Whether you plan to keep them as pets or use them for meat, rabbits are easier to raise than many other animals. Some experts say they are low-maintenance, don’t demand immense amounts of space and won’t bark or make other loud noises that disturb the neighbors.
There are a wide variety of rabbits, each with their own advantages. Even if you see rabbits as another form of livestock on your homestead, you may be surprised how charmed you are by your rabbits; some rabbit owners even enter their precious bunnies into shows and competitions that judge on beauty, hopping, and agility.
Does a rabbit make a good pet?
“They are an easy pet to have, especially for children,” John Humphries, president of the American Rabbit Breeders Association, says. Humphries’ organization runs 4-H programs to teach youth about raising rabbits. Because they only require regular water, food, and for their cages to be cleaned out once a week, Humphries thinks rabbits are a great first pet to teach kids responsibility before getting a pet that requires more attention like a dog.
Of course, you should always take care to understand an animal’s needs before bringing it home. Rabbits, for instance, are social animals and need playtime around the house.
Rabbits need some kind of confinement when they are by themselves, or else they will gnaw with abandon. “If you leave a pet rabbit unsupervised in a house, they are going to chew baseboard, furniture, wires, and extension cords,” Humphries says. “That’s their nature.”
The majority of rabbits live in wire cages, but rabbit housing come in a variety styles. The perfect cage will depend on the size of your rabbit, where you want to keep it, and its role on your homestead. Hanging cages, which are used to keep a large number of rabbits for breeding or meat, are easier to clean because the rabbit waste drops to the ground, but large breeds like the Flemish Giants need to be on a solid floor because of their size.
For first-time rabbit owners, Humphries recommends smaller breeds with easy-to-manage personalities, like the Dutch or Polish. “The Mini Rex has a very soft velvet coat and good temperament,” he adds.
The best diet for rabbits is any commercial pellet, as long as you are consistent. Rabbits have sensitive gastrointestinal systems, so they do not handle a changes in their diet well. You can give your rabbit small pieces of carrot or apple for a treat, but lettuce or cabbage will make them gassy.
What is the best meat rabbit to raise?
When it comes to meat, Humphries says there are a few breeds that stand out: New Zealands, Californians, and Champagne d’Argents. They are bigger, more muscular, and will have larger litters than other rabbits. Rabbits will be ready to butcher around 8 weeks into their lives.
Rabbit meat has a similar consistency and taste to chicken, so it can be prepared similarly. It has a high protein content, but it is also very lean; increasingly, doctors recommend it for people with heart conditions.
Raising rabbits outdoors
Even though rabbits are relatively hardy, they need some protection from the elements if kept outdoors. A well-constructed and planned rabbit hutch is necessary.
“In wintertime they do very well, but they don’t handle heat very well,” Humphries says. They will need some protection from drafts and sunlight, so keep the hutch in a shady area that is protected from the winds.
They will also need protection from predators. “Make sure you have a good enclosure, shed, or small barn that can be property locked,” Humphries says, “and make certain that the enclosure is predator proof with good stable fencing.”
Raising rabbits for manure
An added benefit of rabbits: Their poop is a great fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Best of all, it is dry and odorless, so it is easy to add to your gardening routine.
The pellets will collect in the litter tray of the rabbit cage or hutch. Simply add them directly to your soil beds, or toss them in your compost with equal parts straw or wood shavings.
So, should you raise rabbits?
Whether you’re looking for a fresh, lean source of meat or hoping to teach your kids about responsibility, rabbits are easy-going, versatile, and inexpensive to raise in comparison to other animals such as dogs and horses.