I love raising rabbits, mainly because of rabbit pellets also known as rabbit manure. When people ask me why I raise rabbits they expect me to say meat, pets or fur. When I say manure I really surprise them. I do love my rabbits and I love their meat, but rabbit pellets are invaluable. If you work on a small homestead rabbits might be a great livestock option.
I first got into raising rabbits as a meat source. We went out and picked up a few cross bred bunnies that were cheap, $5.00-$10.00 each, and I just wasn’t having much luck at the beginning. They were dying on us and the ones that did survive had kits (baby bunnies) that would just die after a few weeks of age. I went on with this for 2 years. The other problem I had in my area was selling colored rabbits. My market wanted pure New Zealand rabbits and almost always wanted to start their own rabbitry.
My other market was for dog food. The most I could get for this market was $10.00 for 4-5 lb. rabbits. This wasn’t really bad because usually they take all the bunnies you can sell to them.
I really thought that I could get more money for the same work I was doing, so my decision was to get rid of all my rabbits and start over. I did just that with pure bred New Zealand Rabbits and have never regretted it. My market loves these rabbits and I get people from as far away as 200 miles to come buy my rabbits. I don’t have registered rabbits but as is they are worth $20.00 a doe all day long. We just eat the bucks: they grow faster anyway.
As far as efficacy on my homestead, I adore my rabbits and know they are an integral part of life here. I have tried feeding naturally with hay but this hasn’t worked for long. I have had problems getting my breeders to successfully kindle. I see wild rabbits eating from my garden every afternoon but my domesticated bunnies just don’t do well that way. I’m not saying it can’t be done I’m just saying it didn’t work as the main food. I do, however, feed them about 10% from the homestead (in winter) 50% from the homestead in the summer.
I think the hardest part of feeding hay is finding the right hay. Bunnies can be picky and some hay like alfalfa is just too high in protein. When you find good hay, buy as much as you can. Changing hay on rabbits can be just as bad as changing feed pellets on them. Young rabbits should also either have access to it from day one or not until they are 4 months old. While they drink milk from the doe they will have the right flora in the intestines to break down the hay. If you wean the kits and then give them hay, the kits can possibly die because they don’t produce the right flora yet. At about 4 months of age introducing hay slowly is the safest route.
For caging, I prefer wire cages, but I still have some wood cages. Wood cages harbor dangerous bacteria that will eventually kill rabbits. All wire cages are easier to clean and will be much more sanitary. The best way to clean all wire cages is to remove the rabbits, use a grill cleaning brush to scrub quickly, then run a weed burning torch over the cage. This is the quickest way to clean the cages and burn off all hair, webs, and bacteria.
Either way you build your pens, keep them high enough to easily collect the manure. Keeping them high enough will also make it easier for feeding, watering and breeding. Getting your bunnies set up right the first time not only makes it easier on you but also makes it cheaper in the long run.
I would like to explain why rabbit manure is my choice for a small homestead. Chicken manure is really hot (nitrogen so high it can burn your plants). Be prepared to compost poultry manure for at least one year. Chicken manure also needs to be mixed with straw or hay to compost properly.
Sheep and goat manure is not nearly as hot as poultry manure but it still needs to compost a few months before you can use it. Rabbit manure can be used fresh and won’t burn your plants. As a matter of fact, you can plant directly in the rabbit manure without any trouble. Now, not all plants do well this way because not all of the plant’s needs are present in the rabbit manure, so putting a layer of rabbit manure on top of the soil is usually the best bet.
Keeping rabbits is really easy once setup correctly. As I write I have 10 breeder New Zealand rabbits. This isn’t enough to give me all the manure I need on my ¾ acre but in the spring when they start producing kits (rabbit babies) I get all the manure I need. The more food I give them the more manure I get.
When I feed my rabbits, I keep in mind how efficient they are. If I put 1 cup of feed in, what doesn’t come out in manure comes out in meat. I love to eat rabbit and I love our fresh vegetables! My rabbits make both of them possible and help with a cycle on our small homestead.
Using the rabbit manure is easy: just spread it out around your plants. You don’t have to be concerned on how much to put because it’s never too much. The round little pellets will take a long time to break down if you just broadcast small amounts in the garden. If you put them out in the fall, most of it will be looking the same in the spring. Keeping moisture on the pellets will break it down faster. I like to spread the manure then cover it with leaves or straw. It will break down and the life in your soil will flourish.
If you can, I suggest just making a pile of manure and keeping it moist by sprinkling with water and turning the pile often. If conditions are right you will have a fresh compost looking pile in a few weeks. Then, spread it out anywhere in your garden. The look is much better and it will help improve your soil much more quickly.
I’m just scratching the surface with this article on the reason that I choose to raise rabbits. Rabbits can benefit any small homestead. City dwellers can really benefit from keeping rabbits. You probably won’t have any city ordinances saying you can’t keep rabbits where chickens are banned. Using containers to grow plants in rabbit manure could be a real possibility in that sort of situation.
If you don’t have rabbits, consider getting some and if you do have some please use that manure because it’s just a blessing to your soil!