As a vegetarian, I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this topic, but we got so much interest on rabbit farming in the comments on our Free Land Giveaway that we just had to cover it.
So, why so much fuss about rabbits?
Well, many homesteaders like to raise these critters since they are both a healthy meat source and easy to farm.
And if you’re planning your own homestead or backyard farm, keep reading to learn the top things you need to know about rabbit farming!
1. What is rabbit farming?
Rabbit farming, also known as cuniculture, is the agricultural practice of breeding and raising domestic rabbits as livestock for their meat, fur, or wool.
This practice is also used by rabbit fanciers and hobbyists in the development and betterment of rabbit breeds.
2. What are the health benefits of rabbit meat?
So, you’re curious about rabbit meat.
You’re not alone!
While it isn’t as mainstream as chicken or beef, there are quite a few fans of rabbit meat out there.
In addition to being tasty, rabbit meat has a number of health benefits.
Here’s what you need to know!
3. What are the advantages of rabbit farming?
If you’re interested in starting a rabbit farm, there are countless advantages to creating this type of commercial farming business.
The main benefits of a rabbit farming business include:
4. How do you start a rabbit farming business?
The best thing about rabbit farming is that you can do it right at home if it’s legal in your area and you have a large enough space to accommodate it.
Unlike other types of commercial farming, you don’t need acres of land to raise rabbits.
The type of space you create for your rabbits will likely depend on the farming method that you select.
Most rabbit breeders prefer for there to be at least some form of outdoor living space, which will allow the animals to experience fresh air and sunshine.
However, others find that a cage environment is necessary given space and safety restraints.
If you know that there are predators (snakes, dogs, and pests), then you may be hesitant to let your rabbits wander outside on their own.
As you navigate this new type of farming, it can be helpful to get a rabbit mentor who can provide you with basic information.
This will ensure you get started on the right foot.
Unfortunately, a lack of farming knowledge can cause incorrect handling of your rabbits, and this can lead to either death or health challenges.
A mentor who has been through these challenges can give you advice on where they went wrong initially and stop you from making the same mistakes.
We recommend finding a mentor by joining a rabbit farming club or employing a rabbit farmer in the early stages of your journey.
Did you know that there are multiple rabbit breeds?
Studies have shown that there are over 305 breeds of domesticated rabbits in more than 70 countries worldwide.
Before you begin rabbit farming, you need to choose your breeds.
Here are some of the domestic rabbit breeds that you may encounter during your research.
- European rabbit
- Grand chinchilla
- Lionhead rabbit
- English Angora
- Mini lop
- English lop
- English spot
- Jersey woolly
- Beveren rabbits
- Silver fox
- New Zealand white
- A continental giant rabbit
It’s critical that you study the breeds carefully and decide which is best for your type of rabbit farm.
We recommend that you start with a particular breed and then add other ones later to avoid mismanagement.
When deciding, you’ll want to factor in the size.
For example, an English lop or silver fox will require that you have larger cages.
On the other hand, if you feel you’re better equipped for small breeds, then you may consider lionheads.
There are numerous methods for raising rabbits.
Your mentor may be able to help you determine the right one.
For now, we’ve included two below, so you can get a feel for which one is best for you, your rabbits, and your space.
1. Deep litter method
If you only want to raise a few rabbits, then this may be a good route.
For a deep litter method, we recommend a concrete floor.
Add 4 to 5 inches of husk, hay, straw, or wood shavings to the enclosure floor.
Using this method, you should be able to raise a maximum of 30 rabbits.
We’d recommend keeping the male rabbits in a separate room from the female.
Also, keep in mind that the risk of disease in this system is high, and it can be difficult to manage the rabbits in this system.
2. Cage method
If you’re looking to farm a greater number of rabbits, then a cage method is often best for commercial rabbit farming.
This system will use a cage made of wire or iron plate to hold the rabbits.
Inside each cage, you should have enough space and the necessary facilities.
You should still keep male and female rabbits separated from each other.
During the breeding period, you can keep them together, but in a separate cage from the other rabbits.
Rabbits eat significant amounts of feed despite their size.
Feed consumption and nutrient requirements vary depending on both the rabbit’s age and breed type.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what adult rabbits’ food should contain:
- 17 to 18 percent crude protein
- 14 percent fiber
- 7 percent minerals
- 2700 kilocalorie/kg of metabolic energy
Green leafy vegetables, seasonal vegetables, spinach, carrots, muller, cucumber, green grass, and vegetable waste are common food sources for rabbits.
If you’re caring for many rabbits, you may find it easiest and cheapest to serve them poultry feed.
Additionally, you’ll need to ensure that they always have clean and fresh water available to them.
Around 5 to 6 months of age, female rabbits become mature and suitable for breeding purposes.
Male rabbits can be bred around their first birthday.
Using quality young rabbits for breeding helps your commercial production.
We recommend always using healthy rabbits with proper body weight for breeding.
If a female rabbit is ill, never breed her.
Once you have a pregnant female rabbit, make sure to provide her with nutritious feed throughout her pregnancy.
The gestation period of rabbits is only about 28 to 31 days, which means they reproduce very fast.
Each doe can birth anywhere from 2 to 8 kids.
Part of keeping your farm healthy is ensuring your rabbits’ health.
This is essential for a successful rabbit production business, and it also keeps your rabbit happy and growing.
If you see any issues with your rabbits, take them to a well-regarded vet in your area.
Before you begin your farm, consider a marketing plan if you plan to sell the meat or furs you produce.
In some locations, marketing rabbit products is difficult, and you’ll want to understand the best way to navigate this before you invest in your product.
This is a great topic to discuss with your mentor.
5. Is rabbit farming a healthy alternative for the environment?
Most people are aware of how beef and pork production can harm the planet.
As a result, rabbit meat is promoted as a healthier and more sustainable choice.
Unfortunately, this means rabbits are suffering directly at the hands of those who see them as “units of production.”
Is rabbit farming really that much better for the environment?
Or is it just causing harm in a different way?
Yes, many consider rabbit meat to be one of the most sustainable meat.
Yet, while rabbit meat is less harmful to the environment than beef, you’re hard-pressed to argue that it doesn’t cause any impact on the climate.
The carbon emissions of rabbit meat per kilogram of protein are thought to be higher than both pork and chicken.
According to one study, rabbits produce 3.86 kg CO2 eq/kg live weight.
That’s slightly more than broiler chickens.
How is this the case?
Well, rabbits may be small, but they consume a lot of food.
It takes around 4 pounds of feed to make just 1 pound of rabbit meat.
If you choose to rabbit farm, you’ll be producing crops like rye, wheat, and barley to feed your rabbits, and this will compete with foods for human consumption.
Additionally, when you keep rabbits in large numbers (in such scenarios as a rabbit farm), you produce a high concentration of ammonia.
This causes poor air quality and impacts the environment.
Furthermore, while most people would think that you could raise rabbits for their fur and meat simultaneously, this just isn’t true.
Most farmed rabbits are raised for meat, and fur isn’t a by-product of the meat.
Raising rabbits for their fur is an entirely different industry and breed of rabbit.
Fur rabbits are generally allowed to live longer than meat rabbits (also known as fattening rabbits) because you need their fur to thicken.
And this treatment isn’t necessarily ethical.
Although rabbits naturally molt, when they are bred to have unnaturally thick coats, they are then sheared or plucked which requires them to be restrained and handled roughly.
Finally, you should take the health of the rabbits into consideration.
Farmed rabbits are often kept in cages, which is an intensive farming environment that’s overwhelming to their sensory systems.
Rabbits are fragile animals and commercial farming practices can cause the species to have a high mortality rate.
Keep in mind that rabbits are often slaughtered young (8 to 12 weeks), but according to one nonprofit, 15 to 30 percent of rabbits farmed in the EU die before even reaching this age.
Their deaths are due to poor health, often related to common respiratory and intestinal diseases.
In the cages, rabbits’ paws are often cut, and they may be fed hormones or antibiotics to address this issue.
Or they may be artificially inseminated or bred to produce unnaturally large litters.
All of these medical interventions put an unnatural strain on their bodies and contribute to less than organic farming practices.
Therefore, if you have turned to rabbit farming as a way to reduce your overall farming carbon footprint, also make sure you treat your animals as humanely as possible.
6. How do agrivoltaics for rabbit farming work?
As noted above, carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption are a significant reason why rabbit farming continues to harm the environment.
Fortunately, there may be some new technology that can help make this practice greener.
Scientists from Michigan Technological University have conducted a life-cycle assessment that has integrated rabbit farming and PV generation.
In this new agrivoltaics project based on pasture-fed rabbits, you reduce 69.3% of CO2 emissions and 82.9% of fossil refuel consumption.
This reveals just how integrating solar and farming can lead to environmentally-friendly solutions in the future.
Rabbit meat is high-quality and nutritious — just beware of its environmental impact and the stress it places on the animals.
Yet, by taking proper care of your rabbits and managing your farm well, you can maximize profit from your business while offsetting the harm where possible.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.