Grow Free Food For Rabbits & Chickens! Here’s How We Did it!

Grow Free Food For Rabbits & Chickens! Here’s How We Did it!

Buying grain for your livestock can add up – ask me how I know.

 

This year, we decided to do something different – we planted a garden to grow greens for our rabbits and chickens.

 

It’s been a success and now we have enough free food for everyone to have an extra bite every day – and it’s lowered our overall feed bill.

 

(Want some help with growing a garden? Grab my #1 Amazon best-selling book about organic gardening, Organic By Choice: The (Secret) Rebel’s Guide To Backyard Gardening – now available in paperback!)

 

 

We even have one rabbit who is picky about his feed – if it’s not exactly the right brand, he won’t eat it.

 

With the help of all the greens he’s been getting, his weight has picked up – and even on his snootiest “it’s not perfect so I won’t eat it” day, he’ll still chow down on fresh greens.

 

We’ve been using 5-foot by 10-foot raised beds similar to this one, which allows for 50 square feet of space devoted to growing. You can easily replicate this amount of space in your own backyard.

 

What should I grow for free food?

Glad you asked! We’ve had the best luck growing greens – they don’t take that long to mature (30-60 days, depending on variety), and you can grow a lot in a small space.

 

This year, we’ve been growing:

 

 

Some other options include arugula, carrots, and chard. Since rabbits can’t digest cabbage that well, avoid feeding it to them – use it for sauerkraut instead.

 

Bear in mind that you can’t necessarily replace ALL of your rabbits’ or chickens’ diet with greens, unless you can grow a large quantity. You will still likely need to supplement their diet with pellets and hay.

 

For your chickens, you can just bunch the leaves together and allow your hens to peck at the treat as a form of entertainment.

 

For ducks, your best bet is to tear the leaves up and toss them into a clean pool water for your flock to dig out – they’ll love it! Ours look forward to their “treat” every day (shhh….don’t tell them it’s good for them!)

How much space do I need?

 

In a 1-foot by 5-foot area, we’ve grown enough turnip greens to feed our 30 rabbits a healthy supplemental meal every day.

 

The amount of space you will need depends on what species of animal you’re feeding as well as how many – it’s best to start small and build up from there. You can experiment, weigh your harvests, see how your animals do with it, and scale up from there.

 

This fall, we will be devoting about 200 square feet to growing and overwintering greens for our rabbits.

 

Even if you have just a small space, for example, a table like this, you can still grow something – and anything is better than nothing! It adds up after a while.

 

Trust me when I say that getting their greens is the highlight of our rabbits’ day – they look forward to it, and it provides some excitement during an otherwise dull afternoon.

 

I’d like to hear from you!

Do you grow greens to feed your rabbits and chickens? What are your best tips? Leave a comment below!

 

 

Real Homesteader Stories Episode 3: They Call It A Bird Brain For A Reason + Baby Bunny Update!

Real Homesteader Stories Episode 3: They Call It A Bird Brain For A Reason + Baby Bunny Update!

This week on Real Homesteader Stories, I tell you about our duckling drama & an update on the baby bunnies!

 

It’s been a couple weeks since my last Real Homesteader Stories (TM), and that’s because I’ve finally got the cough that wouldn’t die to go away. BUT I’m back now, with more stories about our farm!

 

Things were interesting as we tried helping a renegade duckling that broke free of the brooder and swallowed a string. You also get to see the baby bunnies (including the fosterlings) up close & personal!

 

(BTW, if you’re wondering, after three weeks of misery, I applied Eucalyptus + Melaleuca daily for 4 days using a roller bottle. Neat, no dilution. Learn more here.)

 

 

 

Raising Rabbits On The Homestead For Beginners

Raising Rabbits On The Homestead For Beginners

Raising rabbits on a homestead for their meat is not for everyone.

 

Realistically, rabbits are usually kept as pets, and it’s hard for some people who haven’t ever butchered rabbits to make that mental shift towards looking at rabbits as a food source.

 

But if you’re looking for a consistent, quick, easy source of lean meat, then raising rabbits are a good option for any homestead.


 

We keep several rabbits on our homestead of varying colors and sizes.

 

They’re easy to care for, have few needs beyond food, water, clean cages, and a little companionship. Rabbits are easy to breed and make hardly any noise, so they’re perfect for an urban homesteader.

 

A Note On Laws

 

Now, first a word about raising rabbits on your homestead. If you plan on raising rabbits on your homestead for their meat, first look at the laws in your state, county, and town. 

 

In some areas of the United States, butchering rabbits for their meat can land you in hot water as our society moves ever further from sustainable farming.

 

In some of areas of the country, rabbits are considered pets and not livestock. Whether you don’t care or don’t agree with the laws, the bottom line is if they exist, you need to know.

 

Lack of understanding by neighbors might cause some unwanted legal drama, so first make sure your area doesn’t have any laws that can land you into trouble. 

 

We’ve all seen social media spin out of control when a human violates local laws regarding pets, and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of that particular hammer.

 

Florida, for example, has laws that protect home butchering. However, I’ve seen many people get in trouble for homesteading when a nosy neighbor decides the animals “aren’t being cared for properly” (read: They object to butchering because they don’t realize that’s how meat is produced).

 

While the homestead owner was right under the eyes of the law, they still had to pay for an attorney and replace their stock after animal control seized their livestock.

 

In Missouri, on the other hand, owners are permitted by law to butcher any animal they own regardless of method. It varies by state. So know your local laws to avoid problems.

 

(As an aside, I’m not an attorney, just a keen observer. Consult an actual attorney about the laws in your area if you start raising rabbits for meat.)
Raising rabbits on your homestead for meat is a great way to have a consistent supply of lean, healthy meat. Rabbits are easy to keep and breed for even a beginner. Here's a look at our rabbits and what you need to know.

Selecting Rabbits

The first decision you’ll have to make when raising rabbits on your homestead is which breeds you want.

 

We raise mostly mixed breed rabbits with Rex, Chinchilla, Wild Rabbit,and New Zealand bloodlines.

 

New Zealand and Rex rabbits are probably the most popular rabbits for raising on a homestead because of their size and easy going natures.

 

In our area, people like to eat wild rabbits in addition to more domesticated breeds so we keep a wild-bred rabbit (one that was from a wild rabbit that was tamed).

 

When you look for rabbits for raising on your homestead, look for healthy animals that are in good flesh and don’t appear ill. You’re best off getting your breeding stock from a reputable dealer who cares about the quality of the animal.

 

If you don’t have much money to spend, then you can still easily acquire rabbits for raising. Four of our rabbits were given to us by someone who just didn’t want them anymore (raising rabbits for meat wasn’t for them).

 

If you feel prepared to give a home to a free rabbit and it appears healthy and able to breed then free is a good way to go. You will still have to feed it regularly, so make sure you’re able to bear that financial responsibility before acquiring free rabbits, however.

 

In this case, patience and time yield favorable results.

 

If you don’t want to wait, however, you can acquire rabbits for as little as $10 with the average price being between $15 and $20. For pedigreed Chinchilla male rabbits, we paid $12 each.

 

Feeding Rabbits You’re Raising

Rabbits require little specialized feeding and a regular ration that you purchase at a feed store will work well.

 

I recommend purchasing 40 lb or 50 lb bags of feed at a feed store. In our area, we can get a 50 lb bag of feed for $10, while at a big box store, they sell 5 or 10 lb bags for the same amount.

 

We offer our rabbits plenty of fresh vegetables too, and they especially love lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes.

 

We also provide fresh water in large waterers that you can buy at any pet store or big box store.

 

Housing for Your Rabbits

We keep our rabbits in large cages that we have permanently placed in a greenhouse. The rabbits are able to be outside in the fresh air, but still be out of inclement weather. 

 

Anything is appropriate housing for raising rabbits on a homestead as long as the rabbit has enough room, is out of the elements, has food and water. 

Cages must be cleaned regularly.

 

We use hay and straw as bedding, which the rabbits love because they can nibble on it.

Raising Sustainable Meat With Rabbits

Of course, if your goal is raising rabbits for meat, at some point you will have to breed them.

 

While we won’t get into breeding too much in this article, large rabbits reach maturity at about 7 months of age.

 

Female rabbits have a 30 day gestation cycle, and can have litters of 1-10 kits (baby rabbits are called kits) and the average litter size is 6.

 

Rabbits breed by induced ovulation, meaning when the female is bred, she is then induced to ovulate.

 

The advantage to this is you don’t need to worry about heat cycles and making sure you mate her at just the right time, like you do with other mammals.

 

I recommend breeding rabbits with caution because it is easy to become overwhelmed quickly. We try to breed only 1 rabbit every month or two.

 

We’re raising 8 rabbits as our breeding stock,  so unless we keep a strict schedule, we can easily become overrun with rabbits.

 

Raising rabbits on your homestead as a sustainable source of meat is easy, as long as you keep some of the ideas in this article in mind.

 

I’d like to hear from you!

Are you thinking of raising rabbits on your homestead? Email me or comment below!