Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why Rabbits part 2

     Last time we talked about the many wonders of Rabbit Berries, but that is just one in the long line of reasons to keep and raise rabbits. The main reason, in this house, that we raise rabbits is for meat. It actually took a while for my husband and I to get use to eating rabbit but now we wouldn't have it any other way. In our Rabbitry, we have two bucks (boy bunnies) who have 4 does each (girl bunnies). From those 8 does we get approximately 4 litters per month of 4-11 kits (baby bunnies). That's 60lbs of rabbit meat a month. We are a family of five, so this gives us plenty of meat to supplement the grocery bill and to put back. 
      Now that the logistics are out of the way, let me answer this all time favorite question: Why Rabbit Meat? First off rabbits are cheap to keep. Rabbits do not eat a lot of feed (pellets, kitchen scraps, weeds, hay, etc) they waste a lot but do not eat much. There are thousands of feeding regimes for feeding rabbits and I encourage anyone interested in raising any animal to research every option of care that you can. My rabbits are free fed 18% pellets and hay in J-feeders. It works for them and they hardly ever waste unless the wind blows just right. My choice in 18% protein is because it helps put weight on the kits faster. The pellets combined with free fed hay and these are some happy, healthy rabbits. Our feed bill for the rabbits normally come to $50/month, so if you 60lbs of meat / $50 in feed = $1.20 per pound. With grocery prices the way they are going, this is a steal.
         There is a complicated calculation out there for figuring out exactly how much food is needed to the precise amount of weight gain is profitable, but for me it boils down to this - the longer it takes the kits to reach 80% of their adult weight the longer I have to feed them. Ideally, I aim to process kits by the time they are 16 weeks old (normally the goal is 12 weeks but my husband tans the hides likes larger hides) which means they need to weigh about 6-8lbs by then. Once processed, that looks like 3-5lbs of meat for the fridge. 
         Another reason for this homestead keeping so many breeders is we have a lot of people in our area that like rabbit meat too. We had to expand to be able to put meat in our own fridge. It was getting that there was a wait list on litters. Before putting up flyers around town, we made sure that no laws were being broken. I strongly suggest everyone who is thinking of selling meat rabbits do the same. We also sell breeders to families that are wanting to start their own Rabbitries up. 
        Next up on why Rabbit Meat, it is versatile. Any recipe that calls for chicken or venison or pork can be substituted for rabbit. A house favorite here is barbeque rabbit, but we have had success with rabbit dumplings and rabbit sausage. Rabbit is very lean, it is said that a person could starve if they just ate rabbit meat because it is so lean. It does need help sometimes with adding fat (butter or lard) but most of the time it is a wonderful lean, nutrient dense, substitute protein. 
        Lastly, for this post, rabbit makes a great base for dog and cat food. If eating rabbit yourself is not appealing, feeding it to you pets might be. There are many news reports on bad dog food out of China and every month or so another recall comes out. I'm not talking a raw food diet, but processed dog food made at home. I use a carb/meat/veggie ratio of 40/30/30 for dogs and a 20/60/20 for cats. Cook it, grind it, freeze it. Best of all is the peace of mind that your pets are getting the best without all the extra crude in pet feed these days.
        With the sales of rabbits and rabbit meat, the rabbits pay their own feed bills. That income, combined with the money made/saved from the many uses for rabbit berries, how could you afford not to have rabbits? This is just off of my New Zealand meat rabbits. Next time, I will start in on our chickens.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Rabbits part 1

      I have been asked numerous times, "Why Rabbits?" Most of my family and friends get a little hung up on the cuteness factor to realize the abundance of reasons why raising is beneficial to homestead. In this article I am discussing the tail end of raising rabbits, affectionately called in this house as Rabbit Berries (RB).
     As with any livestock, there is the business of what to do with the manure. My rabbitry is outside in hanging wire hutches. So the RB collect on the ground under the rabbits in compost piles. This comprises the nitrogen or green element of compost. the carbon or brown element is supplied by my wasteful rabbits pulling all the hay out of the feeder and letting it fall through the bottom. Because the rabbits naturally layer the components, there is little work for me to do except to turn the pile every now and then. (I'll go into the worms the size of snakes later).
      It doesn't take long for a four whole hutch to supply us with over 50 lbs of completely organic, amazingly nutritious compost for all the garden beds on our little five acres. After using all that we can on our own projects, we bag the rest up in the feed bags (turned inside out) about 25lbs per bag and sell it. Yes, we sell sh*t. It's an ongoing joke in this family and an unlikely revenue source. Because of the bad winter this past season, we were not able to supply our local nursery. Instead I get to take them to farmers markets. 
     RB are a unique fertilizer in that they do not have to be composted to be used in the garden. It doesn't burn the plants. The family that we bought our breeding stock from Lind-Sher Farms told us about an experiment that they did a few years back. They breed New Zealand Whites commercially, therefore where literally up to there necks in RB. The husband decided to spread out the pile on some land and planted tomatoes. They took off so fast and were producing so many tomatoes he ended plowing the field to keep tomatoes from going to waste.
     Now about those worms. This is another wonderful side effect of RB. If you set up in a building you can do this with red wigglers from a bait shop but since my pile is outside, worms are free. Worms are a composts piles best friend. They break everything down into this amazing black gold. Since RB is so nutrient dense, you will see worms 4 and 5x their normal size. More than once, I have shrieked in terror when I unearthed worms that I kid you not are the size of small snakes. Don't get me wrong, I love snakes in there natural habitat, doing their snake thing. I, like most people, prefer to not be surprised. So, if you happen to live near an area that has good fishing spots, here is another revenue source from the rabbit. The best containers we found for these mammoth worms is a pringles can spray painted with our farms information. Then, it is just a matter of finding a shop that will sell them for you, or put up your own sign. 
      So, in closing, Why Rabbits? There are too many reasons to count. Rabbits, just by defecating, provide us with two potential revenue sources and the most successful gardens we have ever had. So even if you can't get to the point to sending Mr. Rabbit to freezer camp, RB are enough of a reason for any avid gardener or fisher or homesteader to consider setting up a rabbitry of your own. 

(Part 2: Meat coming soon)

Friday, May 23, 2014

It's Official!

After 3 hard years, it's official, we are a working homestead. We have been dreaming and planning this chapter of out life and it's finally here. Last year we bought 5 acres in north west Mississippi, and boy did we ever bite off more than we could chew. The last owner left everything in the yards around the house, it looked like we moved into a landfill. It took about 6 months to get us to square one. Once most if the garbage was hauled off, the real work