Monday, January 5, 2009

Rabbits and Layers

One of the great things about being an apprentice on Polyface is the realization that opportunities for food production are ENDLESS!!  Now don't run out and buy 1000 cows and expect to have money just rolling in, but people need to eat and some if not all of Polyface's production models are simple enough for anyone to take on.  I've been watching the rabbit production model for the past few weeks and I have no doubt that rabbits could provide a nice side income for someone wanting to produce healthy, tasty meat.  Rabbits alone could work but rabbits plus laying chickens equals great success.


Let me explain...

Rabbit meat is highly sought after by restaurants and many people.  Here at Polyface we cannot produce enough to keep up with the demand.  Currently we are not selling any rabbit meat to restaurants or through our buying club.  At least one restaurant asks our delivery driver weekly if we have any rabbits or if we will anytime soon, and our buying club customers ask the same questions.  You might say to yourself (as I have many times), "I don't know anyone or any restaurant the eats or serves rabbit meat."  Here's why... because they don't have a source or producer to get it from.  I'm starting to believe that many restaurants and costumers would love and may in fact prefer rabbit over many other meats.
During the summer we try and get the rabbits out to pasture in the "Hare Pens" and if not in the hare pens they get some sort of fresh green clipping.  When they aren't out on pasture during the summer (and winter for that matter) they are kept in one of the hoop-houses in 2ft x 3ft x 4ft hutches.  They are feed alfalfa pellets while in the hutches and watered via spigots that fill from tubes hooked into one central bucket (for 10-15 hutches).  Chores for the rabbits take minutes to complete and they reproduce quickly.  Gestation is only 28 days and litters contain up to 11 bunnies.  Lots of meat... FAST.
Adding chickens is the logical next step.  If you raise the rabbit hutches off the ground so they are easy to feed/water/check then they are also high enough for their manure to fall down below the hutch.  Without chickens it can pile up and reek of ammonia.  With chickens however, their manure disappears.  The chickens scratch trough the manure and eat anything nutritious and the rest gets spread throughout the wood chips and saw dust used as bedding.  So even without providing more income with the eggs they lay, chickens act as sanitizers for the rabbits.  This is what I call a WIN-WIN situation.

  

13 comments:

Denise said...

How do the rabbits get slaughtered and processed? Is that an on-farm event, and how often does it take place? I've read pretty extensively thru several of Joel's books, but I don't think I've read anything on getting rabbits to the customer.

Love the photos; your enthusiasm is so heartwarming!

Mel, Foxtail Farm said...

I'm sure I'm not the only person to search through all of Salatin's books for the occasional references to the rabbit enterprise, trying to build up a cohesive image of the system. So I was really glad to see it in action in this post. Would you be able to give more details on the pasture pens?

Grady Phelan said...

We should be butchering some rabbits here soon. Matt has been breeding rabbits like crazzzzzy, and some of the litters are nearing time to butcher. Anyway, I'll try and get some pictures of that and the "Hare Pens" and publish another Rabbit production model post as soon as we butcher. Thanks for the curiosity.

Tracy said...

From what I remember reading, the rabbit part of the farm was the brainchild of Joel's son, right? So it is pretty much his own enterprise.

I think it was just getting started when Joel wrote "Family Friendly Farming", so there isn't much of anything in the books about it.

Grady Phelan said...

Tracy,
It was Daniel's enterprise in the beginning. He started at age nine (around 1991) and has been line breeding ever since. Today it is part of the many enterprises on Polyface and Matt is currently in charge.

Storypage said...

I'm reading Joel's Pastured Poultry Profits and he talks about seasons for different critters. Chickens are summer in his area, I think he said. Can you tell us what the season is for rabbits? What is a season like?

Here in Oklahoma, I can't see doing the intensive stuff in the summer, with average high temperatures in the mid to high 90s, often hitting over 100.

Thanks!

Joy said...

I'm enjoying your blog! We recently started raising rabbits for meat and it's been hard to find examples of what others are doing. I'm curious about your hoophouse/chicken set up, as I have read that chickens and rabbits should be kept separately to prevent spread of disease. Also, I wonder about the temperature in the hoophouse - how do you avoid it getting too hot for the rabbits?

We have some of our rabbits over a worm pit which is working well, but some of them are over a concrete floor with bedding and the ammonia smell led to some sneezing. We want to redesign part of our system so any input is appreciated!

ps, we have chickens, too, in a separate area. If disease really isn't a concern we might combine them as you have!

Thanks,
Joy

Robert McKay said...

Hi, and thanks so much for the informative posts. Very useful to me as a prospective urban rabbit farmer. I've got a few questions:
1. Doesn't the efficiency of feeding decrease if rabbits can't coprophage (verb?) since all the droppings are falling through the cages here?
2. Do you have any information on winter housing temp requirements? I know it's probably not as big a deal where you are, but I'm in Burlington, Vermont. So far most of the really cool rabbit pasture operations I've found online have been in the southern US. Any links to northern colleagues would be much appreciated.

Keep up the good work,

Robert McKay
Burlington, VT

Grady Phelan said...

Hey Robert,

Here are some answers for you:

1. Doesn't the efficiency of feeding decrease if rabbits can't coprophage (verb?) since all the droppings are falling through the cages here?

Actually, they are still able to coprophage. Rabbits usually eat their "night feces" straight from the anus. Coprophagia is essential for rabbit survival since they cannot get essential nutrients by just ingesting once. So, wire floor hutches (which is the industry standard and we know the industry is very concerned with feed efficiency) still allows for coprophagia.

2. Do you have any information on winter housing temp requirements? I know it's probably not as big a deal where you are, but I'm in Burlington, Vermont. So far most of the really cool rabbit pasture operations I've found online have been in the southern US. Any links to northern colleagues would be much appreciated.

I'm not sure what the required temp for rabbits is, but I will tell you that its probably pretty low. Rabbits love cold weather, its the hot weather that is dangerous. I would suggest housing your rabbits in a hoop-house in the winter. At Polyface the protocol had rabbits in hoop-houses with chickens running and scratching underneath. I know there is a Maine Rabbit keepers group... you'll just have to Google search for them.


Hope this helps,

Grady

Rachel said...

Maybe this is a silly question, but do you know if they ever have any problem with the rabbits getting mites from the chickens? I was going to set up a similar chicken/rabbit systems until I was advised that rabbits have to be kept away from birds due to ear mites. Is that just an urban(or rural) myth?

Grady Phelan said...

Hey Rachel,

Rabbits can get ear mites, but I'm not sure they are from the chickens. Maybe so, but you can spray lime sulfur around the raken to help eliminate them and if you have any rabbits get ear mites I would use mineral oil in their ear daily until it clears up. Dig out any gunk that builds up and keep applying mineral oil.

Grady

Jeff Dustin said...

What's the pellet to forage ratio roughly? Can rabbits mow like cattle and goats?

Most importantly, can I buy some the hardy rabbit strains that Daniel developed? I live in Maine, so I'd need to find someone local who has a few kits.

Grady Phelan said...

Hey Jeff,

The Pellet to Forage ratio will vary with your climate, grasses, and rabbits. I would encourage you to get some rabbits and try it out. Daniel does sell his rabbits, but they will essentially be native to his region and not Maine. I like your idea of getting rabbits locally and breeding for what you want and building your own hardy rabbit colony.

Grady