Setting Up Your Rabbit Barn, Part 1
The Big Questions
Starting out with a rabbit venture is one of the most exciting things you can do. The idea of providing fresh, wholesome meat for your family or a project for the kids that will keep them away from the video game console is appealing on a lot of levels, but if you’ve never raised rabbits before there are a lot of factors to consider.
The first one is what your ultimate goal is going to be. Having a few pet rabbits for a kid’s project requires a different setup and mindset than providing meat for the family. Rabbits multiply. A basic fact of biology. They will sometimes multiply when you swear you haven’t bred them, either. Do you have a plan for what to do with the offspring? If you are simply raising pets, is there a local market for surplus pet stock? Are your kids going to want to keep them forever and forever and forever because they wuv them?
Kids often fall in love with Bugs and Fluffy. I firmly believe that most kids are brighter and more resilient that a lot of parents give them credit for and will be able to understand and accept that what they are eating today was what they were feeding yesterday. Some will want to participate in every aspect of the process; some will run away screaming, accusing you of being just short of the Antichrist.
If you plan to involve your kids in understanding the full circle of life, have a good long discussion with them about your goals, plans and what you expect their involvement to be. They might surprise you. After all, barely a generation ago, all our food came from either the farm or a local source, and kids helped feed, water, and care for animals through every step of the process. We haven’t evolved that far away from our roots; we’ve just lost touch with them. I firmly believe that we aren’t doing kids a favor by sugar coating the realities of life and what it takes to make dinner, but I could ramble on about that for hours.
If you do plan to process rabbits yourself for the home table, are you prepared to process yourself, or is there a local facility that will do the processing for you? Most small slaughterhouses will not process rabbits unless they also do poultry, and even then, many are so unfamiliar with rabbits that they are reluctant to consider adding them to the mix.
If your goal is to raise some for the home table and sell leftover fryers, be aware of regulations governing meat processing and sales in your state. Each state has slightly different local laws, but overall it is illegal to sell rabbit fryers across state lines unless they are USDA inspected. Some states allow a certain number of fryers to be marketed in farmer’s markets, but others ban home processed meat entirely. A quick Google search should lead you to your state’s website explaining the laws for your particular state, and it’s worth the time and effort to check it out. Beats the heck out of finding out the hard way. As a general rule, a restaurant will require meat to be USDA inspected, simply for the liability issues, and you will likely need a wholesale meat broker’s license.
This series of posts will assume that your goal is to provide meat for the family with no outside sales, and will be geared towards getting you started and keeping you from winding up either short on cage space or desperately seeking more rabbits.
As we continue, please feel free to ask questions to help direct the content of the posts.