How do you decide what animals to raise on your homestead or farm? Do you look at feed costs? Grow out time? Product yield vs investment? Space requirements? Cuddlability? Do you look at short and long term goals? Or do you simply jump in eyes wide shut?
These are all important questions and sometimes, they may come after you dive in.
Hi there, Christy, from Christy's Farm TN. I am a military spouse with three small kiddos. We began our homesteading journey almost two years ago with the hope of eventually lowering our cost of groceries (specifically our meat budget) for our family. We started with a meager 5 chicks from Rural King after toying with the idea for years. We quickly spiraled and fell in love with the homesteading lifestyle. We now raise chickens, turkeys, and most importantly for us, rabbits.
We live on 2 acres and go through a lot of protein. Many of the animals here came on a whim, but my husband is a researcher and knew as soon as we decided to try homesteading that he wanted to do meat rabbits. It was, admittedly, not an idea that I was keen on. Rabbits? Really!?
YES! Rabbits. There is no cleaner meat and their costs and investment requirements are minimal. The average gestation period for rabbits is 31 days and, when doing everything right, you are able to process litters at just 8-12 weeks, with a goal of 5 lbs live weight per rabbit. Many rabbit breeders start with a trio of a buck and two does. We have raised a multitude of breeds and mixes at this point, and we've also experimented with different feeds and shelters. We have raised in stacked wire cages, rabbit tractors (with and without ground contact), and are now in the process of moving our permanent herd to hanging wire with the intention of continuing to tractor our grow-outs. As long as the needs of the animals are being met, there really is no "right" or "wrong" way to raise rabbits, simply what works best for you and your available resources!
As with anything, we made many beginners mistakes. One of the most important lessons that we've learned is the importance of starting with quality stock! We started with unknown meat mutts and quickly learned that each rabbit is not created equally. We had litters taking 6+ months to grow out to the ideal processing weight. When that happens, your costs go up! Wasted feed, less yield for your investment, and a lot of frustration. We've since invested in several Silver Foxes and of all the breeds we have raised over the years, these are hands down our favorites! It is not unheard of for them to reach 5 lbs by 8 weeks and more often than not, they've reached weight by 10 weeks. They're growth is excellent and their even temperaments and mothering abilities are a definite bonus.
It's a constant learning process, and it doesn't come without its heartaches, but it has been incredibly rewarding. We look forward to continuing our rabbit raising journey and learning many more lessons along the way.