Rabbits are a great animal to start out with on the journey to self sufficiency. They are healthy and lean, easy to take care of, have a great feed to meat conversion, and, of course, breed like rabbits.
So what do you need to get started? Not much really, but we did make sure to read up on it first.
We put a roof on a wooden box we already had made out of plywood. Then we build an enclosure with reject 1X2X8 boards we picked up at the hardware store. Some of these were not perfectly straight, but not to the extent that we could not use them. With a handful of screws, chicken wire, staples, and 2 hinges, we turned this into a 8 foot long by 4 foot wide enclosure that is 4 feet tall with a single pitch roof frame giving it a 6′ 5″ clearance required for my super tall husband. The roof itself it a tarp. It isn’t fancy and we ended up needing 2 of these when mama rabbit decided it was time for the little rabbits to vacate. We covered the wire bottom with bedding for easy clean up and so we wouldn’t get sore rabbit feet.
We decided on colony style mainly due to the start up cost of single hutches and not wanting lonely rabbits. They are very social creatures. We considered that it would be impossible to regulate breeding, but we are only keeping the one generation to breeding age and the mama bunny will make a great stew bunny if she has to retire early. This may seem mean, but these are meat rabbits, not pets, and a quick turn around time is what we are looking for anyway.
This is a big one. Rabbits cannot sit on wire. They do not have pads to protect them like cats and dogs. They will end up with sores.
We eventually found a hutch sitting on the curb for trash pickup because it had broken in a couple places. These things are expensive! So we shamelessly picked that up and cleaned and fixed it. They love it.
This is what it would have looked like brand new –>
Rabbits are fun to watch. They are very curious and like to keep occupied. Our rabbits favorite things? Stumps, a little stool we found, their bedding, and sticks. Do not spend money on toys. They like empty toilet paper rolls just as well as the store bought toys. They like to jump up on the stumps, rub and chew on the sticks. Our buck likes to rearrange everything. It’s his favorite hobby. We made hides, but our rabbits don’t use them, preferring to just run into the hutch or box when they feel like it. I have heard that most rabbits want these though.
We did not really have to go looking for a breed. We live in the high desert of Southern Arizona and needed something hardy. So we went with what other people in the area had been successful with. What we have is a general Rex. These grow to a good size, but are not huge. They tolerate the heat well and love the cold. Our temperatures do not fall below 25ºF in the winter and do not rise above 105ºF in the summer. After 100ºF we do sometimes bring them inside. A large dog kennel works great for this as a temporary shelter. Mainly, you want to find what will work for your area. The best way is just to ask those already doing it.
We have a gravity feeder for pellets. I know a lot of people like to watch the amount they give to be sure they are getting a good ratio, but with our little colony, we either have growing babies or a pregnant momma. So we do not regulate. These need to be a good quality and we do not skimp here, but we also do not spend a fortune, because this is not all they are eating. Most of a rabbit’s diet is hay.
We feed timothy hay freely as well. If what is in there is low we put in more. We do not use a hay rack. Instead of buying something like this, we actually use a big flat rock that offers the dual purpose of staying cool in the summer. They like to lay on it. It is also easy to clean if they decide to sit on it while they eat, as bunnies like to poo at the same time. Mostly they do not do this though, they sit beside it and pull off what they want. We also give alfalfa when the mother is nursing.
Grass and veggies are the rabbits favorite food. We do not have a lot of grass most of the year, but after a monsoon we will often grab up what we can for them. We also have raised garden beds and have a nice patch of fresh growing timothy that we started just from cleaning out their cage, shoveling it on, and watering. Now they get that as well. Carrots are their favorite treat and they love left overs from the kitchen. We also give watery veggies with little nutritional content in the summer (lettuce, cucumbers) but again sparingly. My bunnies don’t like broccoli, but love the asparagus ends I cut off that my family won’t eat anyway and Brussels sprouts. My rabbits even eat marigolds (the only flower I actively grow) which is great, because they will grow easy anywhere.
Here you can find some hay to get started–>
I recommend a water bottle. My rabbits will not use them though. I do not know why, except that when we got our first pair, they had lived in cages with a mounted water dish. So we also got two gravity water dishes. This is a bit of a pain, because I have actively seen our doe pick up bedding and put it in. They have to always have water (isn’t this the same for every animal?).
This will eventually get it’s own post. However, it is worth saying that our meat rabbits are processed at 12 weeks or 5 pounds, whichever comes first. With these rabbits that averages to 3 pounds of meat. We end up selling some (we only sell live) but on average there are 8 in a litter and we have a good momma, so we get around 24 lbs of meat if we do not sell pretty much every 12 to 16 weeks. This may not sound like much, but the cost of caring for them (I do not factor in veggies because we already have those) is roughly $200 a year after start up if you are getting quality feed and live in an area like we do where you can’t give them as much grass. At 4 litters a year, is a little over $2/pound of meat that I know what they ate and how they were treated. That is cheaper than chicken here, and it can be done for practically nothing in other locations. If I sell a whole rabbit, I charge $15, which would more than double my investment.
Overall, rabbits have proven to be an easy and efficient animal to raise, even in a location scarce on their natural food source. They are a great way to raise your own meat in a little space and can even turn a profit if you decide to sell them.
I will post their benefits to the garden separately as well, but in my mind, rabbit fertilizer is reason enough to raise them!