The other day I was asked which was better for home meat production, broilers or rabbits. That made me stop and think a bit. The answer depends on so many factors that it would be really hard to give a definitive one, but here’s what I came up with for the person asking. Rabbits. Why? Several reasons including where they live, what their goals were, and how much time they had to spend on the project.
Broilers are great. They grow fast and then go away. You can fill up your freezer with chicken in 2 or three months for a modest amount of money. But it is a lot of work, and you couldn’t do it in most cities or towns.
Rabbits, however, can be raised as “pets” almost anywhere. They are quite inexpensive, and produce a lot of meat. One good quality meat doe can easily produce 80 lbs of meat a year. Two does would produce enough to have rabbit once a week for a year. They will keep doing it for at least 5 years. You could feed them for free for most of the year on 1000 square feet of lawn (and not have to mow or fertilize.) That’s pretty inexpensive meat.
Here’s how a grazing rabbit system could work.
Two does could be housed in an 8 x 10 rabbit tractor. Does actually get along quite well if they have enough space. An 8 x 10 tractor grass 3 – 4 inches tall would be plenty of feed for 2 large (New Zealand White sized) rabbits for a day. One thousand square feet of grass would allow you to move the tractor 12 times before you came back to the beginning point. That should be plenty of time for the grass to re-grow to 3 or 4 inches. In my part of the country we could do that for 8 – 9 months of the year. The remaining time we would house the rabbits in conventional hutches and feed them hay and some prepared rabbit feed. You could also harvest and dry your own hay if you had extra lawn and save even more money. You would need a buck and he would need to be housed separately. He could either be in a hutch or in a smaller tractor. I would probably put him in a hutch with a vermi-composting system built underneath. The little bit you would spend on feeding him could easily be recouped in valuable vermi-compost either for your garden or for sale or trade to other gardeners.
Rabbits are easy to process. It takes less than 15 minutes from cage to freezer. There is no special equipment needed, and the amount of waste is very small. Since your meat production is spread out in small batches it doesn’t become a marathon of killing, plucking, and processing.
The skins are also quite useful if you take the extra step to tan them.
I have plans for a rabbit tractor and for a rabbit hutch with a built in vermi-composting system if anyone is interested in trying this kind of meat production. We plan on doing it this summer. I will be posting our results as the project gets underway.