Rabbits are a great animal for a small homestead because they take up very little space, make no noise and won’t disturb neighbors. There are many breeds of rabbits to choose from, and the choices can be overwhelming. To make it easier to decide what are the best rabbits for the small homestead, I like to put them into three categories.
“Pets Only” Rabbits
“Pets only” rabbits include breeds like Lionheads, Netherland Dwarfs, Mini Lops, or Mini Rex, or Mini Satins. They are small, cute and easy to take care of. Pet rabbits are perfect for a young child to learn some responsibility or to display at a 4H show. Their waste makes a wonderful addition to a garden or the compost pile. A breeding pair may cost around $25-30, and they require about 2 ounces of food per day.
Meat Pen Rabbits
Meat Pen rabbits include breeds like California Whites, Flemish Giants, Cinnamons, and English Lops. These homestead rabbits are very large, especially compared to “pet” breeds, so they eat considerably more food and hay. The average rabbit can easily weigh 3-4 lbs. once processed. These rabbits have litters of 9-12 kits at a time, so one breeding pair of meat pen rabbits can easily sustain a family with plenty of alternative protein. A good breeding pair can cost around $50 to start up. They can require about 5-6 ounces of food per day.
Homestead fiber rabbits include breeds like the Angora – French, English, and Chinese; and Jersey Woolies. Chinese Angoras are very rare in America, so the best bet would be finding French or English Angoras. They are a large breed, and one full grown rabbit can easily produce a pound of fiber twice a year. If you are looking for a steady source of yarn to spin and craft, this is the breed for you. They are also a great meat rabbit, and their dual purpose makes them an ideal start for a homesteader. The only drawback is the initial cost. A good breeding pair of Angora rabbits may cost up to $300 to start. Rabbits will typically live for 9 to 12 years. These rabbits will usually require about 4-5 ounces of food per day.
For more detailed information on rabbit breeds, you can visit the American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc. website.
Getting Started with Homestead Rabbits
Whatever rabbit breed you choose, you will need a few things to start. Rabbits need a cage, water bottle, a food crock or bowl, hay, and food. Small toys or wooden chews are also nice. The other thing that all rabbits need, especially the larger breeds, is a resting board. Rabbits need a way to get off the hard wire of the cage once in a while, otherwise they may develop sore hocks. They sell resting boards at the pet supply stores, or they are sometimes included with the cage. You can also use an old scrap of carpet or a piece of toweling.
During extreme cold temperatures, having two or more water bottles per rabbit can make chores easier as you can just swap the bottles for a non frozen one. They also have heated water bottles, but they can get very expensive quickly and I have never found one to last longer than one season. You will also want to make sure they get some extra hay and food to help keep them warm.
When it’s extremely hot outside, placing a frozen water bottle in the cage will allow the rabbit to “cuddle” up to it and help keep cool. We also use ceramic tiles that we freeze for the rabbits to lay on as well in the summer. A fan blowing in their barn will keep the air moving for them, and help them stay cool.
Easy to take care of, and quite useful for compost, meat, or fiber, rabbits can be a great addition to a small homestead.
This is a guest post by Heather Harris of The Homesteading Hippy. Heather started her journey to self sufficiency and homesteading after watching the movies “Super Size Me” and “Food, Inc.” and hasn’t looked back. She and her family live in Northern Indiana, where they enjoy raising a garden, rabbits and assorted poultry in their backyard. You can find her blogging at The Homesteading Hippy. Also, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.
You may also enjoy other posts in our “Getting Started Homesteading” series, such as:
We’re planning more Getting Started post this year with animals including sheep, cows, horses, geese and more from my friends in the Homestead Bloggers Network. If you have an animal that you’d like to be introduced to, please leave a comment below. Also, feel free to share your homesteading animal tips and stories.