Care and Management of Rabbits/Chapter 1
FOR RAISING RABBITS
SOME REASONS FOR RAISING RABBITS
People have been accustomed to thinking of the domesticated rabbit as a pet for so long that they are somewhat surprised to find that they have some very decided utility advantages.
The experience of the average person with rabbits is limited to a casual acquaintance with the wild cottontail or the jack rabbit of the western prairies or, perhaps, to a few "pets" kept by some youngster in the neighborhood.
We have not, in the past, paid any particular attention to the commercial possibilities in breeding rabbits in large number for the markets or for breeding purposes, largely because we did not have to. Meat, of various kinds, was comparatively cheap and within the reach of all.
We did not acquire a taste for domesticated rabbit meat and, indeed, many of us were prejudiced against it for we naturally supposed that it was similar to the meat of the wild rabbit.
As to the possibility of the rabbit's fur being worth anything, most of us again compared the domesticated rabbit to the wild rabbit and formed the conclusion that the pelt was worthless.
Certain rabbit breeders, possibly not over a dozen in the whole country, who loved the rabbit and believed in its possibilities have spent long years of hard effort to breed their favorites up to a standard which would give them a commercial value; and when they had attained that goal, they had to spend a good many more years convincing the public that they had something worth while.
A number of years ago a great rabbit boom was staged in this country. People went crazy over night and invested large sums of money in fancy stock and equipment, only to wake up a few mornings later and discover that the bottom had dropped out of this boom. And rightly so.
The very reasons advanced by the breeders at that time for the adoption of the rabbit into our live stock family proved their undoing. They did not hesitate to misrepresent the true situation and led people to believe that there was a tremendous demand for rabbit meat all over the country; they stooped to selling diseased stock, in order to profit from the temporary high prices, and in every way possible undermined their own work of previous years.
Those few breeders who continued to keep rabbits knew that some of the faults of the stock in those days would have to be bred out, and that the rabbit would never assume its rightful place in our live stock world as an article of commerce until it really met a need and was in a position to fill that need successfully.
The present widespread adoption of the rabbit is not in any sense a boom. It is merely a growth which has been going on for several years. And the fact that it is assuming some of the aspects of a boom does not detract from the fact that it is a growth, steady and healthy, although tremendous when you stop to think of the number of rabbits that are being bred over the country today.
One of the most important reasons for this growth of rabbit breeding is the high cost of living and the fact that the rabbit, intelligently handled, offers a very potent factor in solving a part of that problem.
The domesticated rabbit as it is bred today is essentially a meat animal. Of the three most popular breeds, the Belgian Hare, the New Zealand Red and the Flemish Giant, all are essentially meat animals, and these three breeds range in weight at maturity from seven to twenty pounds.
Maturity is generally placed at seven to nine months, although the meat animals can be marketed as early as eight or nine weeks of age. The rabbit is a rapid grower and very prolific and is, in fact, the only animal known to us that reproduces its own weight so rapidly.
It is possible, even when very conservative, to produce as much as 400 pounds of rabbit meat on a space of ground only 3x6 feet in size within one year. The rabbit does not require large houses and runs or pastures as do other forms of live stock. In fact, the domesticated rabbit is a hutch rabbit and it really does better under confinement in the proper kind of a hutch than it does where it has more liberty.
Being a rapid grower and favoring certain kinds of feed which is comparatively cheap, even under high prices for all feedstuffs, it is possible to produce a pound of rabbit meat for a very small figure. One breeder, who has made quite a success of raising rabbits entirely for meat purposes, tells me that he can produce a pound of rabbit meat as cheaply as he can produce one egg from his poultry. This may not be possible to most breeders who are not so favorably situated, but it is an indication worth mentioning. Many breeders place the exact cost of producing a pound of rabbit meat at six cents under existing high prices of feed, so many in fact that it has come to be almost an accepted figure among commercial breeders.
The rabbit, unlike poultry, does not need concentrated foods which are always leading the market in price. It requires more roughage in the way of good hay than it does of grain. It does not need corn or wheat at all, oats being the staple grain in the rabbit's ration. Oats, with hay and some green vegetable matter are the principal articles of diet. Some mashes may be used which will even tend to cheapen the cost of feeding the herd.
These facts are largely responsible for the strong position which the rabbit has won in recent years. People are becoming more and more attached to rabbit raising, as they realize what is essential and correct their earlier mistakes.
Rabbit raising is essentially a live stock raising proposition. It is not a fad and cannot amount to much when conducted along that line. The man who is a good farmer, especially farmers, who know what they are about in their feeding operations and who naturally understand rabbits, are the men who are making a big success with rabbit raising.
The rabbit is on such a foundation now that it will prove a money maker to the man who is able to go into the matter as a calling.
A California breeder states over his own signature that he started a few years ago with only a few animals and a few dollars in capital. Today he does a business of more than $25,000 annually. Another man who is a farmer and breeds rabbits as a side line to his farming business states that he is making a gross income of more than $500 a month from his animals. Six does produce him an annual income of $2,000.
From a profit standpoint the money to be made is unquestionably in the sale of breeding stock, but there is a good profit in raising meat for market. In my own neighborhood rabbit meat sells for as much as 65 cents per pound dressed and it never falls below 30 cents a pound live weight. There is, of course, the necessity of building up a local demand for your meat but it is not slow in coming so long as other forms of meat continue at their high prices.
The meat of the domesticated rabbit has many things uncommon to other meat which give it good selling points. In the first place, it is of unusually fine texture, being white all over and something like the breast of a chicken, but lacking any trace of the oily substance found in fowls.
It is the most nutritious form of flesh known to science. It has been definitely established that domesticated rabbit meat is 85% pure nutrition, while beef contains only 55% nutritive value. This may be a surprise to some people, but it is another reason why people are raising rabbits.
Another factor in favor of rabbit raising everywhere, even in the cities, is that the rabbit does not create unseemly odors as some animals do, it is not noisy like poultry and certainly will not arouse the neighbors at daybreak with a wild burst of acclaim. We have heard of people offering strenuous objections to poultry, but we have yet to hear of any one objecting to the rabbit.
It is a noiseless animal. It never has anything to say and it makes no racket whatever, except to stamp its hind legs on the floor of the hutch once in a while when it thinks a stranger is near. This warning signal is promptly obeyed by the clan and they all scamper to their nest boxes and remain in hiding until the identity of the stranger has been established.
The hutches in which the rabbit is kept need not be unsightly to any place, even in the most fashionable districts. If they are properly built, they will be neat and attractive anywhere and if the fancier so desires he can make them as ornamental as possible. Good, neat hutches, nicely painted, will add to any place.
No great amount of room is needed. Many people are keeping large numbers of rabbits in small restricted city lots. The fact that the hutches can be placed one on top of another until as many as three tiers are occupying the same space of ground goes to show that the amount of space at one's disposal is really only a small factor in raising rabbits, while it might be a serious factor if other kinds of stock were to be kept.
Where the hutches are built properly and they are cleaned out as they should be, there will be no need to worry about odors. The droppings from the rabbit come in a pellet form that is dry and easy to handle. The only disagreeable feature is the water, and if the hutches are properly constructed and bedded this will not amount to much. The droppings make an ideal lawn or garden fertilizer, even being better than sheep manure for this purpose.
Rabbits do not require a great deal of time and attention where they are properly housed and the details as to their care have been properly worked out and systematized. They need to be fed only twice a day and many breeders feed only once a day. That can be arranged by the attendant to suit his own convenience. Where hay racks are used and large feed dishes, it is not necessary to feed more than once a day.
A few minutes' time daily will keep the rabbits in fine shape and the attendant can devote the rest of his day to something else. But the rabbits cannot be neglected and expected to thrive. They can be made a source of nuisance and disgrace to yourself and the neighborhood. They can be kept in dirty hutches and fed diseased food and you will soon be burying them by the dozen.
Where rabbits are properly kept, they will provide a means of recreation and profit to any man, regardless of where he may live or what he may do. They will be the center of interest of your neighbors, whether you live on a farm or in a village or a large city. Most people love them, and so will you.