Small-scale rabbit farming is an excellent idea for homesteaders who want to supplement food and income, but don’t live on a large homestead. Rabbits do not require much space, they are quiet, they are prolific breeders, and they provide multiple income opportunities, as well as beneficial manure for the market garden.
Because they do not need much space they are a perfect opportunity for urban homesteaders. Cages can be kept in the garage or in the backyard. The small space you are working with will require extra attention to cleanliness. Cages will need to be cleaned daily and sanitized weekly. Apartment homesteaders will be limited to the space on their porch or balcony, but they can also enjoy the many benefits of raising rabbits.
Homesteads with small children are the perfect place for rabbits. Rabbits are gentle if handled regularly and most rabbit husbandry chores can be performed by children. If they are too small to complete the chore on their own, they certainly can assist.
Before you purchase your rabbits you need to be clear on what you plan to do with them. Although there are breeds that crossover, there are specific rabbit breeds for meat and fiber, as well as show breeds.
Meat Rabbit Breeds
The best meat breeds are New Zealand White, Giant Chinchillas, Californians, and Champagne D’Argent. New Zealand Whites reach an average market weight of 10 pounds and they are known for the high quality of their meat. Giant Chinchillas reach a market weight of 12 pounds and their meat is rated excellent. They are a crossover breed, prized for their pelts as well as their meat. Californians are also rated excellent, as are Champagne D’Argent, who are also raised for their fur.
You can get creative with the type of shelter you provide as you meet three requirements. First, the hutch should be easy to clean. Second, the shelter should receive plenty of air flow. Finally, provide ¾ square foot per pound of rabbit (mature weight).
Wood hutches are fine but do not last as long as wire cages. Rabbits will chew on the wood and the constant urine causes the wood to decompose fairly quickly. Wire hutches with a pull-out tray make stacking and cleaning easier. Cages should be located in a shady area that receives plenty of air circulation.
In addition to shelter cages, a rabbit tractor or movable pen is advisable. Allowing rabbits to pasture-feed decreases food costs, allows rabbits to act more like rabbits, and provides tastier, more nutritious meat. Your rabbit run needs to keep rabbits in and predators out. It also needs to be in an area that has plenty of shade.
Feed rabbits their portion of commercial feed in late afternoon or early evening. Make certain your rabbits have access to salt and fresh water every day. Urban homesteaders will find themselves more reliant on commercial feed since their access to pasture is limited.
One of the benefits of raising rabbits is they are prolific breeders. You will never be without rabbits unless you take steps to stop breeding them. Medium and large rabbit breeds are ready to breed at just six months of age. Giant breeds are not ready to breed until they are a year old.
Once your rabbits reach the appropriate age for breeding, take the doe to the buck’s cage. The doe is very territorial and will defend her territory instead of breeding if you take the buck to her cage. If mating doesn’t happen after 10 minutes, return the doe to her cage and try again the following day.
After mating occurs, return her to her hutch. Fill out the hutch card, including when the doe should kindle. The gestation period is 28-35 days, usually occurring on day 31. You can breed the same doe every 90 days.
Once the doe approaches her kindling date, place a nesting box in her cage. Fill the box with hay or other nesting material and keep the doe in her personal cage instead of allowing her to go out to pasture. Slightly increase the amount of food you offer her until you notice she isn’t eating very much. That is a sign she is soon to go into labor. Provide constant access to fresh water.
Meat rabbits can be harvested as fryers at three months of age, weighing between 1 ½ – 3 ½ pounds. Roasters are older rabbits, harvested at 8 months of age. When harvesting your rabbits keep the pelts as whole as possible. Tanning rabbit hides is a relatively simple process and can double the profit made from each rabbit.
Raise Fiber Rabbits
If you want to raise rabbits but do not want to harvest them for meat, you can raise fiber rabbits. Natural fibers are very popular and can make you a handsome profit without harming your rabbits. You can sell the wool as is, washed, carded or spun. The more value you add to the fiber, the more profit you will see.
The four popular fiber breeds are English Angora, French Angora, Giant Angora, and Satin Angora. The English Angora is a small breed, weighing between 5-7.5 pounds. The wool is extremely soft and it can be white or colored. The French Angora rabbits are slightly larger, weighing between 7-10 pounds. Their wool is slightly coarser than the wool of English Angoras, but still very desirable. The Giant Angora is a 9-10 pound rabbit with white fiber. The fiber on the Satin Angora is white or colored and has a beautiful sheen.
Angora wool is obtained by pulling the loose hair from the mature coat. It does not hurt the rabbit.
Although rabbit farming is relatively simple, there are seasonal chores that must be done in addition to the daily care you give your rabbits.
Winter is when you need to increase their caloric intake. They need it to keep themselves warm. Make sure their water does not freeze. Rabbits will refuse to eat if they do not have access to drinking water. Add extra straw to their bedding. If you live in an area that experiences freezes, stop breeding the rabbits. If you do not experience freezes and you want to continue breeding, provide an artificial light source.
In early spring, check and repair the rabbit tractor or rabbit runs before you send them out to pasture. Make any repairs on their overnight cage shelters.
Summer is the most important time to make sure your rabbits have constant access to shade and cool water. Source your hay for the winter and breed does for the final kindling of the year.
Autumn is the time to repair or replace any equipment before winter arrives. Plant your clover and perennial rye plots. Winterize the rabbit housing and make sure your records up to date.
When it comes to making money from your rabbits it is never too early to start marketing. Begin talking to customers, both in person and online, to gauge their interest. For a niche product such as rabbit it is a good idea to set up a Facebook page and target your local market. Diversify your product offerings as much as possible and be specific in your advertising.
Your best markets for processed rabbit are private chefs and local, high-end restaurants. You can also add rabbit as an option in your CSA packages. You are more than likely prohibited from selling processed rabbit at the farmers market, but you can advertise and direct your customers to come to your farm to pick up their order. The price of a dressed rabbit starts at $10.00.
Harvesting rabbits for meat automatically provides you with two more products. If you have kept the pelts intact, tan them and sell them at craft fairs, Pow-wows, and Renaissance fairs. You can sell the pelts as is or make your own blanket, fur-lined mittens, or other value-added items. A tanned pelt costs $10.00. This doubles the profit from one meat rabbit.
If you remove the bones when processing meat rabbits, wash and dry them. When the bones are completely dried out grind them into bone meal and sell to gardeners.
Gardeners will also line up to purchase rabbit manure. It is an excellent fertilizer that can be put directly in the garden without any chance of burning the plants.
If you are operating a no-kill rabbit farm you can sell breeding trios – one male and two females. Add value by building and selling rabbit hutches with your trios.
Angora wool is a high-priced commodity and an excellent option for the no-kill rabbit farm. Processed angora wool sells for up to $95.00 a pound. Whether you breed fiber rabbits or meat rabbits, hosting a hands-on workshop is another way to profit from your rabbits. Remember, someone wants to know what you know.
Small-scale rabbit farming is a relatively simple process that has remarkable income potential. Start small and increase the size of your warren as you grow more confident.