Many off-gridders and preppers debate whether rabbits or chickens should be the primary protein source. It’s a silly debate, though, because both are great options. While this article focuses on the benefits of raising rabbits, we’ll make comparisons with chickens along the way.
Rabbit meat is high in protein and low in saturated fat. It has a very pleasing taste similar but not the same as chicken. Its texture is like chicken thigh meat, but its taste is closer to chicken breast. In many recipes, the two meats are interchangeable, except that rabbit takes a little more time to cook.
The biggest advantage rabbits have over chickens in a world without cheap electricity is their ability to reproduce and take care of their young. A mature doe (female) can humanely have five or six litters a year. Each litter generally has six to 12 kits (baby rabbits). This equates to a production rate of 10 times the doe’s weight per year.
It is also ridiculously easy to mate rabbits. Put the doe in with the buck (male), and they usually mate within a few seconds. A mere 31 days later, you have kits. There is little to do other than watch the mother take care of them. In four to five weeks, they are ready to be weaned. If using high-protein commercial pellet feed, the new rabbits are ready for the freezer in eight to 10 weeks. If you feed your baby rabbits grass or grains from the garden, or forage from the land, they take 14 to 20 weeks before reaching slaughter weight.
Compare the natural mating of rabbits to chickens; most chickens have had the broodiness ruthlessly bred out of them. True, there are heritage breeds that can still brood, but even then, it’s a lot of work to raise them, especially without electricity.
Easy to House
Most rabbit breeds live contentedly in metal cages 24 inches x 36 inches (or so). The exact size depends on the size of breed, which vary from four pounds to 16 pounds. Cages can be smaller if you have a few rabbits and have an outside run for them. On my homestead, most days I put all the females together in a safe outside run, and put my two bucks in separate runs. Does are social and generally get along together, but the bucks must be separated.
Rabbits are also very quiet (no neighbor complaints about roosters crowing) and are incredibly resistant to the cold. Many off-gridders in Canada and the northern states raise them outdoors in hutches in sub-freezing temperatures. They do suffer in high heat, however. If you live in a hot place and have no easy way of cooling them in a power-down situation, rabbits may not be the right choice.
They Don’t Have Feathers
Let’s face it, the biggest pain with chickens is their feathers. True, there are all kinds of expensive plucking machines, but they take lots of energy and running water. Try plucking a chicken by hand. It becomes very tedious if you have a large number to butcher.
Rabbits, on the other hand, have wonderful fur. They are easy to dress because the fur pulls easily away from the skin. Rabbit fur can be used for warm clothing or for barter.
Able to Sustainably Feed
With some preparation and hard work, rabbits can be sustainably fed from food grown on the homestead.
Rabbits produce copious amounts of droppings. But the manure has a large advantage over other manures used for natural gardening—it can be used right away because it doesn’t burn plants.
I spread it on my garden beds about a month before planting time. It breaks down a little by the time I sow seeds or put in transplants. Then, during the season, I sprinkle a few more droppings on the bed. You can compost it if you have extra, but it’s not necessary.
Legal to Sell
Under federal regulations and most state laws, rabbit butchering is exempt from USDA inspection requirements and onerous county rules for food processing, even when selling them for a profit. While you generally can’t sell to restaurants or stores (that is, any business that resells the meat), you can sell them at farmers’ markets or to local friends and families.
Rabbits are prodigious multipliers, easy to dress, and can provide plenty of meat for the off-the-grid table. And don’t get caught up in the rabbit-versus-chicken debate. Do like me — raise both!
Which do you prefer – rabbits or chickens? (Or both?) Share your thoughts in the section below: