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Small livestock in urban/suburban homesteads

 
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There is a number of very informative topics here, about keeping the smallest livestock for manure, as "tractors", and also for meat. I wonder what are people's views on that. Chickens seem most popular, because of their diet and relatively easy keeping. But there are also rabbits, cavies (guinea pigs) and other small birds, like guinea fowl. I heard all kinds of different views about this topic. From extreme vegan ("we should never use animals in any way and they should never be kept in cages or otherwise constrained" - that's my sister, sadly) to happy omnivore ("it's only natural" - my other sister, funnily enough, who has her own herd of sheep in a suburban area).
When it comes to me, I'd become vegan any second if anyone convinced me that it's more ethical, humane or ecological than being an omnivore. I'm not going to raise any animals for meat; but I'm trying to get my meat (or other animal products) from ethical and possibly local sources. One other great result of this effort is, that I get to meet the producers, who are usually wonderful people. I've also been looking into butchering methods, again not to learn how to do it myself, but to see if I can accept it as one of the ethical food sources. For a month or so I've only been reading about it, now I can also look at videos or pictures ;) and from what I learned, electrical stunning is good for chickens, captive bolt for everything else (especially the cavies which should not be stunned electrically or by cervical dislocation, according to this study). I'm still not sure about fish, and I'll probably never accept hunting (it's just not as effective and I hear about accidents too often). My city will probably ban hunting anyway.
While butchering is a difficult topic, the life of an animal is much longer than the "one bad day", and should be as happy as possible, regardless if the animal is kept as pet or not. I think that farm animals are an important connection between us and complete wilderness - they can make the transition from farm to wild areas smoother, than at the border between industrial agriculture and a forest, or whatever is unlucky to exist on the "other side" of it (some supporters of industrial agriculture seem to forget that it's not on the Moon, which means that it will always be a neighbour of something - people or wildlife).
I think that in permaculture, or organic farming, it's good if the animals can be as independent as reasonably possible - meaning that they should be hardy enough to sustain being exposed to harsh weather, while also being domesticated enough to enjoy the inevitable interaction with humans. Chickens seem to do well, especially if someone cares to tame them when young. Rabbits are more laid back but also more quiet than chickens, which can make them better for urban areas (in fact they're very popular around me, but usually kept in very small cages). I'm still not sure about angora rabbits; on one hand, they seem extremely beneficial - provide excellent manure, meat and high quality fiber. But I still think that life is hard when you're an angora rabbit; all that fur needs constant maintenance. I do believe that they can develop a wonderful bond with a person who is gentle and dedicated and has plenty of time for grooming them. Cavies seem much easier to handle than angora rabbits or even regular rabbits, and also more social (or rather, less territorial, as rabbits are social too).
One great thing about all of them is what city people need to provide for them - fresh hay, herbs, vegetables etc, instead of canned or dry food like for cats and dogs, which very often comes from factory farmed animals. I think that this reason alone is a great argument for herbivores in cities, even if they don't really have a purpose (other than the obvious benefits of interaction with animals). I rarely buy animal manure as a fertilizer for my garden, because I'm not sure where it comes from and how these animals were treated.
That's just a number of random thoughts on pets and urban farming... also, one thought on animals having "jobs" to do; which rarely happens in case of chickens, rabbits or cavies, but horses and dogs are often trained to do things - and again, many people are against it. But I think that they really do enjoy having a purpose in their life, just like we do - whether it's a job or some meaningful hobby. So I don't think that animals kept for more "practical reasons" than just being pets are necessarily having a worse life.
 
pollinator
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I personally keep chickens for several reasons.  They are nice, relatively quiet animals.  They are easy to raise, house, and care for.  They like people, especially if you only have a few and spend time with them when they are young.  It's very easy to get more of them free, you just hatch more.  They are very funny and lots of time can be spent just watching chickens being chickens.  They make great soil.  And the best reason for raising chickens in my mind is that you can butcher them for food if you like, or you can raise them more like pets, as I do, and they still supply you with great food that has lots of good fat and protein.  Mine live out their lives pretty happily being chickens, and supply me with eggs for their first few years.  In exchange, I let them live out their days scratching about with the younger chickens.
 
pollinator
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I think Guineas are too loud for urban living, but Quail seem ideal.

 
pollinator
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I recently sold a sheep/duck/rabbit farm to move back to the city.   I did raise my own meat and eggs,  and the rabbits I processed myself.    They lived a life as natural as possible in captivity,  with fresh food and fresh air, and same-species company.   They were never frightened or handled roughly  from the moment they were born until the moment they died I knew exactly how they lived, what they ate, etc.   It was much harder sending my sheep off for processing,  it would have been much better for them if I had a way to let them stay on the property start to finish.  If I could have done that myself I would have.   I have no intentions to stop eating meat or eggs,  but I dislike purchasing it from where I don't know how they lived or died,  and it feels hypocritical letting it be "out of sight out of mind" as long as someone else is doing it.   I do have a backyard rabbit now,  I wasn't going to be able to produce enough of my own compost material without additional input.   She has a litter box with fine shavings and all urine and manure goes into my compost bin.   No backyard livestock are legal here,  but she is discrete and I have good neighbors.   If I can devise a way to blend a small quail hut into my yard I may see if I can sneak in a group of females without raising eyebrows.   I miss fresh daily eggs the most out of all the farm product.
 
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It's amazing how different the rules can be from place to place. I understand that when houses are so close together, there needs to be a way for neighbors to have the right to peace and quiet, but people also have the right to healthy, homegrown food and I personally believe that it's possible to do "urban livestock" well.
Technically I'm on what's called "Agricultural Land Reserve" so there's lots that we can do that others can't. That doesn't mean that I didn't give hubby an annoyed look when he moved one of our chicken shelters right along the fence line in August when neighbors would want their windows open at night. Similarly, I wasn't impressed when one neighbor had about 10 young roosters in an open cage at the same time of year. I suggested he move them to his field but he opted to turn them into dinner instead. I was fine with a single roo, but with 10 they kept setting each other off all night and our bedroom was right in line with the sound waves.
A different neighbor had Guinea fowl and he got rid of them because he found they were like the boy who cried wolf - he always thought there was a problem.
We're having a bit of the same problem at the moment as we've got young Khaki Campbell ducks as our "Front Lawn Fertilization Committee". Soon they will have to move to the field, but I'm hoping they'll fertilize under the apple trees first! In the meantime, every so often they quack for no apparent reason at night. Since raccoon are a real threat, we tend to check on them rather than risk it. Female "quacky" ducks can be quite loud - louder than chickens but not as loud as roosters in my opinion. Ducks also need a *lot* of water which they make a total mess of quite quickly. I recommend them for near gardens where the water can be useful, and the slug patrol benefits equally useful! I think that duck eggs are awesome, but not everyone agrees.
A productive, quiet meat producer is the Muscovy "duck" - they're really closer relatives of geese, only unlike geese who are *very* loud, they are almost silent. They only lay eggs when they want to sit on them and their population can get out of control *really* fast which is why they're banned in some places, but for a friendly grass eater who tastes good, they're my choice.

I respect the OP's concerns about butchering. How to do so differs based on circumstances, breed, and the human doing it. Even reading studies may not give you the best answer for your circumstances. One local chicken processor uses a stun bath and it was easy to see that the chickens were very unhappy. I'm not convinced it was any more humane than other techniques I've seen or used. I've seen experienced people use a sharp knife and the chicken's passed before they knew what was going to happen. This is definitely an issue people need to face *before* the first animal arrives. Will you let them live until they die? What if they get sick? Do you have the space to keep an animal only for the manure it produces, or do you need it to "earn its keep" in other ways? It actually bothers me that people I know own 3 or more pets - dogs +/- cats - with all the resources that is using, rather than 3 Khaki Campbell ducks who will lay for 3 years, or a few heritage chickens that will till your garden at the very least.
 
Flora Eerschay
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Jay Angler wrote:I respect the OP's concerns about butchering. How to do so differs based on circumstances, breed, and the human doing it. Even reading studies may not give you the best answer for your circumstances.



It is definitely not something to be learned just from books. I see that people approach the idea very differently. Some prefer to do it themselves to ensure least suffering, others would rather sell the animal and not know what happens next.
Of all the possibilities, I like the idea of having parent animals and once in a while raising a litter for meat. The fact that animals get to reproduce instead of being spayed / neutered also contributes to their wellbeing and natural lifestyle I think (if they're healthy and well taken care of).

I've seen experienced people use a sharp knife and the chicken's passed before they knew what was going to happen. This is definitely an issue people need to face *before* the first animal arrives. Will you let them live until they die? What if they get sick? Do you have the space to keep an animal only for the manure it produces, or do you need it to "earn its keep" in other ways?



That's what I saw too. The chicken wasn't unconscious before cutting the throat which doesn't look good, but people keep talking about them sort of "fainting" when being upside down?

As for old age / getting sick, that's what happens anyway I guess. I was unfortunate to witness deaths of my beloved pets and even family members, which was very painful for them, and not peaceful at all. If that happens, the best thing one can do is be there with them till the end, and keep yourself together... That's probably what we all want - if not a painless death, at least having someone who can be there for us.

Back to the idea of suburban livestock - another benefit could be that it might reduce poverty and malnutrition in people who don't have the knowledge, land and skills to raise plant based food only. Being able to do so is really a luxury we seem to forget. There is an interesting article about it - from conclusion: "Much attention has been paid to the role of urban livestock keeping in maintaining and transmitting diseases and contaminating the environment but little to the role of urban livestock keeping in supporting livelihoods and nutrition. [...] Food-borne illnesses and animal diseases are of growing concern to consumers and policy-makers alike. Consumers respond to scares by stopping or reducing purchases with knock-on effects on smallholder production and wet market retail. Policy-makers often respond to perceived health risks by favouring industrialization and reducing smallholder access to markets. [...]

Urban livestock keeping has always been vulnerable to fears around disease and environmental contamination; fortunately, we now have the evidence and tools to ensure that it is not only productive and profitable but can be safe, fair and environmentally friendly."

Link: https://www.ruaf.org/sites/default/files/10.%20Urban%20livestock-min.pdf
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think Guineas are too loud for urban living, but Quail seem ideal.


Yes, I agree! I love Guineas but can not imagine them in an urban environment.
 
Gail Jardin
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Please take no offense, but in today's politically correct world I'm sure someone will. As for the butchering thing, I've never seen any of my livestock or wild game say their prayers before slaughtering. I on the other hand I take a moment to thank God for the opportunity to harvest healthful food from the animal at hand. Ever since I was a little kid and my ma would get an old hen for dinner I would think since they did not know death was coming they had no fear of it. I always like to comfort and pet my stock before shooting it, kind of like a last goodbye I suppose. I also think since my animals have been calm when there slaughtered the meat is somehow more tender and tasty. The same goes for game, when I hunt with a shotgun they die much quicker than when I bow hunt. Although there is less harvestable meat, in order to avoid consuming any shot, I always think it has a different texture than that of the deer that bleed out for a while from an arrow wound.
 
Flora Eerschay
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I live next to a large hospital and a fire brigade... No animal can be louder than all these sirens day and night ;) luckily there is no church nearby... Churchbells are the worst! I'd rather worry about animals getting stressed from all the noise, than being too noisy themselves.
 
Flora Eerschay
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P.S. Gail, I just had a chance to watch the above video with quail - they're lovely, and that tiny garden looks amazing! Reminds me of this video - also includes some animals:



and many little creative ideas. A bit larger garden but not so much!
 
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Flora Eerschay wrote:Rabbits are more laid back but also more quiet than chickens, which can make them better for urban areas (in fact they're very popular around me, but usually kept in very small cages). I'm still not sure about angora rabbits; on one hand, they seem extremely beneficial - provide excellent manure, meat and high quality fiber. But I still think that life is hard when you're an angora rabbit; all that fur needs constant maintenance. I do believe that they can develop a wonderful bond with a person who is gentle and dedicated and has plenty of time for grooming them.



A well bred Angora rabbit should have a fairly low maintenance coat. Outside of the semi-annual heavy molt, my only grooming tools are a small pet blower and a slicker brush. Wool breeds (and other breeds) also tend to do better with wire floors, as moisture is what causes the wool to mat up, which is an issue with the urine & bedding in a solid-bottom cage. Of course, genetics are important, as well, when breeding rabbits for fiber. My line has been bred for good coats, docile temperament, heat tolerance, and thick/wide hocks on the back feet. Anything that is weak in those areas is culled to remove those traits from the gene pool.
For an urban setting, rabbits are a great livestock option, as they're quiet and have multiple purposes (as you mentioned). While I primarily raise them for exhibition, they also provide amazing fertilizer, fiber/pelts, people/pet food, and companionship. Additionally, their versatility allows them to adapt to various environments & housing options. Over the last couple of decades, I've kept them in many setups, including colonies, outdoor hutches, and inside stacker cages; which is what I currently use. While they are social, they can also be ruthlessly territorial, and colony setups (IME) have always resulted in somebunny getting picked on & not getting enough to eat. In individual cages they seem to consider it their personal territory to do what they want and feel secure. Some will even "decorate" their cage by moving toys and stuff around, and get mad at me if I move something.
Overall I think it just depends on each person's preference, as well as their specific conditions.
But, as long as the basic requirements are met, rabbits can totally be an excellent livestock option for the urban setting.
 
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Rabbits are more laid back but also more quiet than chickens, which can make them better for urban areas (in fact they're very popular around me, but usually kept in very small cages). I'm still not sure about angora rabbits; on one hand, they seem extremely beneficial - provide excellent manure, meat and high quality fiber. But I still think that life is hard when you're an angora rabbit; all that fur needs constant maintenance. I do believe that they can develop a wonderful bond with a person who is gentle and dedicated and has plenty of time for grooming them. Cavies seem much easier to handle than angora rabbits or even regular rabbits, and also more social (or rather, less territorial, as rabbits are social too).



We have angora rabbits here and we have very little coat maintenance.  There aren't any rabbit shows, so they are a fiber herd.  Ease of maintenance is one of the qualities we breed for, along with softness, silkiness,

They get three hair cuts/hair harvests a year and the rest of the time they're hanging out in the big hutches with the rest of their bunny friends.  Most of them don't really want to bond with a human and have much human interaction unless that human is bringing tasty rabbit treats.  There's a few (one out of twenty) who will come over for some head scritches and nose bumps to humans, but given a choice between bonding with a human and hanging out with their bunny friends, the bunny friends win out every time.

The bunnies here mostly provide fiber for Hula Bunny yarn.  Their manure goes to our garden as well as gardens of our friends and neighbors.  Very few of them provide meat, though.  Their wool is worth more than their meat and the first coat isn't even the best coat, it's the ones after their first one which are the best fiber.  Which means they're good fiber providers for years and years, we get about one pound of fiber per bunny per year.  After that length of time, any meat on them would be pretty tough, so usually when one of our bunnies is no longer with us, they get buried in the yard under a tea bush, fruit tree or in a flower bed.  For some reason, we don't usually put them in the food garden, although I'm not quite sure why not.  It just feels like they'd rather be in the flower bed, perhaps?
 
Flora Eerschay
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Thanks guys for the info about angora rabbits. I've been seriously considering them, as I made contact with one breeder. She's very dedicated and passionate about them. We've spent an hour talking on the phone, discussing all the angora issues!

I suggested her to try get an organic farming certificate, as it shouldn't be too hard for her and would make it easier to earn more on the fiber. Also, I'm not sure but she might be the only organic fiber farmer here - some people keep alpacas or sheep for fiber, but more as a curiosity, for tourists, and for their own use, and they're not farmers.
 
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where i am is considered rural but i am surrounded on all sides by houses so i face the same challenges. i currently have chiks, ducks , geese and rabbits. I've also raised quail, turkeys, pigeons  and guineas.  i wouldn't recommend guineas because they are escape artists but they are great at eating ticks. unless you have some experience in butchering, turkeys give the most meat but are large to handle. i supplement my animals feed from plants i grow in my yard and our scraps.  the chicks will even eat meat and spoiled fruit. all my seconds fruit go to them. i also grow mealworms and dubia roaches indoors in totes to give them some extra protein. funny to watch them run down the roaches!
 
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I'm thinking about adding rabbits to my yard for meat and manure.  I have a really small yard (less than 200 sq ft of grass) with a huge mango tree right in the center and a couple small fruit trees already taking up space, but an old garden bed that's just rocks now that's doing nothing.  I can't decide between rabbits and chickens and whether to keep them in one place or tractor them. I just want some livestock and rabbits seem cleaner and supposedly have better manure
We have good grass so that's why I want to tractor them, but I've also thought of just scything the lawn and feeding it to them.  I really don't want to buy feed for them if I can manage not to
 
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I have house rabbits and yard chickens.
If you want to feed them from your yard,  I suggest rabbits.
They will eat the grass and they will eat tree hay as well,  and their poop is a great top dressing fertilizer.
We feed our pet rabbits  timothy hay, no pellets,  except for treats.
In your situation I think I  would raise them in a raised cage, mostly wire floor but with a container of soil as well.
If you have maple,  mulberry, pear, or apple trees,  they will love the bark off of the trimmings.
I would grow Jerusalem Artichokes in containers, just for  the bunnies.
They love to eat the foliage, fresh or dried.

Edit: I just checked your profile, saw you are zone 10.
Rabbits do better in cold than heat, I'm not sure how they would do in Florida heat.
 
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Currently I free range chickens on about 1/8 of an acre in my back yard. I keep them for the eggs not the meat. I butchered enough chickens when I was a child and lived on my grandparents farm.
I also kept quail for several years in cages and in an aviary both Coturnix and Bobwhite. I loved the quail for the eggs and the meat but I was the only person in the family that would eat them so it was a lot of work for a limited return for the family.
I live in the county part of my town ( wich means I am pretty rural the properties around me are all 1/2 acre or larger) so there are no rules for livestock other than not to let them damage your neighbors property.
Sorry this got long winded and rambling.

To sum up get chickens they are easy, mostly quiet, amd provide great fertility.
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Flora Eerschay
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Do you know how quail deal with hot weather? I don't mean exposing them to full sun in the summer, but just in general - are they like rabbits which seem to prefer the cold weather, or not?
 
Curt Hettman
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Flora Eerschay wrote:Do you know how quail deal with hot weather? I don't mean exposing them to full sun in the summer, but just in general - are they like rabbits which seem to prefer the cold weather, or not?



Flora,
Bobwhites are native to the Texas scrubland and handle the arid dry conditions very well.
Coturnix tend to be a bit more sensitive. When I kept them in cages they were in a building that was climate controlled. When I had them in an aviary they just had a tarp over half of their area for shade and they did just as well.
The only issue with the aviary is that they will lay eggs anywhere and everywhere which makes collection a bit harder.
 
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Cody Smith wrote:We have good grass so that's why I want to tractor them, but I've also thought of just scything the lawn and feeding it to them.  I really don't want to buy feed for them if I can manage not to


You could do both or either/or. I have two rabbits I keep in hutches, and I also have a tractor type run in the garden (they keep down the grass on the paths). I feed them my garden weeds and whatever else needs disposed of (this week, it's the old beanstalks I just ripped out) and my kitchen scraps and they very rarely get hay (occasionally I go to the parks and pick a bushel of dandelions for a treat. Imagine the happiest set of rabbits ever.) I initially thought they would prefer the tractor to the hutches, but it turns out that one really hates the tractor and the other really likes it. Not sure what your weather is like, but I'm in close-to-tropical summer right now and it's way too wet for them (I lived in Pt St Lucie when I was a kid and I suspect anyplace in FL is probably the same.... part of the year they won't want to be on the ground. Plus you have fire ants and other pests to consider).
I initially thought about breeding the rabbits, but it has turned out that I am keeping them mostly for garden fertilizer (they turned out not to be two females, but rather brother and sister. I figure I will let them live out their lives and I'll get good at keeping rabbits first before I get into breeding them for meat in the future. I'm in no hurry.). And on my tiny urban farm, 2 rabbits has made a world of difference in my garden during the year I've had them. I've gone from burying the manure to top dressing to making manure tea weekly, and things just get better and better.
Like you, I would like to have chickens, but I don't have a lot of space and I can't imagine the damage the chooks would do to my garden. Also, we have a lot of feral cats, so the run would have to be super secure, and they'd live in the run 24/7, which just doesn't seem to fit well with my situation. One day I hope I'll have a place with more space and have some chickens.
 
Cody Smith
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Tereza Okava wrote:

Cody Smith wrote:We have good grass so that's why I want to tractor them, but I've also thought of just scything the lawn and feeding it to them.  I really don't want to buy feed for them if I can manage not to


You could do both or either/or. I have two rabbits I keep in hutches, and I also have a tractor type run in the garden (they keep down the grass on the paths). I feed them my garden weeds and whatever else needs disposed of (this week, it's the old beanstalks I just ripped out) and my kitchen scraps and they very rarely get hay (occasionally I go to the parks and pick a bushel of dandelions for a treat. Imagine the happiest set of rabbits ever.) I initially thought they would prefer the tractor to the hutches, but it turns out that one really hates the tractor and the other really likes it. Not sure what your weather is like, but I'm in close-to-tropical summer right now and it's way too wet for them (I lived in Pt St Lucie when I was a kid and I suspect anyplace in FL is probably the same.... part of the year they won't want to be on the ground. Plus you have fire ants and other pests to consider).
I initially thought about breeding the rabbits, but it has turned out that I am keeping them mostly for garden fertilizer (they turned out not to be two females, but rather brother and sister. I figure I will let them live out their lives and I'll get good at keeping rabbits first before I get into breeding them for meat in the future. I'm in no hurry.). And on my tiny urban farm, 2 rabbits has made a world of difference in my garden during the year I've had them. I've gone from burying the manure to top dressing to making manure tea weekly, and things just get better and better.
Like you, I would like to have chickens, but I don't have a lot of space and I can't imagine the damage the chooks would do to my garden. Also, we have a lot of feral cats, so the run would have to be super secure, and they'd live in the run 24/7, which just doesn't seem to fit well with my situation. One day I hope I'll have a place with more space and have some chickens.



I'm located in fort Lauderdale a little South of you.  I could always stick the rabbits in the garage to deal with heat but would much rather have them outside if they can do it.  So yours are ok in the fl heat?  They'd be under some good shade.  Im going to be building their hutch soon.  And I also am looking to know what I'm doing in the future by getting them now
 
Tereza Okava
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Location: South of Capricorn
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Actually, I`m way south of you now-- I`m in southern Brazil (only lived in FL for a year as a kid) but I think my weather is not too different, I`m zone 9b. I think your summer temps are higher, though.

My rabbits are fine, and I`ve seen rabbits in hotter regions here. I am very proactive about heat. Each rabbit has a big piece of granite (offcut from countertop, about an inch thick) and it stays nice and cool during the day-- they are glad to lay on it. I`ve heard of people also using ceramic flooring tiles, and I`ve also heard of people keeping these tiles in the fridge (I don`t do that, the granite works just fine).
The rabbit that likes the tractor really enjoys laying in the grass. (and the tractor has total shade). Both rabbits, when it`s really hot, get a small frozen water bottle during the hottest part of the day. For the most part they just throw it around the hutch or lick it, but the smarter one will lay right up against it.

My suggestion is to buy your rabbits locally so you know they are okay with the heat (some varieties do better than others). See if you can buy from someone near you and look at their operation while you`re there.
 
Cody Smith
Posts: 23
Location: Florida Zone 10
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I guess I'm going with rabbits because we can't have hens and my neighbors have reported us before, they don't like us.  Also have been reading a book on starting a mini farm and intensive gardening, which needs a lot of fertilizer, and rabbit manure is supposed to be the best

My plan is to get a buck and doe (found a breeder who is selling pedigrees for 75 each and it seems like my only option) and raise them on pellets at first.  I don't want to risk losing them but once they have a litter I'll start the weaners off without pellets and see how they do.  Maybe I'll raise half on pellets and half without and post the comparing results.  
Anyway I have to pay a 200 dollar nonrefundable let deposit to have them, plus about 150 for the actual rabbits, and another 150 for the cages and supplies
 
pollinator
Posts: 973
Location: New Brunswick, Canada
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Flora Eerschay wrote:Do you know how quail deal with hot weather? I don't mean exposing them to full sun in the summer, but just in general - are they like rabbits which seem to prefer the cold weather, or not?



How hot?  I've had quail outside year-round and they only went off their lay one summer when it was 32+C for a couple of weeks.  My chickens stopped laying too, so it wasn't just the quail.  I love quail for meat and eggs but I find chickens do a better job at eating scraps and making new garden beds.
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