This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Matthew R
When I was in high school I raised rabbits in a pen to complete a FFA project. The project was a fun learning experience despite the high mortality rates suffered, a common problem for amateur rabbit breeders. I can’t say I made money on the project, but I sure enjoyed a good number of rabbits for dinner!
I recently revisited the idea while thinking about emergency food supplies. Specifically, I wanted to know if raising rabbits could be productive and feasible when raised on an open-range homestead rather than inside of a secure pen. I was especially interested in knowing if the rabbit population could take care of itself without my intervention and in what numbers.
Why rabbits? Well, rabbit is all-white meat and has fewer calories, cholesterol, and fat per pound than chicken, turkey, beef, or pork. Domestic rabbit meat boasts the highest protein percent and is considered to be the most nutritious meat known to man. Based on the same amount of feed and water, a rabbit will produce six times the meat produced by a cow which makes it the most productive of all livestock. A doe rabbit that weighs 10 pounds can produce 320 pounds of meat in a year, yet requires only a fraction of the grazing land needed by a cow. (Source: http://www.ardengrabbit.com/facts.html)
Rabbits can thrive in a variety of environments, including meadows, forests, deserts, grasslands, and wetlands. They can also be found in hot and humid lowlands as well as snow-covered mountains so they are suitable for most any region of the United States. They exist in a variety of colors so one breed might be more suitable than another in a given environment.
Their size is also important if we intend to use them as a food source, but many breeds of rabbits will be ready for dinner after growing to 3-5 pounds in only 8-12 weeks. Choosing the right breed for your needs shouldn’t be too difficult as there are 19 different kinds of rabbits to be found in the United States. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rabbit_breeds)
Just for comparison, a chicken producing fertilized eggs intended for hatching will lay 165-180 eggs over a period of 65 weeks. The incubation and hatching process takes about three weeks while slaughter of the chick for meat commences about eight weeks later. Generally speaking, rabbits and chickens require about the same amount of growth time to reach the dinner plate (Source: http://www.mainstreet.com/slideshow/lifestyle/food-drink/egg-plate-where-your-chicken-comes).
Although chickens can produce more offspring per year they also require more care to raise. Even so, non-breeding hens can offer the added benefit of providing a family with eggs to eat as well as feathers for pillows, mattresses, etc. Obviously, rabbits don’t produce eggs or produce as many annual offspring, but they require far less care, are easier to prepare for dinner, and provide warm hides and soft leather for clothing and blankets. There are some very delicate tradeoffs between the benefits offered by the two animals, but one could easily justify raising both animals at the same time.
Getting back to rabbits, they prefer to burrow into the ground (or snow) for protection and they live in small social units much like some humans live in together yet separately in apartment complexes. They will spend about 70% of their time above ground looking for food (vegetation, water) and that makes them vulnerable to predators. Their annual survival rate is only about 30% (according to one study conducted in New England) with very few surviving longer than 4 years. Wild rabbits are too fast to be caught with bare hands, but they are also small enough that they can be trapped or hunted with small weapons.
Rabbits breed quickly so they can be a good choice as a food supply. One female rabbit typically births a litter of 6-8 babies about four times each year (average of 28). The chart below provides an at-a-glance view of how quickly a rabbit population can mature over a period of four years.
Keep in mind these numbers represent the doe (female rabbit) population only, which is approximately half of the total population. A 1400-count rabbit population would require between 12 and 36 acres of land, depending on the quality of the vegetation found on that land. Of course, without implementing a culling program the rabbit population would quickly become a pest-control problem.
A rabbit population could be initiated today and allowed to expand for 2-3 years with little intervention or care on our part. At that point in time, maintaining a “working number” of rabbits with weekly culling practices can help keep the population under control. In the event a SHTF scenario should occur then we would want to temporarily stop the culling practices for several months in order that the population can increase to a level it can feed us on a daily basis. A good “working number” of rabbits could achieve that population level within a year.
Not everyone has acreage on which to build a rabbit population, especially those who live in urban areas, so this idea won’t work for everyone. For those who do have access to land, rabbits can be an easy way to supplement the food supply with very little physical effort required. Be mindful that one of the negatives of having a rabbit population is the damage they can do to a garden. A gardener should take steps to protect his produce from the little creatures lest he lose one of his food supplies to another food source.
Another consideration to think about is the attraction a large rabbit population would be for predators such as coyotes, wolves, foxes, raccoons, snakes, bobcats, and cougars to name a few. On the one hand your property could become that much more dangerous with these kinds of animals around, yet the rabbit population can also be appreciated as bait which lures larger game into your rifle scope. Yes, uninvited strangers may also be attracted to your rabbit population if they are hungry enough so be cautious about that too.
Lastly, one should not depend on rabbits as a primary food source since a drought or disease could wipe them all out within a matter of days. Yet, as a rapidly renewable food source which requires very little effort to maintain, having a sizable and healthy population of rabbits on our land can easily be considered one part of our survival plan.
Being a simple overview this topic is ripe for suggestions and tips, even warnings about things I have not yet discovered or addressed. Let me know your comments.
This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:
- First Prize) Winner will receive a gift certificate for $170 worth of Winchester Ammo donated by Lucky Gunner. A Smith & Wesson Heat Treated Collapsible 21″ Baton and a copy of my book Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat.
- Second Prize) Winner will receive a Wise Food Storage meat bucket and 3 dozen Tattler Reusable Canning Lids donated by LPC Survival.
- Third Prize) Winner will receive a LifeStraw water filter system donated by Eartheasy and a copy of the Wolf Pack Cookbook.