pay to be sure before we jump in. It also has me thinking that this could turn into a profitable endeavor in the future.

So far all of my updates about our chickens have been written after the fact. This is the first project I will be writing about as it happens. If we move forward with this, I will give periodic updates as there are new developments. Follow along and learn with us as we progress on this project. If you have experiences of your own with rabbits, please share them in the comments section.

Hopefully this will be the next step – or should I say hop – on our journey to self-sufficiency.

Please share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments.
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