One of the easiest ways for a family to have a self-sustaining source of protein in the form of meat is to raise rabbits. Rabbits are not as expensive to raise as are other forms of meat. It is low in cholesterol and a great source of protein. The biggest drawback is learning and understanding that rabbits are low fat – so low fat and so high in protein that one can starve by eating only rabbit. Many of the rabbit recipes are either in a stew or fried form because of this rather than simply roasted or grilled. The trick is to slow cook it – especially in a nice marinade. Dried out rabbit is tough and you lose most of the flavor. That said, a well prepared rabbit dish is some of the best eating there is – most Europeans have been raised on a diet that takes advantage of rabbit in their diet. I’m not going into any details concerning the butchering process – there are some fantastic videos out there if you do a simple search for them as well of lots of other blog articles on the process. It is fairly easy to do this in a humane and semi-painless manner, no worse than butchering any game or fowl.
One interesting fact is that rabbits do not go into heat the way other animals do – rather the female is ready to be mated when the male and female are put together. That means basically you can have litters year round but it is more advisable to space the litters out. Rabbits are easily tamed and we chose to keep our breeders very tame so that we can handle them. They are sort of pets for us in that we handle them every day and the grandchildren enjoy them. Many folks litter box train rabbits to keep in the house as pets similar to a cat. For those who want to hide their resources some choose to build a few cages in their barn or garage and have a litter box configuration under each cage. We have our rabbit hutches outside and built them with legs about 12 inches high so that we can clean under the hutch. Rabbit manure is fantastic for the garden or potted plants. It does not have to be “cured” but can be used immediately without “burning” any plants. Some choose to let the manure set – they use it to raise a secondary crop of red worms that are great fish bait! We feed our rabbits a great commercial feed in addition to all sorts of kitchen scraps. We buy them carrots and some fruit – you might be lucky enough to talk a produce stand or farmer into saving you greens and fruit they can’t sell. It is important to separate the male and female after 24 hours or less together. Otherwise she will have several matings that means some of her kits will be too young when born to survive. A male will also be prone to kill the babies. A day or two before the female is ready to have her kits, she will start to pull out fur from her neck area. We also keep clean hay in the inside of the hutch so that she can build a comfy protective nest for her little ones.
As we go along here on the blog I will share photos from time to time of our rabbits. This past weekend we purchased a male about 8 weeks old from another breeder locally. We at the moment are raising Florida White Rabbits (who are not always pure white around here!). The female is larger than the male with a maturity weight of about 8 - 10 pounds. It is said the best time to butcher is at about 4 – 5 months when they reach a maximum weight. Litter sizes can be anywhere from 4 to 8 or 10. We seem to average 4 – 6 per litter. Last night we had a new litter – we lost one but she has four who seem pretty strong. As we along, I will share photos of them as they grow.