For many people new to homesteading or self-sufficiency efforts, raising rabbits may be a foreign concept. Although rabbit is considered a delicacy in many fine restaurants, many people are unaware that rabbit is one of the best small livestock ventures for a homesteader or survivalist. They require little space and have many beneficial uses other than as a traditional source of food.
The start-up costs for rabbits can be minimal to extensive depending on the sophistication of your system. Raising rabbits can be as simple as establishing an outdoor pen or having a temperature regulated rabbit barn. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, maintaining several wire cages or hutches for their rabbit herd.
Basic Care and Set Up
As with any small livestock, providing secure shelter that is predator proof is very important to successfully raising rabbits. Dogs, foxes, cats, raccoons, coyotes, and weasels of all kinds have been known to pull entire rabbits through the wire bottoms of their cages or chew off rabbit toes. Securing your barn, shelter, or simply having a vigilant dog on the premises can help deter these predators.
Most rabbits are raised within a metal cage constructed of sturdy wire mesh no less more than 16 or 14 gauge. Because rabbits spend the majority of their lives within these cages, ensuring they are clean, safe (no sharp edges), and of sturdy construction will help ensure their comfort and viability. They must also be sheltered from direct sunlight which can be fatal.
Rabbit cages can be bought at most farm and feed stores or ordered online. They come in a variety of sizes, set ups, and structures. Hutches are another popular option but are much more expensive to purchase new. For those competent in building or willing to learn, there are many free tutorials and designs available online for rabbit hutches, barns, and even cage assembly.
Like other small livestock, rabbits are often fed a commercial pellet feed. Contrary to popular belief, feeding rabbits vegetables or fruit is often detrimental, leading to intestinal gas that often proves fatal. Alfalfa and grass hay are better substitutes and in instances of crisis or complete self-sufficiency, there are many breeders who have successfully raised rabbits on a self-formulated feed.
Choosing a Rabbit Breed
One of the most enjoyable parts of starting up your rabbit herd is deciding which breed(s) of rabbit to acquire. With over 50 breeds of rabbits, there is a lot to choose from. However, there are different types of rabbits, some better suited for meat and fur production, while others are primarily focused on aesthetics of the breed and temperament. Again, as with most livestock, heritage breeds perform consistently and are excellent options for your backyard herd.
In focusing on meat, fur, and wool production, there are several popular breeds to consider, for example:
The American – it is unfortunate that the American has become the rarest breed in America. With one of the best meat to bone ratios and a delightful temperament, Americans make excellent breeding stock. Even with its rare status, there are many dedicated breeders working to bring the American back into the lives of backyard hobbyists and homesteaders across the country. It is well worth considering acquiring American stock for a successful meat and fur herd.
New Zealand – A popular meat breed, the New Zealand has an excellent meat to bone ratio and is very popular with homesteading efforts. New Zealand rabbits have compact, rounded bodies and are completely white.