While it might be faced with hesitation, raising meat rabbits on the homestead can prove to be a rewarding experience that contributes to a lifestyle of sustainability. It also provides you with an easy and reliable lean meat source over which you have direct control, leading to a healthier diet.
Raising Meat Rabbits On Your Homestead
When beginning the process of raising these rabbits, the first step to consider is selecting the breed or breeds, and to gather research about these types of rabbits. This will ensure that you are making a wise and practical choice. The most reliable bloodlines of rabbits for homesteading are Rex, New Zealand, and Wild/American Chinchilla. These particular breeds tend to produce the largest boned rabbits with the leanest cuts of meat.
Once you have selected the type of breed you want to purchase and raise, the next crucial step is to meet with the breeder or the seller of the rabbit and inspect the animal’s general health. If you are introducing new rabbits to existing ones that you have already been raising, it is a safe choice to quarantine your new animals away from the pre-existing ones. This simply helps to avoid any contamination and to observe the rabbit’s general health before allowing them to be raised on the homestead with the others.
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Housing Your Rabbits
There are several options for housing your homestead rabbits, all of which come with their own benefits. Many homesteaders choose to simply keep their rabbits in a standard cage with straw or hay flooring, as it allows for both comfort and a source of nutrition. Sometimes these cages can be placed in a greenhouse, so the rabbits are able to be near the natural elements without roaming completely free and unwatched.
If rabbits are being raised on pasture in wire hutches, it is important to make sure that they are not exposed to harsh climate or elements that could harm them. If you are choosing to raise your rabbits in a write hutch in the pasture, ensure that they have maximum comfort by adding hay or straw to the floor, as you would with a standard cage.
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Other homesteaders will choose a more in-depth and detailed process, such as building custom wooden hutches that can be used to raise the rabbits either in an individual or a colony environment. These hutches can be constructed out of plywood planks and typically range from between 3-6 feet, depending on the homesteader’s personal preference of colony size. It will also depend on the size of the rabbit(s) in question.
The most important aspect to consider when deciding on how to house the animals is ensuring that they can move about comfortably. However, you should note that they do not require an excess amount of space. You will need to keep your rabbits’ cages or hutches cool and dark in the summer, and warm in the winter. Cages must be cleaned often, at least once a day, and food and water also needs to be provided for the rabbits up to three times a day.
Feeding your Meat Rabbits
Much like housing options, there are a variety of ways to approach the diet and the administration of food for your meat rabbits. A slightly more low-maintenance way to feed the animals is by simply buying homestead rabbit feed at any local feed store. Large bags of feed (typically 40-50 lbs) tend to be very reasonably priced for their size and quantity. Depending on how many rabbits you are raising, these bags can last for weeks at a time.
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Seasoned homesteaders will also recommend mixing in plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs into the rabbits’ diet. Vegetables that you can grow yourself, such as carrots or kale tend to be homesteader favorites to incorporate into the rabbits’ diet. Some homesteaders feed their rabbits lettuce, while others will recommend against this particular vegetable, as it is largely water-based and can cause diarrhea in the animals.
The important thing to remember with dietary choices such as this, is that everything must come in moderation; small amounts of lettuce occasionally should be fine for the rabbits, but should not be administered in excess. The remainder of the diet should consist of hay and straw. Be mindful, however, of the calcium intake that is associated with alfalfa hay if that is your chosen brand.
One final option for rabbit feed is the pellet route. An organic pellet that is high in protein is the most suitable option for raising lean meat rabbits. Small herbal treats can also be implemented into the diet to boost immune systems, such as oregano and thyme. Of course, particular breeds of rabbits might be more susceptible to dietary restrictions, so it is best to do research about your chosen breed before adding this into their diet. If you are breeding your rabbits, be aware that the young babies, kits, can eat whatever their mothers are eating; they just need less in portion size.
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Water For Your Rabbits
Water administration is equally as important in the animals’ diet, and there are a couple of options when deciding how to keep your rabbits hydrated. Homesteaders will typically buy large water drinkers from any pet supply store or box store and place them inside the cage or hutch for the rabbits to drink at their own leisure.
If you are raising your meat rabbits in the pasture during a cold winter season, you might consider switching to bottles rather than crocks or drinkers in order to ensure that the water source is not freezing and the rabbits are unable to drink properly.
Raising rabbits on the homestead is a convenient, sustainable and reliable way to ensure that you are receiving top-quality nutrition from your lean meat source. Taking the proper steps to raise your rabbits will keep both yourself and the animals happy and allow for the most of your experience as a homesteader.