Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hare Pen

After posting about the Rabbits and Chickens, questions were asked about the processing and grazing of rabbits.  Below this post is the processing post and to make good on my promise here is one about grazing rabbits.

Natural Food
One of the problems with rabbits is providing "natural" food.  Most rabbit production models use a pellet feed of some kind.  While this is sufficient for nutrition, it fails to provide what I think is a very important aspect for all livestock, normal eating habits.  What I mean by normal eating habits, or mastication, is the act of actually obtaining the food.  For an animal to be able to express itself to the fullest, and therefore providing the healthiest, tastiest meat possible, it needs to be able to live to life that nature intended.  
For example here on the farm we are always talking about chickens and their ability to express their chickeness.  Chickens are omnivores by nature, so when you read that a chicken has been "vegetarian fed," to me that is horrible.  As Matt has said numerous times to customers, "There is nothing more unnatural than a vegetarian fed chicken.  Chicken are designed to eat plants and animals, and when you take away the animals, something is wrong with the system.  A vegetarian fed chicken can only occur in confinement.  If they aren't confined, then they are eating some sort of animal product, i.e. insects."
Back to rabbits.  Rabbits are herbivores.  They don't have a rumen like cattle and sheep.  Instead they preform Coprophagia which is the act of eating their feces.  Now before you get grossed out and never want to eat rabbit meat again or for the first time, let me explain.  Its really not that disgusting.  After a rabbits eats, its food (vegetation) is broken down into simple sugars through bacterial fermentation.  Since a rabbit does not have a rumen, this takes place in the hindgut or cecum.  At this point the feces still has vital minerals and nutrients that the rabbit needs so they eat this "first feces" (cecotropes) straight from their anus.  This happens several hours after ingesting there food.  Once these cecotropes have passed through a second time, the rabbit allows its feces to fall, in our case, to the chickens underneath... waiting eagerly.
Think about rabbits in the wild for a minute.  How are they obtaining food?  By grazing!  If you take that idea and and use your imagination, something like the hare pen will appear.  Below are some pictures of a Polyface Hare Pen.  We just took these pics a few days ago so there is no rabbit inside, but I hope it will give you an idea of what we do.  Hopefully in the spring I'll get pictures of working hare pens.

Here I am pulling the hare pen.  Its light enough to just lift and pull without a dolly like we use for broiler pens.  Its also much smaller than a broiler pen.  If you look close you can see a feed trough on the right.  We do still feed them alfalfa pellets while in the Hare Pen, but feed consumption plummets when they can graze.  You may also notice there is no waterer?  Usually there would be a bucket with a drip drinker.

One of the pieces of tin lifts off to provide easy access for grabbing bunnies.  This is important since we only graze fryers for 6 weeks.  This is the time from weaning (6 weeks old) to butchering (12 weeks old). 

Here is the slatted floor.  This allows for grazing without escape from digging.

Thanks again to Rachel for all the pictures.


Country Girl said...

Interesting, I never knew that about them eating their poo. We have several of those portable pens that we house broilers in and John talked about converting one for meat rabbits. He was wondering how he was going to keep they from digging. The last picture answered his question. So glad I found your blog. I have been reading Omnivores Dilemna and In defense of food and Polyface farm is mentioned in both and before then I had never heard of it. What a great experience you will gain there. ~Kim

Anonymous said...

I am new to your blog (but not polyface, I've been interested in this farm and Salatin's methods for years) and I have to say I really appreciate what you are doing and willing to share here. The photos and tutorials are great and I'm looking forward to reading through this whole thing! :) Thanks Again, Angie

Anonymous said...

I am reading Pastured Poultry Profits, and Salatin mentions in it that he gave up on rabbits because he couldn't keep them from digging out. I was going to write to him to suggest a Morant hutch, but it appears he has discovered it on his own.,M1

Anonymous said...

Can you expand on cost of raising fryers and what you sell them for? Many folks struggle to break even with rabbits.


Joy said...

I've been thinking a lot about how to pasture rabbits, too. I'm wondering what you have growing there and at what age you let the bunnies out to pasture. We have read that giving bunnies greens too soon can cause diarrhea and death so we've been a bit paranoid. Most of our plot is covered in dandelions currently, we also have some grassy areas.

Lady Li-Lei said...

Have you experimented with electronet fencing for rabbits? I currently raise rabbits in an urban setting, and would like to rotate them around my yard, and am thinking about trying electronet paddocks. Would love to hear if anyone's tried this.


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Josh said...

what is the size wood you use for this pen to make sure it is light enough to move... i see that it looks like 1"x1"s on the slatted floor, but what is every thing else, 1x4 or 2x4?

Anonymous said...

I would go with 2x2 from experience particularly if the sq. footage of the pen is considerable (more than just 2'x4' for example).

Im curious as to how long you keep your rabbits outside vs. in the hoop house. Is it an every day back and forth thing? Or would you leave them in the pasture pens overnight, what is the process here?

Term papers said...

Thank you very much! it does help! I will give a try on that and see how things goes!
I really appreciate your time! Thanks a lot

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