Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pastured meat rabbits

I've spent far too much time recently researching meat rabbits, breeds and methods of dispatching them. In the past, I've looked into breeding rabbits for fiber, mostly thinking that Angoras would be more up my alley, particularly since the whole processing aspect of meat rabbits is still beyond my comfort level and I know I would be the one left to doing the dispatching.

I'm not entirely new to rabbit husbandry since I had a bunch of bunnies in my childhood. I like the idea of rabbits for fiber, but it's hard to acquire Angoras in my area, and I'm not sure that I have the gumption to knit anything up with the fiber. That is, of course, after mixing it with wool and spinning my own yarn with it. The manure aspect of rabbits certainly intrigues me as a good compost for the garden but, as of yet, I have done nothing regarding raising rabbits. It's been all talk and no action.

I'm also most likely cursed with the only two children on the face of the planet who hate rabbits. For whatever their reasons, they sure ain't sharing them with me. In any case, how did I come about looking up meat rabbits again? Well, my foodie brother was discussing his plans for doing a big Easter event (much like his Poultrygeist event in October with ducks) which, not too surprisingly, involve rabbit as one of the course ingredients. I suggested perhaps raising some rabbits on his behalf as long as he did the dispatching.

Again, not too surprisingly, he was fine with that. He's very interested in knowing exactly where his ingredients come from, and learning how to process rabbits, chickens, goats, etc. is something he has no problem with. So, it looks like we might have some sort of matched interest here.

While looking up meat rabbits, I ran across a number of sites mentioning pastured rabbits, most likely originating from the practice done at Polyface Farms (Joel Salatin of Omnivore's Dilemma fame). Basically, you keep the bunnies in a sort of chicken tractor that gets rotated around so the rabbits have access to fresh clover, grass, weeds and the like.

This is supplemented with traditional rabbit pellets and hay, depending on the time of year. I thought this was a very interesting idea in that it not only is a money saver, but the rabbits are more likely producing a healthier meat and are generally happier hanging out in the grass during decent weather.

Images from Simply Abundant Farm and Weathertop Farm.


LatigoLiz said...

Can’t bring myself to raise meat rabbits. Probably because I haven't eaten rabbit. Meat chickens, maybe.

CitricSugar said...

I'm with you on the dispatching. I don't think I could do it. I would have to be very careful not to name them if I raised them. But I don't have a problem eating rabbit.

And yep, your kids boggle me at the hating rabbits thing. ???

Tigerlily said...

I had a bunny growing up and so I've never eaten rabbit. And since Bun-Bun was in our life my Dad no longer hunts rabbits either. While he normally lived indoors with us in the summer we would put him under a laundry hamper and let him eat all the grass he could. We could make the most wonderful oval patterns!

K @ Prudent and Practical said...

I've been wanting chickens, but I'd never thought of pastured rabbits. I've never eaten rabbit before and only a week a ago tried goat for the first time.

I accidentally ran across a video on YT about meat rabbits - I had nightmares for a couple nights. I suppose that also could have been due to memories of Night of the Leapus... ever see that movie?

Kerry said...

Yes we're going to be raising pastured rabbits for meat. (Our house is on the market and the agent says no farmyard sells - we are buying a 10 acre homestead off in nowhere or a 2 acre mini farm in a rural village - we're conflicted - school boundaries might decide it for us...but in the meantime we're sitting here waiting to get our rabbits and chickens)

Our deal with the kids (who like rabbits) is that the breeding pairs can be treated like pets, very limited contact with the bunnies.

I'm a fibre artist (toymaker) and my daughter plans on raising angora rabbits to sell the fibre and to participate in 4-H with. I think they'll distract her from the meat rabbits.

There is a National Film Board (Canada) documentary you should watch. Animals. It was made by a local here about his one year experiment in raising, killing, and butchering all his own meat. The secret to getting used to the idea of killing yoir own food is to apprentice with farmers who haven't lost contact with this necessary part of being a meat eater, let them help you the first few times - not do the killing for you, but go help someone else with their killing day and let them walk you through butchering.

Truly, killing and butchering rabbits is so much easier than chickens. Start with rabbits. To help with the whole personality thing it helps to choose a breed where they all look the really does.

The polyfarm concept I want to explore is the raken coop. My childhood memory of overwintering rabbits was STINKY. I want to know the number of rabbits to chickens in a raken coop and see how we can shrink it for our personal consumption number of animals.

jewishfarmer said...

We have been raising pastured angora for a few years now, and it has worked very well - we lost a bunny when the kids failed to shut the pen door once, but otherwise, no problem. The Rabbits are obviously happier and extremely healthy this way. The grass has not stained coats, although you do have to be good about trimming the back, otherwise that hopping around gives them mats. But it really isn't a big deal.

We've just started raising meat rabbits - and since they just arrived two weeks ago, and there's not much pasture here in November, they won't be out regularly until spring. But we are planning on pasturing them.

I like rabbit, but we don't eat it - we keep kosher and rabbits are not kosher animals. But we are working with a group to help spread breeding stock around in low income communities, and I plan to use them to feed my dog and cats, to reduce our dependence on the none-to-savory pet food industry.


Greenpa said...

As usual, Crunch, you just dive right in on a topic bound to raise hackles!

So, I'll just add to it. :-)

I know a lot about killing animals.

I guess I'm proud of that. Basically, my knowledge comes from 2 places;

1) as a biologist, I was taught how to "sacrifice" (that's the word they use!) research animals, when it was time to go poking around in their insides. And believe me, we were TAUGHT, and trained- to do it right. Fast. So fast the animal has no chance to experience pain.

2) I long, long ago decided that if I was going to eat meat- I would totally face that, and be able to look my food in the eye. And-learn to kill them right. Very very fast.

I'll spare you the details here, since undoubtedly it would have some folks very upset. And that's really not my intention.

I'll just say; rabbits are the easiest to dispatch instantly (from the mechanical aspect- I think the psychological barrier for bunnies is higher than for many others.)

And. Killing meat- for my family and children- is not ever easy, nor painless (for me.) And it shouldn't be. It's difficult. And important. Every time.

And when the animal is on the table- the contribution to our well being is always- important; remembered and appreciated; in a way that a package of hamburger from Walmart cannot ever be.

Guess I better quit! It's a big topic.

Regarding pasturing rabbits- where we are, it's almost a sure thing that someday a largish predator will manage to get into/overturn the chicken tractor/bunny mobile. WHEN that happens, the bunnies are going to be a total loss; they're just defenseless. Even domestic chickens are not going to fare well. Which is part of why we're focusing on guinea fowl (which are working out very well- we've got 50 right now, aiming at 500-1000 next year) - guineas are very good at escaping threats.

Etc, etc, etc. :-)

Cheap Like Me said...

Are you familiar with the blog Living the Frugal Life? She wrote an excellent, informative post about meat rabbits:

My MIL has pet rabbits, and I sort of like angora (although I tried to card some of the fiber for spinning, and the air was as thick with curse words as with flying bunny fluff). But oh, rabbit is delicious. We might do it if we had some land.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I've never eaten rabbit. I'd definitely want to try the meat, as I'm a pretty adventurous eater, but I wouldn't bank on raising them without ever tasting one. I'm much more on the topic of laying hens for pets first! I plan to buy the baby some chicks for his first Easter present. (He'll be 1 month old then, but I want the chicks so that's my plan.)

Crunchy Chicken said...

Liz - I hear that, pound for pound, the chickens are more efficient, meat wise. However, rabbits are ready to go after 12 weeks so the turnaround/investment time is quick. And, well, they breed like rabbits. In urban areas keeping a rooster isn't practical but you probably don't have that problem in Enumclaw?

CitricSugar - Rabbits are supposed to be easier to dispatch than chickens - the skin comes off really easily, drain, gut and yer done. I guess having kids that hate rabbits would be easy when it came time to kill them since they'll probably want to stone them to death. Just kidding. Well, possibly.

Sharon - I'm looking forward to hearing more about your meat rabbits.

Cheapo - I think I did see her post. And, you're right. Rabbit is mighy tasty!

Michelle said...

I started raising rabbits for meat a bit over a year ago. My children and I have been very pleased by the whole experiment, and plan to continue indefinitely. Rabbits are MUCH easier to butcher and dress out than chickens (I've done both) and the meat is delicious. Our rules are that we only name the breeding stock, not the fryers. I have not (yet) tried pastured, though that's coming in the spring. You might check out the Yahoo group "meatrabbits" - there's been loads of discussion about pasturing there. The only serious drawbacks are predators, of course, but also disease. If you monitor your rotation very well, then you shouldn't have much trouble with disease. Read Dan Salatin's accounts carefully; he does discuss the disease problems. My friend and I have both done rabbits this year; mine in hutches on pellets and greens I've taken to them, and hers in moveable cages (2x4" wire on the bottoms; 1x2" wire on the sides and tops - no predator problems at ALL!) eating fresh grass and pellets. We both agreed that mine grew MUCH faster. While hers ate fewer pellets, they dressed out 0.5-1.5 pounds smaller at the same age. Still, I plan to overseed my front yard with clover and new grass come spring and try pasturing (using her cages as models). I might only be able to pasture the first set of litters, which is probably ok. If nothing else, it should help build soil quality in my front yard, which desperately needs more organic material - another thing to consider.

LatigoLiz said...

Well, if you plan things right then you account for turnaround time. And you only need a rooster if you plan on breeding replacement stock. Otherwise, you can schedule your delivery/purchase of new chicks accordingly. We aren't doing meat chickens yet, but may if we can decide that we can dispatch effectively. The local butcher will process and pack, but they don't do the deed (at least last I checked).

Anonymous said...

Escaping rabbits lead to feral rabbits= bad for rabbits, bad for gardens, bad for everyone.

Make sure your rabbit pens are predator, kid and curious visitor proof.

PA said...

Hi, folks!

Michelle, good to see you dropping the Meatrabbits name around--we LOVE new members. :)

Greenpa, you put it VERY well. It is totally important to get it right when you dispatch--every single time. That's one way in which the Internet is a huge help--you can learn almost anything you need to know these days just by going online.

I have tried raising rabbits on the ground and boy, what a total disaster. They weren't tractored, they were a colony and what a mess. I lost trees and bushes and oh, the I don't really recommend just tossing a bunch out in a pen on the ground. :)

Making your pens and the area around them as secure as possible is really important. Double-containment planning is always a good idea...I have mine in cages, but the whole yard area is enclosed in chain link, and the base is reinforced with chicken wire to about 2' up and 2' out on the ground to discourage zipping under the fence.

There is nothing wrong, though, with rabbits in well built all wire cages. They live a good life, healthy and well cared for (at least they'd better, or you're in the wrong business) and grow very well for you. If you worry about them being bored, supply hay, toys, dancing girls, etc. :)

Enjoy, all-and don't hesitate to email me or join the Meatrabbits crew over at Yahoogroups for more information!

Pamela Alley
Director, Rabbit Industry Council

Robj98168 said...

I had a pet bunny- Redeyed Bitch. Not being derogatory- that was her name. Bad attitude that one. I got her as a gift (housewarming) when I bought the "farm" years ago from a nice lesbian couple I knew who fot her by accident as a playmate for their house bunny, who was a male. for some strange reason, they largely ignored her,not wanting little bunnys, mostly left her in the cage, so she never developed good social skills. I made the mistake of mentioning that the former owners of the house left behind a hutch. So i got this rabbit from them. This rabbit that liked to bite, and look at you with her red eyes. Spend a little time with a bunny like that and you would have no problem dispatching her. Although she died a natural death, there was mor than 1 time I wanted to kill her.

susancoyotesfan said...

DH's mother was a wild rabbit rehabber when she was alive; if I were to seriously broach the idea of raising meat rabbits I would be completely on my own with the entire project.

I grew up eating what my dad hunted, mainly -- pheasant, quail, squirrel, rabbit, deer, elk, moose, the occasional bear (yuck.). We had beef and chicken as well, but our mainstays were the hunting produce. So I don't have the revulsion that DH does.

I have done lots of research, and if things keep getting tighter around here, I may reconsider that plan. I've also considered raising meat chickens but the mess involved with that would be truly disgusting, and I don't think I'm up to that alone.

It makes it hard being married to a city boy who thinks bambi is cute and cuddly. I love him dearly but I truly wish the romance would wear off when it comes to animals. If you eat meat, in my opinion, you should know, intimately, from experience, what goes into getting it to your table. That is what makes a thanksgiving prayer truly thankful. And a blessing prayer a true acknowledgment of the blessing.


Anonymous said...

Finally...something I know all about Crunchy!!!

I raised meat rabbits for more than a decade with 4-H. I had an older brother that did all my butchering (thank goodness), and we raised Californians and New Zealand Whites for meat. I found, shortly after starting out, that there were a lot of neighbors interested in purchasing dressed rabbits...which is where that older brother came in handy. I also had neighbors who would come to my house and pay me to scoop my manure for their garden (best money I ever made).

We raised the rabbits in a cage-pasture rotation. Every night, every bunny was in a locked cage off the ground to keep them safe from predators. Every 2 days (except in winter...white bunnies and snow don't mix) we'd put the rabbits "out to pasture" in cages similar to the ones on this post. The fresh greens supplemented their diet of pellets, and entirely eliminated our hock rot problem--which are thick, scabby sores on their back hocks caused by spending too much time on wire in cages.

When my Mom finally decided to get rid of the rabbit operation when I was in college, she sold off all our breeding stock to a woman who uses their fur just like an Angora's, even though our breeds had significantly shorter fur.

Rabbit is delicious, and I agree...only name the breeding stock. It's really hard to eat "Fluffy" for dinner.

Mmy said...

Whee, I did this! Using Salatin's style of tractors and all. (We're local; we've actually visited his farm.)

I won't get into my personal ethics, but I notice people get much more squeamish about rabbits than other meat animals. Honestly, butchering was WAY EASY -- I, uh, dispatched mine with a small revolver, so there was no pain. Didn't even know what was going on. I agree with Greenpa -- it wasn't "easy" for me to do it, but I don't think raising meat is supposed to be emotionally easy.

No, the real "grossness" of rabbits comes in when a female has a litter, and you don't separate the babies "in time," and one of those boys knocks up his momma. It is really, really easy for the breeding to get away from you.

(And rabbit births are invisible when they go smoothly, but not... very pretty when they don't.)

Given that I actually much prefer the taste of chicken, well... I think I'd recommend meat birds to a livestock newbie, and rabbits as an advanced course.

Andrea said...

I raise meat rabbits on a small scale - I have 2 does and a buck. I put them out in my chicken tractors but I have found them very aggressive about finding a way out, whether it is chewing holes in the wire or digging their way out. They can dig a shallow hole under the side in minutes... and being rodents, they can easily flatten themselves enough to squeeze out. So I only do it when I can keep a close eye on them as there are coyotes, eagles and hawks right around here.

I do have plans to build a proper rabbit tractor and use welded wire instead of the flimsy chicken wire but that still wouldn't solve the dig-to-escape problem...

We love the baby bunnies, they are so cute and fun. The first batch was the hardest to 'dispatch' (I hired someone to do it - couldn't do it myself) but my daughter has gotten used to the rhythm - babies, lots of fun and then they go and there are more babies soon to play with. She gives each batch many of the same names recycled again and again. By the time it is time to 'dispatch' them, they are getting big and are not as fun. She's gotten used to it. And we treat our breeding rabbits like pets. They're very tame.

Good luck!