Rabbits and winter prep!
I am not inviting any rabbits to dinner yet, so I have to clean houses and stuff hay in the nest boxes so they can keep warm. Yes, rabbits feel cold just like us, and need to get out of the wind and cold. My nest boxes, built into the hutch complex so that each bunny has a cage, self feeder for pellets, heated water bowl, and a nest box 1’X2’X1’H. I place cardboard in the bottom plastic grate (see building hutches) in the wintertime so the hay is not pushed through the holes. I find it takes a repacking every few days until they get it just right.
Most bunnies will eat the hay; this is good roughage for them and hay keeps the food bill down. I average about 16 rabbits in the fall and they will in the cold weather easily consume 50# of pellets a week. I buy high-grade pellets too. By adding hay to the nest boxes through its own small door my food bill goes down.
Some rabbits are messy leaving bunny berries stacked up, but most accept the sleeping quarters for what it is and keep it clean. The top of the nest box is a platform to get up and look around. Some deposit bunny berries there, and some are just clean-at least from a human perspective.
Heated water bowls are in use now, tested in the off and on freezes we have at this time of the year. In some hutches when I have lots of sexed separated baby bunnies they go into a larger caged area. I use a heated large gallon and a half dog water bowl.
It is important to keep the water bowls cleaned out each day-free from bunny berries for health. One large bunny will consume a pint of water a day. Some rabbits more, some less. I am always concerned about large consumption quantities as that may herald a genetic problem so I mark these rabbits as dinner guests.
Following the French method of raising roaster rabbits I have found that the second year old rabbit in the fall is the time to butcher. Rabbits with self-feeding and beyond two years get fat, diabetic and die in their sleep. Usually a rabbit lives 4-5 years and you can see the pet rabbits start to decline after 4 years. Of course in the wild, they would have become prey not long after maturity.
If we look back to the time of the dinosaurs there were predators and there were peaceful plant eaters-sheep if you will. Fish also have predatory examples as well as mammals including mankind. This is a basic natural order. You need feel no guilt as an omnivore eating rabbit.
If your rabbits become too old to join you for dinner and you are an efficient manager you can stew them up for a dog food supplement and extras keep in the refrigerator. Dogs have a special affinity for rabbits.
Usually by fall time I have a very large pile of bunny berries under the cages and I make a compost pile of potting soil for my greenhouse using local creek sand and clay based soil, layered with bunny offerings. Sometimes I just spread it in the garden beds and the master gardeners- the earthworms- just pull it down and munch away leaving enriched super fertilizer behind them (a small pun!)
A friend of mine after butchering his rabbits, saves the skins, turns them inside out and uses a wire stretcher available at any trapper supply on line. He also skins raccoons, and others as a fur trader and makes a tidy sum of money.
Old-Old-Old timers used to make rabbit robes to use as a toss blanket in the carriages and at night when the frost was inside the bedroom. To make a rabbit robe was simple: You take the skin cut it open and lay it flat. Make a circle of the skin and cut it at an inch wide around a diminishing circle to the center. Then you have a long-long-long rabbit fur strip. Make more. Then set up a simple loom of 4 posts say 4-7 feet in a rectangle. Run a cord around the posts. Tie the strips long ways from one end of the cord to the other end in 2” spaces. Now cross weave the skins in-between looping the ends. Rabbit skin fur robes were popular at one time, but the skins are weak and the fur sheds. I remember my mother using linen sheets as a big bag to cover the robe. Of course this detracted from the fur effect. I think rabbit fur robes were warmer than goose down quilts.
All skins can be tanned with various chemicals and sulfuric acids. Old original Indian tanning methods go nice with deer hides but that is another story, maybe next month when we talk about hunting deer.
Next week I will invite several to dinner and the reason is they are fat and juicy. Also they have reached their peak years and will not breed well in the spring. So I will keep about 3 breeders and two proven males. You have to be careful of males as they can just die off.
In the spring people will be selling rabbits in the farm and pet stores, which is a good time to introduce new blood lines. Rabbits tend to heart problems if inbred too many cycles.
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