Sure, rabbits are cute, but don’t let that put you off! Rabbits are also an excellent meat source. Still on the fence? Here are our top nine reasons to raise meat rabbits:
1. Clean(ish) as a whistle
Though rabbits, like most livestock, are prolific poopers, they generally choose one spot to eliminate waste in consistently. Clean-up is relatively simple, since their waste is in pellets. When kept in a wire cage 1-2 feet off the ground, urine drains away into the soil below and the pellets can be raked up and removed. Compare the mess of a rabbit to the mess of chickens, and you’ll find the rabbit looks downright fastidious.
2. Ready-to-go garden compost
Unlike chicken poop and other kinds of manure, rabbit waste is the perfect pH for the garden without the need for composting before application. If you’d prefer, you can put it in your compost, as well. It also makes a great base for compost tea!
3. Perfect for small spaces
Because of their small size, rabbits don’t require a lot of space, making them a great choice for the urban or suburban homesteader. In addition to needing very little place, rabbits very rarely make noise. Occasionally they will squeal, but that is under extreme circumstances. Typically, they are very quiet, which means the neighbors will hardly know they’re there.
4. Easy to feed
Whichever way you choose to do it, rabbits are easy to feed. The simplest method is store-bought alfalfa pellets. They can be fed yard clippings such as cut grass, weeds and even surplus veggies from the garden to supplement pellets and cut down on feeding costs. Some rabbit raisers will grow fodder, such as wheat or alfalfa grass indoors under a grow light, which can ultimately replace pellets when done properly.
The simplest way to feed rabbits is to place them in rabbit tractors, an open-bottomed cage placed directly on the ground. Let your rabbits munch to their heart’s content, and then simply move the cage when they’ve had their fill, (and trimmed the lawn!) so they have a fresh batch of grass on which to snack. You may find your growth rate will increase if you supplement with pellets, but overall rabbits do just fine dining on the go.
5. Prolific and fast-growing
The age-old joke about “breeding like rabbits” is funny for a reason. Rabbits can have anywhere from 4 to 14 babies per litter, though the more typical range is between 8-10. Gestation is a mere 28-32 days, and, depending on the breed and your particular rabbits, can be ready for the freezer between 8-10 weeks old.
6. Cleaner to process
No feathers. No flimsy skin. No dunking in boiling water. While most homesteaders will admit it takes about a half hour to process a chicken, with some practice, a rabbit can be processed from start to finish in around five minutes. Think “taking-off-a-sock” simple. Get a nearby homesteader to show you how it’s done, and pretty soon you’ll be able to take care of business in record time.
Though start-up costs aren’t necessarily small, if you take the time to hunt for deals, setting up your rabbitry doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Scour Craigslist and check local homesteading groups for materials or cages. Once you’ve got your housing set up, your cost is mostly in food, which (as we discussed above) is easy to bring down by adding in grass and other plants you already have growing in your yard to their diet.
8. Healthy meals
Rabbit meat is a very lean, high protein meat. It also is very low in fat and cholesterol, making it a healthy meat option. Although it’s a heart-healthy meat, it does require some adjustment in cooking methods. Because of the low-fat content, it needs to be cooked on low heat for a longer time in order to avoid becoming dry or rubber. While it doesn’t cook the same as chicken, it has a very similar taste and can be used in almost any recipe that originally calls for chicken or even pork. A slow cooker or pressure cooker is perfect for cooking rabbit!
9. Steady supply of fur
Certainly plenty of homesteaders believe in taking advantages of all the resources a particular animal has to offer. Well, not only do rabbits provide a steady supply of meat, but a steady supply of fur, as well. Rabbit skins can be tanned and then used for small projects individually or sewn together for larger projects. Don’t have time to tan the hides right away? Stick them in the freezer until you’re ready.