Early this year I wrote some goals to help me see where I needed to go to get to where I want to be. One of them was running my own rabbits for meat. Now I understand that many people keep bunnies for pets, so if the thought of breeding then eating rabbits turns you off, this post will be all about that - no graphic images, but you might want to go read something else!
So far I have four breeding does and one buck. I run them on grass with open bottomed enclosures so they can eat grass - cheap to feed and their natural diet, so it's got to be good for them. Problem: they dig. So I move the enclosures every 24 hours and sometimes twice a day if they've already been digging. I also put planks of wood on the ground around the edges of their cage and so far I've only had three escapes - before I knew what I was doing. Two escapees were easily catchable, the other one were a couple of babies and not catchable. After a day or two I stopped seeing them around and my cat looked a whole lot plumper.
I also feed rabbit pellets, bought in bulk from a feed store, and I cut tagasaste tree branches (tree lucerne) for them - which they LOVE. They also get vege scraps like outer cabbage leaves. They are cheaper to feed than my roosters that I also raise for meat.
I aim to put a doe in with the buck every month. I leave her in there with him for 3 weeks or so, then take her out and settle her in another run ready to kindle at about 28-31 days. I have two indoor runs in my shed so I can have does kindle in there in the middle of winter. So if I get all the timing right, each doe will be mated three times a year. Her kits stay with her for 8 weeks and then she has a month off before mating again. Her kits will be culled at between 12 and 18 weeks. If I get five rabbits to process from each litter, I should end up with 60 per year - a meal a week. I think five is a conservative estimate and will probably get an average of seven, or 84 per year - plenty for us and some to give away or barter.
Before I went away a couple of weeks ago, we processed eight rabbits. They were about 13 weeks old. They were an alright size, two make a really good meal with leftovers but I would have left them longer if I hadn't been going away and needing to reduce animal numbers.
And the taste? Yum! Not gamey like wild rabbit, much more like one of my free-range chickens. A tender, dense meat, light in colour and enough like chicken that I told my nieces that that's what they were eating and they never questioned it. I'm not usually in the business of fibbing to children! My kids are fine about eating rabbit but I couldn't be bothered risking an argument the night I was feeding all the nieces too.
Joint the rabbit into pieces.
Flour and brown in a fry pan with oil or butter.
Layer in a casserole dish with sultanas that have soaked in water, and chopped onion and apple that you've fried lightly in the same fry pan.
Deglaze your pan with some beer (the darker the better), add a little smoked paprika and some dried mixed herbs then pour it all over the rabbit pieces.
Add more beer - about a 300ml stubby or can's worth in total.
Cover and cook for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Serve with mashed potato or whatever takes your fancy in the way of veges.
So currently I have five kits that are almost four weeks old and they are running around and eating grass quite happily. I have 10 kits only a couple of days old and they have quite a big size discrepancy and 10 is a big number so I don't expect all of them to survive, and I have nine kits who are about five days old and seem to be doing well. The nine kits were meant to be born over a week earlier than they were but she obviously wasn't playing ball with the buck. I need to spread my matings out a little more to get things working the way I want and then it will all be going swimmingly.
Will I keep doing it? Yes. I have to feed and move them every day, but I'm time-rich. They are cheap to feed and give us good meat in a short time frame. Their manure is great for the garden and they mow the lawn for me. I also have the skins to consider and will research home tanning and give it a whirl at some stage.