GROW A SURVIVAL GARDEN NOW- for you and your rabbits!
There are many preparations and skills needed for running a successful homestead in good times or bad. Now is the time to learn these skills weather you live in a urban, suburban, or rural setting, you can start by growing some food to feed your family and rabbits.
Start today by building your knowledge, library, and skills to handle all the chores needed to run a homestead. Start a garden, plant some vegetables, fruit,berry and nut trees, and of course start raising rabbits! This way you will to have the skills needed when the bad times may come.
As you learn these skills you eat healthy food, you save money, as less grocery’s are needed and no taxes are paid for growing your own (yet). Seeds cost little money and can be free if you learn to save your own.
It is because today we are so far removed from our food sources, that we must relearn these skills that our grandparents knew. This is also why some of our forefathers often screwed up and starved to death because of lack off knowledge and skills.
Let me start with saying when I first started gardening and raising rabbits that I have killed plants, lost rabbits, and had some failures and setbacks as I first started, but do not give up the results you get in the future are worth it. The time to make mistakes is now while you can still purchase food to replace your mistakes without starving to death.
Lack of experience is a big problem in the amount and consistency of your harvest. Even experienced gardeners have bad years. Nature can work against you bugs, drought, flooding and other weather related issues can cause a lack of production, as you gain experience you will learn how to overcome these issues.
Working a garden now also lets you learn what to grow and what you like the taste of. Also by using heirloom plants so you can save seeds and even develop a strain of plant that will grow better in your area. This is also true with rabbits and other livestock as generations of that animal grow they grow accustomed to that climate and produce offspring that will grow and produce better. By saving and breeding the best you will have the best. My favorite saying is “Save The Best, Eat The Rest”
Every year I try to grow something new in the garden and learn a few more skills. This year I am growing Black Oil Sunflower Seeds to make my own oil and feeding the rabbits and chickens the byproducts. I am working on making a small scale oil press in the workshop for the sunflower experiment. This year I am also trying to grow Yacon as feed for the family, rabbits, and chickens. This is not usually grown in my climate but it has been done.
You will need to learn when do you start seeds where you live and what planting zone your state is?
What is the date of first and last frost?
What grows well in your area or in your soil?
Will you and your faimly eat them?
What plants to grow for your rabbits?
Do you really want to wait to find out after the Shit hits the fan?
Do you have your hutches built for your rabbits? What about the materials and tools to build them with, wire, wood, sheet metal?
Do you have everything you will need for any emergencies for your family and your livestock. These are just a few of the things you should learn now.
You need to plan now for what animals you want to raise, You need to know which wild plants will kill you and your rabbits and what wild plants weed will feed you and your protien source. You will need to know about rabbits. What is the gestation A rabbit?, How to feed a rabbit without pellets?, When to breed your rabbits? All this information and more can be found on this website, our Facebook page, all the guest podcasts and blogs we have done, We are now launching our new RABBIT REVOLUTION RADIO SHOW and the new YOU TUBE stuff for July. I will be constantly updating this post as time goes on. Thanks for reading my stuff. Join The Rabbit Revolution by liking us on Facebook and listening to the radio show. Raising Meat Rabbits To Save The World!
When you start with rabbits you should worry more about learning all you can about raising rabbits and not how many a year you can get, you will learn with your rabbits as they grow and go through their life cycles. Your rabbits will teach you lots more than I ever could!
Learn how to butcher, cut up a whole rabbit and the MANY rabbit recipes, find your favorite recipes and grow some of the herbs and other ingredients in them. Learn how to freeze, smoke, and even pressure can your rabbit meat. When you have all this information and experience under your belt, then you can worry about high production!
If you have a crazy work schedule (like me) there are ways to help with this so your does will kindle on certain days of the week.
If you breed your does on the weekend (do not forget to mark that day on your calendar) 28 days later put in the nest boxes. The 28th day should fall on the weekend again, this works out well if the weekend is when you do your weekly rabbit chores (cleaning cages, emptying drop pans, bleaching crocks and bottles etc.) and since you are working in the rabbitry is also a good day to put in the nest boxes. The doe should have her litter during the week on day 30 or day 31 after breeding (remember you marked the breeding date on the calendar!). This should be on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Rabbits will usually kindle at night so if you work days you should be home in time to check on the new litter. If doe doesn’t kindle by day 35 you should breed her again. This again should fall on a Saturday or a Sunday.
I breed my does on a Wednesday. This is because I work during the week and never know what time I will get home. This way the does will kindle on the weekend when I am home working on the homestead.
When I first started with rabbits feed was cheap and everyone was using pellets. I could breed some of my high production New Zealand’s to get 8 big litters a year. Now I am looking to be more self sufficient with my life and my rabbits. With this new change I raise less rabbits (easier to grow and harvest food for 10 rabbits than 50) and a more natural feeding program I am happy with 5 to 6 litters a year. The litters may be a little smaller but the cost and sustainability is priceless!
How many litters a year can I get from my rabbits? This question I get asked all the time. There are many factors including types of feed and hereditary factors. Here is a breeding schedule for the amount of litters a year you want. Remember raising rabbits is not perfect you many get a doe that misses, or loses a litter.
LITTERS A YEAR-
4 Kindle litter- Rebreed 60 days after kindling- Wean kits at 60 days- Kindle next litter 91 days
5 Kindle litter- Rebreed 42 days after kindling- Wean kits at 56 days- Kindle next litter 73 days
6 Kindle litter- Rebreed 28 days after kindling- Wean kits at 42 days- Kindle next litter 59 days
7 Kindle litter- Rebreed 21 days after kindling- Wean kits at 35 days- Kindle next litter 52 days
8 Kindle litter- Rebreed 14 days after kindling- Wean kits at 28 days- Kindle next litter 45 days
4 to 6 litters a year are more likely with a natural feeding program, 6 to 8 litters a year will require more management and the need for a high protein production pellet.
You should have a calendar in your rabbitry or a calendar in the house just for your rabbits, I have a large calendar hanging in my rabbitry so I can see when to put in a nest box, I put the cage numbers on the date when the nest box should go in and when they are due. Here is a gestation chart that I use all the time.
31 Day Gestation Chart
5 5 8 8 9 9 10 10 10 11 11 12 12
6 6 9 9 10 10 11 11 11 12 12 13 13
7 7 10 10 11 11 12 12 12 13 13 14 14
8 8 11 11 12 12 13 13 13 14 14 15 15
9 9 12 12 13 13 14 14 14 15 15 16 16
10 10 13 13 14 14 15 15 15 16 16 17 17
11 11 14 14 15 15 16 16 16 17 17 18 18
12 12 15 15 16 16 17 17 17 18 18 19 19
13 13 16 16 17 17 18 18 18 19 19 20 20
14 14 17 17 18 18 19 19 19 20 20 21 21
15 15 18 18 19 19 20 20 20 21 21 22 22
16 16 19 19 20 20 21 21 21 22 22 23 23
17 17 20 20 21 21 22 22 22 23 23 24 24
18 18 21 21 22 22 23 23 23 24 24 25 25
19 19 22 22 23 23 24 24 24 25 25 26 26
20 20 23 23 24 24 25 25 25 26 26 27 27
21 21 24 24 25 25 26 26 26 27 27 28 28
22 22 25 25 26 26 27 27 27 28 28 29 29
23 23 26 26 27 27 28 28 28 29 29 30 30
24 24 27 27 28 28 29 29 29 30 30 31 31
25 25 28 28 29 29 30 30 30 31 1 1
26 26 29 29 30 30 31 31 1 1 2 2
27 27 30 30 31 1 1 1 2 2 3 3
28 28 31 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 4 4
29 1 1 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 5 5
30 2 2 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 6 6
31 3 3 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 7 7
To use this chart, find the month and day that the breeding occurred and then straight across to the next column on the right to determine the due date, this is based on a 31 day gestation. Remember that 31 days is the normal gestation time for most rabbits, but it’s not uncommon for does to kindle their litters from day 28 to day 32. I always put my nest boxes in at day 27 or 28.
JOIN THE RABBIT REVOLUTION! Start raising rabbits today! LIKE US ON FACEBOOK and get daily information on rabbits and homesteading. I am looking for more ideas for posts please email us at email@example.com and let me know what you want to read about. Working on RABBIT REVOLUTION RADIO a weekly online radio show about rabbits and more! Thanks for reading! May your litters be large and grow fast!
NATURALLY FEEDING RABBITS
Domestic rabbits are descended from European wild rabbits and should have no problem with a non-pelleted diet that includes a variety of feedstuff. Older rabbit books are useful sources of this information. Let’s face it, pellets only came on the market after World War II.
If you are feeding pellets, I suggest you contact the feed company and ask for an ingredients list. Not just a nutritional breakdown, but a list of the actual items used. You may be in for a surprise. I was! Some years ago I asked for this list from one of the big-name feed companies that made it. I was shocked to find animal tallow among the ingredients, also listed was animal flour and animal fats. Rabbits are herbivores that eat mostly green food, grain and roots. Now what does a herbivore want with animal tallow, animal flour, and animal fat! I looked into it more and found that GMO grown grains and soy were also used in rabbits pellets. So now in most brands of rabbit pellets they include the GMO grown soy mill waste products as the main feed ingredient.
So I began to learn about feeding my rabbits a more natural type food program. By experimenting and watching the rabbits I have learned a lot, not all good! The rabbits are the best teachers and they teach you a lot. During the growing season, nature makes my rabbit food!
I am not knocking all pellets, some pellets are better than others and if you choose to use them just be informed. But there are alternatives if you are willing to learn. Most rabbits if given a choice prefer the hay and greens and will eat far fewer pellets. I have done this test myself and the feeder was always full of pellets when they had the option of a natural feed source over pellets. Where fryers are concerned, you will need to adjust your expectations slightly. Rabbits fed mainly on natural foods will grow a bit more slowly than those fed only pellets and may take a couple of weeks longer to reach butchering weight. But your overall cost per pound will be less and the fryers should have more meat and less fat. I think the reason they grow more slowly is related to protein levels, which are higher in pellets than in a diet of hay, greens and grain.
I should emphasize that I would never advocated this method of feeding in large rabbitries or for show rabbits or the commercial production of meat. It is a system best suited to the small homestead rabbitry, where the main goal is to provide good, healthy meat for one’s own table. Please, remember to be careful starting off. Natural feeding is great for the rabbits and great for the pocketbook, but you must take responsibility for doing the necessary homework to keep your rabbits safe. Please remember that while I am happy to share my observations on this topic and while I have had excellent results with supplementing commerical pellets with the green feeds listed on my webpage, I am still experimenting. Go slowly with your rabbits and be watchfull for problems. Get a good book on weeds if you are not knowledgeable enough to identify them without help. When in doubt, DON’T
Most of us started homesteading because we wanted to take control of what goes into the meat and other food that we eat. While it’s a whole lot more work, I think the only real way that we can do that is to completely ditch commercial mixtures and make or grow our own animal food from scratch. I truly think that feeding a variety of different foods is what is going to work in the long run, not some commercially prepared mixture based on some scientific guidelines which may or may not be accurate for the animals we are raising.
Natural feeding saves money but is more labour intensive. I like to save money, but I think my real motivation is the health, happiness and well-being of the rabbits. I am convinced it is very best for the health of the rabbits. Some of the results are the absence of digestive problems (No gut stasis or weaning enteritis! and the wonderful flavour of the “grass fed” meat). I have never had a rabbit that really loved pellets! Rabbits lead boring enough lives as it is, (unless they live in a colony setting more on this subject in a future post!). Why deny them the pleasures of fresh, varied, natural foods!
I now feed a combination of natural and pellets. If the source of natural food is good and fresh, it will make up for short comings in the pellets. I would just feed a natural diet if i had less rabbits and more time. I would like to stress that this method of feeding, was the only way to feed rabbits before pelleted foods were invented, it is frowned upon in today’s world and considered controversial by many. I have been getting very good results with it, but I am still always learning buy the best of teachers, the rabbits themselves! I have nothing but my own experience and some old books to base this on. If you wish to use this method you must expect to be vigilant and adaptable while you are learning what works with you and your rabbits.
I know that lots of people are going to choose to supplement with natural foods rather than feed them exclusively. There is nothing wrong with this, I do this myself. I feel it gives the rabbits the best of both worlds. I also think each breeder has to find what works best for themselves and their rabbits. Remember the sustainability of a natural food program may be the only way to feed your rabbits one day. So by just supplementing now, you will learn what works, how to grow, how to harvest, how to dry and store (for winter use) all the while getting your rabbits gut flora adapted to this “new” diet.
Rabbits digestive systems are perfectly capable of digesting the greens, but they must develop the proper flora in their GI tract and that does not happen overnight. Make your transition to greens gradually, working the amounts up from a few leaves to as much as you can find for them. In the wild, rabbits eat greens from the time their eyes open and suffer no ill effects. The greens are always fresh since they are growing when the rabbits eat them and because there is always more there is no tendency to overeat. I usually transition new rabbits over a period of two months. Most rabbits, given the choice, prefer the hay and greens and will eat far fewer pellets. Grass hay can be added immediately with no problems and should be offered at all times. It is really good for their digestion and will help prevent weaning enteritis in fryers.
What I try to do is work with the cycle of the seasons. So in the spring I would feed fresh small greens (dandelions, plantain, grasses, sprouted branches etc.). All what is growing in the spring and what is available in season. In the winter The wild rabbits don’t get as much “fresh food” they depend heavily on weed and grass seeds, standing grass “hay”, roots when they can get them, tree bark and buds. (In your climate the seasons are going to be different and you will learn to work with them. Your tough time may be in a season of drought while mine is the winter)
Foods during warmer months include a variety of sedges, grasses and other herbaceous plants. Important species include panic grass, plantain, dandelion, crabgrass, ragweed, croton, clover and lespedeza. Agricultural crops eaten during the summer include clover, alfalfa, soybeans, peanuts (the green plant) and garden vegetables.
Winter foods include honeysuckle, lespedeza, blackberry, greenbrier, a variety of grasses and dried vegetation. Bark, twigs and buds from sumac, black cherry, willow, holly and dogwood also are eaten. Agricultural crops consumed during the winter include rye, wheat, alfalfa, clover, corn, peanuts and ryegrass. Wild rabbits have been known to damage fruit orchards by eating the bark of fruit trees. Buds of seedlings in pine plantations also may be eaten during the winter.
Consider a day in the life of a wild rabbit. they would spend 70% of their time above ground searching out and foraging for food while keeping an eye out for predators. As a ground feeder, a rabbits diet would be mainly made up of grasses, hay, herbs and bark – all high fibre foods! Rabbits can not climb trees to get fruit, and they would not actually go around digging up carrots either. The rabbits territory would be around 2+ acres, meaning they would get a lot of exercise every day searching out food across that area. The rabbit’s whole existence has evolved around this high fibre diet.
Rabbits from different areas eat different diets they ate what was available in and around their surroundings. Marsh rabbits would feed on leaves and bulbs of marsh plants including cattails, rushes, and grasses. They can also feed on other aquatic or marsh plants such as centella, greenbrier vine, marsh pennywort, water hyacinth, wild potato, and amaryllis. Marsh rabbits make more year-round use of woody vegetation than other species of rabbits. The swamp rabbit eats reeds, plants, and grasses native to its marshy habitat. The Brush Rabbit feeds mainly on grasses and forbs, especially green clover, though it will also take berries and browse from bushes. The desert rabbit mainly eats grass, but will eat many other plants, even cacti. It rarely needs to drink, getting its water mostly from the plants it eats or from dew. So take advantage of what type of area you live in and feed your rabbits accordingly.
When the rabbits are in cages and dependent on people, the chances of problems increase. Most rabbits, will get used to eating greens over a period of a few weeks, they will not overeat or have problems digesting the greens. If you go slowly, feed some of the regulators (plantain, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry leaves) along with the other greens. (think salad bar) Always clear out any uneaten greens and you should not have any problems. However, it is good to keep in mind that rabbits, like people, can have individual sensitivities and tastes.
Even people in urban areas can grow rabbit food! Grow in containers, on balconies, in windowsills and you will be surprised how much you can grow. See if there is a community garden in your area, and if there isn’t one, maybe you could start one! Local schools would be thrilled if you started a project for kids to start a garden and grow their own food. You could incorporate a herb and weed bed to attract beneficial insects and feed your rabbits!
I’ve never heard of a rabbit over-eating on grass hay. Hay ( like timothy/clover ) is the foundation of the rabbits diet. Grass hay is very good for rabbits for GI tract health. It is not so high in protein so if you are feeding pellets, this is the best hay to use. Hay is used as fiber and keeps things moving fast thru the GI tract. I would be more careful with alfalfa hay however as it is much richer. When I am feeding alfalfa hay in winter, they get a limited amount of alfalfa hay and as much grass hay as they want. I know a lot of people say not to feed fresh alfalfa or alfalfa hay because it is “too rich” but if you are not feeding pellets or have cut way back on the pellets, alfalfa becomes a valuable food source. After all, it is a major ingredient in many brands of pellets, so why be afraid to use it. Feeding alfalfa and clover is probably the most controversial aspect of feeding rabbits naturally. Legumes are high in protein and calcium. Because there is already a lot of alfalfa in the pellets, when feeding a combination it is possible for the rabbits to get too much protein and calcium. Excess calcium can result in “bladder sludge” as the unused calcium is excreted. Drying alfalfa and clover is supposed to help, I suggest, however, keeping the amount of these two excellent greens down or not at all if you are also feeding pellets!
The rabbits certainly get more hay and less green feed in the winter. In the winter I grow wheat and other grain grasses (under lights in the house), I pot up some chard, make sprouts and also feed a lot of dried greens for them (that was harvested during the spring and summer months). Just as wild rabbits adjust their diet as winter comes and eat a lot more dried grass and tree bark and buds and less grass and weeds, so do my rabbits. If you have a lot of rabbits it really is going to be hard to grow enough. You may also be able to harvest some of your homegrown wheat or barley as hay, just as it forms the seed heads and store for winter feed.
The difference between grass and hay is Grass is usually cut green and growing- So it is low in fiber and high in protein. Hay- (especially legume hay) is often cut quite mature to maximize production and the mature grass is higher in fiber. Legumes like alfalfa are also stemmy. But hay will be lower in vitamins compared to fresh grass. Timothy hay is great for GI health and for nibbling pleasure but it does not have very much protein compared to alfalfa or clover hay. You may find you need to continue feeding some pellets to supply enough protein unless you can find some alfalfa or clover hay. A mix of alfalfa with timothy is great. If you are not feeding pellets, however, the rabbits have to get their protein somewhere else and this is where alfalfa or clover hay comes in. You don’t really want to double up on the protein, so it is not so good for pellet-fed rabbits. Rabbits can live on good hay alone, fed free-choice. I don’t recommend it, but it provides a baseline for planning. In winter, some grain is a good idea. I found that the does needed it when they are lactating. The dried greens are great for the rabbits they provide variety and interest and lots of nutrients. I think if you dry the same quantity that you feed fresh that seems as good a way of estimating as any. Don’t forget that you can also feed windowsill greens to the rabbits this will be another food source if you start to run low in late winter. Grain grass is the easiest and very fast-growing you can cut it several times before it starts to get straggly.
Vegetables should be introduced one at a time if your rabbit is young. Monitor their droppings to make sure that they can tolerate what they are eating. If you notice any changes, discontinue feeding that vegetable. Make sure your rabbits vegetables are always fresh. If it smells “off” or if you would not eat it yourself, throw it out. Greens and veggies could cause a problem if fed in massive quantities-the rabbit is a pig by nature-if the uneaten greens are allowed to wilt and spoil-if fed in too great a quantity when the rabbits are not accustomed to it. Organic vegetables are ideal for rabbits since they are so sensitive to pesticides and chemicals used on commercial produce. Whatever you choose, be sure to wash it thoroughly and pick it over for bugs.
A great variety of vegetables exists and most can be found in your local grocery store.(But remember we are going for sustainability so grow it or hunt for it). Dark, leafy greens should be fed at least once a day. Carrot tops, watercress, radish leaves, collard greens, beet and turnip tops, romaine lettuce, red and green leaf lettuce, endive, chard, and dandelions are some of the most popular (avoid dandelions or other safe feeds picked from roadsides or unfamiliar yards you do not want to give your rabbits a fertilizer or pesticide cocktail). Other vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes (without stems! stems and leaves of the tomato plant are toxic to rabbits), sugar peas and fennel. Rabbits especially like fragrant and tasty herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, arugula and mint. You can dry most of the greens mentioned. Yes, they wilt but then they dry like hay would. Once thoroughly dry they will keep through the next winter. This really helps for winter feeding.
Daily vegetables are a vital source of nutrition for your rabbits. Amounts fed will vary by the rabbit’s size, weight and preference. Some people feed vegetables both in the morning and evening, others alternate meals of pellets and vegetables. Some people mix a variety of veggies together like a salad (i do this), some feed one vegetable at a time.
Mangel beets should be stored before feeding, the old books say never the tops of the mangels for rabbits and never before Christmas. Feed mangels in moderation. Mangel beets, sugar beets and garden beets are all useful for feeding rabbits and are a great food that stores good for winter feed.
Plantain and blackberries. Both great as food for rabbits, both good fresh or dried and both an excellent remedy for diarrhea. Plantain is one of the very safest greens for rabbits and even young kits can eat it. I’ve dried raspberry leaves on the cane and it works well, but i think it might be better just to cut off the leaflets. The thorns on the blackberries are truly vicious.
I highly recommend red clover in a rabbit greens garden. You can get an awful lot of greens off a small patch and in season it recovers from a cutting in no time.
Sunflowers you can plant as thickly as you please and then pull the extra seedlings for an early spring green. Leave some a little longer and use them as “cut and come again” greens. Let the best ones mature for seeds. And they do provide shade once matured keeping the rabbits cool as well as feeding them you can remove leaves to feed during the summer I’ve never dried sunflower plants, but my rabbits love them fresh. No reason they couldn’t be dried. You probably lose a bit of nutrition drying them, but they are still excellent. An airy place in light shade might work better
and also dry and save the seeds.
Grape vines, even wild grapes, are another good feed plus shade plant
Many plants contain a naturally occurring chemicals called an alkaloids, which are mild toxins that protect plant in the wild. The one most talked about with rabbits is oxalic acid and it is completely harmless to animals or humans when consumed in small amounts. The amount of oxalic acid within each plant can vary significantly due to several factors including the composition of the soil the plant grew in, the time of year and the age of the plant. Most of the fresh vegetables we feed rabbits have a low to zero level of oxalic acid, but a few, most notably parsley, mustard greens and spinach, lambsquarter,comfrey have relatively high levels. (Note that kale, which is often implicated as a high oxalate food is actually very low in oxalates when young). The toxicity of oxalic acid comes with feeding large quantities of foods high in this chemical and can cause damage to the kidneys over time. These foods are nutritious and should not need be excluded from the diet if you feed them proplery.These vegetables should be fed moderately as they are high in vitamin A (that a rabbits needs!) I recommend feeding a minimum of at least 3 types of leafy greens a day (and only one of them should be from the group listed above) Don’t feed the same greens all the time from week to week if possible, mix it up. For instance if you feed parsley this week, then leave it out of the diet for next week and use something else. Rotating the greens will also give your rabbits better all around nutrition!
Never feed rabbits iceberg lettuce, rhubarb, raw beans, apple seeds, peach pits, potatoes or corn. These items can cause illness and even death. Likewise, never feed anything that you are uncertain about. Most rabbits love fruit, but it must be offered in small amounts due to the high sugar content. Peaches, nectarines, papaya, pineapple, apple, grapes (and raisins), pear, banana, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apricots and strawberries are some of the most popular fruits. A one-inch slice of banana, or two blackberries, is plenty for a treat. Be sure to remove any pits or seeds as they may be poisonous(Check out the February 2012 post SAFE FOOD LIST FOR RABBITS and POISONOUS PLANTS TO RABBITS)
Now that your rabbits are accustomed to greens, they can have a lot. Mine barely bother with their hay or grain when they have lots of greens and they do just fine. Baby rabbits that have access to greens from the beginning, when they first pop out of the nest box and begin tasting solid foods, should have no problems with greens. Also if the mother was fed greens while nursing, it seems to have gotten the kits to adjust early. They sort of “grow into them” as their taste for solid foods increases, just as with baby wild rabbits.
A holder or manger is best to feed your natural feeds to your rabbits, but sometimes I just stack it in a clean front corner of the cage. They don’t mess it up if you feed them only as much as they can eat before the next feeding.
You can also dry weeds and other plants in time of plenty for use in the winter. I did not get as much of that done last year as I should have and hope to do a lot better this year. I dry on racks and combine in tubs with grass hay I do not worry if the dryed herbs and greens are combined uniformly. I basically mix them and store in old grain bags or pillow cases ( Use the paper grain bags as they can breathe). I then have a small bin that I fill and keep in the barn with the feed (this gets used up fairly quickly). The seeds obviously want to settle to the bottom, so I give it (the bin) a shake to keep them mixed up. I make a Botanical blended hay for the winter rabbit “blahs” by mixing some of the regulators (plantain, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry leaves) with some dried fragrant herbs they love this stuff! You can dry things like rose canes, raspberry canes and weeping willow whips in bunches with the leaves on for winter use.
Greens can simply be air-dried for winter, but in a damp climate you must ensure that they don’t go moldy. Mold appears on hay or greens as a white powdery coating that will get into the air when disturbed. Not good for either you or the rabbits! Good air circulation during drying and storage in containers that breathe are good. Use large onion bags or pillow cases you can also just bundle larger branches and hang to dry. Those blackberry canes with the leaves on should dry well, as will willow whips with the leaves attached. Smaller plants and wonderful weeds like dandelion, chicory, sow thistle, mallow etc.(see the SAFE FOOD LIST FOR RABBITS for botanical names just be shure you are harvesting the right plant).They can be dried on screens or in onion bags.
Try to find a spot in breezy shaded area that would be ideal. NEVER store hay in closed plastic bags. Fresh hay still holds moisture that may mold if kept in plastic. Plastic garbage cans with lids are adequate for storage providing the can is not left in high heat or direct sunlight. Card board boxes or woven nylon feed sacks allow the hay to breathe rather than sweat. Hay in bales will stay fresh for a year or more but loose fill bags will become stale very quickly
Certain trees can be used as forage for rabbits and dried for winter use as well: willow and poplar are two that are excellent and easy to find. Their leaves are quite high in protein and the rabbits will eat the bark from small twigs and branches as well. Here ia a list of trees that I know are safe. These include: Alder, Birch, poplar, willow, sugar maple, silver maple, apple, pear, mulberry, sycamore, ash, hackberry, rose, and gooseberry are all good for rabbits. My rabbits love the tree branches! Especially when they are budding out. Any native safe listed tree branches are good for your rabbits, The rabbits will chew all the buds off, then peel the tender bark, then throw the stick around in their cage. So plant a weeping willow, They grow very fast and provide a lot of forage for the rabbits can also be used as shade for rabbits as well as a food source willow is high in protein, and very palatable to rabbits.
How much to feed that is the toughest question? You will need to experiment. Give them what you think is about right. If there are leftovers, cut back a little. If it is all gone, increase it a little until you know how much they will use. There will still be some waste, but not near as much as if you just feed it free choice. Rabbits are funny what you have to give them NOW is far more attractive than the same item that is already in their hay rack or dish. If you visit them twice a day, feed them twice, but only half as much. They will enjoy it more and waste less.
There are a number of unsafe/toxic food lists out there for rabbits, (also check our blog for POISONOUS PLANTS TO RABBITS) which one should be aware of when foraging for rabbits be shure to know what you are feeding rabbits! Oak leaves and pine needles in particular are tasty for the rabbits but not good for them Pine needles because they can cause tearing and internal lacerations if the rabbits don’t chew them fully and oak leaves, like apple seeds, can cause cyanide poisoning.
The useful wild plants for rabbits include young trees, leaves and shoots. Clovers and vetches are legumes (but watch out some of their seeds are poisonous). The useful wild plants are: coltsfoot, comfrey, chickweed, cow parsley, docks, sorret (sour dock), dandelion, fat hen, groundsel, heather, Plantain, Shepherds Purse, sow thistle, watercress, bind weed, celandine, wild iris, fool’s parsley, henbane, and lettuce.
This is just a quick list of what to grow or find for your rabbits natural food source-
Arugala, Basil, Beets, Borage, Brambles(raspberry,blackberry), Calendula, Carrot(feed the greens,the root as a treat as it is high in sugar content), Cattails–Cattails shoots provide essential vitamins such as beta carotene, niacin, thiamine, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin C. also has sodium which is good for rabbits on a natural food base diet,
Chicory, Cilantro, Dandelion, Fennel, Fenugreek, Filaree, Mint, Mustard (wild and domestic), Parsley, Plantain (one of my favorite feed for rabbits),
Queen Ann’s lace-(Daucus carota) is pretty much the same as garden carrots (Daucus carota sativa), just in its wild form. The foliage and roots are safe for rabbits, but mature flowers and seeds may certainly cause problems and may even be toxic.(I have learned the hard way with the flowers and seeds and have killed a few rabbits).The seed of Queen Anne’s lace has been used by humans for centuries as a birth control method. Not what you want for rabbits! If you cut your Queen Anne’s lace plants to the ground frequently, they will respond by giving a constant crop of lacy greens. Let some mature for next year’s crop. Queen Anne’s lace is a biennial,
Radish- One of the things I grow regularly for the rabbits is icicle radishes.The greens to the icicles get huge (unlike red,round radishes),and the rabbits love them. I pull up 3 radishes a day and throw the whole plant to the rabbits.They grow so quickly and can be planted in small spaces anywhere,
Red and green leaf lettuce, Rose, Spinach, Shepherd’s purse, Strawberries, Sunflowers-The rabbits LOVED them.leaves and seeds. I will be planting more sunflowers next year. The other benifit is that the mature plants provided shade and it helped shade the building where the rabbits are housed,
White clover, Yarrow, and lots more!
Do not forget flowers- dandelion, clover blossoms, marigolds all are well liked by rabbits, mustard, basil, borage, burnet, calendula (pot marigold), camomile, clover, coriander (cilantro), dandelion, dill, daisy, fennel, hyssop, jasmine, wild pansy, lavender, rose, rosemary, sage, sunflower, thyme, plantain. Rabbits are built to eat grass, and only supplement their diet in the wild with leaves, vegetables, bark, flowers, etc., when available or they are particularly hungry. Flowers are very high in sugars and should only be given as the occasional treat. And some may be poisonous, so if in doubt,don’t
WINTER FEED IDEAS-
Dried plants saved from summer provide variety and extra nutrients. Still, rabbits crave fresh, green foods in winter. Rather then feed them expensive fresh foods from the store on a regular basis, try some of these ideas.
GROW GRAIN GRASS: Fresh foods are nice for the rabbits and I buy some dollar store rectangular dishpans, put about two inches of soil in them and plant grain: wheat, rye, oats. I don’t bother with drainage holes. It’s the same idea as growing “cat grass” but on a larger scale. When the grass is about four inches long you can start harvesting it and you will get several harvests from one tub before it gets discouraged. Then just start over. You will want more than one on the go so there is always some grass ready to cut.
SUNFLOWER SPROUTS: Another dishpan, this one planted with sunflower seeds. Start cutting them once they have true leaves or let them grow on for a bit. Replant as needed.
POT UP WEEDS: A dishpan of transplanted weeds – especially dandelion and plantain – will give your rabbits tasty nibbles all winter. Try to find small plants as they are easier to transplant. Sprinkle on some of those dandelion seeds too, but they wil take much longer to establish themselves.
FORCE TWIGS: Twigs cut from safe trees can be fed to the rabbits all winter long, They relish the bark and buds and it is good for their teeth. It should also be possible, however, to bring some twigs inside and put them in a jar with a couple inches of water. It will take a bit of time, but they will break dormancy and begin to leaf out. When ready to serve, remove the part that was sitting in water.It could have mould,or bad bacteria on it.
SWEET POTATO VINE: In spite of their name, sweet potatoes are not from the same family as regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes have edible vines and leaves. You can start them by pushing in toothpicks so that only the base is in water. They will soon sprout and send up lots of edible greens.(I remember doing this in school as a youngster)
WASTE FEED- Trimmings from the kitchen meals
I have fed my rabbits lot’s of natural feed sources for over my 30+ years of raising rabbits and have learned a lot! I am always looking for new ideas to feed rabbits without an outside food source, So any input or new ideas are welcome! I am planting more and trying new ideas all the time. I am now putting together some package of seeds and will offer them as a Rise And Shine Rabbit Garden These will be ready this January for spring planting I am also making up packets of fodder seed for rabbits so you can grow your own rabbit hay. Writing up posts for GROWING A RABBIT GARDEN and GROWING HAY FOR RABBITS to be ready with the seeds!
COOKING RABBIT- HINTS AND TRICKS
Unless you’re a vegetarian, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider eating rabbit instead of ham, turkey, chicken or beef for dinner. This country still has the Easter Bunny syndrome! Europeans, especially the French, Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, Hungarians and Germans eat lots of rabbit.
If we can get over our prejudices, eating rabbit makes a lot of sense. Four ounces of roasted rabbit meat has 175 calories and 7.2 grams of fat, slightly less in both categories than skinless turkey dark meat. And rabbit meat has more flavor than chicken, to which it is often compared.
Rabbit is an all white meat that’s lower in cholesterol than chicken or turkey (164 mg of cholesterol in rabbit vs. 220 mg in chicken), has just 795 calories per pound (chicken has 810 calories per pound), and has the highest percentage of protein and the lowest percentage of fat of any meat. In short, meat doesn’t get any healthier. If you want more information I have a post in the October archives on the HEALTH BENEFITS OF RABBIT MEAT check it out. Now on to cooking rabbit!
Jointing a Rabbit-
Working with rabbit is very much like working with chicken. Think of the forelegs as wings. There isn’t much breast meat but the saddle or tenderloin makes up for it. When cutting up a rabbit, remove hind legs and forelegs and the saddle (or have the butcher do it). The bony rib cage can be used for stock. A 2-1/2 pound rabbit should serve 2 people, more if you have a rich sauce or several side dishes.
Although a rabbit can be roasted whole (stuffed or unstuffed), it is most often cut into pieces and cooked slowly in a casserole or stew. Domestic rabbit, although available as saddle or legs, may still need to be cut into smaller pieces before cooking.
1. Lay the rabbit, on its back, on a chopping board and cut the legs away from the main carcass with a large chef’s knife. (To cut right through the bone, it may be necessary to tap the back of the knife with a kitchen weight or mallet, protecting the back of the knife with a cloth.)
2. Cut down the center of the legs to separate them. Then divide each leg in two, cutting through the knee joint. Cut the body into three or four pieces, making the last cut just below the ribcage
3. Cutting lengthwise through the center of the breastbone, divide the ribcage section in half. If you wish to remove small bones from the flesh around the breastbone, use pliers or pull them with your fingers.
Rabbit Cooking Hints and Tricks-
For safety, cook rabbit until it reaches 160 degrees F.
A rabbit weighing between 2.5 lbs and 3.5 lbs makes six portions: two saddles, two thighs and two front legs.
Either cooked or raw, rabbit meat freezes very well.
Rabbit meat can be grilled, roasted, braised, fried or barbecued. It also makes great terrines and pates, and the liver and kidneys are delicious.
It takes 60 to 90 minutes to cook rabbit meat at 325F (160C).
Rabbit can easily be used in recipes calling for chicken, turkey and veal.
As rabbit is a lean meat, it is important to baste it often when roasting to avoid it drying out.
Excellent rabbit seasonings include parsley, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, lemon-grass, coriander, and basil.
Rabbit may be soaked in a marinade of sugar or honey, red wine, or olive oil seasoned with herbs.
Fryer rabbit can replace chicken in almost any recipe, but if you’ve never cooked rabbit before, it’s a great idea to start with a trusted recipe.
When barbecuing rabbit, marinate the meat first or baste it with a mix of lemon juice and olive oil with herbs. Grill it first on high heat, than continue to cook it on medium heat for a further 40 to 45 minutes with the lid closed.
Fresh herbs marry very well with rabbit meat. Try basil, lemon grass, coriander, bay leaf, parsley, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and sage. It also works well with wine-based sauces and fruit sauces made with raspberry, pear and apple.
Use rabbit legs as a substitute for chicken in paella or other dishes.
Though white wine is often used to deglaze the pan that rabbit is sauteed in, you can also use grappa (the fiery Italian clear brandy) and balsamic vinegar.
Rabbit liver is unusually large and unusually delicious. Sear it on both sides in clarified butter, leaving it pink inside. Then add a few shallots to the pan with some wine, port or brandy and cook a few minutes. Process with a touch of cream, salt, pepper and a pinch of allspice or nutmeg for quick pate.
When roasting whole, buttered or lard with pork back fat, or wrap in foil to keep the flesh moist and tender. Or bone the main body and fill with a stuffing. Baste the rabbit frequently during cooking.
Marinate in wine or olive oil, with aromatic vegetables and seasonings, before cooking to help tenderize the meat.
Poach or braise young rabbits; stew or casserole older ones.
Use a rabbit to make a terrine. Grind the rabbit meat with 2 shallots and mix in 2 eggs, two-thirds cup heavy cream, 2 tbsp. shelled pistachios, 1 tbsp. dried cranberries, 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, and seasonings. Place in a pot lined with bacon slices and bake in a water bath at 350 degrees F for 2 hours. Add 1 and one-quarter cups liquid aspic after cooking. Allow to cool and refrigerate until set.
To roast a rabbit, rub it down with olive oil and chopped herbs and place it in a roasting pan. It may then be baked just like a chicken, at about 350 degrees F. (A 2 pound rabbit takes about 1 – 1 1/2 hours to cook at this temperature.)
Begin by browning the rabbit in a little olive oil. Then place the meat in a pot and cover it about a quarter of the way with water. Cover the pot and allow the meat to simmer for about an hour.
Chop the rabbit meat into small pieces (about one inch square). If desired, roll in flour or seasonings. In a preheated pan with a little olive oil added, brown the meat on every side. Place the meat in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Cover the pan with a well-fitted lid and simmer for at least two hours, or until meat is tender. Add vegetables to the last hour of cooking.
Thin cuts of rabbit (no more than one inch thick) are suitable for sauteing. First, preheat a pan and add a small amount of olive oil. Place the rabbit in the pan and brown both sides, cooking until it reaches 160 degrees F.
Shreaded rabbit–You can use either stove or crockpot to cook the rabbit ahead of time. But don’t boil it… simmer it very gently so it barely bubbles. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until meat falls of bones, Remove and allow to cool. When cool,pull meat from the bones and shred. You can freeze the meat for later use or make all kind off foods with this! I have made Rabbit Tacos,Rabbit Salad Sandwiches,so much more. I like to use apple juice for part of the liquid. I use a bay leaf or two, some herbs and some black pepper and allspice for seasonings.
Here’s a very simple but tasty grilled rabbit recipe for the outdoor barbecue. Preparation time, 15 minutes, Cooking time, 80 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
1 fryer rabbit, cut up
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup sherry
1-1/2 tsp seasoned salt
Rub rabbit with salt and pepper; place over medium hot bed of live coals. You can use a gas grill. Make sauce by mixing oil, wine and seasoned salt together. Keep rabbit well basted with sauce, turn often while cooking 1 hour or until rabbit pieces are tender.
For More Recipes Check Out The DOMESTIC RABBIT RECIPE PAGE
WINTER CARE FOR RABBITS
Winter is now approaching and so the issue of raising rabbits in cold weather is on many rabbit breeders minds. As with any livestock on the homestead winter can present many challenges in the proper care of these animals. Rabbits are very adaptable to cold temperatures much more than the heat. Cold weather will invigorate your rabbits and bring out their natural playfulness. Temperatures below freezing for extended periods of time and strong winds that lower the wind chill temps can be a problem for newborn or young rabbits.
Make shure that the location of your rabbitry, be it in a barn, shed or hutches should be located in a sheltered area. This will be some added protection from the wind, especially north winds. It should have a roof of some kind and, depending on the kind of shelter, will need protection on the sides. Wooden hutches with wire bottoms and wire fronts are great for cold weather because they offer protection on the top and three sides. For maximum storm protection, a heavy canvas cover can be made for the front of the cage that will be rolled up during nice weather, but that can be put into place during wind, storms, and at night.
Rabbits can withstand very low temps as long as they can remain dry and find insulation from the cold to conserve body heat (using a nest-box full of straw or putting large amounts of bedding in their cages). Most meat breeds of rabbits have a thick coat which is a exceptional insulator against the weather, but if water reaches their skin they will be unable to stay warm. The key to winter housing for rabbits is to avoid the drafts and swirls of winter air which can stress your rabbits and reduce their natural immune system. Your rabbits MUST stay dry.
If you have no enclosed rabbit barn, plastic sheeting should be stapled to the back and sides or temporary wood sides and backs should be used. You must remember to cover, close to the ground to prevent updrafts into the cage but leave some space for the rabbit to get fresh air, stale humid air is very unhealthy for rabbits. It is important not to completely block ventilation in you rabbit barn, shed, or hutchs. Ventilation in the rabbitry is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Insulating a barn for the winter will help keep the barn a little warmer. A balance between shelter and ventilation is important!
I have had over 25 cages/hutches outside they have a roof over them and have the back covered. In the winter I cover the sides and bottom of the front of cage with heavy plastic. I leave a gap at the very top and bottom for airflow and in bad weather will put a roll down cover in the front, sometimes in really bad weather I will also fill a nest-box with straw and put in the cage for the rabbit to keep warm. This would be similar to a wild rabbit going into its den during extreme cold. I have also made some “ARTIC WEATHER CAGES” that I only use in the winter that has three sides covered with plywood and the bottom front with plastic. I have the sides and back walls double thickness with foam insulation between the plywood. I have had litters in these all winter long with never any problems with no additional heat!
In my own experience young rabbits seem to grow better and have less health problems in cool or cold weather (They do grow slower in the winter). Most other rabbit breeders tell me that litters can’t be born outdoors when the temperature is below freezing. Well, here in Maine, my doe’s haven’t heard about that (don’t tell them either!), and produce young year round, freezing weather or not.
As long as plenty of nesting material is provided and the mother covers her babies with fur, the bunnies won’t freeze. The nesting material I’ve found most suitable for winter use is wood shavings and straw, which mix well with the fur and can be burrowed into for warmth. One reason I don’t have problems with does losing litters to cold weather is that I cull any female that doesn’t pull out enough hair to make a good nest. We’ve been raising rabbits for about 30 years and have lost an occasional kit in the winter but never an entire litter. By observing your rabbits and culling you can make your bloodline do what you want.
I have only had problems with rabbits in the cold when the kits clung on to their mothers teat and got pulled out of the nest-box and into the cold after nursing.
It gets cold here some times -12 to as low as -20. I have heard from other breeders in cold climates and they also breed all winter long. I have also made some insulated closed nest boxes that work great in the outside hutches but you got to keep the bedding clean and dry if wet it will freeze and freeze the kits so more management is needed. I have seen some really good ideas people have come up with Christmas tree lights in nest-boxes, lights under the nest-box, heat lights above the boxes, commercial nest-box warmers (I refuse to use bought power to raise rabbits, unless I make it here with the wind and sun. I am working on methane production next).
My rabbits are all receptive to breed in the winter without added lights or heat (selective breeding for your area works awsome) but if you have problems breeding your rabbits in the winter try running lights to extend the light period for 14 to 16 hours a day (you could rig up some of the solar path lights). Breeding through the winter can present problems, kits are born without fur the doe compensates for this by pulling lots of fur and covering the kits.
I use my wooden nest boxes lined with cardboard. I put a inch of shavings on the base of the nest-box and cover with another layer of cardbord. By sandwiching the shavings between 2 layers of cardboard to keep the floor of the box insulated.I also line the sides with cardbord. I have seen breeders that take the nest-boxes into the house put the does name or number on the box and then bring the boxes back to the does cages 1 or 2 times a day to let her feed her kits with great results, you usally only need to worry for the first 2 weeks then the kits get enough fur to survive the cold temperatures and will often huddle together for added warmth then you can leave the boxes in with the does.
WATER- Is the main concern in the winter because of frozen water crocks. I use water bottles all the time except in the winter I switch over to metal crocks (metal does not crack due to the expanding ice). Some breeders still use bottles and have spares to swap out the frozen bottles. I Have found that the metal tubes freeze to quickly and the water in the bottles will still not be frozen but the water is not available to the rabbits because of the frozen tube. The metal crocks are easier to thaw out than plastic or glass, it takes a 5 gallon bucket of hot water to thaw all of my crocks. I drop a few crocks in the hot water and the ice pops out, I put the ice in a separate bucket to make the hot water last longer. Some people use hammers to smash out the ice or just have spare crocks. Your diligence in making sure they have fresh water greatly increases their comfort level and chances of survival. Rabbits will not eat if there is no water available they need the food calories to keep warm. You should make sure to provide fresh ice free water at least 2 times a day once in the morning and again in the evening ,preferably more often if you can.
FEED- It takes more energy for a rabbit to keep warm they are burning more calories during frigid temperatures trying to generate more body heat. Hay and feed should be slightly increased as they will need the extra calories in the winter to maintain their body weight. It is important not to overfeed! Feed to maintain their body weight. Rabbits that gain weight in the winter will not breed and if you do not breed in the winter they will have problems breeding in the following spring. I have some friends in Alaska that feed a condition mix in the winter (2/3 crimped oats,1/3 crimped barley plus a few black sunflower seeds) to keep them maintained at the proper body weight. My winter herbal hay mix that I make up (will do a post on this in the spring) has dry basil leaves added, this herb acts as a warming and uplifting tonic for nervous rabbits or added benefit in any cold conditions.
HEALTH- A rabbits body temperature is 101.5 to 103 degree Fahrenheit. When their body temperature drops below 100 degrees rectal temp it must be warmed up immediately or hypothermia will set in and kill the rabbit. The way to warm a rabbit depends on the severity of hypothermia. Mild hypothermia is when the temps get to 86-89 degrees-Treatment would be packing the rabbit between warm water bottles wrapped in a towels until body temp returns to normal. Warming the rabbit to quickly will put the rabbit in shock. Moderate hypothermia 71 to 77 degrees and Severe hypothermia 32 to 47 degrees rectal temperature. Begin treatment by bringing rabbit into a heated room and allow to warm naturally and then use the water bottles as recommended for mild hypothermia to get the rabbit back to normal body temp. Avoid rubbing the rabbit as this can increase the flow of cold blood into the core of the body increasing the depth of hypothermia. If the core body heat is lost the rabbit will enter a kind of suspended animation were the normal body functions slow down. In many cases,the animal will survive if you follow the procedures as listed. I have never had a case of hypothermia in any of my rabbits.
If you take care to feed and water your rabbits no matter how bad the weather is! (it is up to you to take the responsibility to care for your herd) Your rabbits will handle the winter weather fine. Keep an old towel on hand to dry your rabbits if they get wet from unexpected winter storms. I have never lost any rabbit in the winter other than the young kits that have been dragged out of the nest box when nursing.
Cold weather can be deadly for any animal, but with a few precautions and your rabbit’s naturally well-insulated body, the animal can live warm and comfortable in even the coldest climates. Rabbits survive in the wild further north than most other animals, but your rabbits relie on you to give it the benifits that allow their wild ancesters to live throughout the year.
Hope this answers any of your winter rabbit needs. If any questions or other good ideas feel free to post in the comment section or email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Raising Meat Rabbits To Save The World!
Basics Of Raising Meat Rabbits On The Homestead- Part 1
You may ask why meat rabbits? I will go over the basics for why I believe everyone should be raising meat rabbits on the homestead. I could go on forever about the benefits of raising rabbits for meat, but for quick easy convenience I will only list ten reasons why everyone should be raising rabbits. Then I will cover basics of housing, feeding, and breeding information. I will eventually get into writing more about each of these subjects in more detail, and will be writing a part 2 to this series answering any question you have on part 1 and processing your rabbits, tanning pelts, and using the best fertilizer know to man, rabbit manure! Will be posting updates on the goings on at the rabbitry! Show you our hillbilly solar powered rabbitry setup for the off grid rabbit production and more. Join The Rabbit Revolution! LIKE US ON FACEBOOK for daily updates and rabbit information.
1. Rabbit meat is very high in protein and very low in fat and cholesterol
2. You know were your meat comes from and the type of life the rabbit had, no medications or hormones just good tasting healthy meat
3. Rabbit are easy to raise! even working a full time job 2 does and 1 buck will only take a few minutes in the morning and evening and time on weekends to clean cages,even the youngsters can do the chores
4. Rabbits can be raised in country and suburban areas(could even be raised inside).They are quiet and clean no one will know you have your own meat supply
5. Rabbits have a high reproduction rate each doe should raise at LEAST 36 fryers a year(average 6 litters,6 fryers in each litter)and could produce even more by raising more breeding stock out of the best of your litters
6. Rabbits can be raised many different ways-colony raising,natural feeding,pasture raising ect. the rabbits will adapt and flourish with good management
7. Rabbit are easy to process takes only 15 minutes a rabbit from cage to freezer (or grill)Rabbit can be cooked many ways, any chicken recipe can be changed to use rabbit in place of chicken
8. Rabbits are very efficient-they will produce 6 pounds of meat on the same feed and water that a cow will produce 1 pound of meat.Your rabbits will be ready to butcher in 8 to 12 weeks with a 50%up to 65% dress out from live weight
9. Rabbits will grow well on food items that do not compete with food items grown for human food.Rabbits are a inexpensive way to supply good healthy meat for your family
10. Rabbits have other by-products good for the homestead.The best manure know to mankind,awesome pelts for blankets,hats, gloves and other crafts,ok that was 10 and i could list 50 more ,I could also write pages on just the added benefits of rabbits other than meat!
Housing For Rabbits-
There are many different types and styles of hutches or cages. The housing needed will depend on the climate, location and the amount of money you have available. It is not necessary to go to a big expense to build hutches. I have seen some of the best rabbits raised in hutches made from second hand lumber and some old wooden boxes. Hutches can be built to be used outdoors or put in any shed or outbuilding in your backyard as long as they are in a dry draft free environment. You should construct hutches that will allow for easy feeding, watering, and cleaning. Clean cages mean clean rabbits! Most rabbit cages are made of wire, this provides easy cleaning and they last longer than cages made of other materials. The floor wire is usually 1/2″ x 1″ and sides and tops are 1″x2″ wire. This is what they use in most commercial rabbitries.
The most common outdoor hutches are usually made of wood and wire, some with just a wooden frame with a wire cage hung inside. It is important to have protection from all predators even dogs and cats. Proper ventilation is a must when they are raised inside or out, but make sure the rabbits are not exposed to wet winds or drafts. Rabbits can withstand cold weather better than hot weather. Once your rabbits start to grow they will need to be separated make sure you have extra space available. Cage size for medium sized meat breeds are 24″W x 36″L x 18″H or 30″W x 36″L x 18″H for breeding cages, cages for bucks or young replacement breeding stock can be housed in a 24″W x 24″L x 18″H or a 24″W x 30″L x 18″H. Rabbits can be housed and raised many different ways as in a colony setting were multiple rabbits are bred and raised in pens or on pasture in rabbit tractors. It is up to you to decide how you want to raise your rabbits check out other breeders and how they raise their rabbits.
Feeding rabbits is probably the most important part of raising rabbits, also the most argued. It is what controls the health and condition of the rabbit (even good genetics in rabbits cannot override a poor feeding program). Most people who begin with rabbits overfeed their herd. Feeding once a day is enough only pregnant does and growing kits need extra feed. Always feed on a regular schedule a rabbit becomes accustom to a set feeding schedule and will become agitated and restless when the schedule is not kept. A constant supply of water is a must and should be changed daily. In the winter try to change frozen crocks as much as possible, at least two times a day, once in the morning and again in the evening. When you get your rabbits be sure to ask what feed they are using try to get some of the same brand from a feed store or buy some from the breeder. If you plan to change brands make sure to mix some of the new feed with the old brand for a couple weeks before switching over to the new feed completely. Any change of diet to rabbits should be done slowly! Rabbit pellets are usually dark green in color and has the nutritional requirements to produce a healthy rabbit and excellent growth in young. Check the labels and feed as manufacturer recommends. Pellets are easy to feed and requires less labor than natural feeding or pasture management. Pellets have changed a lot in my time raising rabbits and not for the better. More corn and soy and less alfalfa based feeds are sold, most all products are waste products from mills, most are GMO grown and round up sprayed, so read your feed labels and choose your feed for your rabbits informed. There are still some good rabbit food companies out there!
Grass hay is one of the most important item in the rabbit diet, it should be fed in unlimited quantities. A rabbit fed only commercial rabbit pellets dose not get enough long fibers to keep the intestines in good working order, the long fibers of hay push things thru the gut at the right speed. Hay is also good for preventing intestinal impaction caused by ingested hair. Alfalfa or clover hays should be fed restricted as they are to rich in protein and calcium to be free fed. Fresh vegetables help keep the intestinal contents hydrated, which make them easier for the rabbit to pass. Rabbits love fresh, fragrant herbs right from the garden. If your rabbit shows any signs of stomach problems, such as runny stool take away the pellets and veggies and feed only grass hay or even straw until stools harden up.
Green feeds are the natural food of rabbits. These are rich in protein minerals and vitamins, being soft and tender they are easily digested. They should be included in your feeding program. Rabbits can be fed lots of types of greens, including lawn clippings, cabbage, kale, safe weeds (do your homework lots of good weeds for rabbits out there), waste from your vegetables from the garden, prunings from fruit trees, sweet potato vines and lots more. Any green feed not eaten should be removed from the hutch daily. Roots may be grown and used fresh or saved for feeding in the winter months such as carrots, sweet potatoes, mangles, rutabagas, turnips and beets. This is just the basics of feeding rabbits, I will do a lot more on this subject in my future posts!
Rabbits of medium size (most meat breeds)are ready to breed when they reach the age of 5 to 8 months of age-some breeders go by weight not by the age of the rabbit. Many young bucks will attempt to breed as early as 3 months it is best to separate them at this age, you do not want does that young to get pregnant the young will be small and there will be few kits in the litter, it also stunts the growth rate of the doe itself. Just as important do not wait to long to breed your does or the first time they will be hard to breed. While doing your chores in the rabbitry if you notice a doe trying to nose and scratch her way into other cages or rubbing her chin on things like feeders, and crocks she’s ready to breed.
When looking at the does sexual organ if her vulva is moist and bright pink to a reddish color all the way to the tip, she is ready to breed. As the cycle is waning the vaginal opening becomes a bright purple. Rabbits are induced ovulators, meaning ovulation does not occur until the actual mating by the buck. Always take the doe to the bucks cage. Does are very territorial about their cages and will attack the visiting buck and can cause serious harm to the buck. A ratio of one buck for every 10 does is necessary, the buck may be bred up to 7 times as week effectively. The doe usually accepts(lifts her tail and raises her back end)the buck will mount her vibrate and then he will fall over to the side or even backwards, some bucks are very dramatic! Within a minute he will be right back up to repeat the mating. I usually return the doe to the bucks cage for a re breeding 6 to 12 hours after the first mating. This improves conception rate and increases the number of kits in a litter. Keep accurate records of the day you bred the doe! The does gestation time is 29 to 32 days, usally right on day 31.
You should test her for pregnancy between the 10th and 14th day after breeding. The best way is to palpate by checking the lower abdomen of the doe with your thumb and forefinger checking for nodules about the size of a marble. The other way is to take her back to the bucks cage and if she runs around growling and trying to avoid the buck she is most likely pregnant. This method is inaccurate as some does will breed again and will already be pregnant or refuse to and will not be pregnant.
The gestation period is the time from mating to kindling and is 31 to 32. The nest box should be put in the does cage on day 27 from when the doe was bred (remember those accurate records a good litter of kits on the wire and you will not be happy). Fill the nest box 1/2 to 3/4 full with nesting material such as straw (my favorite), hay, shavings, dry leaves ect. I also put some nesting material in the cage so the doe can pick up some to add to her nest box. The doe will make her nest and by the time she kindles will be pulling fur. Watch expectant does often especially if they are first time mothers, If she has her kits on the wire you can put them in the nest box as long as they have not been chilled, if they have been chilled they should be warmed immediately and put back into the box and covered with fur. If the doe has more than 8 kits you should foster them to a doe with a smaller litter, unless you know the doe to be a good producer of milk.(A doe only has 8 teats so only so many kits can eat at once).
After the doe has kindled and seems to be mellowed out it is time to check the nest box, give the doe a treat (I usually give a small piece of apple or banana) and while she is enjoying her well deserved treat check the litter, remove any dead or stunted young and put the nest box back in the cage. 8 good healthy kits have a better chance and will grow faster than a litter of 12 to 14 weak kits. It is best to check the nest boxes every day the first week and every other day after that. By checking on the kits you will see if they are eating buy their plumpness and full tummies. A doe only nurses her young one or twice a day for only 2-5 minutes. If the doe is not feeding them, place the doe in the nest box and hold her until the kits start to nurse.
The kits are born naked and blind they will grow very fast, in about 2 weeks their eyes will open and in 3 weeks will start to leave the nest box. You can wean the kits from 4 weeks at the earliest and at the latest 8 weeks depending or your breeding cycle. It is important to keep the doe and kits on full feed and plenty of fresh water to keep them all healthy. The young rabbits should weigh 4+ pounds at 8 weeks of age now it is time to slaughter and select the fastest growers for your replacement breeding stock, or to move them to grow out cages.
This has only been a basic of raising rabbits. I plan on doing a few more of this series the next will be on slaughtering – selling- and using everything from your rabbits! Also answering any questions anyone has. Thanks for reading! Rise And Shine Rabbitry, Raising Meat Rabbits To Save The World! Join The Rabbit Revolution! Like Us On Facebook and subscribe to our blog page to get the newest post as they are posted!