Intro to Rabbits: Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill’s “Rabbits 101”
Rabbitry has a storied history. Rabbits provide a lean, high-protein meat source which can be produced with very little space and resources. Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill encourages you to step into this fun and rewarding way to take control of your food supply! Rabbits, along with chickens, are ideally suited to small-scale farming and urban homesteading scenarios.
While humans have eaten rabbit for around four thousand years, modern rabbit domestication only occurred in the 1500s. As newly-born rabbits weren’t considered meat by the Catholic church, monks began breeding them to create a more dependable and tasty food source. An explosion in rabbit breeding happened in the 1900s with the industrial revolution. One of the largest population migrations in history brought people from the countryside into the cities, and with it, a need for an inexpensive and compact food source. At this time, the breeding of rabbits became more structured, with breeders clubs and breed standards. Supply rationing during World War II created a new need for rabbit meat and spurred another surge of rabbitry, but after the war ended and supplies of beef became more widely available the trend began to wane again. As organic and sustainable food production methods gain widespread interest, more and more people are turning to rabbitry to ensure a humane, inexpensive, and healthy meat supply.
Square One: The Basics
Typical meat rabbit operations consist of one buck (male) with two or more does (females). The gestational period is one month, and does are often re-bred within two weeks of birth. Does are bred six to eight times per year, producing typically five to eight kits per birth. By that math, a trio of rabbits can produce between 60 and 128 kits per year! That’s enough to have rabbit on the menu at least once a week. Kits are weaned at around four to six weeks and are harvested at around eight weeks of age, about five pounds.
Choose Your Breed
While the Californian and New Zealand varieties are the most commonly kept meat rabbits, nearly any variety will do. It is important, however, to purchase breeding stock specifically bred for meat production. Pet and show rabbits can still be bred for food production but will often produce fewer kits per litter. Take your climate into consideration when choosing a rabbit breed. Here in Central Texas, it’s not advised that you keep long-haired breeds like angoras. Selecting animals with large ears and feet is a great idea, as those are areas which allow the animal to radiate heat.
Enclosures and housing
There’s a wealth of conflicting information on the internet about housing rabbits. Traditionally, rabbits are kept in small hutches or cages, sometimes with additional run or exercise areas. Wherever possible, Coyote Creek recommends that rabbits be kept in colonies of several does with a single buck. Nest boxes are provided for the birthing and privacy. A separate nursery may be advisable as cannibalism is not an uncommon occurrence.
Feeding, Watering, and Care
Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill prepares a rabbit feed that is specifically tailored to the animal’s nutritional needs and is composed of 100% certified organic and GMO-free ingredients. Rabbits should be fed ¼ cup of our certified organic feed for every five pounds of body weight. Rabbits nurse for the first eight weeks of their lives. Some folks choose to harvest at eight weeks (or even earlier) because after this point the bunnies begin eating solid food and costing more to keep. Rabbits raised past twelve or so weeks are good for soups and stews but tend to be a little too tough for frying.
Fresh water should always be available at all times. A hanging-style bottle with sipper tube is the simplest and cleanest way to provide water for your rabbits. Rabbits consume a great deal of water – plan on 10 ounces for every five pounds of body weight per day.
During hot weather, it’s important to provide plenty of cool shaded areas and dirt to dig in. Soda bottles filled with water and frozen are great for especially hot days – rabbits will cuddle up to them to keep cool. In general, rabbits do not like to get wet so misting systems like the ones employed in chicken coops are not advisable.
Congratulations! You’re on the way towards self-sufficiency and food security! Enjoy your rabbits!
Photo by: Melinda Thoms