Rabbit meat is very healthy and extremely sustainable. Not only that, but rabbit meat can be cooked just like chicken. Nearly every recipe that uses chicken, you can substitute rabbit for a very healthy, sustainable meal. As with all food, we think it’s important to investigate the source. So how do we raise these rabbits at Nature’s Grove Farm? Well, there are 2 answers to that and it all depends on the season.
First we have to know a little about the nature of rabbits. Rabbits will mate to establish social dominance, and between males, this can be an issue. One male may start hounding another to the extent that neither will eat. Because does sometimes prefer one buck for mating, simply having only one male is not an option at times, especially if you’re breeding rabbits for a constant supply of meat. Oftentimes rabbits in the wild will fight for territory, and, without getting too graphic, it’s not uncommon the loser of the battle is unable to reproduce. For these reasons, we give each adult rabbit their own space. This would be akin to them having their own burrows or dens in the wild. A place they feel safe and secure.
So how does raising these rabbits change from summer to winter?
Warm Summer Months
Nature has 2 methods of sanitizing; rest and sunshine being one, and composting being the other. For our pastures, during the summer months when our soil is alive and active, we like to feed it and let it digest it’s food. Following our same general idea that we use with chickens, we use movement of animals to achieve this which will allow for rest and sunshine.
Our chickens are moved every day with a partially covered shelter called a chicken tractor. Their daily moves across the land fertilize, prune and disrupt the soil and then moved off that portion of land to allow it to rest and regenerate. Our rabbits will follow the same pattern, but we need to adjust slightly to accommodate their nature.
Unlike chickens, rabbits don’t like heat, and love to dig. But like chickens, they will benefit from daily moves and are prey animals, so they need protection and a safe place. We want to key in on each species of animal we raise and cater to their individual and specialized nature. So we take our chicken tractor method and make some modifications to the chicken tractors and now have “rabbit tractors.”
First we need that cool environment for rabbits. So the entire rabbit tractor gets a roof. Unlike the chickens where we leave part uncovered to allow sun, rabbits like the shade. Also, the rabbits digging would allow them to burrow right under the rabbit tractor. So we add strips of wood on the bottom to keep them in and predators out, while still allowing access to grass. Rabbits also like to have smaller enclosures, like a burrow to hide and sleep in. So inside the rabbit tractor, we included a hiding space, fully enclosed with the exception of the floor. There we have a welded wire floor with holes small enough to support them comfortably, yet big enough to allow their manure and urine to drop through to the earth below.
Now we have a rabbit tractor that allows us to direct their movement over our pastures and still allows rabbits to be rabbits.
Cold Winter Months
This is what we call our Raken House Rabbit. In nature, there is no waste. One thing to keep in mind, everything is food for something else. We will come back to this idea. Also, our pasture in the winter time goes to “sleep.” The soil and the land slow in activity and in some cases pause for a hibernation of sorts. Our rest and sunshine method doesn’t really work as it would in the summer. It can’t bounce back the same. So, what can we do during the winter? Why not create some active compost that’s alive? Enter the Raken House. Or RAbbit & chicKEN.
Chickens and rabbits work in synergy with each other. During the winter, when vegetation outside is low, we have hay available for the rabbits and pellets made from organic alfalfa, timothy and other grasses. Never any corn or soy. We keep the rabbits elevated in the air above a carbonaceous bedding, such as wood chips. That way the rabbit’s manure and urine fall down away from them, keeping their area clean as it falls down into the wood chip bedding where the nitrogen mixes with the carbon. We now are one step away from making compost that can go into our gardens.
We need to mix that manure, urine and wood chips to add air which will start a composting process and generate heat and nourishment for our chickens. But, there are some issues.
One, this will attract bugs. Two, we physically have to go in and mix it. Three, food dropped by the rabbits above attracts rodents. Four, it will smell. How can we solve all these problems?
Remember, everything is food for something else. The dropped food is perfectly edible by an omnivore like a chicken, thus nothing left for attracting rodents. The chickens will scratch the manure looking for bugs to eat. This keeps the population in check and adds extra protein to our egg layers. The scratching also mixes the manure and wood chips, thus composting and creating a habitat for even more bugs (yet more food) and reduces smell. The composting wood chips is food for earthworms. An earthen floor allows earthworms to make their way up. And guess what earthworms are… food for something else. Those earthworms feed our chickens; another protein source. Do we see a pattern yet? The problems created by one species are an asset to another. We are literally converting the waste from our rabbits into eggs and vegetables, all through our hard working hens. And we don’t even have to answer to any labor unions!
The rabbits, suspended above, are less susceptible to disease and each have their own space. This eliminates the territorial disputes mentioned earlier and allows us to better manage breeding. However, it is more labor intensive when it comes to feeding and breeding.
There is one other benefit of keeping these two species together, but we need to zoom into the microscopic world to see it. Pathogens are everywhere. There is no avoiding them. The trick is not to stop them. It’s to not allow them to overwhelm. Balance and diversity is what we are after, not elimination. We want to confuse pathogens with a diverse microbiome and multiple species playing their part. Did I mention everything is food for something else? A pathogen is no exception. A rich, well balanced world of microbes has the predators of those pathogens. With both rabbits and chickens, we achieve a greater diversity in the microbial life taking place in the raken house.
So there we have it. Raken House Rabbit and Pasture Raised Rabbit will both be available at Nature’s Grove Farm. Which one is available depends on the season. As always, we will not just settle for the bare minimum to meet organic standards. Our rabbits, just like our chicken, go beyond organic!
Are you excited to try our rabbit?