Probably the First Animal You Should Consider
by Jason Ross
It takes about three days to start hating food storage.
Dried food storage, the most economical kind, provides survival but does so in the least-healthy way possible. High in carbs and sugars, low in protein, and very low in fats, food storage sustains life, but can be a one-way road to hating your life.
What’s the best way for a ReadyMan to learn animal husbandry, keep a brood stock of animals and be ready if the shit hits the proverbial fan?
Three animals rise to the top of the class: chickens, goats and rabbits. So, let’s talk rabbits.
Your wife will probably squirm at the idea of eating bunnies. Literally, that’s the only downside to raising rabbits. They’re super-healthy, tasty and easy-as-pie to raise. In modern life, they take up very little space and they’re clean to raise. Yes, they put off an acrid urine smell, so you probably don’t want to raise them in your living room. Otherwise, they’re compact and cheap. In every way, they’re an obvious choice for raising meat. Check it out.
- Rabbits produce SIX pounds of meat on the same feed that it takes for a cow to produce ONE pound of meat.
- Rabbit is higher in protein, lower in cholesterol and lower in fat than beef, chicken, turkey or pork. It’s perfect for people on diets limited by high cholesterol and heart problems.
- Rabbits are raised off the ground and are cleaner than other meats.
- Rabbits can be raised year-round and bunnies are ready-to-eat in just eight weeks from birth.
- Rabbit manure (and urine when exposed to sun) are ideal composting materials.
- In a pinch, you can feed your rabbits mostly grasses and garden clippings. They eat almost anything that grows.
If you breed them, you’re butchering them all the time. It’s probably the only thing I hate about raising rabbits. Every few months, at the least, you’re killing them and there’s something a little soul-deadening about breaking necks, one-after-another.
But if it makes you feel any better, rabbits aren’t actually cuddly. Unless they’re treated like a house pet from birth, they’re actually mean bastards that’ll scratch the shit out of you, given the chance, and killing the fur-balls gets easier the better you get to know them.
The meat tastes fantastic. It is lean, though, and our modern palette leans toward fatty flavors — chickens and beef raised on hormones and grain. So, count on there being a little bit of a learning curve, unless you’re already feeding your family wild game such as deer, elk and turkey. And, like all game meats, you cannot allow yourself to over-cook rabbit. Think of it as being far CLEANER than store-bought game meat, so you need only cook it just-enough.
I like to live a busy life, so caring for rabbits has proven just my speed. Breed them whenever you pass through your hutch by throwing one of the males in with one of the females for about three minutes. Buck rabbits don’t stand on ceremony.
In about a month, if the romantic moment stuck, the doe will drop bunnies. Before that, she should start pulling out her own fur to prepare for the bunnies’ arrival and you’ll need to throw a nesting box in with her. You can also add other nesting material if you want to be an over-achiever. Leave the bunnies in with the mother until the bunnies start eating on their own. Then, they go into their own, larger cage to grow to eight weeks old. At eight weeks, they head to the butcher block. Don't leave them together longer than eight weeks. They start getting tougher (in terms of flesh) and they will eventually massacre one another. Again, they’re not that cute when you get to know them.
Basically, you need one male to any number of females. I usually keep one extra because males aren’t always good at their job. I need my males to know that there’s no job security in my rabbit hutch.
Also, if you use large feeders and a gravity-fed water supply, you should only have to top off their feed every week or so, and the water supply should be self-supplying. Then, every couple weeks, you’ll need to pull the urine and droppings. I have a system by KW Cages and my droppings and urine can be sprayed directly into collection tubs, beneath the drop trays. I then expose the urine to sunlight for an afternoon (to de-nature the urine) and I dump the mix into my compost.
If you’re really into it, you can actually turn your urine and feces into flame-thrower fuel. No joke.
All together, if you set your system up right, you should only have to mess with your rabbits once a week for maybe a half-hour.
In terms of feed, during good times, I just feed my rabbits rabbit food. I augment that by splitting my garden refuse between the rabbits and chickens. I’m also working on winter storage of succulent grasses. I’ll plant alfalfa and sunflower this year as a test for creating sustainable feed for the rabbits. I believe that I can grow and dry alfalfa on my wild hillsides and store it for winter rabbit feed. The sunflower, I’ll mix with wheat seeds and dried beans and sprout them for winter sprouts, also for the rabbits. With that mix, I think I can over-winter the rabbits without bagged feed. We’ll see.
Like I said before, I opted to spend the big bucks on deluxe cages by KW Cages. They’re expensive, KW Cages is terrible to work with, and their cages will last forever. They’re a quantum leap ahead of cheaper cage systems. However, if you don’t mind spending a little less money and doing a little extra work, buy the Little Giant cages. They’re modular and conducive to farm-style rabbit raising. Any other cages you see on Amazon or in PetSmart are for pets and won’t work for your rabbit farm. Remember, you need the smaller size cages for individual rabbits, like males and non-bred females, and the larger size for broods. The Little Giant system also offers a frame to stack the cages, which works out pretty well in tight quarters.
If you’re worried about killing, gutting and cleaning the rabbits, don’t be. After a couple of butchery sessions, you’ll have it down cold. I use two stations: a kill station and a dressing station.
To kill a bunny with little fuss, slide its head in the Rabbit Wringer and quickly, firmly lift his legs all the way up, instantly popping his neck. Then, move the recently deceased over to the dressing station and begin the process of field dressing. See the ReadyMan video above for step-by-step instructions.
After gutting and quartering, rinse the carcass, vacuum seal and then freeze. There are a million ways to cook a rabbit and I haven’t tried a fraction of them. One thing I have learned: don’t overcook and dry them out. That goes for all wild game, actually.
My dad was a Cold War survivalist, back in the seventies and eighties. So, we actually kept rabbits in our home in suburban Southern California. I got to be the rabbit keeper, and now my teenage son is the rabbit keeper ‘round here.
It’s one of the few things he does in this modern world that I feel 100% good about — growing, butchering and keeping rabbits. Few teenagers have that close relationship with life, death and food.
Maybe that’s the best reason to keep rabbits, now, while society’s still in order; to keep us grounded to the reality of things, planting us firmly back to earth, where ideas, culture and politics barely qualify as background noise.