General Rabbit Care and Practices
Raising rabbits on pasture allows the animals to exercise, engage more easily in natural behavior and improve their overall quality of life, while giving the farmer a way to move or manage rabbit housing easily. Rabbits raised on pasture produce more meat and meat of nicer quality, with more omega-3 fatty acids in the limited amount of fat contained in the carcass.
Nitrogen in rabbit manure goes directly on the soil, and less is lost as ammonia gas than during composting. Some loss does occur on the field, but you can minimize the loss if the soil is absorbent, is not waterlogged or is not very dry, crusty and in direct sun. Fertility from the manure improves pasture production, and the rabbits’ direct application of manure to the field eliminates the need to make and move compost for part of the year, therefore saving labor.
Rabbits that have been intensively bred for production, such as California and New Zealands, often won’t do so well on pasture. You can raise confined rabbits to slaughter weight in eight weeks; on pasture and with less intensive feeding, they need 10 to 12 weeks.
These are some recommended breeds, primarily because they will reach a good size on pasture:
Champagne d’Argent — 12 pounds.
Crème d’Argent — 11 pounds.
Californian — 10.5 pounds.
American Chinchilla — 16 pounds.
Cinnamon — 11 pounds.
New Zealand — 12 pounds.
Palominos – 11 pounds.
Satin – 11 pounds.
Housing for rabbits is critical and must take into account the life cycle of the rabbit. We recommend housing breed stock in outdoor hutches all year. These hutches are stick-built constructions with an enclosed back and wire front.
Rabbits are pseudo-ruminators: at night, they eat pellets that are produced in the caecum during the day, directly from the anus. So the feed passes through the digestive tract twice in 24 hours. This is how rabbits, like cows, can get their nutrition from plant material. Pasture can supply up to 40% of a rabbit’s dietary needs.
More Rabbit Resources
By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. Raising rabbits for meat is an increasingly popular farming operation in Maine. Rabbits don’t take a lot of space to raise and are efficient feed converters, with a feed-to-meat ratio for fryers of 4:1, or 20 pounds of pellets to 5 pounds of meat. Broilers’ ratio ranges from 2 to 6:1,
The rabbitry at Rabbit Hill Farm. All photos by Cheryl Wixson. By Cheryl Wixson For the urban gardener or homesteader, domestic rabbits can be valuable livestock. Rabbit meat is an excellent source of protein; the pelts can be used in numerous applications including hats, lap robes, cushion covers, vests and coats; and rabbit manure is
Rabbits on pasture. Photo courtesy of www.cuniculture.info/Docs/Phototheque/Materiel07.htm By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. Raising rabbits on pasture allows the animals to exercise, engage more easily in natural behavior, and improve their overall quality of life, while giving the farmer a way to move or manage rabbit housing easily. Rabbits raised on pasture produce more meat and meat