The Snarky Gardener deliberates on raising meat rabbits.
Please don’t judge him too harshly.WARNING: If you are a vegan, please don’t read this article. If you do, don’t send the Snarky Gardener any strongly worded messages. He understands your point-of-view but much like politics in general, you are not changing his mind. He’s raised animals he’s later eaten (cows, chickens, and rabbits) and has no qualms doing it in the future. Eating meat one has raised is certainly more honest than our current “hide the details” food system.
Back in the day (before the gardening but not before the snarkiness), the Snarky Gardener raised rabbits for 4-H, selling them as pets, magician props, and snake food. He even won two county fair trophies, including best doe and litter (glory days!). Lately, he’s been thinking hard about adding second-hand vegetables to his garden. The two best possibilities for a rented ¾ acre suburban lot are chickens and rabbits. Both are easy to handle and don’t need a lot of space. Egg-producing chickens can be as little as three hens, but if you want meat, you’ll need a rooster (very noisy) and more room. Not necessarily conducive to good neighbor relations.
Here’s a favorite quote:
“Among mammals, first place goes to the rabbit, a species so prolific that permaculture teacher Dan Hemenway has written that rabbits would be the perfect domestic livestock if only they laid eggs. They don’t, but they do the next best thing: they make lots of bunnies.”
Bane, Peter (2012-06-26). The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country (Kindle Locations 8326-8328). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
Here’s why the Snarky Gardener couldn’t agree more:
- Unlike the aforementioned chickens, rabbits are extremely quiet.
- Properly raised, rabbits have very little smell (can’t even say that about the dog).
- They are herbivores, so they will eat most of the things you grow in your garden and yard.
- Their bunny “pellets” (aka poop) are perfect for use as a garden fertilizer. You can put rabbit manure straight into the garden without composting (unlike most other animal stuff).
- Rabbits are one of the best when it comes to converting food to meat – 2.5 to 3 pounds of feed per pound of meat (versus more than 6 pounds of feed to a pound for beef)
- Many urban areas have anti-chicken laws but not for rabbits.
- Rabbit meat is leaner and more nutritious than other meats
- They can mow your lawn!
Of course, the biggest rabbit downside is their use as pets. Nobody wants to eat the Easter bunny. There are even House Rabbit Societies (who knew?) that have boycotted Whole Foods for selling rabbit. The secret is to separate pet rabbits and livestock rabbits in your mind. Pets get names and live inside. Livestock rabbits live outside with only the breeding adults named. Just don’t eat the rabbits you know and things should go along without a hitch.
Of course to get meat, rabbits will need to be “processed” (aka go to “freezer camp”), either by yourself or a processor. The closest processor to Snarky Acres is 70 miles away, so it’s drivable but not down the street. One of the hardest sales pitches ever made to the Snarky Girlfriend was to get her to eat rabbit (aka fuzzy little animals). To make sure those raised would be eaten, rabbit meat was purchased (which is harder to do than you would think) from a private breeder. The deal made was the SG will prepare and cook so the SGF doesn’t have to see it in its “obviously a rabbit” raw form. The SG made several meals but had to refer to them as “chicken” soup and roasted “chicken” (with finger quotes included). So far, so good as talking about the evil snarky rabbit plan all the time has let her get used to the idea (mostly). There was also an agreement reached where only red-eyed short-haired rabbits would be raised as the Snarky Girlfriend thinks the red eyes are not as cute.
The Long Term Plan:
- Purchase meat to see if it will be eaten. (Check)
- Research as much as possible (Check)
- Talk to the landlord about having rabbits (Check)
- Purchase and assemble building (probably a garage in a box)
- Procure and assemble cages
- Purchase breeding rabbits – at least one buck and two does
- Build lawn feeder cages
- Breed rabbits when they are 6 months old minimum
- Raise rabbits
- Process rabbits
- Eat rabbits
Now the Snarky Gardener is in the research phase of his rabbit project. He found some really cool foraging rabbits that have been bred at Polyface Farms (by Joel Salatin’s son Daniel) that the Snarky Gardener might purchase some day. He bought several eBooks including “Urban Rabbit Project – Backyard Meat Rabbits.” He also joined several Facebook groups including Backyard Meat Rabbits. There’s lots of information with the group, including WAY too many pictures of rabbit genitalia (for sexing youngsters), diseases, frozen newborns, and processing details. Unexpectedly, this group seems to be made up of mostly women. It’s obvious from the group’s discussions that rabbits are a 365 day job (unless you can find someone to care for them while you are on vacation), but there’s a lot of love also. The breeding stock are often treated like family members with names and personalities, and everyone tries hard not to become attached to those that will be food in just a few months from birth.
So now that the winter is over and the landlord has given his blessing, rabbits will be added to Snarky Acres unless the Snarky Gardener changes his mind. He’s so fickle sometimes.