When we picked up our milk cows and pigs, the woman offered us a breeding pair of Silver Fox Rabbits. When I hesitated to answer, she offer the cages to go with them. How could I pass that up? I have been talking about getting rabbits for meat and fur for about a year. I got some hides from our friend’s dad (although I have yet to tan them) and want to use the fur to make different thing. Gloves, bags, jackets, blankets. I ate rabbit in France and loved it. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity. When I saw them, I knew what to name them…Carmen and Ernesto.
Since we were not planning on having rabbits, we weren’t set up for them. Luckily, the old goose house wasn’t being used and their cages fit perfectly. I was sent home with a pack of pellets, so food was taken care of. Their first morning, I picked a few handfuls of grass and clover for their breakfast and lunch. By the time dinner had rolled around, I had done a bit of research and found out not to give them clover because it gives them gas and they have no way to pass gas. UGH! Apparently, rabbits have a complex digestive system. Fiber is what they need most. So grasses and hay. Lots of stemy stuff helps keep their teeth naturally filed down. And the idea of a rabbit wreaking havoc on your garden isn’t quite true. While they will go in and eat around, they don’t usually eat a lot of fruits and veggies because it doesn’t have enough fiber and throws their digestive system into disarray. Don’t get me wrong, they will eat things they shouldn’t, just like us. But rabbits in the wild are able to control what they eat and when, and can stave off most digestive issues. Not so true for domesticated rabbits. Once a rabbit’s gut shuts down, death usually follows quite soon. Another interesting part of a rabbit’s system is hind gut fermentation. Since a rabbit’s diet is so high in fiber, sometimes they don’t get all the nutrients out of the plants. Whatever needs a bit more processing gets diverted to the hind gut, or the cecum. There it is mixed with lots of good bacteria, yeast, and other organisms that help break it down further into cecotropes. Cecotropes is a special kind of poop that is nutrient rich, so the rabbit eats it as soon as it is expelled. Yes, kind of yuck, but also quite ingenious. So if a rabbit does not get enough fiber to start with, they miss out on a lot of nutrients.
Now, when I feed them it is a mix of grasses, plantains (the broadleaf weed, not the banana like fruit), mint, dandelions, and chicory. While Carmen was more interested in pellets than fresh food, she figured out what she was missing and now cleans up her food as well as Ernesto does. Having them on a fresh diet isn’t easy. There are plenty of days you’ll hear me scream, “ARGH! THE RABBITS!” and see me hurriedly picking over the yard. And now, Carmen turns her nose up to pellets. When the chickens are out of the tractors, the rabbits go in. I alternate free range days between them and they seem to love being out and about.
The plan is to start breeding these two and have our own rabbit meat, with the added bonus of hides/fur. But for right now, they are just living the good life.