Feeding your rabbits and figuring out what your meat is costing you.
Updated: Mar 13, 2022
I started looking into meat rabbits as a way to cut costs associated with my grocery bills and also because food supply issues were happening all over. (Covid 19 issues) I am a single mom and my son likes to eat, and I'm sure that won't change anytime soon. Any way to save a couple bucks and make the grocery budget go farther is a plus.
Last year I started growing a garden. I had 3 raised beds and a spot where I grew directly in the ground. I was pleased for the most part. My plants that were grown directly in the ground did not do as well. I have black walnut trees and I've heard they can have an affect on the soil... We will see how this year goes. I also have 2 new raised beds just in case.
My gardens produced enough green beans and tomatoes to allow me to freeze some as well as eat them while they were in season. I froze 12 zucchini breads as well as a few green tomatoe pies. It is nice to be able to put some veggies and deserts away for the off season.
A lot of the things I grow in the garden can also be fed to my new rabbits. Radish and radish tops, parsley, cucumbers, including their vines and leaves, Romain lettuce, carrot tops and the occasional carrot as a treat, spinach and beat tops are also good occasionally as a treat due to high oxalic acid. Squash, zucchini and pumpkin, including the plants, can also be fed to rabbits.
So instead of throwing out veggies that may not make the cut for whatever reason for human consumption, they can be fed to the rabbits and don't have to be wasted or put into the compost. Feeding them to your rabbit is not reducing your compost as rabbit manure is great compost and is considered a cold manure and can be used straight away without having to wait.
So I know I grow quite a few things that my rabbits will eat, but what else do they require? Rabbits require hay as it's high in fiber and helps keep them from developing blockages. Providing hay at all times is essential to keeping them happy and healthy. Pellets are designed to be nutritionally balanced. A rabbit who is fed nothing but pellets and hay will have all their nutritional needs met. It is advised however, to supplement with fruits and veggies as it's more what a rabbit is designed to consume.
There are numerous producers of pellets. If you don't have a livestock feed store near you, amazon had a variety of options. https://amzn.to/3hrel6S
When trying to reduce the costs associated with feeding your rabbits it's important to provide them with all the greens they could want so they are less reliant on pellets and hay. Just because you offer hay and pellets doesn't mean your rabbit will eat them if they have another option. A rabbit tractor is a great way to reduce food costs. Every day you move it to a new spot and the rabbits are allowed to forage and eat all the greens they want or need. It's a more natural diet and drastically reduces pellet consumption. It's a win win situation. The rabbits eat your grass, reducing the need to cut it and reducing the amount of food you have to spend money on for them. While they are being moved from place to place in your yard, they are also fertilizing your yard and you aren't having to clean out pens or shovel manure out from under them. The only downside I see is having to move them every day, but you need to water them and check on them anyways, so it's just adding a few more seconds into your care routine.
If you want to track how much your rabbits are costing you to produce meat, keep track of how much your pellets and hay cost. ( Depending on how you want to figure it out, either include food fed to your breeders or only include your kits, it's up to you) weigh your grow outs before you dispatch and process them to get a live weight. After you dispatch and process them, weigh them again for a dressed weight. Divide your total cost of food by the live weight and the total cost of food by your dressed weight. I like knowing both numbers as it gives you an idea how much meat your rabbits are producing compared to their overall size and weight.
For example say a bag of pellets and a bake of hay cost you $27 and you produced 14 kits. 14 kits averaging 7 pounds gives 98 pounds of live weight. $27 divided by 98 live pounds is $0.27 per live pounds. When processing a rabbit you remove the head, feet, skin, intestines and most organs. This reduced the weight of the rabbit to approximately 50%. So your 98 live weight would be approximately 49 pounds. So $27 I'm feed divided by 49 pounds of dressed rabbit is $0.55
So in this example your dressed rabbit meat cost you $0.55 a pound to produce only taking into account good you purchased.
There are of course other costs like initial pen purchase, purchasing your first rabbits and up keeping their cages and tractors. But this example was just for food expenses. The other fees will get less and less as time goes on. Your first litters will "cost more" as there is less of them having those expenses divided into them. After a whole year of breeding however, you could have 5 litters per doe and if you have 2 does, the expenses could be shared between 70 kits (average 7 kits per litter) instead of the first 14 we found the food costs for. And after 2 years it's shared by 140 kits. So it's harder to say what the start up costs cost you per kit, as that number goes down with each kit you produce.
If you want to raise your rabbits the natural way without the use of any pellets, there is a widely recommended book called beyond the pellet, feeding rabbits naturally. It's written by Boyd Craven Jr and Rick Worden. It focuses on cutting pellets out of your rabbits diet and still getting them everything they need from a nutritional standpoint. https://amzn.to/35ALev7
Here at Ontario rabbits we want to try to raise our rabbits as cheaply and easily as we can to maximize our benefits and minimize our expenses and workload. Rabbit tractors, growing a garden, and having meat rabbits is how we are heading in that direction.