Tanning Rabbit Hides

If you are like me, when you butcher an animal, you want to use as much of the animal as you can, so nothing goes to waste. Though the fur market isn’t what it used to be, tanning rabbit hides is a very rewarding skill that allows you to use more of the rabbit. Besides, using the pelt is a way to work towards more sustainability. When you simply ignore the hide, you are contributing to filling the landfills and petroleum products being used for fake furs.

Granted, it isn’t realistic to believe that you can enter some mass market when you tan hides. There are many hobbyists, though, who love the real fur you can provide. For example, those who do historical reenactments covet real furs for their props and clothing. If you can tap into the clothing market, you may find a seamstress that enjoys adding the real fur to gloves, hoods, coats, and more. There are many other homesteaders that use real fur for their crafts. In my area, I have a local guy who teaches medieval fighting on the side (he does sprinkler repair as his main job) who purchases my pelts for his weaponry, such as lining his sheath.

Whether you can find a regular buyer or not, if you are raising rabbits for meat, the best reason to tan the hides is so you can create a product using what you have already without adding to the waste. You know what goes into your rabbits, so you can ensure they are healthy and have furs of high quality. If you are unable to find a buyer, it may be time for you to learn how to make clothing from the hides. It may provide you with a fun new hobby that allows you to end up with a new, toasty warm fur hat to work in on the cold, bitter days of winter.  

Colony Style Rabbits

When most people think of raising rabbits, they think about cages hanging neatly in a row or a bunch of hutches spread throughout the yard. These methods of raising rabbits can seem the most proficient and simple, but there is another option to consider and that is raising your rabbits’ colony style.

There are many advantages to raising rabbits in a colony rather than in cages or hutches. The main advantage is that it allows your rabbits to live in a setting that is more natural for them. In a colony, the rabbits can move around freely while interacting with your other rabbits. They are often allowed to burrow into the ground, even if limited in doing so. They have a lot more room to get their exercise than a cage or hutch allows. This is my preferred way to raise my rabbits. I strongly believe that happy rabbits produce better meat, so raising mine in a colony when possible gives me the happiest rabbits.

Of course, there are a few downsides of raising rabbits in a colony. One of the main downsides is that it requires a lot more space typically. You need a decent sized area to create a colony for the rabbits to move around in naturally. It can also be more difficult to make the area predator proof, especially if your colony is located outdoors. We allow our livestock guardian dogs to roam around the outside of the colony area to keep predators out of ours, and we have netting over the top for any hawks or owls that may see our rabbits as easy prey. The other downside is that you don’t have as much control over breeding. If you have more than one buck in the colony, you will not know for sure which one is the father, which can be an issue if you are trying to keep up with pedigrees. It can also be difficult to know when a doe has kindled and which babies belong to which doe.

Despite the challenges of raising rabbits in a colony, I have found it to be my preferred method. There are many articles online that can walk you through setting up a colony for your rabbits if you want to give it a try.

Learning to Butcher

As discussed in the previous post, there will be times where you must put down a rabbit. Even if you are not a meat breeder, things happen such as injuries that will require your rabbit to be put down mercifully. Though it can be difficult, it is necessary when raising rabbits.

Of course, as a meat breeder, dispatching rabbits is something I do regularly. It becomes less difficult over time, but still isn’t easy. The first rabbit I had to put down because of a broken back was the most difficult. Now, because of the size of our meat operation, we have someone else butcher and package our rabbits. To find our butcher, I spoke with people at the feed store to get his number. He was a small, local butcher who mostly works with rabbits and chickens, but also processes deer during hunting season. I was able to watch him a few times to become more proficient for the times I needed to do it myself, also, so that was nice. If I only have a few rabbits to dispatch, I will do it myself rather than taking them to the butcher. If you have Craigslist in your area, you can likely find someone to help you learn how to process your rabbits. It can also help you find other sellers to connect with locally.

If you are unable to find a local processor or someone to help you learn to do it yourself, you are in luck. With the technology available to us today, you can easily find videos on YouTube that will walk you through the process. Of course, learning hands-on from another person is best, but not everyone has that option.

Butchering can be difficult to do without the help of a mentor. If you are unable to find a mentor or a local butcher in your area, try using YouTube to learn to butcher for yourself. Don’t worry, you can’t mess up too much once the rabbit has been put down.

The Need to Dispatch

One of the hardest parts of raising rabbits for meat is the actual butchering part. Even if you are raising rabbits for pets or show, you are likely to have culls that you will need to take care of. The best way to deal with extra rabbits is to eat them. Besides, not every rabbit you raise will have a good temperament, a good breeder, or worthy of showing. You will need to know what your plans are for those rabbits well before you start breeding.

When I was raising rabbits to show them, I never thought I would be able to dispatch one. One day, though, one of my breeders became injured. I did everything I could to try to help her heal. I researched natural remedies for my doe and even spoke with an online veterinarian to try to help my girl. After much work trying to make her better, I could tell that she was suffering. I did have a farmer friend that offered to put her down for me, but I was too attached. I knew if I was going to raise the rabbits, it was my responsibility to raise them until the end, even if that meant putting them down when they were beyond help.

You may think that nothing will happen to your rabbits where you will have to make that sort of decision, but you will be fooling yourself. My rabbits were very well contained, but a neighborhood dog came just a little too close to the cage and spooked my girl, causing her to jump frantically around in the cage and break her back. There was nothing I could do but show her mercy and put her down.

Yes, butchering is not my favorite part of raising rabbits, but it is necessary. Every time I go to butcher a rabbit, it is difficult. It has become easier now that I have become more proficient at it as a breeder of meat rabbits, though. We will cover some of the basics of butchering in the next post.

Providing Food for Your Rabbits

There are four basic things that your rabbit’s diet should include: clean water, fresh hay, high-quality pellets, and fresh vegetables occasionally. You can typically find pellets that are high quality at a local feed or pet store. Be sure to find pellets that are high in fiber. Don’t buy too much at once, though, because it may spoil before you can finish the bag off, and that would be bad for your bunnies. For my rabbits, I will generally buy one fifty-pound bag that lasts around two weeks. Store the feed where it can stay dry and it will last longer.

Your rabbits should always have hay available to them throughout the day and night. The roughage and fiber of the hay helps their digestive tract stay healthy. You can build a basic hanging hay feeding using scrap wire. Just look online to find ideas to do so.

Keeping fresh water in the cage is critical to the health of your rabbits. You will need to change their water each day. When the temperatures are hot, you may need to change it more often. You can consider using the hanging water bottles if you only have a few rabbits. These can generally be found in pet stores and feed stores. Many online stores carry them as well.

When it comes to feeding your rabbits fresh vegetables, do so in moderation. If you feed them too much, it may cause diarrhea in your rabbits. Though having fresh greens is important in the diet of your rabbits, they don’t need to have too much. I will typically give them fresh veggies two or three times each week, and only give them one type at a time to see how it affects them. Never feed your rabbits veggies that have mold on them. Try giving your rabbits carrot pieces, cabbage, lettuce, and other leafy greens.

Feeding rabbits is pretty straightforward and simple. Just follow the advice above to keep your rabbits happy and healthy.

Providing Housing for Your Rabbits

If you look online, you will find a long, endless list of plans and ideas for housing rabbits. Simply type in “rabbit cage” or “rabbit hutch” and you may be overwhelmed. You can make your rabbit cage an all-wire cage or create a huge rabbit mansion depending on your preferences. The main point to remember is that your rabbits need to stay dry and clean. One thing to remember, though, is that if you use any kind of wood on your rabbit cage, it is likely the rabbits will chew on it if they can get their teeth on it.

As far as space, a rabbit needs a minimum of nine square feet. Of course, you should give a bigger rabbit more space than that, and should always provide rabbits as much space as you can so they can actually be rabbits. Because of their small space needs, and the fact that they are generally a quiet animal, rabbits can make ideal livestock even within a city.

Your rabbits will need to be protected from the weather. During the summer, it is easy for rabbits to become overheated. In the winter, they need to stay dry and out of the wind. Though rabbits can breed year-round, the babies are susceptible to cold winter days and nights. On the other hand, during the hot summer days, your buck may become sterile. Because of these reasons, the best times for breeding are the spring and fall. You can extend your breeding by adding artificial lighting in the winter for the rabbits, though.

If you build a rabbit hutch, build it with a shelter on three sides. Use hardwire cloth on the hutch open areas and place something on the wire for the rabbits to stand on to avoid sore hocks. Regardless of the size rabbits you breed, they should be capable of stretching out and laying down fully in their hutch. Make sure the rabbits can stand up on their hind legs without touching their ears on the roof too.

Using the above ideas, you should be on your way to building suitable cages or hutches for your rabbitry. Feel free to leave a picture of your setup in the comments.

Deciding What Rabbit Breed to Raise

One of the first questions you need to answer when considering raising rabbits is the breed. According to the American Rabbit Breeders Association, there are over forty breeds of rabbits recognized. One of the best ways to figure out the breed you want to raise is to determine what you are raising the rabbits for. The two main categories of rabbits are those used for meat and those used as pets or show rabbits.

Meat Rabbits: there are several breeds of meat rabbits available, but the most common are Californian and New Zealand rabbits. These breeds are popular because of their size and the amount of meat they produce in a short span of time. Californian rabbits get up to ten pounds and have between six and eight kits each litter. A New Zealand rabbit can grow up to twelve pounds and have a larger litter size of eight to ten kits. There are other meat rabbit breeds you can consider, especially if you are wanting them to be multipurpose. For example, the standard Rex rabbit can grow up to ten pounds and have six to eight kits in a litter. Their fur is also very desirable for tanning. A Rex is popular as a pet or show rabbit as well because of the diversity of the colors that can present.

Pet and Show Rabbits: any of the forty breeds listed by the American Rabbit Breeders Association can be entered in a rabbit show or be good as a pet. One of the most popular is the Mini Rex rabbit. This smaller breed tends to be easy to handle and have a good personality. The Netherland Dwarf and Holland Lops are also popular choices for pets and shows. They are both cute breeds that are very desirable.

If you are considering raising rabbits, determine first what you are raising them for. Once that decision is made, finding a breed to fit your program should be simple.

Why Raise Rabbits?

Ask anyone why they raise rabbits, and you may get many different answers. It really boils down to why they are raising them, whether it’s for an extra income, meat, or some other reason. Below are some of my best reasons for raising rabbits on my homestead.

  1. The meat is high quality: rabbit meat is very good for your body. It is all white meat, low in fat, and high in protein. If you cook with chicken a lot, you can replace chicken with rabbit in any recipe. You will have great flavor and more nutritional value added to your meal.
  2. Their manure is great for your garden: in fact, it is one of the best fertilizers you could ask for. Rabbit manure does not need to be composted before using. You can add it directly to your garden without fear of burning your tender plants.
  3. Easy and inexpensive to raise: rabbits are very easy to raise. You simply provide them with adequate shelter, food, and water, and they do the rest. Side by side, it costs much less to raise rabbits for meat than other meat producing animals such as cows, pigs, and goats.
  4. You know what is in their feed: when you know what you feed your rabbits, you know what you are putting into your body when you eat them. With this in mind, it is best to stick with natural feeds such as grasses and vegetables from your own yard.
  5. Extra income: if you raise enough rabbits, you can bring extra money into your homestead. You can sell the meat from your rabbits or sell their offspring. Some homesteaders even sell rabbit manure as fertilizer. The extra income can help you pay for rabbit feed and other needs so the benefits of raising rabbits can grow.

As you can see, there are many benefits to raising rabbits. If you haven’t considered raising them before, I hope you will consider it now.