Rabbits are not the first animal that comes to mind when people think about starting a homestead but they probably should be! This is especially true if you live on a smaller property or even within city limits. Rabbits are multi-purpose quiet animals that don’t require huge pastures or extensive land to be happy and healthy. Rabbits were one of the first animals we added to our homestead and they’ve been a pretty great addition! Here is why you should consider homesteading with rabbits along with your chickens, quail, and goats!
Homesteading With Rabbits
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Why Raise Rabbits On A Homestead?
There are many reasons that homesteading with rabbits is an excellent choice! They can be raised on most properties without troubling your neighbors and are fairly easy to care for in terms of daily chores. Here are a few reasons to consider rabbits for your homesteading journey.
- Meat – If you are interested in supplying your family with a healthy protein source rabbits might be a wise choice. While rabbit meat is not considered a staple in the United States it’s fairly popular in other parts of the world and was widely consumed as a wartime food in the past. Rabbit meat is lean and full of healthy nutrients. Likewise, rabbits reproduce quickly, have large litters and grow fast all of which makes them, along with quail an ideal meat source in terms of turnaround time for your work.
- Fiber/Pelts – If you are raising your rabbits for meat then saving their pelts might something worth trying. there are several breeds of rabbits that are suitable for both meat and fur. Rabbit fur can be used for a variety of crafts projects including blankets, mittens, hats, and other goods or can just be tanned and sold to other crafters. Selling by-products like hides and pelts, that would otherwise be thrown away, is a great way to supplement your homestead’s income and pay for equipment, feed, and other livestock expansions. However if your not interested in raising rabbits for meat but are still interested in fiber animals then rabbits are still an option. Angora rabbits are sheared much like sheep and produce fiber that is highly sought after. This fiber can be spun into yarn or sold raw to crafters.
- Fertilizer – If your homesteading dreams include a large garden then having a few rabbits on hand is worthwhile. Rabbit manure, unlike most livestock, can be spread directly on your garden without having to compost it first. Rabbit cage clean-out day can also be the garden fertilizing day! If your rabbits produce more manure then you can use other gardeners who will pay you to take it off your hands! Fertilizer is a great by-product and you get it from any rabbit so choosing a meat or fiber breed means you are doubling down and getting two potential products from one animal. I’m a big fan of choosing dual-purpose animals on our homestead.
What type of Rabbits Are Best For A Homestead?
Like any domesticated animal, rabbits have been to fulfill specific roles for quite a while. This has lead to a pretty large selection of breeds for you to choose from if you want to try homesteading with rabbits! Choosing the perfect breed for your homestead is a personal choice that should be made with your future goals in mind. But here are a few ideas to get you started. This is by no means an extensive list, there are many more options out there and it’s important to remember that any rabbit can be used for pelts or meat if you need to cull one, some breeds are just better in terms of end product vs time investment.
Smaller Rabbit Breeds
Dwarf/Mini rabbits generally don’t get larger than 6 pounds (4 pounds for Dwarfs). Their small size means they eat less and require a smaller living space than some of the larger breeds. Some people say that smaller breeds tend to be more nervous and less gentle than larger breeds but I have found this is highly dependent on both bloodline and handling at a young age.
- Netherland Dwarf – Pets/Fertilizer
- Mini Lops – Pets/Fertilizer
- Lionheads – Pets/Fertilizer
- Mini Rex – Pets/Fertilizer/Pelts/*Meat
- Dutch – Pets/Fertilizer/*Meat
*While they will never beat the dress out weight of larger breeds both dutch and mini rex have a compact build that can be suitable for meat depending on the breeder’s focus. Dutch have a fairly quick grow-out time while mini-rex might take longer but have desirable pelts. If you only have a small area to devote to rabbits but would like to raise them as a food source don’t necessarily cross off a mini breed.
Larger Rabbit Breeds
Larger rabbits require larger cages and more feed, however, they also produce more both in terms of the end product and tendency to produce larger litters. These larger breeds can range in size from 8 pounds to nearly 22 pounds depending on the breed. Some are considered more docile such as the Rex, Silver Fox, and Flemish Giant and others tend to be a bit more feisty such as the New Zealands. As with any animal, it’s best to find a breeder and ask questions about their stock both in terms of quality, health, and temperament to make sure you end up with animals that you’re comfortable with.
- Silver Fox – Meat, Pelt, Pet, Fertilizer
- Rex (Sometimes called Standard Rex, not to be confused with Mini Rex) – Meat, Pelt, Pet, Fertilizer
- New Zealand – Meat, Fertilizer
- Angora – Fiber, Fertilizer, Pet
- Californian – Pelt, Meat, Fertilizer
- Flemish Giant – *Pets, Pelts, *Meat, Fertilizer
* Flemish Giants are said to be extremely docile and patient animals which makes them one of the most favored breeds for a companion rabbit. Despite their large size, however, many breeders warn that the meat to bone ratio makes them relatively unfavorable as a meat rabbit in terms of space and feed consumption to dress out weight. Flemish Giant mixes can give you a docile animal with a better dress out.
What Do Rabbits Need?
Caring for rabbits on your homestead is a pretty easy task. Like all animals, they require access to fresh food and water. High-quality pellet food is generally recommended as the main diet alongside hay. Some people have great success feeding their rabbits on foraged grass and plants which can reduce feed costs but should be researched thoroughly beforehand – it wouldn’t do to feed your rabbits poisonous plants. The book Beyond The Pellet is a great source of information. Rabbits enjoy a large variety of vegetables and fruit as treats but these should be fed sparingly and introduced slowly, especially with young animals.
Housing your rabbit is a matter of personal preference. Some prefer solid floor hutches, others wire cages. There is a variety of studies and information showing that both of them are better than the other. Some people prefer to keep their rabbits on open ground colonies. I believe that all housing situations have their pros and cons and can be used to keep healthy and happy rabbits as long as they are kept clean, are of appropriate size, and built with rabbits in mind. If you choose wire cages then it’s important to use a thicker gauge wire (14g-16g) for the flooring, if you use solid floor hutches they must be cleaned often as the waste has nowhere to go and open ground colonies must be especially secured against predators and are not recommended in areas where wild rabbit diseases are prevalent.
It’s also important to maintain your rabbit’s teeth by offering chewing blocks and ensure that their nails are regularly trimmed to prevent foot problems. Trimming rabbit nails is a pretty simple task that can be done at home with a dog nail trimmer but may require some items to keep you from getting scratched up. Some rabbits do not like to be held while getting their nails trimmed and can scratch you up pretty badly trying to get away. If your rabbits are not used to being handled or just dislike being held you can purchase arm sleeves and wear a thicker sweater to keep the scratches at bay while performing nail trims.