Rabbits: Introduction Part I of 4
Domestication of the rabbit began thousands of years ago for the simple fact that they are quiet, produce meat, fertilizer and fur. Contempory Disneyesque media influences have done much to change the direction of this economic resource into pet promotion cartoons. Rabbits are big business in Europe, and growing in Asia and South America. Spain is the leading consumer of rabbits followed by France, and then on into northern Europe. Following WWII in the USA rabbits vied in competition with chickens as who would be the leading consumer meat product but lost out the position due to chickens not having a legal entity status, and pressure from the “Thumper” cute bunny media. What was lost to the American consumer was a rich protein source of white meat fed a pure organic diet of nutritious grass and grains.
Since chickens do not have entity identification they can be raised, fed and butchered at the whim of the producer. Legally chickens do not exist. Rabbits do however exist legally, and require, as mammals, a higher standard of management, feed and care. They are therefore not as cost effective as chickens, and the bottom line is always the dollar.
White rabbit meat contains less iron than red meat. If you examine most every food source that is processed you will note that it has an iron supplement, which cumulatively you do not need, and in fact can be harmful to you exacerbating IOD or “iron overload disease.”
This meat, still popular in small markets in northern states is being offered in the NRV by a European farm specializing in big rabbits. There was an interesting article a year ago in the Roanoke Times-Current, but I have lost the address. My apologies. If any readers have their address, please forward it on to me.
White meat is especially recommended for: diabetics, invalids and older folk.
Through the centuries rabbits have been bred for certain characteristics and we see the English, French, Belgian full size Lops common in the European meat markets. These are large meat rabbits, and not to be confused with dwarf Lops bred for the pet industry. French farmers love their rabbits, and on an evenings walk often gather grass treats for their big Lops. A favorite dinner seems to be a two-year-old Lop as a roaster. I prefer soups my self-a more northerly European dish. However you have not tasted delicious food until you have a fried rabbit dinner- a young rabbit with southern fixings. In fact just exchange rabbit for chicken dish recipes.
When I was a boy in Sweden during WWII the meat shops hung rabbits stretching longer than I was tall. My mother thought they were Hares, a cousin to the rabbit. Actually they were a developed rabbit weighing upwards of 30 lbs., and more, reaching over 5’ in length. They are still bred in Germany today; massive big rabbits that are being introduced to North Korea as a protein source for their food deficient nation.
About the only country that does not like rabbits is Australia. Having an indigenous population of marsupial animals the introduced specie of rabbits in the 1700’s overwhelmed the sparse vegetation threatening the sheep and cattle industry. Australia now infects mosquitoes with a virus that kills rabbits. Those who seek to raise rabbits “Down Under” must use screens to protect their rabbits from mosquitoes.
What makes rabbits ideal for the table is they are inexpensive to feed. They can subsist solely on grasses and quality hay, or a combination of quality hay and pelleted commercial rabbit food, pre-balanced to an exacting formula to guarantee proper growth.
The average commercial 50 lb. bag of rabbit food averages at the time of this writing: $10.00 a bag. Compare this cost in volume cash outlay to gain 10 kits to maturity-fryer stage- at 3-4 lbs each. Total 30-40 lbs of meat VS: beef and chicken cost at the same weight. You can feed rabbits solely on commercial pellet food, hay and pellets, or just quality “horse” hay. Never ever feed any wet, or moldy hay. Avoid dusty hay. This will kill your rabbits.
This system works well but I find that rabbits want a full “gut” of cellulose at all times and do much better with a supplement “free choice” of hay availability. If they do not have enough cellulose in their gut they will chew wood-not to wear their teeth down as is often suggested, but to fill the gut. You can prove this point by offering a cup of wood shavings-not sawdust- and they will clean than up when the pellets are gone, and be happier. So I feed nutritious hay in addition to pellets. When searching for a hay source in the classified ads you would want 2nd cutting alfalfa mixed with orchard grass and timothy. Square bales of course are easy to store and handle.
When baby rabbits (kits) are about ten days old they will start to nibble hay in their enclosed nest boxes. This appears natural to me as opposed to offering the delivering mother rabbit a commercial made metal box for the kits with no natural surroundings, food incentives, warmth, and the opportunity to eat their mother’s droppings to gain flora for their digestive track. More on this in detail later.
I RAISE A LOT OF RABBITS. Some are for pets and die of old age, averaging about 3 to 5 years, although I had one recently made it to 8 years. These are usually males (bucks) who can offer stud late into life vs.: females whose reproductive capacity dims by the 3rd year. I have one female (Doe), “Miss Clean,” that epitomizes the perfect rabbit in cleanliness and nest management. The soft spot in my head glows when I pet her.
Most are for the freezer. I do not keep the furs but there is a market therein for those that have the time. The New Zealand White perhaps is the best fur and fryer rabbit. Full size French Lops are the best large meat rabbit although I had a long eared English full size Lop rabbit that also died of old age-he was so beautiful.
Some I give away for starters to those who comply with my standards of rabbit raising. I have observed that rabbits are the most abused animals in the pet market, especially after Easter days. The Animal shelters abound with dumped rabbits, which are euthanized. Many people dump rabbits on the side of the road thinking they will adapt-NO! These are domestic rabbits and have no survival skills like wild rabbits. If you cannot care for the live rabbit, get a stuffed toy one.
Considering the impending food availability problems, rabbits offer, as they did centuries ago, an ongoing protein source for the family.
Next week in this series we will build a rabbit hutch. I will have pictures for you this time.
COPYRIGHT: 2008, Back2theLand, Mark Steel.