I originally wrote this post as an update on our meat rabbits (no babies – surprise surprise). But as I was working on the post, I realized that our rabbit operation is just not working out. The numbers aren’t there to support our meat rabbit venture.
We had no litters in 2015. That’s an entire year of feeding and housing breeders with nothing to show for it. I’m embarrassed to admit that it took listening to several podcasts about farm management and record keeping before it occurred to me that our meat rabbit operation was maybe not worthwhile.
The reason we wanted to raise meat rabbits in the first place was because they were supposed to cost less to raise than meat chickens. Theoretically, a rabbit takes only 8-10 weeks to grow to eating size and 5 of those weeks are spent nursing; so really, you only pay to feed the growing rabbits for 5 weeks at a maximum. Whereas, chickens grow out for 8-12 weeks (depending on the breed) and you’re stuck feeding them the whole time.
This sounds really great, right? Well, the research we did prior to getting rabbits was all based on feeding commercial rabbit pellets. For us, the whole point of raising our own food (vegetables, eggs, and meat included) is that we would have access to the fresh organic food we want to eat at a cheaper price than the grocery store. So, that means feeding our animals organic food. I don’t have access to organic rabbit feed in my area so I did some research (feedipedia is a cool site) and bought some feed grade organic grains and seeds to feed the rabbits.
The rabbits seemed to do just fine eating their whole grains but the one litter we produced on the farm took 22 weeks to grow out. That’s obviously way longer than we anticipated. After some googling, we found that a grow out period of 5-6 months is not uncommon for rabbits which are not fed pellets. This clearly raises the cost of raising meat rabbits significantly.
Compared to chickens, rabbits as meat producers do have some really great qualities. They work well if you live in an urban or suburban area – they don’t make noise or take up much room. But, we live in a rural setting on 25 acres so those qualities aren’t a boon to us.
Rabbits also happen to be a very easy animal to butcher at home. Since moving to the farm, we’ve acquired the facilities and the skill-set to butcher large animals so we don’t necessarily need to raise an easily butchered animal.
Ultimately, we’ve realized that the benefits of raising meat rabbits over meat chickens don’t really apply to us anymore. Since we’ve been unsuccessful over the past year and a half, we’ve decided to move on from meat rabbits. We’ll be selling our bunnies and their cages/tractors and accessories.
On paper, this all makes perfect sense and I am absolutely not about to keep these rabbits as pets; but I’m sad to see our rabbits go along with the cages and tractors we’ve built. I feel like we’ve come along way in our meat rabbit journey and I’m pretty bummed it hasn’t worked out.
As cliche as it sounds, it’s true that until we started producing food, I had no idea the time, effort, and resources that go into each and every item we consume. What I didn’t expect was the spectrum of emotions involved in food production. The hope and optimism felt when a garden is planted. The horrible sadness of losing a laying hen raised from a chick. The helplessness of being at the mercy of the weather. The excitement of new animals coming to live on the farm. The ever-present sense of responsibility for each little life in your care that helps to sustain your life.
I guess it’s all part of the job. Despite all of that emotional baggage, I do love and believe in this farmy way of living. While we’re moving on from our meat rabbit venture, we will be moving toward raising other livestock for meat. I’ll keep you posted with any new developments.