Rabbits – they’re soft and fuzzy, adorably cute, relatively easy to keep, low cost, and a truly multi-beneficial animal for a homestead. One of the biggest benefits of keeping rabbits is their small size and quiet natural; making them a great starter animal or a good addition for the small or urban homestead.
Why You Should Consider Keeping Rabbits
Rabbits can be raised for meat, kept as pets, and some breeds can even be raised for their soft fiber. Since they are small, they are a perfect choice for someone with limited space. Another less recognized benefit of keeping rabbits is their poop; which can be used directly in the garden without composting first. Some people even create a vermiculture bin below the rabbit’s cage to catch the droppings and create compost directly.
On Our Homestead
On our homestead we keep 2 angora rabbits that we use for their soft, warm fiber. While many people keep rabbits successfully in cages inside or even house train the rabbits, we’ve found the clean-up much easier when we keep them in the barn (not to mention it helped my husband who is allergic to the rabbits)! While rabbits do well in many temperatures, care must be taken especially in hot weather since they are used to burying into the ground when it gets hot and can’t regulate their temperature well outside. While many people do keep rabbits for meat, our rabbits are strictly pets and are well loved additions to out homestead.
Pros and Cons of Keeping Rabbits
- Produce a higher yield of feed to meat ratio than other animals
- Angora bunnies produce fiber
- Can be kept in small spaces
- Have even been used to help mow the lawn
- Don’t do well in hot weather
- Since rabbits are widely considered pets it may be difficult to slaughter them (both for you and your neighbors and friends)
- May need separate living quarters since a rabbit fight can end quite badly.
Rabbits can be kept in hutches, cages, or pastured and they need a place to escape the elements and be protected from predators. Depending on where to live, rabbits can be kept inside or outside as long as they are given proper bedding and protection. Rabbits are susceptible to heat stress and actually do better in the cold than the heat. Here are several common options to housing rabbits.
Many people keep their rabbits in an outdoor hutch. Hutches are typically broken up into 2 sections – one is a completely enclosed space out of the elements where the rabbit stay warm, and the other is an open area surrounding by fencing for outdoor time where the rabbit can use the bathroom and cool off when it’s hot. There are also moveable rabbit hutches where the outdoor enclosure is over the grass so your rabbit can also enjoy fresh food.
If you rabbit is kept out of the weather – such as inside or in a barn, you can keep your rabbit in a metal cage. Since a rabbit needs more space than just the cage they should be given daily time outside the cage as well and can be given free roam of a room or even the whole house. If you are using a cage for your rabbit, you should provide a litter box and bedding.
No matter how you house your rabbits, make sure they have the space daily to do normal rabbit behaviors like run, dig, jump, hide, forage, and stretch.
Rabbits need constant access to fresh clean water and free access to good quality hay such as Timothy Grass. This should make up the bulk of their diet. Rabbits also benefit from small amounts of pellet feed and fresh vegetables. Introduce new foods slowly so your rabbits digestive system have time to adjust.
Good vegetables for rabbits include darks greens like lettuce, mustard greens, carrot tops, cilantro, basil, beet and broccoli greens, brussel sprouts and squash. Keeping your hutch over grass and rotating them to fresh areas also provides fresh options for feed. We also grow our own fodder as a winter food source for our rabbits.
Other Rabbit Essentials
Bedding – there are many options for purchasing bedding for rabbits. You can also use shredded paper, hay, cardboard, wood pellets, and straw. The best option for your rabbit will depend on your exact situation but you should consider odor and your climate and make sure to clean out the bedding regularly.
Chewing – rabbits need to chew and it is a natural behavior. You can help by providing you rabbit with chew toys, wood, or cardboard.
Exercise – Rabbits need free time to exercise. You can create a larger fenced area for play or give the rabbit supervised free time. Rabbits are curious and benefit from exercise and social interaction.
10 Rabbit Breeds for the Backyard Farm
There are so many fun rabbit breeds to consider for your backyard farm. It is also helpful to look locally to see what rabbit are available in your area, what you plan to do with your rabbit, and what weather conditions you should consider.
Fiber Rabbits – French Angora, Giant Angora, English Angora, Satin Angora
Pet Rabbits – Harlequin, Rex, Jersey Wooly, Dutch, Mini Lop, Chinchilla, Polish, Lionhead, Himalayan, Sussex, Havana, Florida White Rabbit
Meat Rabbits – California, New Zealand Whites, American Chinchilla, Satin Rabbits, Flemish Giants, Palomino, Blanc de Hotot, Silver Foxes, Belgian Hare, and Florida White
Rabbits as part of your Homestead
Keeping rabbits is a great way to add value to your homestead and diversify your backyard farm. Just as other animals (like goats and chickens) can be used in multiple ways around the homestead, you can use rabbits as part of a homesteading system. Consider using a moveable rabbit hutch and rotating your rabbit through different parts of the yard. Since rabbit droppings can be used directly on a garden without composting this is a great way to add nutrients directly into the garden.
You can also find a wealth of information at the tabs at the top of the blog about gardening, raising animals, and learning new homesteading skills. If you’re looking for experience and examples, check out the Homestead Highlight series for first hand accounts from homesteaders.