Rabbits are one of the more underrated livestock animals on homesteads, but they have a lot to bring to the table, literally and figuratively speaking.
1. Rabbits Create Instant Compost
It takes at least two months, but up to two years for composted items to be safe and usable in your garden. This takes a lot of time, space on your property, and while compost piles should not smell bad, there is a learning curve, and you could deal with some stink while you figure it out.
With rabbits, it takes about two days for the scraps you feed them to turn into perfectly pelleted fertilizer and compost pieces. They are a great way to almost instantly turn scraps from your garden into a healthy and digestible food for your soil. Of course you cannot feed everything to your rabbit, but there is quite a bit they can eat and turn into wonderful compost for you as a by-product.
Rabbit manure is completely safe to use. It does not burn your plants, and it’s safe to eat the fruits and vegetables that were fed by the droppings. The manure is also odorless, which is another win for many gardeners.
2. Rabbit Droppings Keep Wild Rabbits Away
Where I live in Northwestern Montana, the wild hares have a strong population, and they love to munch on my garden and flowers. While a fence is the best way to keep them at bay, not everything I grow is safely enclosed. For those spaces, I make sure to continuously and generously spread rabbit droppings all season long.
In March of 2023, my hyacinths were not making it more than 1-2 inches out of the ground in my garden bed on the side of my house before being mowed down by the snowshoe hares in the wee hours of the morning. In late April, I began generously scattering manure from my rabbits. Within a week, a hyacinth popped out of the ground and put up the most beautiful purple bloom. More bloomed in the following weeks, and I have to credit this drastic change to my rabbits.
3. Rabbits Can Create Another Stream of Income
Rabbits are a lot more versatile than we tend to give them credit for. You may sell the rabbits live as pets, show animals, livestock, or furbearers. You can also sell rabbit products, including meats, pelts and hides, fine leather, or manure droppings.
Emily of TexanKokopelli is a shining example of this, she sells double-sifted rabbit droppings for 50 cents an ounce. She does something fun and interesting with her shop too– she includes a picture of which rabbit the droppings originated, allowing her customers to feel more connected to her homestead.
MakerMaryContrary is another great example. She sells her organic and sifted manure in beautiful brown paper sacks and has nearly 300 glowing reviews on her Etsy store.
You can find thousands of rabbit breeders through the American Rabbit Breeder Association (ARBA). Rabbits may sell for $10 to $100+ per animal, depending on the breed, quality, and location– making this a potentially lucrative business.
Urban Homesteading with Danielle sold a dozen rabbits for $480, or $40 each. This more than enough to offset the costs of the rest of her breeding operation, allowing her to fill her freezer for free. If she had decided to sell kit born that year, she would have earned $1,280.
I sell my pedigree American Chinchillas (registered as Cedar Hills Homestead) for $50 to $75 each. With my four does who regularly have a dozen kits per birth and three births per year, this could be up to $7,200 to $10,800 each year. I am more interested in keeping them for food and fur, but selling just one rabbit per litter will easily offset my rabbitry costs.
Most rabbit pelts sell for around $20 each, or significantly more if crafted into something else.
4. Rabbits Are Cheap to Raise And Don’t Need Much Space
Cost to Feed Rabbits
Rabbits will need an unlimited supply of hay for their health and overall wellbeing, and roughage (hay, grass, alfalfa, etc) should make up at least 80% of their diet.
I have American Chinchilla Rabbits, so they are on the larger size, eating about six pounds of roughage per month. Most smaller breeds that are 2-3 pounds will eat three pounds of hay monthly. This is only if they are fed hay with pellets, if you are feeding hay-only, their hay intake could easily double or even triple according to some rabbit keepers.
This means a 60-pound bale will feed a pair of rabbits for 5 to 10 months! In my area, it is $10-23 a bale. You can likely find 60-pound bales in the midwest for $3-7. Rabbits are exceptionally cheap to feed, and this is more evident if you raise yours for meat or to sell.
Does (the mother rabbit) will eat a negligible extra amount of feed during her pregnancy and while she nurses her kits (babies). When the kits are six to eight weeks old, they are ready to butcher or sell, meaning you paid almost nothing extra for the pleasure of raising them.
Space Needed to Keep Rabbits
Rabbits need at least eight square feet of space per animal, preferably more.
My large rabbits have 12 to 35 square feet of space each. I have a 3×8 (24 square feet) hutch that two rabbits share and a 104-square-foot colony set up for three does. I also have a 3×12 (36 square feet) hutch that I’m in the process of setting up for another two does.
You have several options when it comes to raising rabbits.
Hutches are wooden shelters designed specifically for rabbits. They are usually elevated from the ground to protect the rabbits from predators and harsh weather conditions. Hutches provide a confined space for rabbits, offering protection and security. They often consist of enclosed sleeping areas and open wire-meshed spaces for ventilation.
Rabbit cages are typically made of metal wire and provide a secure environment for rabbits indoors or outdoors. These cages come in various sizes and designs, offering good ventilation and easy cleaning. Indoor cages are often used for house rabbits, while outdoor cages are designed with a waterproof roof to shield the rabbits from rain. Cages are portable and can be moved to different locations as needed. Sometimes cages will be elevated, lined up, and covered with metal and called a hutch.
Rabbit colonies, also known as rabbitat or warren setups, mimic a more natural environment for rabbits. In a colony enclosure, rabbits live in a larger, enclosed area where they can dig, burrow, and socialize freely. This setup aims to replicate a rabbit’s natural habitat, promoting a more active and stimulating lifestyle. Colonies require careful planning to prevent overcrowding and ensure the rabbits’ safety from predators. If the rabbits are directly on the ground, they will need to be dewormed. You’ll also need to make sure that they cannot dig out.
Each type of enclosure has its advantages and considerations, and the choice depends on factors like available space, climate, and the specific needs of the rabbits in question.
5. Rabbits Produce High-Quality Meat
Rabbits are renowned for their lean, tender, and flavorful meat. Rabbit meat is not only delicious but also healthy, as it is low in cholesterol and fat while being rich in protein. The meat is tender and succulent, making it a popular choice among chefs and food enthusiasts.
Rabbits mature quickly and have a high reproductive rate. A single female rabbit can produce multiple litters of kits each year. Up to five litters, with each litter typically consisting of eight to twelve kits. This rapid reproduction allows for a consistent supply of meat all year round.
Additionally, rabbits have a high feed-to-meat conversion rate (as mentioned above), meaning they require less feed compared to other livestock to produce the same amount of meat. This efficiency makes rabbit farming cost-effective and highly environmentally friendly.
Furthermore, rabbit meat is versatile and can be used in various culinary dishes. For the most part, it can be used in the same applications as chicken. It can be grilled, roasted, stewed, or used in casseroles, providing a wide range of options for homesteaders and professional chefs alike.
6. Rabbits Product High-Quality Pelts
Rabbits pelts and hides are one of the reasons why I was drawn to these animals as a homesteader. Montana winters are long and can really bring on the cabin fever, so having a winter-proof hobby like tanning is perfect for these months.
Rabbits are ready for meat and pelt production in eight to twelve weeks, depending on how big you want the pelts to be. If you keep several breeding does, you’ll have plenty of projects to busy yourself with. Don’t worry, if you need a break you can always freeze your pelts to tan later on.
Rabbit fur is an excellent natural insulator, providing exceptional warmth in cold weather. Homesteaders living in colder regions can utilize rabbit pelts to make blankets, gloves, clothing, or even home décor on the cheap, while also being highly sustainable and eco-friendly. While faux leather and faux fur has a purpose, it is not nearly as durable or long-lasting as the real deal.
Homesteaders are far more likely to appreciate traditional crafts and skills. Rabbit pelts provide an opportunity for homesteaders to engage in traditional fur crafting techniques, such as tanning and sewing, preserving age-old skills within the community. This not only adds value to the homesteader’s products but also keeps valuable craftsmanship alive.
Finally, when raising rabbits for meat, utilizing pelts ensures that no part of the animal goes to waste. This efficient use of resources aligns with the ethos of sustainable homesteading, where maximizing utility from every animal contributes to the overall efficiency and ecological balance of the homestead. It’s also generally seen as more respectful to the animals we love and raise.
7. Rabbits Are Great Weed Removers
One way that I can metaphorically kill two birds with one stone is by pulling weeds to feed my rabbits. This reduces an already low feed bill, reduces the amount of unwanted herbaceous perennials (weeds) on my property, and it incentivizes me to stay on top of weed pulling.
I am especially proud of my rabbits when they eat those ouchie Canadian thistles that pop up all over my yard. They keep that from going to seed, and it fills them up with good and very locally-sourced nutrients.
If you don’t want to manually cut or pull weeds, you can build or buy a rabbit tractor (or simply use a wire dog kennel) so your rabbits can browse in your yard buffet-style.
8. Rabbits Are The Quietest Animals You Can Raise
Unlike many other livestock animals, rabbits are naturally quiet creatures. They do not produce loud noises, making them suitable for urban or suburban areas where noise regulations might be a concern. This silence means that neighbors are unlikely to be disturbed, making rabbits an excellent choice for backyard or small-scale farming operations.
Plus, many aspiring homesteaders long for a quiet and simple life. While I love my goats, they are noisy and complicated creatures who love to get into trouble. Rabbits are always quiet and very simple to keep happy and healthy.
Why You Should Raise Rabbits on Your Homestead; TLDR
In summary, keeping rabbits as livestock is a wise choice for any homesteader or small-scale farmer. Their rapid reproduction, efficient feed-to-meat conversion, profitability, and high-quality meat and fur make them a sustainable source of income and resources. Additionally, their quiet and unobtrusive nature suits many households and homesteads, ensuring peace for you and your animals.
Rabbits are low-maintenance, easy to handle, and environmentally friendly, making them an ideal livestock option for those seeking self-sufficiency, sustainable practices, and a peaceful farming experience.
Whether for meat, fur, or companionship, rabbits prove to be a valuable and versatile addition to any homestead.