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Bunny Breeds for a Homestead

 
Posts: 28
Location: Livingston, MT (Zone 4B)
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Greeting Permies!

I have a new dilemma...We purchased 21 acres and are starting our Permaculture Farmstead.  My daughter (almost 6) is super excited and one of her things that she is absolutely adamant about is having a rabbit (she is also adamant about a horse...but that is a larger problem for later :)).  Anyways I have already purchased her a small used rabbit hutch / tractor.  It has a small elevated shelter with a removeable floor and then a wire floor to move accross the grass.  I believe it is designed for 4 bunnies.  I have no desire to raise rabbits for meat at this time, primary functions would be fertilizer and or fiber.  So my questions are listed below:

1.  Is there a breed of rabbit that is suited to our situation?  I was originally thinking Angorra as it produces a sellable product.  I know they are more work, but if I'm getting a 6 YO a pet/mini enterprise that I will one day probably end up taking over I might as well make money...not sure if it is worth it though.  I have read the Angorra specific material on Permies...and it seems a bit like a mixed bag, as to whether they are worth the effort or not.  (For what it is worth we are in Livingston, MT, zone 4b so it's pretty cold but we have a barn that they could come in the winter, and might get a hoop house).  Again I don't think that meat rabbits is a valid option as giving my 6 YO a bunny and then letting it have babies and then eating them might be a bit hard at this stage...also I'm not sure i'm into that myself...somehow a cow is different...anyways i'm rambling.  There are lion's mane rabbits nearby...not sure if they are useful for anything other than poop.  Also near by are lops, new zealands, harlequins, silver foxes...probably more.  It appears Angorras are probably going to have to be ordered from further afield.
2.  I need this rabbit to be relatively good with kids...and also not to die in the first week while my dog tries to figure out that it is part of our family...he is part Whippet...so chasing rabbits is in his blood...He did eventually settle down with the cat and he is 11 so hopefully he can calm down before killing the rabbit.
3.  How social are rabbits...I feel like they need to maintain at least a pair...but I have seen lots of people raising them in solitary cages so I might be way off on this one.
4.  If I cannot pull a cash harvest off the rabbits do they generate enough fertility to justify owning them?  I realize that 2 5lb bunnies aren't going to generate enough compost for a 21 acre farm...but are they going to be providing something of quality that is harder to find...or something that fruit trees really like...something that might justify keeping a pet rabbit other than my daughter's happiness of course ;).
5.  Again if I cannot pull the cash harvest off the rabbits is it a better idea to go for the equivalent of tamed wild/feral rabbits?  I assume they have less health issues and are better foragers...if that is the case recommendations for breeds and or rabbit catching techniques...I'm assuming it's hard otherwise Elmer Fudd would have caught Buggs much faster.

I'm sure I have other questions...but that's all I can think of at this point in time.

Bunny-Hutch.jpg
Aivituvin Rabbit Hutch
Aivituvin Rabbit Hutch
Lions-Head.jpg
Nearby Lions Head Bunny
Nearby Lions Head Bunny
 
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I'm very sorry to say this, but after reading your situation, I truly cannot recommend rabbits, much less the labor intensive angora, which needs to be indoors, and groomed daily. Many folks (who've not experienced them) are misled into thinking they're a great first pet. The reality is that they're a very long term, demanding one, with an average lifespan of 10yrs, and they're very social, becoming horribly lonely, as a single. There is also no breed in which all are 'good with kids'. Most don't like being picked up, and their claws are brutal. They can and will bite, if they're frightened, and their teeth are razor sharp. Between the child's age, the living arrangements, and a sighthound... The cat is not a prey animal, but a fellow predator, fully capable of standing up for itself. A domestic rabbit doesn't stand a chance against a dog, particularly not one with that type of instinct. I'm really not sure what you mean by tamed wild feral rabbits?

On the upside, they really, really do produce an incredible amount of poop that can be used, straight from the bunny's butt. No aging needed. I wish I had a more encouraging response.
 
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I agree with Carla. I have two Brazilian rabbits (or as we call them here in Brazil, just normal rabbits). We got them as tiny critters and they had a lot of human contact, snuggles, etc. One is friendly and likes scritches, the other is a snarling monster who would kill me if she could only figure out how. We keep them specifically for fertilizer purposes and to clean up my garden waste (and they live in hutches, not tractors, although they have access to a run if weather permits).
I think if you don't keep them inside, they are not good pets. As inside pets, they need constant attention. And from my experience with whippets, that is not going to be a good situation. My shepherd/pit bull was able to accept that the rabbits are mine and he has to protect them (thank goodness for that shepherd brain), my whippet never ever ever would have been able to deal with that.
Your cat may also present a hazard. My rabbits are big now, and if a cat comes near out in the yard I can hear them stamping and getting all agitated out in their hutches.

That said, the rabbits have been amazing for my garden and I am SO GLAD I have them. But they are not pets, they are garden staff.
As for catching and keeping wild rabbits, I have heard of people doing it but I can't frankly see the point. Can you really catch a healthy one without it getting hurt, and then just keep it in a cage... I don't get it.
If you do keep them- people who use runs usually don't keep them on the ground all the time, they get brought in at night. Snakes, raccoons, dogs, bears, etc all will happily invade/destroy a tractor. Also rabbits don't like to get wet, so they need to have a safe weather-proof home.
 
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I apologise, but I must concur.

I have a female Flemish Giant approaching her fourth year with us. She is beautiful and I love her dearly. She's my Fuzzy Face Bunny Girl. But there's a catch. She has chisels in that fuzzy bunny face, and they are one of her only ways of getting your attention if you're ignoring her.

It took me two years for us to get to the point where she didn't feel she had to nip me to get her point across. That was before, during, and after her discovering that she loves skritches. Apart from administering eye drops (which we had to do pursuant to an eye injury that has left her scarred and part-blind), skritches are, as near as she can figure, the reason humans evolved fingers. And toes. She just purely loves toe skritches. All the skritch, none of the commitment. It's a little awkward while I'm making my coffee and she shoves her nose under my tapping toe. While I'm trying to stand. And when she starts licking my feet, not only does it tickle, as do her whiskers, it's downright freaky, because there's no way I'm going to forget she's got those chisels right there.

I have a scar from a scratch on the back of my left hand where I intercepted a gentle reproof from her of my toddling niece. I'm sure the bunny's paws would have hit her in the chest, knocking her onto her bottom, but I didn't want to take chances and taint the kid's view of bunnies.

They are absolutely worth their weight in fertilizer gold every day. We use wadded raw or recycled (both clean waste stream products) paper bedding, which combines nicely with our kitchen scraps to produce an environment almost designed as a worm bioreactor. I haven't bought soil as garden amendment since we got our bunny.

But she's very social. She free-ranges in the kitchen while we're not home or busy, and gets access to the rest of the house when we're home. She seeks attention as I described above, but oftentimes, she just wants to be in the same room with her people. I think it would kill such a rabbit to be alone in a hutch away from people, and if they were people-acclimated, the company of other rabbits might be insufficient, or an unforgivable insult redressable only in bunny blood (you think I'm kidding. Bunny vengeance is no laughing matter. Mizzou would rip the nose off an intruding bunny, and then thump at me until I took away the corpse and cleaned up the blood).

As to Angora specifically, they are not a pet forgivable enough to entrust to a child in a scenario where you "inherit" them; they will be dead before you notice the child has spaced out for a half-day. The reason they need daily attention, if not twice, is that they eat their fur when grooming, leading to something called fur block. We dry papaya and feed it to ours to prevent such issues (there's an enzyme in papaya that breaks up fur block and prevents the conditions that cause it), and we've been fine, but Angoras are a different creature entirely.

The dog situation is just unfortunate, but honestly, never take a dog whose genetic inheritance involves seeing, chasing down, and killing a prey species, then put the two together and expect the dog to ignore what all their senses and instincts are urging them is appropriate to do, and be surprised when the dog does as the dog was bred to do. Sight hounds aren't LGDs, or even herding dogs.

As to profitability, I love the angora fibre farm concept. If I can work it in to my own plans, I intend to. But from everything I have read and everyone I have spoken to on the subject of raising rabbits, the reason they are profitable is the feed-to-meat ratio. The money is in the meat. Fibre is a niche to be exploited, but I am having a hard time justifying it in any other context than to augment a sheep and alpaca fibre operation.

I would suggest a livestock guardian puppy. If a cat, I would suggest a Maine Coon, because they are most doglike, but their feces still qualifies as biological warfare, whereas dogs' is just unpleasant, on the scale of human or pig. It could be sold to your child as an upgrade to the bunny concept, and would be much more resilient of the attentions and attention-span of a six-year-old.

If you want to get your child used to life cycles and responsibility in a way that would prepare her for bunny care, you could start with chickens. They're almost dinosaurs. It's not going to be as much of a betrayal to be pecked by an obviously sharp beak as it will be to be nipped with bloody sharp chisels from behind fuzzy bunny lips and whiskers.

Finally, if you wanted to experiment with the idea anyways, I think the ideal mix for a home bunny that produces fibre is an angora/Flemish Giant cross. I lthink the French Angora is larger, but a British would do as well. I think the fibre quality of the French is superior, though. In any case, you'd essentially have to undertake the breeding yourself, and then select only the ones with the appropriate hair traits, and hope that some get the intelligence and inquisitiveness of the Flemish Giant that might make for good companionship. I think it would be desireable to gain the human socialisation and frame sturdiness of the Flemish, and size, to be sure, because I see incorporating them as free-range bunnies that get daily grooming into a bunny-proofed house as the best way to keep them groomed enough so they don't choke on their own fur without confining them in hutches.

Oh yeah, I don't know if you were aware of this, but it is generally recommended to feed a rabbit 1 cup of dark, leafy greens (iceberg is poison, all filler, no nutritional value) per two pounds of bodyweight. My rabbit is around 14 lbs, so we feed her a seven cup head of romaine a day. That's in addition to three tablespoons of pellets and all the hay she wants. Unless you're set up to grow it yourself, keeping healthy rabbits can be costly.

I mean not horse costly, or even pony costly, but not free. And they're not really suitable for children. They are prey animals, and so purely hate being picked up and cuddled; it literally triggers "I am about to be eaten" instincts. These are animals that can have a heart attack and die if you turn them belly-up. If your intent is to teach your child the fragility of life, rabbits are a terrific choice, but not so if you wish to instill warm feelings and happy pet memories.

Again, sorry to be the bearer of the news you least wanted to hear. Rabbits are temperamental and delicate, and they don't spare the whip when they're training their human chattel (like most pets, they own you, don't kid yourself). But let us know how it goes. I wish you the best of luck.

-CK
 
Tereza Okava
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Colter, I hate to shoot down people's ideas, and I realize you already have the hutch. As a person who has had dogs, rabbits, and a six-year-old, can I give you a suggestion? Keep the promise to the kid but get a few guinea pigs instead of rabbits. They're easy enough to sex, get a pair of brothers or sisters. They can use the hutch and have safe outside time. They are friendly and affectionate and easy for a kid to handle (as proven by every second-grade class that has a class pet). Their manure can be used on your plants. That way you don't feel any obligation to turn them into a profit-making enterprise, they are pure pets. You still have the tractor run, and later if you feel you are in the right place for rabbits, you can put it to good use.
 
Colter Schroeder
Posts: 28
Location: Livingston, MT (Zone 4B)
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Thank you for the great information.  I will clarify a few points.

When I mentioned the wild / feral rabbits I meant two points which I see now I didn't clearly identify.  One of which was catching some sort of wild rabbit which was answered.  The second was "are there breeds of rabbits that are more independent that act more like a wild or feral rabbit"?  I know with things like cows you can get the scottish highland cows that grow slower (closer to a natural growth, have thicker coats so they don't get as cold etc.).  With chickens the same exists...there are breeds that haven't been bred into near non-functionality that are better foragers (buckeyes vs. cornish cross).  So is there some sort of similar rabbit breed that is more closely related to their wild kin?

As far as being outside at night the little hutch has a fully enclosed elevated shelter...this should keep them high and dry no worries...plus it's small and light enough to come into the barn if required...or at least get pushed under the lean-to.

I had thought about the guinea pigs...more evaluation on that is warranted.

We will have to evaluate and see what we can come up with.  Again I really appreciate the advice.
 
Tereza Okava
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Location: South of Capricorn
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As far as I know the rabbits are mostly bred to either withstand heat or to maximize carcass/offspring yields (or some other factor like size, fiber, ears, etc).
Because they are (I hate to use this term, because they are capable of suffering and I don't think anyone wants to see them as simply a possession, but I think you get the point) "cheap" I don't think there is that much focus on hardiness or disease resistance, since people are not spending $200+ on a large livestock vet to come out as they would for cattle, for example. At least that is the impression I get talking to people who raise rabbits and veterinarians who have never treated a rabbit ever.
 
Posts: 72
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Aloha Colter,

Since she's almost 6 years old, an angora bunny would probably not be a very good pet for your daughter.  Mostly due to the coat harvesting, it takes a fairly high level of dexterity to get the wool off the bunny in a usable condition.  When she is a bit older and if she's interested in making yarn, then some angoras would be a good thing.  Or, if you wanted to make the yarn, then you could harvest the wool and your daughter have a pet in the meantime.  Because of the coat, I don't think she'd be able to keep an angora by herself without help, though.

We have English angoras and they're quite profitable, but we've been breeding them for years for low maintenance coats.  A lot of the profit from them comes from being able to sell the finished yarn at retail rates instead of just the fiber.  We can also feed a lot of forage and that keeps costs down.  YMMV.

We've been breeding them for years for good temperaments and low maintenance coats.  The ones around here don't need daily grooming, they go for about six weeks with zero grooming after they're sheared.  Then they get minimal grooming until it's time to shear again.  They're not show bunnies, they're a fiber herd.  They're actually much better as a 'hands off' type of bunny since when they're picked up and held, they then want to groom the scent of human off themselves.  If they do that too much, they ingest too many hairs, it blocks up their stomach, they can't eat, it doesn't end well.  And it's always the beloved pets that this happens to.  But, even though the bunnies here are 'livestock', they're still very cuddly livestock and they still frequently get picked up and petted.

Perhaps instead of a fiber bunny, you could raise bunnies for the pet market.  Find out which rabbits sell for the most in your area and then get good bloodstock of that breed.  Keep pedigrees on them, a rabbit pedigree is just a record of it's ancestors, you don't have to register them with any organization like you have to do with dogs.  I use Kintracks, which is an inexpensive computer program which is really good for any kind of livestock record keeping.  

The smallest breeds and the dwarf breeds, such as Holland Lops and Netheland dwarfs, usually have smaller litters and the dwarfs have some problems with the dwarfing gene.  When calculating which breeds would be profitable to raise and sell as pets, add in average size of litter to the calculations.  Personally, I'd opt for a Rex or mini-Rex as a pet breed.  They're very plush yet don't have excessive coat care, they come in nice colors, the ones I've met have had lovely temperaments and it seems to me they'd be a great pet.  Not as expensive as a Holland Lop or Netherland Dwarf, but having larger litters may end up with more $$$ at the end of it all anyway.

Not sure how well a whippet will do with a rabbit, keeping them very separate is a good idea, IMHO.  Dogs kill more rabbits than anything else around here, but we don't have a lot of the predators that are on the mainland.

Rabbits are kinda a solitary yet social kinda critter.  They don't mind other rabbits and can happily live in a herd, yet they like their own space and can be territorial.  If they have their own space and once it's scented like themselves, they are pretty much happy by themselves.  But, you'll need at least two if you're gonna breed rabbits.  We keep six bucks in one big hutch that is segmented into six spaces.  They can visit through the wire, but they can't attack each other.  Bucks can fight, even fight to the death.  A doe herd will usually do pretty well, although there is occasionally a diva bunny who wants to boss everybunny else around.  Also to watch out for is the shy doe who doesn't push her way in to the food dish when everyone is eating.  Make sure that the shy ones get enough to eat and you can usually keep the girls in communal space.  Since we have multiple communal spaces, when I'm changing the make up of a doe herd, I'll swap spaces so they're all in a 'new' space.  That seems to keep kerfluffles to a minimum.

Starting small is good.  Get a pair of 'pet' bunnies, let them have a litter and then sell the excess kits and see if it's going to work out.  If nothing else, your daughter has a pet and your rose bushes will be happy with the 'bunny berries'.
 
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Silver Fox Rabbits . . . I think your daughter could have her rabbit if you can find her one, young, Silver Fox buck. Let her keep it indoors for the first few weeks . . . he will be her best friend for years.
We raise Silver Foxes here in Portland and have seen this scenario and it works. Silver Foxes are known as the breed to have when it comes to "friendly" temperament. And they are beautiful!
Silver-fox-rabbits.jpg
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