Homesteading really wasn't what we first set out or thought to do. At first we were just thinking, chickens are good for eggs and controlling tick populations. We came to homestead not through deciding to do it but through first the chickens, then a second inspiration.
Ethical eating in general more to the point, but meat is a significant issue for us. As people concerned with animal welfare ethical treatment of animals is a concern. Both of us have experience with the meat industry through either classes or brief acquaintance in person. Given our knowledge of the meat industry in terms of animal ethics, meat nutrition, and sustainability over all, how to eat well has been a topic of conversation nearly as long as we have been going out. It obviously came up again as we discussed getting chickens. The obvious choice when having chickens for eggs is to have a rooster and also eat chicken. The lady of the house again had an idea (Seeing a pattern here?), what about rabbits?
What About Rabbits?
My initial reaction was a raised eyebrow of skepticism. Rabbits are small, individually producing fairly minimal meat. From everything I knew they die fairly easily, generally need to be kept indoors, and given their at market cost have to be very expensive to raise. Fascinatingly enough, I was wrong on just about everything I knew about rabbits for meat.
The first information she pointed me to to support her idea was this one. http://www.gazettenet.com/2011/06/11/in-pursuit-of-independence
Take a moment to read the article, and you'll see how it inspired what we decided we wanted to do before starting real research. We decided that given that we wanted to do chickens and apparently they and rabbits worked well together for production, it was worth a go.
Initial Goal Before Research
We decided that we wanted to get a breeding setup of rabbits, and build a colony with wire flooring over much of it and enclosed hutches. We were going to build that set up inside the chicken run to both assist in predator protection, and allow the chickens to easily get to the rabbit droppings to keep them clean. Based on no information at all we were thinking to build the colony housing around the entire edge of the run, which would have been about 10x20. That would have meant for housing the rabbits would be along the entire inside edge other than the entrance to the run, and then the side of the hutch itself. This of course is when we got started doing our beloved research.
Avenues of Research
* Talking to people about their experiences. Given that Michelle Chandler in the article was local to us it seemed like a reasonable thing to try to find a link to her.
* Books. The library in our area has a good farming and homesteading section, as well as a good pet section. The homesteading books that we picked up already have some information about them.
* Online. Forums, online advice articles, blogs. There are fewer resources than for chickens, but that may actually make life easier for this.
* Information from livestock handling classes.
* Talking to veterinarians.
The Basic Results
Our assumptions about rabbits were mostly entirely wrong, from costs of raising to heartiness. Costs for meat return is very functional for a small family situation, and with even a fairly average 3 doe operation we'd be producing more meat than we will need. Properly managed a rabbit meat operation is very much a high work version of pulling meat from a hat. Given the reproductive and growth rate of rabbits 250lbs of meat per year for 3 does is a very reasonable expectation. There is also the possible benefits of using the skins and other pieces of the rabbits, as well as the gardening benefits of their droppings.
On the other hand we also learned that most breeding operations that have written about their set up are not working with similar ideals to what we want. Given that we want to give our animals a better and more enriched life we are having to shift building and space assumptions that change the cost factors significantly. We also were faced with having to do significant research into slaughter methods. Finally we learned that there are significant challenges that render colony housing ineffective, and given the social structure of the American rabbit, counter indicated.
The pieces of learning about rabbits will be the focus of the next few posts before I start writing about the integration of the two concepts.