Rabbit husbandry, cuniculture, breeding rabbits for meat, pick a label, comes up in conversation at deer camp. A relation of mine runs a French-themed restaurant nearby and was lamenting the loss of his current meat-rabbit supplier, the farmer having decided to discontinue that line of livestock for one reason or another. My relative asks if I’m willing to raise rabbits exclusively for his restaurant, and me, having no idea what I am committing to, agrees to give rabbit farming a try.
Fast forward a year and a half. I have two bucks (adult male rabbits), seven does (adult female rabbits), and a handful of little ones. Those of you that know what you’re doing with your rabbits know this isn’t a good result. Add to this that I have never brought a single rabbit to butcher for sale to the restaurant. I’m looking out the back window at a waste of time, money, and effort. I’ve got a decision to make soon.
But how did I get to this point? Let me share some lessons in cuniculture that I have learned since I introduced rabbits to my homestead.
Commercial Rabbit Production is not Personal Use
Starting with just two does and one buck was a mistake. But my google-foo was not strong when I started and that’s what I did based off the limited research I did on the subject. However, if I want to be able to produce enough kits to raise to take to the butcher and sell to the restaurant I need to produce 50 rabbits a month, 600 a year, to meet demand and be cost-effective in transportation costs. I should have started with 10 does. Helpful sites like this provide the necessary math skills I lack.
Rabbits Breed Like Rabbits But Aren’t All Good Parents
The two does each produced a litter of kits. And the experienced doe built a nest, kindled eight kits, and raised them well. However, the first time doe didn’t build a nest and delivered her kits all over the cage. I discovered them dead the next day. She did build a nest the next time and kindled eight kits. But she never nursed them, even with attempted forced nursing, and I expect her milk didn’t drop enough to feed all the kits. The third litter she nursed until their eyes opened and they were adorable, and then she abandon them before they weaned off.
Fast forward a few breeding cycles, and several more does, and this cycle has repeated itself again and again with new mothers. I didn’t expect all the loss. It’s saddening on top of being unproductive.
Rabbit Containment That Is Either Humane Or Effective
I didn’t want to cage the rabbits, so I started with an indoor colony of mixed sexes. The colony appeared to get along and some kits were produced, but I lost many due to accidents within the setup. I had over 10 square feet of space per rabbit, yet their hyperactivity resulted in the death of many kits. In addition to that loss, I eventually discovered that the rabbits were fighting, and it was only apparent when I did a pelt check and found they had dozens of scabs and little open wounds from bites from other colony mates.
I attempted to fence in a couple of rabbits with electric fence netting. It worked for a couple of weeks before they jumped through the netting and I caught them munching grass near the other rabbits. Now they’re in individual cages and a rabbit tractor that I move onto fresh grass every day. This method has improved their skin conditions and it allows me to ensure each rabbit is eating and drinking enough. While this wasn’t how I wanted to contain my herd, it’s what I’ve decided I need to do for the time being.
Rabbit Nutrition Factors
I am feeding free-choice organic hay to my rabbits. They also get an organic alfalfa pellet supplement. During most months, they also get free choice forage while being moved around in the rabbit tractor and cages. While my research shows that many commercial producers are providing a similar nutrition plan, I wonder if this may be a contributing factor to my poor success. So I added a formulated blended pellet product to their diet. I’m hoping this improves the production and survival rates.
While I’ve learned a lot about raising rabbits, I haven’t been able to be successful with this choice of livestock. My pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks have already turned a profit. Micro-greens and select produce sales have been beneficial to our sustainability. Making maple syrup has been as well.
In an earlier post, I commented that “when adjustments are necessary they are made quickly and decisively in order to ensure profitability or savings. When one of these becomes a drain on resources it will be reevaluated and potentially cut from the business model”. Raising rabbits for meat has not met yet met goal, and so I told my wife that if I didn’t have something to show for all these rabbit husbandry efforts by the end of the summer I was going to cut this practice out of my focus for a while.
Did you hear that rabbits? Hop to it!
Do you have any good advice to share about your experiences raising rabbits for commercial production? Please share in the comments below.