Pastured Rabbits

We moved to this farm two years ago with the intention of becoming as self-sufficient as possible. To us, the most obvious place to start was with food. We’ve been building our gardens year by year and preserving food as the gardens produce it, but it became apparent pretty quickly that we could never produce enough for our family with plants alone.¬† It also became apparent that for our farm to be sustainable, animals would need to be eliminated from time to time or we’d be overrun.

Our decades of vegetarianism came to an end when we began processing our chickens (which you can read about here and here), and now with another farm season stretching out ahead of us, we are looking for more ways to produce our own food. We’d like to sustain ourselves through the winter with as much farm food as possible.

Our front yard is covered in lush, green grass that is not really used for much at the moment. When I started thinking about how to turn that space into food, rabbits came to mind. The children had pet rabbits in the past, but I never felt very good about keeping them in a hutch with wire beneath their feet. I want my animals to live as naturally and comfortably and happily as possible, as close to what Nature intended as I can provide. It occurred to me that something similar to our chicken tractors might work well for rabbits – a rabbit tractor!

There were a few things that had to be addressed: could I bring myself to eat a rabbit, and is it possible to kill a rabbit without any undue stress or trauma to the animal? As it turns out, harvesting a rabbit is remarkably quick, easy and painless (you can watch the process in this YouTube video if you so desire). And when my father-in-law gave us a rabbit he had in the freezer, I did indeed bring myself to eat it – and I enjoyed it immensely!

I thought I was pretty original with this rabbit tractor idea, but low and behold, one of the farmers who has inspired me greatly raises pastured rabbits in a tractor system. Joel Salatin and his son have been doing it for years (check it out here), and a quick YouTube search revealed that plenty of other people are doing it too! Awesome!

Jae built the rabbit tractor very quickly with wood and chicken wire that we already had around the farm. I looked around for some inexpensive rabbits – which are in abundance, who knew? – and within a day we had ourselves some pastured rabbits.

We bought ten rabbits from two different farms, for a diversity of genes. Nine of them are 8 weeks old, and the tenth is a seasoned mama who we will breed later in the summer.

The tractor is 8’x4′ with an enclosed nesting box on one end to provide shelter from the elements and a snug place to sleep. The entire tractor is bottomless to allow the rabbits access to fresh grass all day. These bunnies aren’t hopping around in a small, wire enclosure!

Each morning, I move the tractor to a fresh patch of grass. The rabbits spend their days browsing on the greens growing under them – crab grass, plantain, dandelions, clover and much more – and our lawn is “mowed” in the process (you may recall that we don’t mow the grass around here!). By the end of the day, there is a neat rectangle of short lawn and the tractor is ready to be moved on to the next spot.

I love this system because the rabbits are hopping about on soft ground instead of wire, eating plants instead of pellets, and generally acting as rabbits were meant to act. After observing them quietly for several days, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are pretty darned happy in their tractor. They haven’t dug at the edges in attempts to escape, as some folks have suggested they might. The rabbits have shown no signs of stress whatsoever, and I’m pretty pleased with that.

I’m pretty impressed with the even cropping the rabbits give the grass. It’s not patchy as I had expected it might be – instead, it looks like a lawn mower went over it.

On the left of the photo above, you can see grass that has not yet had the tractor on it. On the right, grass that had the tractor on it yesterday (yes, there are dirt patches. Those are not from the rabbits, they were there prior to the tractor).

I’m pretty excited about this new venture in food production and sustainability. I can’t wait to see how it all pans out. I’m sure we’ll revise and tweak our system over the course of the summer as we see what works and what doesn’t, but for now everything is looking good!

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8 thoughts on “Pastured Rabbits

  1. You stole my idea! Haha! Well you can tell me all about the pros and cons so I can try this when we have space to do so :) We’ve been talking a lot about animals but my youngest doesn’t want any of them to be eaten … but I think that using rabbits to eat weeds and fertilize our gardens is reason enough to have some.

  2. This is really cool! I look forward to seeing how it goes for you. I have often thought that it might be a good idea to keep rabbits in a similar fashion when we move, but I am not sure if my kids would be traumatized by eating them–or at least, one of my kids (Owen) is extremely sensitive and loving and lets face it, those bunnies are adorable.

    We are going to go look at a 3 acre farm in Lakeshore tomorrow, wish us luck! :)

  3. AWESOME!! We plan on getting rabbits next year. Rabbit is delicious and they are so very fun to have around. We were going to try to keep them in the large coop with our chickens and ducks. I will be curious to see how this venture works out for you throughout the summer. Thanks for sharing!

  4. They are so cute! We had rabbits before on our farm, until dogs got in and killed them all, (it was a night when we weren’t home). They were just local dogs, but they had the strength to rip the chain link fence out of the cement base. Rabbits must be more yummy than chickens, because they don’t do that to our chicken runs. I don’t know if dogs are a problem where you are.

    Also, watch your mommy rabbit, ours dug a hole and had her litter underground! When the bunnies got bigger she would uncover the hole, put her belly over it, feed them, then cover the hole up! We didn’t see the babies till they were big!

    Rabbit meat is very healthy, and I think it is easier to skin a rabbit than pluck a chicken!

  5. This is so neat! I never thought I’d start eating meat again, after 7 years of not doing so. When I see set ups like this, it makes me wish everyone raised their own animals for meat.

    • Hi Julia! Rabbits destined for the freezer don’t make it to winter :) Our rabbit tractors have enclosed boxes on one end to provide protection from the elements.

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