As I write this little essay, backyard chickens are all the rage. And with good reason, too. They are wonderful creatures who provide their owners with an abundance of eggs and meat, along with hours of entertainment. Their bedding and manure, are outstanding components in the compost pile. We have around three dozen of them (with more coming in the spring), so my biases are out there in plain sight.
All this fuss about birds, though, makes it easy to forget about what may be the most valuable livestock to anyone seeking a simple, sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle; the rabbit.
Rabbits are quieter than chickens; a lot quieter. On the whole, they are easier to handle. While they do shed, your coop, yard, or pasture won’t look like killing fields the way they do when chickens are molting.
Rabbits are cleaner than chickens and cleaning up after them is way easier. Chickens make a terrible mess in their sleeping/nesting areas, while bunnies by and large keep their bodily waste away from where they like to sleep and hang out. Their waste is also in nice neat piles of easily scooped up, compact, round pellets rather than the runny, splatted mess that chickens leave in their wake.
Rabbit manure is arguably the best fertilizer you can add to your garden beds. Unlike chicken manure, rabbit guano can be used without composting and the bunnies provide copious quantities of it.
If you do decide to compost it (we do both), you will find that it does so easily and quickly. The manure is also a fantastic addition to worm beds. Red wiggler worms positively adore rabbit manure, especially if it has a little bedding straw in it, and will turn it into the absolutely finest quality garden additive you can get anywhere.
Rabbit meat is tasty, mild, and highly nutritious. In parts of America, that benefit has been largely lost, as many urban and suburban dwellers have grown to see rabbits as cute little pets to pamper and snuggle with; but most of the world, and still large sections of this country consider rabbits and a food source. And let’s not forget that they are at the top of the menu for every predatory creature in nature, from birds of prey, to foxes, coyotes, wolves, weasels, bobcats, mountain lions, and more, to the family dog and cat, who will always have one eye fixed on Bugs as a potential meal.
I’m not going to take time defending rabbit as a food source, because all history demonstrates it to be so, and I’m not going to argue about it. We are omnivores and our self-sufficiency plan includes a rabbit meat. If you only see rabbits as pets, that’s fine by me. They are still a great benefit to you for the manure alone.
For those who process their own meat, rabbits are the easiest of all livestock to prepare for the freezer. It is much easier and faster than processing chickens.
Rabbits breed prolifically, so they can provide a continuous supply of protein and manure. For those so inclined, rabbit fur is still a great source for warm clothing and the hides can be good, basic leather.
Rabbits don’t require a great deal of space. Many people raise them totally in cages. We prefer to raise them on the ground when possible, though we do have cages in our barn for times when it’s necessary.
My wife has designed a moveable rabbit crate that serves the same function as a chicken tractor. We call them, Rabbit Rangers. Each Ranger has a nesting porch in the back, where the rabbits can get up out of mud and frost to sleep, nest and give birth. There is a large open area in the middle where the bunnies can hop about or graze to their heart’s content. The Rangers are moved daily so the buns can have fresh grass. Some manure is left behind, of course, which aids in fertilizing the pasture (or yard). The grass grows back quickly and much more lush, improving the quality of the field.
If a winter is particularly severe, we will move the rabbits, especially mothers with babies, to the cages in the barn where they can avoid the worst of the elements, but by March, they are back out on pasture. We think rabbits should be on the ground, hopping, eating, digging and doing what rabbits like to do. The purpose of the Rangers is to allow that, while providing them shelter from both the weather and from predators.
If you are interested in raising Rabbits as part of your homestead, feel free to ask us anything you like. I would also recommend any of the Backyard Rabbit forums on Facebook.
Do you raise rabbits? Are you considering it? Tell us all about it. We’d love to hear from you. Got questions? Send them our way. Remember, we’re in this together.