The least expensive thing to feed on this place is the rabbits but it wasn’t always so. The cost of commercial feed threatened to end the rabbit project this last year so I switched over to orchard grass/alfalfa hay and water for the most part and began researching and thinking. I’ve read blog posts and a couple books on feeding more naturally but it is hard to make a comparison between their lush environment our sparse one.
We are the least populated state in the union with 572,381 people in the whole state and most live in just a few cities. The weather man is wrong most of the time. He said a couple extra warm months for fall. Winter hit the beginning of October and has held on tight. Last year winter began in January and we had the coldest two months on record with an early spring to follow. Unpredictable is the norm. Forage selections are few so I concluded I can’t take the road most traveled. They don’t run through Wyoming. So what will I do? I’m not giving up though poor management has threatened my rabbit project.
First I thought about what we have and what we did do right?
I looked at our land, our finances, and concluded that rabbits can become an important part of fulfilling our needs. Especially so as meat prices are expected to soar starting the end of this year and definitely next. Smaller animals are less demanding of outside resources. Goats, sheep, chickens, and rabbits we could be more self-contained with. Beef and hogs no longer are going to work for us. Then I thought about a message from the scriptures which has been every present in my mind lately, 2 Nephi 2:25 and Isaiah 53:3. “Men are that they might have joy.” I’d lost my joy and that included the rabbit project.
I realized when we had broken rabbits and fewer animals, I thoroughly enjoyed them and was much more attentive. I foraged more for their foods.
In case you don’t know, “A broken patterned rabbit is white with at least 10% of another color on its fur, resulting in a splotchy, broken pattern.” I realized I love the black and white ones. These solid colored rabbits are really sweet but they don’t they aren’t what brings me great joy. When two years ago we switched back to Saanen goats after years of Nubians, it was like coming home again. Home again we shall come with our rabbits too.
New Zealand rabbits have docile temperaments and good feed to weight ratios so that works well and we shall stay with what works.
I’m guessing more people in the days to come will take up raising rabbits for meat so there might be a small market there plus the black and white ones will sell better to the pet crowd. It doesn’t hurt to hedge your operation so it can expand in other directions if the need arises. I’m toying with registered to appeal to the 4-H crowd. I’m going to look into see if there really is enough demand. I’d like to set us up to have options if need be.
Natural is the direction I want to head after being dissatisfied with commercial but how to do so in our environment is the hard question? So I began with:
1. Listing what plants we are growing and created a list from it of ones rabbits can eat.
2. The question now is not what can they can eat but what will they eat?
I’m completely rethinking my gardens. More from less space and creating synergies. Those synergies will now include the animals. For instance; if I chose to grow peas under the blackberries patch that I just started last summer, then the peas will increase the nitrogen in the soil for the blackberries, a recommended combination. Peas will block weeds forming and I will get two crops from the space of one. I know rabbits can eat English pea pods but they don’t like them. We love snap peas and English peas but haven’t grown the snap before. What if I grew snap peas instead in this spot? I hear the tendrils are yummy in salads and stir fries. I want to try. I’d bet the rabbits might be more incline to eat them. The peas feed the blackberries, us, and I hope the rabbits too. I’m thinking blackberries in the middle with peas on each side and carrots on the outside of the peas. Two rows of this with a walking path would allow lots of light in for the plants to grow, make best use of watering, feed each other, and shade weeds discouraging growth. (Less work, less space, more natural fertilization and produce more crops. All things rabbits can eat.)
But wait, I’m not done. Blackberry leaves can be used in teas. I want to start foraging to create my own herbal teas starting next year. The leaves are best collected in the spring and that which we don’t consume come winter, we can feed to the rabbits come spring when we are foraging again for a fresh supply for us -if they like them that is. The same plan is for the raspberries come spring. They are well established but will get a harsh thinning, which they desperately need. Under them will be a row of green beans which rabbits can eat too. Elsewhere in the garden I will grow these crops to save seed from as they will need more space and light in our climate to accomplish this.
The best permacultures have the most interconnecting webs between plants, humans, and animals. So I’ve not stopped with a list of what the rabbits can eat of which we will be already growing and this summer will begin one of what they will eat.
I may stop here for I have titillating ideas to maybe go further with using rabbits in the garden. I’ll tell you about them next time.
Are you thinking about raising rabbits or feeding naturally?