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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Suburban Farming

Earlier, we wrote about our farming enterprises for the 2010 growing season, specifically the raising of rabbits.  Our rabbit herd consisted at that time of 5 rabbits, purchased in June 2010, or so, from a farm family in SW Ohio.  We had originally purchased 6 rabbits, siblings, supposedly 4 females and 2 males, but it turns out that what we actually got was exactly the opposite, 4 males and 2 females, plus the potential genetic problems of mating siblings together.  My solution to that problem was to eliminate 2 males, and purchase another, unrelated male.  Our herd was at another location, about 5 miles away, which proved to be problematic.  We were unable to observe the rabbits during the day, so we were unaware of whatever was happening at the remote location.  We were completely unsuccessful in the reproduction department over the entire course of the summer.  The host, who is not used to the idea of using rabbits as food, proved hostile to the idea, so the decision to move them was made.  The results are that our herd has now doubled, and actually would have tripled, but for the fact that I was unaware of the projected birthdate of an earlier litter, they succumbed to hypothermia, as I hadn't yet provided the mother with a nest box.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I placed a temporary, plastic box in the cage, but "too little, too late".

So, my friend and I designed and built the following cage system:

The only caveat to I would make regarding our design is that the doors should be MUCH bigger.  Doors of this size make it hard to work inside the cage, and hard to get ahold of the rabbits if you need to move them, or breed them.  The next batch will have doors that are basically the size of one of the walls.

The breeds to get, for meat production, generally are Californian, or New Zealand rabbits, though there is a french breed, Champagne D'Argent, that is considered good as well, or mixes of any of these three. The reason for sticking with these breeds is that they produce more meat, with less food, and deliver a denser, meatier end product than any of the other multitudinous breeds of rabbit.  That's not to say that someone won't come up with a better breed in the future, I'm sure that WILL happen.  But for now...

It is possible to do reasonably well with rabbits while only providing them with pasturage, and not packaged, commercial feeds.  As long as they have freedom to graze on a wide variety of plant life, they will do alright.  I have, at present, not opted to go that route, but purchase commercial, pelletized rabbit feed.  I also supplement their feed rations with a very wide variety of fresh plants.  I give them apple branches, apples, carrots (both cultivated and the wild sorts, i.e. Queen Anne's Lace), tulip tree leaves, silver maple leaves, dock, mallow, strawberry leaves and vines, chickweed, dandelions, chicory, plantain, lemon balm, wild grape vines and leaves, and much more.  They love a treat of freshly fallen autumn leaves, eating them the way we eat potato chips. Just make sure that the leaves you feed them are not poisonous to rabbits.  So, expensive feed costs can certainly be lowered this way, and the raising of their most excellent meat made more palatable, financially speaking.

I have some chef friends who swear that rabbit meat is normally sold, to them, for prices that astound me.  I was told that a rabbit raised in the standard manner, meaning it was fed commercial, non-organically certified rabbit feed, goes for an average of $30/rabbit, and that if that animal was raised "organically", then the price jumps to $60/rabbit!  So, I see a substantial rabbit farm in our future.  That beats the sox off any other farm animal I am aware of, and that coupled with the fact that rabbits reproduce like, well, rabbits, pretty much makes it a go for me.

If one were to search for "organic rabbit raising procedures" on, chances are you would end up finding several videos of Joel Salatin, that famous farmer from Virginia who is rocking the agricultural boat of our nation at present.  Mr. Salatin shows us, in his YouTube videos, how he has created "rabbit tractors", that are mobile rabbit hutches that allow a large degree of freedom to the fuzzy little fellows, and allow the farmer to provide them with fresh green-age each day, all the while fertilizing the soil.  Mr. Salatin practices the same technique with chickens as well, with great success.

At any rate, it looks like raising rabbits is going to work out well for us, whatever direction we take from here on out.  Take a good look at raising rabbits, it could keep your family in food if things go really sour for us here in the USA, or elsewhere.



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