In the late 1930s, the Great Depression was in full swing. Many families raised rabbits in pens in their backyards to supplement the backyard garden or meager grocery budget. They would gather grass or spent vegetables to feed their rabbits. As we can learn from our parents and Grandparents, rabbits can be a good source of protein for your family during tough times. They multiply quickly, don’t need much space, don’t eat much food, produce excellent manure, and are easy to handle and butcher.
Rabbits are one animal that most anyone can start raising right now, and keeping them with worms adds a double punch to your preps. A rabbit-worm combo cage give you several advantages. Not only does it mean less cage cleaning, but it makes a complete ecosystem. The rabbits feed the worms, the worms feed the garden, and the garden feeds the rabbits. You can be built a rabbit-worm cage out of inexpensive wood or even pvp pipe.
Building The Cages & Care
A generously sized rabbit pen is two feet square. The rabbit hutch should be positioned at least 3 foot above the ground and use ½ inch wire mesh floor so rabbit droppings can fall through easily but their legs cannot get stuck. You will need at least two pens. One for the male rabbit (buck) and one for the female (doe) and her babies as adult rabbits are extremely territorial and will kill each other in defense of their territory. If you live in the south make sure you place your cages in a shady spot in the back yard. They can stand cold temperatures fairly well, but will die quikly trapped in a cage in the hot sun on a summer day.
Underneath your small rabbit hutchs build an inexpensive wood frame worm bed about 12 inches deep. Add bedding material to the bed: Good bedding can be any combination of carbon: shredded paper products, decomposing leaves, hay, straw, peat moss etc. Start with a 3 to 4 inch layer on the bottom for your worm bed. Moisten the bedding with water and let your rabbits do their thing until the surface is covered with 1 to 2 inches layer of rabbit manure.
Mix the rabbit manure and bedding material together and wet it down thoroughly. Also note that the worms cannot eat dry, piled-up rabbit manure. Maintain moisture levels so that you can squeeze one to two drops of water out of a handful of bedding. Be sure to keep your rabbits dry when wetting down the beds or they could get sick.
Breedin’, Feedin’, And Eatin’
Rabbits are very fast and heavy breeders. A doe can produce five to six (five being more common) litters a year. An average litter is seven to eight bunnies. Expect 35-40 rabbits per doe per year. Butcher the bunnies at eight weeks old, after that the food-to-meat ratio drops and the meat gets tougher.
Most people feed rabbits commercial pellets as they are convenient and fairly inexpensive to feed. But in tough times you will have to raise your rabbits on forage alone. Remember the rabbit-worm-garden ecosystem I was talking about eariler? The problem is, today’s rabbits have been bred to thrive on a pellet diet. You’ll have to grow or forage a few extras for your rabbits to make up for this - weeds, green twigs cut from safe trees, garden refuse, grains and hay are all good for your herd.
Remember that a diet of rabbit meat alone will cause diarrhea, due to its leanness. Be sure to balance your diet with fresh vegetables, chickens, or other sources of fats and nutrients to avoid “rabbit starvation” (also known as protein poisoning), which can cause death in less than a week. Also eating excessive protein forces your body to use more water than usual, which can lead to dehydration. Make sure you have plenty of water and fats avaliable if you choose to make rabbit one of your survival meats.
Related Post: Butchering Homegrown Rabbits For Meat