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Companion Planting and Sustainable Garden - Oregon

  1. 1. Back Yard Rabbits And A Sustainable Garden You May Want A Source Of MeatAnd Vegetables that is independent of Peak Oil Transportation Problems Economic Problems Ralph W. Ritchie Book Seven In The New Economy Ebook Series Obtain Your Copy From
  2. 2. Copyright, 2009, by Ralph W., and Fern J. Ritchie, all rights reserved. Theright to print a personal copy of this book is granted to the purchaser of theebook edition; in whole or part, provided the title page and copyright notice are included. We pray that the reader has sufficient integrity to not pirate this book and will buy their own copy so that we may continue eating. This book is a model for use by individuals to gain information to develop an operating plan. It is general enough to satisfy most situations. Even so, we must disclaim any responsibility for the application of this information. If you benefit from this work, it is because you made best use of it, congratulations! EBook Edition ISBN : 0-939656-90-6 In Keeping With Energy and Material Conservation, there are only on-line and CD editions of this book. Thus, the cost of printing materials, labor, and shipping do not enter into the price of the book. A copy is immediately made available on-line, to the purchaser of the book. After 30 years of publishing,the Library of Congress has decreed that self-published books no longer have the service of a provided Library of Congress catalog card. Written and published in Springfield, Oregon
  3. 3. Sketches In ClayBack Yard Rabbits
  4. 4. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Preface The purpose of this book is to provide an alternative meat source for the family. It is notmeant to be an agricultural tome on animal husbandry- merely sufficient information to enablethe raising of a small animal as a meat source, and , at the same time, provide a SustainableGarden to provide an independent food source for the family. The voice of experience is my authority. What I described worked for us and grew to acommercial endeavor that lasted ten years. I do not hold with show rabbits, or with those raised as pets, or with those raised forother purposes, such as their fur. They each have their own special requirements and they arebeyond the scope of this book. In most cases, these are less than ideal for a meat source. At the same time, a sustainable garden is achieved by growing feed for the rabbits thatin turn, produce fertilizer for the garden, that produces more rabbit feed, and that produces. . . .The upside is that the garden is also feeding your family.RWRAugust, 2009
  5. 5. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Foreword The purpose of this book is to provide an alternative meat source for the family. It is notmeant to be an agricultural tome on animal husbandry- merely sufficient information to enablethe raising of a small animal as a meat source in combination with a sustainable garden.. I repeat, the voice of experience is my authority. What I described worked for us andgrew to a commercial endeavor that lasted ten years. I will repeat a topic if it is relevant to the subject at hand, rather than refer you to anotherchapter. In my view, this makes for easier understanding. Observe your rabbits, from time to time, without having to tend them. See how theybehave when you aren’t around. Learn their patterns and accommodate them, rather than tryingto fit them to your convenience. Most of this book assumes that survival is the primary goal and that these are things youneed to know in order to survive. During a depression most people will not have employmentand they will be spending their time doing whatever they must do to survive. I will assume thatyou have more time than money and most of the tasks in this book require doing the taskyourself. You will note the frugal leaning in the book. All materials are used, or salvaged with theexception of cage clips , some cage wire, a roll of steel bailing wire and the paint. Even painthas been recycled and is now available at some recycle yards. Be sure to get galvanized orplated metal; bare metal will rust out too fast. We welcome suggestions, and improvements and to a lesser extent, complaints. I willhelp all that I can. One reason we bind our books with a plastic comb binding is that we can easily updateor correct the stock on hand- zero waste. With Ebooks, the change can be made without waste, so our product improves withtime, but we do not necessarily announce each change. In the interest of keeping the price as low as possible, and to conserve materials, TheseNew Economy Series books are only available as Ebooks, from our website. For those who do not have broadband download capability, they are also available on aCD. The other advantage of electronic books is that there is no shipping charges and theyare immediately available. We expect to convert all of our books to this format as time permits and Peak Oil oreconomic problems require extreme measures.
  6. 6. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Table of ContentsPrefaceForewordTable of ContentsChapter 1. IntroductionIntroduction. Gardening. About Meat, Back Yard Rabbits.Chapter 2. BreedsKeep In Mind. Competition Rabbits. Breeding. Breeding and Birthing. Nest Boxes. Rabbit Mothers.Chapter 3. EquipmentCages-See the pages of drawings and photographs at the end of the chapter. About Cage WireQuality. Cage Cleanup. Cage Shelter. Worm Bed. Stacking Cages. Water Supply. Location.Manure Storage.Chapter 4. About RabbitsBehavior. Care and Handling. Rabbit Social Behavior. Toys. Birthing Rabbits. To Transfer Young. ANest Box With High Sides. Babies Out Of The Nest. Handling Rabbits. Rabbit Handling. Pet Rabbits.Names. Observation.Chapter 5. HealthBasic Rule. Rabbit Health Problems. Medications.Chapter 6. Animal DisposalPigs For Animal Disposal. Dogs. Options. Cautions.Chapter 7. Rabbit FeedFeed and Feeding. About Rabbit Pellets. High Grade Pellets. Feed Options. No Hay ? Winter Feeds.Fresh Feed. Treats- Rabbit Candy. Introducing a New Feed. Balancing A Diet of Greens. Hay Manger.Perennials. Feed For Babies. The Sustainable Garden.Chapter 8. MarketingRabbits To Eat of Barter? Live Sales. BY-Products. CAUTION about selling any food stuff. MarketingOption. Pet Stores. The IRS. Rabbits Are A Business.Chapter 9. FertilizerSustainable Gardening. Animal Fertilizer Comparison Table. Plants Need Moisture and Air. EditorialNote: Arguments For Non-organic Gardening. Meeting The Challenge. Plant Nutrition Nomenclature.How To Use The NPK Data. Plants by Order of Nutrition. Excerpt From Disaster Preparedness ForCountry Living: Soil Test Kits. Other Soil Tests. Trace Minerals. Commercial Seedlings. Damping-OffSeedling Malady. History. In The End. 1.1
  7. 7. Back Yard Rabbits – RitchieChapter 9. FertilizerSustainable Gardening. Animal Fertilizer Comparison Table. Plants Need Moisture and Air. EditorialNote About Hydroponics. Arguments For Non-organic Gardening. Meeting The Challenge. PlantNutrition Nomenclature. How To Use The NPK Data. Plants, Ordered By Protein Level. Excerpt FromDisaster Preparedness For Country Living:. Soil Test Kits. Other Soil Tests. Trace Minerals.Commercial Seedlings. Damping-Off Seedling Malady.Chapter 10. Sustaining A GardenThe Process. Step by Step. Sustainability. Planning. Evaluation. Covering The Soil. Tillage. Additives.Rock Dust. Aeration. Soil pH. Crop Rotation. Plant Health. Companion Planting. Irrigation. Manure Tea.Conditioning Seedlings To Outside Conditions. Re-Seeding. Back To Rabbits Text. The Big Question.Conclusion. Now, you know what to do. . . .Table- Companion Plant of Vegetables- excerpt.Table- Food Storage - Preservation. A Consensus of Advising Sources.Table- Comparison of Food Storage MethodsTable- Preferred Preservation Methods for a variety of foods.Table- Nutrient Stability In FoodsChapter 11. Rabbits As FoodOld Stories. Fats and Calories. Emergency Foods, Nutrition, and Eating.. Nutrition. Goals ForEmergency Eating. Diets. Calories and The Bodys Needs. What Is A Calorie? For When You NeedCalories. How does Rabbit meat compare with other meats ? Meat Food Values. Redeeming Features.To Cook and Enjoy Rabbit. How about braising? Maybe a Creole dish would better please you?What about Rabbit Cacciatore ? Additions. To Make Sausage. The Ground Meat. Smoking.Chapter 12. ConclusionIn The End. Other Animals. About Our Books. Upgrading Books. Our Own Books As References.The Economics Of PublishingSources and ReferencesRitchie Unlimited Publications Catalog 1.2
  8. 8. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 1 IntroductionIntroduction Today, a farmer feeds over 200 people. That is about to change, but first, what is different? One hundred years ago a farmer fed 8 people. The farmer had an extended family and they allworked the farm. Each member had tasks to perform. Timber went to a mill to become boards for aportion of the product. Grain was taken to a flour mill and milled for a portion of the grain; just abouteverything else was done by hand and the family survived. The amount of land and produce waslimited by this scheme. (ADM data ) Today, heavy machinery handles many times the productive acreage and the processing isdone for money. The money buys what the farmer needs for living. Refining the produce is done byanother company; the finished product is done by still another specialized company. Each step in theline is punctuated by specialized transportation, these are also specialized companies. Each companyperforms their task for money, and the money filters down to the individual who utilizes his share of themoney to continue living. The basic ingredient in this process is energy, either in the form of electricity or fuel oil, largeamounts of energy to drive the massive machinery, Take away the energy and the entire system disintegrates. We have the technology, or do we? Is there anyone around who can complete the entireprocess without energy? We must consider the population increase that has occurred in those 100 years. We needthose greater quantities of food. The conclusion is that we must find other ways of producing food. One of them is for individualfamilies to revert to producing their own food. This time, it will be tough, because most families do nothave acreage for farming. A suburban lot has limitations. For other reasons, we happen to have been producing a major portion of our food for aboutforty years. This book is our effort to share that experience with you. We make an effort to describethose things within our personal experience. The primary topic of this book is production of an independent meat supply. The second topic,and no less important, is sustainability: the ability to continue food production, season after season.Let us refer to earlier times: Crops had three purposes: first to provide food for the present, next to provide food for the off-season, and finally to provide seeds for future seasons. This entire process requires gardening,harvesting, preservation, and storage. None of these steps can be omitted or shorted. 1.1
  9. 9. Back Yard Rabbits – RitchieGardening To continue gardening, the nutrients in the soil must be replenished. That is where the rabbitscome in. Their fertilizer is as important as their meat is for food. The topic of sustainability cannot be contained in a single book. There are several facets:propagation, growing, harvesting, preserving, storage: each of these should be the topic of a book. Wewill endeavor to introduce them here, along with the independently, family produced meat . It would be wise to immediately marshal all of the agricultural academics and industrialspecialists in this country to SOLVE this problem while we still have some time before the oil crisispeaks. The consequences of NOT doing this would be utter chaos.About meat: This country consumes about 700 TONS of chicken a day; 84.1 pounds per person, per year. Beef: 67 -pounds per person, per year. Teen-age girls consume more beef than do teen-age boys. And they are both the largest consumers of beef , pre capita. Pork ranks third: 51 lbs/per capita. Turkey 17.7 lbs per capita. Fish 75 lbs per capita. Rabbit: 410 tons per year. 350 million divided into 410 X 2000 lbs. = .0024 lbs per capita. The other half of U.S. rabbit production, approx 400 tons, is exported. These figures do not likely include back yard chicken or rabbit production. In summary, per month: 7 pounds of chicken, 5 pounds of beef, 4 pounds of pork, 1.5 pounds of turkey, and about 6 pounds of fish- per capita. The rabbit consumption ( from this data ) amounts to two pounds per 1,000 people, divided by 12 months: basically negligible. USDA statisticsBack Yard Rabbits Growing at least part of your food may become a common thing. Meat is an important part ofmost of our diets. It is just that the present popular sources may become unaffordable or disappearaltogether, due to inflation or fuel scarcity. You may want to learn about alternative sources to beef andpork:. Rabbits are one possibility. Let’s compare the common meat sources: Beef cattle require about an acre of pasture per animal, unless they are fed completely onimported hay and grain in a small corral, commonly known as a feed lot. They take at least a year toraise to a practical size for butchering. That amounts to 1 acre of grassy pasture- plus grain, peranimal, per year for about 600 pounds of meat. The meat will require freezing or some other means ofpreservation. Chicken can be raised in compact production quarters, smaller than that required per rabbit.Some chicken ranches contain 1 million chickens at a given time. All of the information presented here was based upon personal experience with the NewZealand White rabbit breed and may not be representative of common practices, but they worked forme. This is a summary and any topic noted could easily become an entire book, or at least a chapterwithin a book. Let us begin: 1.2
  10. 10. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Rabbits require a cage less than 3 foot square; produce about 40, 4- pound offspring per yearand may be raised on what you can grow in the garden. Pellet feed is nice, but not an absoluterequirement. Local feed sources vary, according to what grows in any given area. In an agriculture paper originating in Singapore, I read that rabbits were raised on SwampCabbage. Further investigation revealed that Swamp Cabbage was a small variety of the palm treefamily. If you haven’t figured it out, one beef animal needs 1 acre/animal/per year/per 600 pounds ofmeat per year, plus refrigeration costs, plus supplement feed costs. Typically, a beef carcass, cut andwrapped for the freezer, weighs around 600 pounds. Refrigeration time extends over the time requiredto eat it. A Rabbit can produce 200 pounds of meat, per 9 square feet/ per year. They can be killed anddressed just prior to cooking and eliminate the need for refrigeration. We raised and sold about 250, 4 pound fryers ( 1,000 pounds live weight) per month from a1500 sq ft. rabbitry, for over ten years. Of course, we were buying 4,000 pounds of rabbit pellet feedper month, but we still made a profit. There were about 500 rabbits in there at any given time. Wecould sell or use about 3,000 pounds of fertilizer per month. So far as I know, rabbit fertilizer is the onlyanimal waste that can be applied directly to plants without composting. A good part of the fertilizer went into a methane generator for a short period of time. Thatproject was abandoned became of the three hours per day it took to keep it going- we did not have thetime. The super-rich outflow from the methane generator allowed us to produce 2 pound avocadosfrom our avocado orchard. We also fed the rabbits greens grown in our garden for the purpose. Every rabbit had freshgreens every day. We also stretched and dried rabbit pelts to sell, from the few that we kept for ourown consumption. We cooked fresh rabbit in any number of ways; made rabbit sausage; smoked rabbits; andbartered some rabbit meat for all manner of fish and sea food with local fishermen and divers.(including crabs, lobsters, abalone ) We lived about a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean. The rabbit business was terminated only because we sold the place and migrated 1200 milesnorth to Oregon. But that is another story. We sold the entire rabbit business to the Broker, and gavethe cages and plumbing to the local high school. Ten years later, here we are again, starting over with rabbits. This time we are living with a cityclose by and we will limit the rabbitry to two Does and a Buck. There are photographs and drawings toshow you what we have done and how we did it. 1.3
  11. 11. Rabbitry Location The green siding is the woodshed. The rabbitry is the brown part. It is chain link fencing withthe tubular inserts made for it. Access is through the woodshed, that is attached to the garage ( shop ). This provides security and privacy. My neighbors next door, didn’t know there were rabbits inthere until they asked about the fertilizer in our garden. Over all, it is 7 f.t wide and 17 ft. long. From the inside, the rabbits have plenty of air and light, plus protection from predators, bothtwo- and four legged. In winter, I cover the fencing with plastic sheeting and block the upper vents. All of the materials came from the local recycling yard. The cages were a gift from a friend whowas not using them any more. Back Yard Rabbits - Ritchie 3.
  12. 12. This litter is not quite big enough. The cage will get crowded.- Not all of them show. In the photo. Below: The top of this water bottle opens for filling without being removed. It is spendy, but saves a lot of time. Note the thermometer at cage height, and the sheet metal wall between cages. There is a new litter in the box, so keep quiet. The buck runs a lot and his hocks get raw. A board makes it easier on him than the wire. Note the urine rust stains from splatter. It’s not all urine.Fertilizer-worm bed.The dark brown is worm castings;the red-brown is urine.I try to mix dry pellets into the weturine to make it more acceptable forthe worms. If I watered the bed, theworms would be all over. Meat and Fertilizer Factory Back Yard Rabbits -- Ritchie 3.
  13. 13. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 2 BreedsKeep In Mind Most of the rabbit books and especially the ones for commercial breeders will not agree withmany of the things I describe. That’s their problem. I have had does last six or more years with a five-litter per year schedule. Those who advocate breeding more than five times per year are lucky to havea doe last two years. It costs time and space and money to raise a replacement doe up to breedingage- five months, minimum. Besides, you lose a friend. Having four or five litters a year is plenty of stress on a doe. During hot weather, we are likely toextend the mating interval so as not to have her birthing when it is really hot. Rabbits can stand cold weather, but a drafty place will do them in. Provide a windbreak or someother shelter. During an extreme cold spell, we will give all of them nest boxes, with hay or wood chips,so they have something to snuggle in for warmth and conserve their own body heat. No, you stillcannot put them in the same cage.Competition Rabbits After going to several rabbit shows, we concluded that the breeders’ specifications for prizewinning rabbits did not apply to production bunnies. Further conversations with other growers verifiedthis. None of our good producers would have even been admitted to a competition. Either you breedrabbits for food production or grow them for competition, but not both. Don’t expect the same quantityor quality of meat from rabbits bred as pets or for fur or whatever. Don’t expect meat-rabbit quality fromrabbits hunted in the wild. We do not recommend buying your rabbits at a rabbit show; find acommercial rabbitry. In hard times, cats have been known as long-tailed jack rabbits. Dogs are raised for meat insome parts of the world, too. Some dogs are called tough spring lambs.Breeding With five litters per year, I am convinced that any trait or characteristic can be enhanced or bredout of a herd. We have eliminated bad teeth, small litters, poor fur, even unfriendly behavior- all withtime and patience. If you mate a pair that produces unwanted features, don’t pair them again. If youare doing the backyard thing that is promoted here, you may have to go through a few new animals tofind the ones you like. If there is another way, I would like to hear about it. Getting your rabbits from a commercial rabbitry has some advantages, but even they don’tknow all about the rabbits they have. The more rabbits in a rabbitry, the less they know, and it does notall fit on a rabbit record card. Record cards may be purchased or copied from the Internet. Above all,keep a record card for each rabbit. They are usually attached to the front of a feeder box. After so many years, you will have to introduce outside stock into your rabbitry. Inbreeding isfraught with problems. Look in Chapter 4, About Rabbits for good characteristics defined. 2.1
  14. 14. Back Yard Rabbits – RitchieBreeding and Birthing Rabbits may be mated any time during the year, but if you choose to slack off, do it during thehot summer months or during the coldest months to reduce stressing the does and increase survivalamong the young. When a doe has just given birth, we feed them fresh greens, both as a reward andto bolster their well being.Nest Boxes A box, 12 X 18 inches, about 12 inches high is used for a nest box. We use perforated,pegboard “Masonite” - hardboard, for the bottom, to carry off some of the waste from the young. Besure the nest box will fit through the cage door. We cover the corners and board edges to preventchewing. We give the doe a nest on the 29th or 30th day after mating; earlier if she has begun to pullfur or scratch in a cage corner. If there is a hay manger, she will immediately begin gathering hay toput in the nest although we have provided a nice bed of wood chips and hay for her. If you missproviding a nest at the right time, she will try to provide enough fur on the cage floor to cover thebabies, or she will abandon them.Rabbit Mothers She is protective of the new litter, so be careful about probing around in the cloud of fur to countthe young. She may bite an unwary finger or scratch a hand. This is one reason why I try and pet eachrabbit daily. They are used to me. Her protection extends to abandoning young if she feels threatenedor even to eating them if she is really frightened. If one doe has a large litter and another doe is short, we will even the litters. A bit of talc onyour hand before petting the new mother, then making sure the talc is on the baby, will keep her fromrejecting a strange smelling baby. She will do the culling and will eat any dead babies or discard them on the cage wire; we thinkshe is a better judge of baby condition than we are. Some mothers can raise as many as 16 young, sogive her a chance. If the doe cannot consistently raise eight, she is the one to replace. Somecommercial rabbit breeders replace does after the second year, no matter what. We have hadproductive does for over six years. The more litters they have per year, the shorter their productivelives will be. Six litters per year is too many for the doe; eight litters per year is incredible. When she has fed them, she will jump out of the box, the tall sides help to keep the hangers-onin the nest. A shallow box does not keep the young in the nest. When the young are old enough toclimb out of the box, the nest may be removed. Then the doe is harassed all the time by hungrybabies, but she can handle it. A nest box, turned on its side will give her a respite from her hungrykids.(She will rest atop the box-out of reach by her young). When she is ready to feed, usually twice a day, they all get the message very fast. A veryyoung baby, who misses one meal is not likely to make it to the next feeding. A newborn baby who happens to hang on may be left on the cage wire floor. Without fur, theirsurvival is less than a half hour. We have warmed babies on a towel in an open oven or against ourbody, We have also resuscitated one that has stopped breathing by pressing on its chest with a thumb.When they are warmed or begin breathing, put them back into the nest. If they have been out for along spell, use the talc, just in case. Rabbits are a wonder. Imagine bringing that baby, weighing only a few ounces, to four poundsin only eight weeks. That says a lot for the quality of her milk for the short period she is feeding them.We have had a strain that raised their litters to selling weight in only six weeks, so don’t be surprised.2.2
  15. 15. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 3 EquipmentCages Two producing does, plus one buck, plus a holding cage and an additional cage for raising areplacement doe, comes to 5 cages. The cage size is optional: we use a cage that is 30 inches deepby 36 inches wide, by 18 inches high. The deep dimension is shallower so one can reach to the back ofthe cage. See the pages of drawings at the end of the chapter. The cages are all metal, held together with cage clips that are easily fastened with a special,plier-like tool. This cage size is big enough to allow a rabbit some exercise and also provide roomenough for a doe to raise her family of up to 12 offspring, for eight weeks. That is when the rabbitsreach four pounds and are ready for the freezer or for selling. Either 1" X 1", or 1" X 2" galvanized wire makes a cage, with 1" X ½" wire for the floor and withtwo inch high walls of this wire size around the bottom, called a “baby saver”. The finer mesh floor alsoreduces sore feet on the bunnies that result from sitting on coarser wire. Besides, small babies can fallthrough coarse wire. Cages are easy to make from the basic roll of cage wire and only require pliers, cutting shears,and the cage clip tool. The option to the cage clip tool is some 18 gauge, galvanized wire and a pair ofpliers. Each connection uses the wire that is twist-tied at every tie point. Or you can buy the cages.About Cage Wire Quality Cheap means that the wire likely does not have enough galvanize coating. Some wire sourcesuse the galvanizing to hold the wires together. The combination of these , features means that the wirein question will rust early on, and the wires will come apart. Woven wire is excellent, but it must begalvanized. A word about galvanizing: Wire mesh, either welded or woven, is passed through a bath ofmelted zinc. It clings to the wire according to the temperature of the bath and the speed of the wirepassing through the bath. If the bath is too hot or the wire is fed through too fast, the coating will beinadequate. The only way to determine whether the coating is right is to try and separate the wires. Orto examine a section and decide if you see enough coating. Wire that is not galvanized will not last long as cage wire and is a waste of money.. Weldedwire, ungalvanized, may work for fences ( although it will not last long there either ). When you look at the wire at the store, tug on a lose end ( You have brought pliers with you ) tosee if it separates from the wires it touches. Or roll out a length of the wire and inspect it for loosewires. Of course, if you find used cages, you should look them over and decide whether they will beworth your time and the time for future repairs.. 3.1
  16. 16. Cage Cleanup Wire cages are the easiest to clean and maintain. Here is what you must plan on doing:• Fur will combine with urine, usually in the corner the animal chooses, and the mass will hardenand clog the wire. Watch for this and clean as soon as the coating begins to show on the wire.• Fur will slough off the rabbits, especially during hot weather, and will collect on the cage wireand anything surrounding the cage. Urine will cement it onto the cage. Clean by brushing or by burningit off with a small, handheld torch. This is when you need that extra cage.• Anything the urine lands on will accumulate a hard coating. If cages are stacked, the runoffmetal or board between the cages will require frequent cleaning and use a lot of water for this task.• Outdoor cages will eventually rust. Wire brush the rust spots early and brush or spray an anti-rustpaint on them. Move the rabbit when you spray paint.• Rabbits will play and/or find something to chew on. If there is a loose wire or a poor joint, they will findit and make it worse. Provide a small can, such as those containing tuna ( make sure there are nosharp edges ) and place it in the cage. This will keep a rabbit from tearing up a feeder. A doe, recentlyfreed of her young, will especially need a play toy., such as the clean, tin can.• Plan on cleaning water bottles or plumbing especially during warm weather to prevent moldbuild up. Flush the plumbing with a weak bleach solution or wash the bottles with soap andwater at the beginning of the hot season. During hot weather, we flush the main pipe at least once aday for a few seconds. There is a valve at the far end of the manifold pipe. You may even adjust awaterer so it drips. This keeps fresher water available and the worms like the extra moisture, too.Cage Shelter You need to shelter the rabbits from direct sun and also from heat. They have a nice fur coatand can stand reasonable cold weather, but heat is hard on them. A wind break is important, too. Afenced enclosure keeps roaming predators away from the cages, which are suspended table-high foryour convenience. This makes fertilizer removal easier, too. The roof should be high enough for you totend them without having to bend over. Under a tree is cooler for the bunnies and that should beconsidered in cage placement.Worm Bed A 1 X 6-inch, board, box frame, with no bottom, under the cages, with a few worms planted in it,will soon become a worm farm. The worm casings are prized by plant people as an excellent plantermix. These beds also solve the fly problem, if there is one. The worm bed must be kept damp or the worms will migrate to damper areas.Stacking Cages Some people have tried to reduce the space by stacking the cages. Here are things toconsider. The tray under the upper cages must be washed daily or the urine will build up as a cement-like crust that can only be removed with a hammer and chisel. The tray must extend out beyond thelower cages so that the drip does not fall on the cage below. Pellets must be cleared daily to keep theupper cage clean. The lower cages must still be high enough to make manure removal from underthem easy. Stacking can be done, but if you have the space, avoid it. Stacking requires lots of cheap laborto be available for cleaning.3.2
  17. 17. Water Supply A doe, along with growing young, can empty a Liter-size, water bottle in half a day. Either havetwo water bottles on a cage or plan on plumbing. The water pressure must be reduced for the Dew-Drop waterers ( or by any other name) to about 5 or 10 psi. A toilet flush tank, mounted high in therabbitry will refill itself and provide the reduced pressure ( we did this for 500 rabbits. ). Use pipe-heating tapes and/or insulation if you have freezing weather. You may need animmersion heater in the tank. If it is really cold we drain the system and use bottles.Location Some local ordinances require the cages be so many feet from the house, others do not.Rabbits are quiet and neighbors usually do not object; some may not even know you have them,unless they are visible. A location that is visible from the house will save you many trips. Visits to a doe about to givebirth are frequent enough to justify being as close as possible..Manure Storage All the while manure is under the cages and part of the worm bed, the worms are converting itinto the ideal planting mix, so leave it there until it is time to feed or mulch the plants again. 3.3
  18. 18. A top door makes it easier for the handler to reach rabbits and to Door folds back clean or repair the cages. out of the way. Top Door ia wider than the hole for support 30” Back Yard Rabbits -- Ritchie The door hole is sized to Door hangs down accommodate nest boxes. 36” out of the way. 30” Cage Clips at corners and about six Side inches along edges. The floor is clipped Door every four inches. Feeder Hole The depth of the 16” cage makes it easier for the handler to reach “ note the back of the cage Side pieces of baby saver wire are clipped over the cage wire that extends down to the Baby Saver bottom floor. Be sure to leave enough space alongside Making a row of cages saves time the door for the feeder width. and materials. Cage Details3.
  19. 19. Clip Pliers With Clip In Place - Basic Cage Tools At this point, the hook part of the clip is placed over the two wires about to be joined. Then asqueeze and its over. The clip can be placed so that it goes over or under the wires. The clips andpliers are a minor investment that will save you a lot of time. The alternative is to grasp each wire end with pliers and wrap it around the second wire. Itworks, and with practice, you can get good at it. You need a way to fasten cage wire and a way to remove the fasteners. The blunt point s anold screwdriver, ground down. The point is driven into the end of a clip to remove it. Simple, buteffective. There are some special tools. Back Yard Rabbits - Ritchie 3.
  20. 20. Cage repair often requires clip removal. What went on easily resists removal. The blunt point may be hammered into the closed clip to spread it. A pair of long nose pliers can be modified to do the job. Heat the tips enough to bend them with a hammer, blacksmith-style, and form them to slip inside a closed clip. Touch up the ends with a file. So far as I know, no one sells such a tool. Other views of the same tool. One need not be limited justbecause a tool is not in a catalog. The square metal tubing extends the handles to give the user enough power to force the clip open. Clip Removal Tool Back Yard Rabbits -- Ritchie 3.-
  21. 21. These are the tools you will need for metal working, whether cage wire or sheet metal. The Side Cutters ( blue handles) and the electrician’s pliers come from another set. Side cutters can be used to cut cage wire, one wire at a time. The scribe, combination square, and dividers are common. Compound metal shears will cut both cage wire and sheet metal with a lot less effort than regular tin snips. Cutters, Pliers, Layout Tools, Compound Metal Shears With clips every six inchesalong cage corners, and four inchspacing around floors, get a large bagof cage clips. A pair of cage clip pliers areusually available wherever the clipsare found. I ground down an oldscrewdriver to a blunt point for use asa clip opening tool. These are the onlyspecial tools you need for cagebuilding and repair. It is possible to bend the cagewire ends around an adjacent part ofthe cage and not use the clips, but thecage clips are MUCH easier. Blunt Point, Clips, Clip Pliers Basic Tools For Cage Work Back Yard Rabbits - Ritchie 3.
  22. 22. Weatherproof roof with overhang Suspending Wires are on all sides. cross-braced to prevent swaying. Cages are suspended to deny access by creeping and crawling things. Three- or five cages wide, Back Yard Rabbits -- Ritchie or two rows back to back with plumbing in between. Wooden Posts or pipes Windbreak walls Worm Box as required. Vertical suspension on all cages Diagonals on end cages. Size wires to support a maximum of 50 pounds per cage. Roof overhang to shelter handler 3’ Cage height 3’ Cage Shelter3.
  23. 23. The tank empties and refills, keeping the water fresh H* “H” : Tank height above water pipe governs the pressure Immersion Heater Toilet Water Tank may be placed in A minimum of six feet is necessary.. With float vslve the tank Water Supply Drain valve Pipe may be wrapped with a heater wire and then insulated. Option Waterers Insert into SupplyBack Yard Rabbits -- Ritchie End of last cage The cages Low pressure To ground to cages Pressure Regulator The watering valve is opened when the animal touches it with its tongue or teeth. It is sensitive and requires a low pressure water line or it will leak. These valves go by “Lix-It”, ot toggle valve, or any other name. Locate 4” from cage floor Plumbing Layout 3.
  24. 24. Cage The manger is accessible Wire through the cage wire Al lips are 3/4” * note A D C Bend Lips IN on one E side. Out on the B is 1/8” or finer other side E screen to get rid B Back Yard Rabbits -- Ritchie of pellet dust. A B See Text note. Use sheet metal screws or POP rivets. Both require drilling holes. Be generous with the fasteners, C Width and Height of Fabricate a cover if birds or The feeder determines moisture are a problem the capacity. Make larger feeders for the Does. D Nominal 8” high 12” wide * note: This lip is 1/4”. It keeps bunnies from scraping the feed out of the tray. Sheet metal gauge is 22 to 28 ga., Whatever is available3. Pellet Feeder Details
  25. 25. The basic tools do not change. The scribe, square, and shears are used most for feeder construction. The sheet metal may be used duct, or vent pipe, or even the sheet metal covering found on water heaters. Below: The wide-billed pliers makes bending easier. A hole punch is also faster than drilling each hole. Finally, Pop Rivets do an easier job of fastening, than do sheet metal screws. The can faster pieces when a sheet metal cannot.Learn to make feedersand you have anotheritem to BARTER, Just to be fancy, here is a hydraulic pop rivet gun. Not necessary, but nice to dream about. If these tools are new to you, make a small box and learn to lay out sheet metal and cut it. You can always practice with scissors and a piece of cardboard, before you try sheet steel. Make several if need be, to gain the skill you need to make the feeders. Once you make a feeder, you will never be happy with the store- bought ones. Basic To Making Feeders Back Yard Rabbits -- Ritchie 3.-
  26. 26. Can’t weld ? BARTER the job.Bending Sheet Metal For Feeders- Beyond Pliers 3.- Back Yard Rabbits - Ritchie
  27. 27. Cage MaintenanceThe primary tool for cage maintenance is a torch that is used to burn off the loose fur that clings toeverything. Next would be a wire brush to scrub away the combination of dried urine and fur. It is much easier to keep at it than to put off the cleaning job until it becomes a major task. Those who elect to stack cages will have the additional task of washing down the tray thatcatches all this stuff every day.. It is much easier to let the worms clean up the mess under the cages. The torch shown ihas an automatic ignition button, and that saves gas because it is so easy toshut off and relight, Any other torch would do. Now is the time you discover why I specified an extra cage. You must move a rabbit out of itscage while you clean it, especially while you burn away the loose fur. 3. Back Yard Rabbits - Ritchie
  28. 28. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 4 About RabbitsBehavior Animals are very conservative. They like the status quo. Anything that is new orchanges is resisted; in rabbits Panic is the reaction. Their expression is a singular beating of theground by their hind legs. This is a trait from their wild ancestors. A thump on the ground is transmittedto all rabbits and puts them on alert to a new situation. In a cage, it respresents the same thing.A Story One day, my wife, Fern, grabbed my coat early in the morning to go check the rabbitry. As sheentered the rabbitry, it sounded like thunder as 500 rabbits thumped. She came back in, found her owncoat, and everything was peaceful when she again entered the rabbitry. Rabbits will often thump a visitor or anything unusual around the rabbitry. A doe with a new litterwill thump just about anything. Panic. Is a stage beyond thumping. In this case, they will freeze and stare wide-eyed at thecause of their panic. Intelligence is inherent in any animal, Chickens are considered dumb because of their reactionto a new situation or event. Sheep are next. They both follow the flock- blindly. The description ofsheep often includes the situation where an entire flock follows the leaders over a cliff. Maybe it didhappen once, somewhere.Care and Handling The trick is to condition your animals to whatever you have to do with them. I make it a practice to pet each animal every day, so when I must, they are accustomed to mytouch. In a case where I carry a doe to a buck’s cage and then back again, she will shy away from mytouch. The Same goes for treating with ear mites with a drop of mineral oil. They HATE having oilsquirted into their ears and it will take several days for them to forgive me. I leave the cart in the rabbitry for a while before I shovel manure so they are not alarmed by itspresence. They always thump my shoveling under their cages.A Story I did not like hiking all the way to the end of the pasture to round up the animals and get themback to the barn and corral. When I fed them each day, grain and alfalfa, I stood in front of the mangerand waved my arm over my head. In a week’s time, they would head for the barn whenever I waved atthem. Of course, to the neighbors the sight of Ritchie, standing behind the barn, waving his arm overhis head for no apparent reason, signified that I had truly lost ( the rest of) my marbles. I had to do thiswaving bit until one of the herd saw me, then they would all start home. It worked for the goats, too, butthe sheep never caught on. They just followed the rest. 4.1
  29. 29. Back Yard Rabbits – RitchieRabbit Social Behavior Rabbits are territorial. Once a doe claims a cage as her domain, she will fight any other rabbitsthat are placed in her cage. To mate them, introduce the doe to the buck’s cage. He will become soexcited that mating is over in one or two minutes, or less. You may want to restrain the doe by holdingher head into a corner so she cannot run around. He will mount her and 10 to 20 seconds later fallover, having done his job. Then take the doe back to her cage. About eight weeks, the litter will become adolescents and soon, young bucks will try toemasculate their competition. Does will fight as the cage is claimed by the dominant doe. The evidenceis obvious: tufts of fur within and under the cage or evidence of blood around and under the buck’s hindquarters. If you must keep them beyond this stage, they must all have separate cages. The time to dothem in is when it is time to remove them from their mother’s cage, or shortly thereafter. This is a breed selection criterion. The young should reach the accepted, four-pound fryer sagebefore they are adolescents. Obviously, the larger breeds are the ones who do this. A buck in a cage next to a doe will irritate her and excite the buck. Placing a non-chewable,opaque wall, a piece of tin or hardboard, between them is necessary. If a doe is upset when she hassmall babies she will either abandon her litter or eat them. A possum or racoon or a cat, roaming on top of the cages, will really upset a rabbit. All themore reason for a fence around the cages. We have had a fox reach through the wire of chicken cages and chew off the birds’ legs fromunderneath, but the fine mesh wire on a rabbit cage prevents this, especially if the cage is big enoughthat the rabbit can get far enough away from the sides of the cage. Our buck is spoiled. He expects to be petted when he is fed or he will sulk in a corner. so wepet him. I mention this because I have seen people who were cautious about even entering a buck’scage. I also pet him after a mating to calm him down.Toys Rabbits need things to do. A doe, suddenly alone when her kids have been removed, wantssomething to do. She will try to chew up her feeder if nothing else. We use a shallow can, like tunacomes in- as a toy, or something like a chain hanging from the cage top, that she can tug on. She willplay with a tuna can for hours. A buck likes toys too, but they like to race around their cage in short bursts to expend energy.Ours looks to see if we are watching and do it again.Birthing Rabbits Birthing is a time for praise for the doe and a green leaf reward. I did not try petting her at thistime; that would be asking too much. If you got there just after it happened, while she was cleaning up,you can praise her, but she will ignore your presence until she has finished cleaning. I will try countingthe young while she feasts on her reward. If the babies happen to be born on the wire, I will scoopthem up and into the nest as quickly as possible, picking up as much of the tufts of fur as I can to coverthem. She is still nervous, but busy with her fresh leaf. We give the doe a nest on the 29th or 30th day after mating; earlier if she has begun to pull furor scratch in a cage corner. If there is a hay manger, she will immediately begin gathering hay to put inthe nest although we have provided a nice bed of wood chips and hay for her. If you miss providing anest at the right time, she will try to provide enough fur on the cage floor to cover the babies, or she willabandon them.4.2
  30. 30. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie She is protective of the new litter, so be careful about probing around in the cloud of fur to countthe young. She may bite an unwary finger or scratch a hand. This is one reason why I try and pet eachrabbit daily. They are used to me. Her protection extends to abandoning young if she feels threatened,or even to eating them if she is really frightened.To Transfer Young If one doe has a large litter and another doe is short, we will even the litters. A bit of talc onyour hand before petting the new mother, then making sure the talc is on the baby, will keep her fromrejecting a strange smelling baby. She will do the culling and will eat any dead babies or discard them on the cage wire; we thinkshe is a better judge of baby condition than we are. Some mothers can raise as many as 16 young, sogive her a chance. If the doe cannot consistently raise eight, she is the one to replace. Some commercial rabbitbreeders replace does after the second year, no matter what. We have had productive does for oversix years. The more litters they have per year, the shorter their productive lives will be. Six litters peryear is too many for the doe. The strong, hot winds that blow off the desert toward the Coast in Southern California may lastfor days and everything cooks in the intense, dry heat, One morning it was over 100*F at 8:00 AM inthe rabbitry. We spent the day going up and down the aisles, hosing down the overheated rabbits. Notime for spraying, just poor the water on them. We lost about 200 rabbits that day. Previously, we were breeding a strain that would raise 16young in a litter and get them to four pounds in eight weeks. They were stressed, but we werebreeding the strongest ones in hopes of strengthening the good features. All of this strain died from the heat.A Nest Box With High Sides When she has fed them, she will jump out of the box, the tall sides help to keep the hangers-onin the nest. A shallow box does not keep the young in the nest. When the young are old enough toclimb out of the box, the nest may be removed. Then the doe is harassed all the time by hungrybabies, but she can handle it. A nest box, turned on its side will give her a respite from her hungry kids, because on top of thebox, she is out of reach of her young, always hungry babies. When she is ready to feed, usually twice a day, they all get the message very fast. A veryyoung baby, who misses one meal is not likely to make it to the next feeding.Babies Out Of The Nest A newborn baby who happens to hang on may be left on the cage wire floor. Without fur, theirsurvival is less than a half hour in cool or cold weather. We have warmed babies on a towel in an openoven or against our body, We have also resuscitated one that has stopped breathing by pressing on itschest with a thumb. When they are warmed or begin breathing, put them back into the nest. If theyhave been out for a long spell, use the talc, just in case.Handling rabbits. A rabbit, born in a cage, knows no other life and they panic outside the cage. To carry a rabbit,tuck their head under your upper arm- close to the body, and cradle it on your forearm. As long as theycan’t see what is around them, they are calm. Use the free hand to stroke them, and say nice things tothem. Be ready to let go in a hurry-into a cage; they will kick and scratch in panic. 4.3
  31. 31. Back Yard Rabbits – RitchieRabbit Handling A small, young rabbit may be handled by grasping them around the body just before the hindlegs, This is the way to dump them into an empty feed sack for transfer to another cage or for weighingthem- singly or in groups. Ideally, someone else should hold the bag open. Do not pick them up by the ears. Try not to pick up an adult ( NZ’s weigh 12 to 16 pounds) bythe scruff of the neck, unless it is to immediately cradle them as described above. Any other way willearn scratches. You will learn to wear long sleeves. A cage provides nothing to wear down their claws.Pet Rabbits Rabbits make nice house pets. They can be trained to use a litter box. The Library kept a bunnyin the children’s room- the kids loved the bunny almost as much as the bunny loved the attention.These are not raised for eating- which is the hangup many folks have about rabbits as food, “I couldnever eat that nice bunny.” Tell them to think of a chicken with two extra, free, drumsticks, or becomevegetarians if rabbit is the only meat in town. I try to pet each rabbit daily when I feed them, even if it is no more than running my hand downtheir backs.. It makes them easier to handle when you need to. After mating, a doe will not let you getclose for a while. The breeding herd becomes family after a while and we give them names. Talking tothem helps to calm them; after you have fed them for a while, your visits are welcomed.Names We never name those who will become meat, but we give them loving care as long as we havethem. Little bunnies are active and inquisitive and are fun to watch. We do not handle them or petthem. It’s hard enough to kill any animal without doing in a named bunny. Names can also have a functional purpose. One original doe was named Alice. All of heroffspring that we kept ( we were expanding the herd ) had names starting with “AL”. Those from Annieall had names beginning with “AN”. Many breeders do this with a numbering system, but names aremuch easier to remember. You will not have this problem with three rabbits, but I threw it in anyway.Observation You can learn a lot about your rabbits if you observe their activity from a slightly remotelocation. They are individuals and no two behave exactly the same. You may as well enjoy them whileyou have them.4.4
  32. 32. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 5 HealthBasic Rule Whatever you raise is best kept by adequate feeding and watering and best possibleenvironment so that the plant and animal can grow rapidly and without stress of any kind. A healthy,vigorous plant or animal is least susceptible to disease or pests. Any interruption or stress encounteredby the living thing reduces its chances of perfection and increases its chances of pest infestation ordisease.. You must learn what the perfect conditions are for your plants and animals to have the greatestyield and greatest chances of not having disease or pest problems. Before chemical insecticides and pesticides, there were natural remedies. Learn about them.A Story I always had a dog as long as I lived at home. I was taught that things happened to pets andyou got over it. Since this was a big city, the most obvious danger was being hit by a car. One of myfirst goals was to minimize this hazard by teaching our dog never to go into the street. Since we livedon a busy corner, this was a primary consideration. If Bruno saw another dog, across the street, hewould lay at the curb and whine for a visit, but he did not set foot on the paving. My mother added onions and garlic to his food to keep him free of fleas; fed him a tiny bit ofsnuff yearly to keep him worm-free, and some beef or bacon fat added to his food to keep his coatshiny. If he got the runs or evidence of any upset he got the same spoonful of castor oil that any of theothers in her house would receive. Nobody disobeyed my mother, even the dog. You have never seenanything if you haven’t seen a dog take castor oil- to the last drop. There is always room for another dog story- even in a book on rabbits. During the war, mymother decided that we should all become vegetarians, even the dog. She would put down a bowl ofvegetable greens for the dog, It was flavored with meat broth, derived from the second boiling of soupbones, but Bruno would stand before the bowl and growl, until Mom said “Shut up and eat it.”. Hecouldn’t go for a walk after dinner and have a hamburger, like some of us did. That lasted almost ayear.Rabbit Health Problems Those nice, long ears shelter mites and cause great agitation for the rabbit. A drop of mineraloil placed in the ear will eliminate the problem. Our rabbits, knowing how we treat ear mites, will usuallyretreat to the most remote point in the cage when we are near, if they have mites. That is the earliestindication of a problem. It is time to look them over. A dirty tail indicates a diet upset. This may be caused by introducing too much of a new food, orspoiled food, or the wrong kind of food. The easiest remedy is hay, especially the stems. It is a goodpractice to incorporate a hay manger in each rabbit’s cage as a regular feed supplement. I always puthay into a nest box as part of the nest material, so the little ones learn early. We lost about 100 rabbits from a new load of pellets. The pellets were not dried sufficientlywhen produced and they soured. I exposed the pellets to an ultraviolet light and the mold fluoresced a 5.1
  33. 33. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchiebright blue-green color. When they were presented with this evidence, the Feed Co-op cleaned out ourtank and reloaded it with good feed. I used the bad pellets as pig feed. Pigs can eat anything. After thatwe chewed a couple of pellets from each new load. We were getting ground-up carrots from a Juice Bar. The rabbits love this, but they would eattoo much and get runny and die. We gave up this treat. There are lists of things that are harmful forrabbit feeding. We have found that non-green foods seem to cause diet problems, like squash, carrots,radishes. They can eat these, but only in very small amounts.. The only problem we have had exclusively feeding rabbits the greens we raise is that it isdifficult to provide adequate protein in their diet. To compensate, we include a commercial pellet feedfor them. They will always go for the fresh food first. We do not limit food; our rabbits always have feedavailable. The buck runs around the cage for exercise. Having four or five litters a year is not fattening, the does need all the nutrition they can get. A rabbit may have bad teeth. The front teeth will grow excessively and curve back into thegums. They can be nipped off with wire cutters. Better is to breed out the offending strain. Another problem is a fuzzy fur. It is usually not salable as a pelt. These, and other unwantedtraits, can be eliminated by using the faulty rabbits for meat and not keeping them for breeding. To maintain a healthy herd, one occasionally buys a rabbit from another herd. This is also thecommon way to bring in problems. When buying a rabbit, check the hind quarters for stains, the teeth,the satin-like feel of good fur, the ears, and the eyes. Also run your hand down along the body to see ifit is bloated. Check the back legs for raw spots from cage wire irritation, called “weak hocks.”Medications The only medications I allow are those that have been incorporated into rabbit pellets, simplybecause I have no way to exclude them. The best medication I recommend for upset rabbits is fresh greens, not of the Cole family(create gas ). Next is mineral oil, especially for ear mites, a common rabbit problem. Their digestivesystem is delicate and they react to diet changes, even to a source change of rabbit pellets. A sickly strain of rabbits will often eliminate themselves - according to Darwin. If you are into pills and store-bought medications, please follow your inclinations- it is just notmy way. We don’t even use aspirin in our house. If you have an ache or pain, eliminate the problem,don’t hide it.5.2
  34. 34. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 6 Animal DisposalPigs For Animal Disposal We raised a pig each year for garden waste and dead rabbit disposal, but with five hundred,you have dead rabbits from natural causes, no matter what. The omnivore pig will eat anything. Most commercial rabbitries keep pigs for this purpose, as do large scale chicken ranches. In some countries, a herd of pigs will be driven into a village after an epidemic to consume thedead. What do they do with the pigs?Dogs Dogs can eat rabbit meat as a main source of food, second only to door to door salespeople, Adog has unique enzymes in their saliva that enables them to eat the entire animal. Additional protectionis provided with a short intestinal tract that allows faster elimination and reduces the chances ofdisease growth within the animal. Look this up for further study if this is an option for your situation. The salesperson bit above is a piece of humor stemming from the occasional sign, “Our watchdog will be right with you- as soon as he finishes his lunch of the last salesperson”.Options The option I have heard of is a pond stocked with pirana fish. A pig farm used this method toget rid of dead pigs. There are strict rules about this. Snails are a bad enough import, but to haveomnivore fish running wild in our streams is beyond comprehension. A few dead, or the innards of those you clean, can go into the garbage, but if your herd getsany larger, you will learn about an on-going lime pit with a removable cover. Public Health departmentshave rules about this. Assuming you get serious about raising rabbits, and a pit is acceptable in your area, when youdig it, it must be lined or it will surely cave in with the first rains. One way to do this is to hire a cesspool outfit to bore the hole and insert the lining. Hauling off animals as garbage is a costly proposition, and you can only bury so many garbagebags, if the bags continue to exist in the wake of Peak Oil.. If you consider grinding up remains and running them into the public sewer, abandon the idea.Besides, the Public Health people would have purple fits at the very thought, and the word would getout, sooner or later.Cautions If you have a well for your water supply, it would be best to consider any other option to a limepit. At least, if you must do it this way, site the pit as far away from the well as possible, on the down-hill direction from the well. Animal remains should be treated with lime if they cannot be disposed of immediately. You donot want to deal with maggots and flies, and ants, if you can possibly avoid them. 6.1
  35. 35. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 7 Rabbit FeedFeed and Feeding You will read in some literature from feed suppliers and in other books that your rabbits shouldbe feed an amount of feed based upon their weight; that they should be fed the same time every day.That their diet should be balanced as only a pellet feed could supply. A doe is either getting ready to give birth or she is making milk for a hungry bunch of young.On a five litter per year schedule, she does not have time to grow fat, As you run your hand down herback, you will feel skin and bones. The same is true of all milking animals. A milking cow looks like abone frame with skin draped over it. So it is with rabbits, but the fur makes them look otherwise. We try always to have some kind of feed before the animals at all times. Since pelleted feed islargely made up of alfalfa, this feed is a good at-hand feed type. The problem is that it may not beavailable or become too expensive. Besides, buying rabbit pellets defeats our goal of a sustainablegarden.About Rabbit Pellets The reason for growing your own meat supply is the limitations placed on the usual sources ofmeat from commercial sources by Peak Oil, or a shortage of money brought on by job loss or inflation.Let’s consider for a moment that your pellet supply is not cut off. We kept a goat for dairy products; the goats love alfalfa leaves and ignore the stems. Rabbitsdo just the opposite: they discard the leafy part and eat the stems. We fed the alfalfa to the goats,scooped up the stems for the rabbits. A second feed partnership was to pass the rabbit pellets over a screen and collect the dust. Weusually had all or part of a fifty-gallon barrel of pellet dust. Both the chickens and geese were fed thisdust. I even mixed a slurry of dust and water for pig feed when it got to be too much for the birds. Of course, we were getting four thousand pounds of pellets each month. There is no way ofavoiding dust in pellets. In shipping and handling whether it has been bagged or is obtained in bulk,dust will rub off from the friction. A bag of pellets will produce dust in proportion to the amount androughness of handling each bag experiences. This dust will tend to clog the screen in the feeders as it accumulates. If it is not cleaned away,it will block the flow of pellets altogether. If you have worm beds under the cages, the dust is not lost; worms will eat it.High Grade Pellets There is a special grade of pellets containing 18 percent protein for lactating does. We nevertried having special feed for does and the regular, 16 percent protein feed for the rest. Neither did anyof the other commercial growers I knew.Feed Options In the absence, or scarcity, or unaffordable availability of pellet feed, Hay is a good substitute,hence, our feeder design includes a manger. Hay, if available, is kept available in the manger for all 7.1
  36. 36. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchierabbits. It is part of their digestive process.No Hay ? During the spring when grass, a.k.a. weeds, is growing luxuriously with increasing warmth andrains. Weeds grow well and are nutritious. Harvest this growth and dry it and store it for later use. Youcan never have too much. During this growing season, the weeds will come before your other plantsbegin to produce after winter and the rabbits will always eat this fresh, green stuff. If you can get hay through barter or other arrangements, by all means, keep hay on hand.Single family lots hardly have enough space for a hay field. During WWII, when the terrain dictated the use of mules and donkeys as the hauling means, atrailer, equipped with trays and a transparent roof, would be used to grow hay hydroponically.Hydroponics can produce as much as forty times the crop as would a plain growing plot of land.- ofequal area. Growing hay could become a community project, if everyone needed feed for animals.Winter Feeds We try to grow vegetables that are hardy enough to continue through the winter with minimumshelter. Swiss chard is a good option. And additional plus is that they don’t seem to harbor aphids asdo the cole family. New Zealand spinach is another winter-hardy green plant. Sweet potato greens are another. They are not related to white potatoes and their greens arehealthy enough. As a kid, one of our first growing plants was a sweet potato, supported on tooth picks and halfimmersed in a jar of water. We watched the roots and vines flourish on the widow sill. Collards are a good source of greens and they are cold hardy. They must be fed sparingly astoo many produce digestive upsets in rabbits. Too much lettuce can also produce gasses. A tray of grain seed sprouts can be harvested for the rabbits, too. Harvest after they havegrown enough to begin showing green leaves. A tray of dandelions are also another source of greens, and they certainly aren’t hard to grow.Obtain seeds from the white puff balls out in your garden during the rest of the year. I have read that Basil from the herb garden is also a rabbit treat, but I have never tried it. Sunflower leaves go well for rabbit greens although I do not have any information on theirnutritional value.Fresh Feed Everything on the winter list works during the regular season, too. Although I find it a little hardto accept growing dandelions when they volunteer so well. Still, if you are short on greens....Treats- Rabbit Candy Raspberry canes and leaves are more important than the berries are for us, seeing as how wellthe rabbits like them.7.2
  37. 37. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie We still choose to give a does a large green leaf after she has given birth to a litter.Introducing a New Feed One of the things we learned from feeding geese was that you made sure that the young hadtasted all of the things in the yard that they were supposed to eat. (The geese roamed free as watch-geese.) That way we didn’t have to have a goose-proof fence around the garden. We had the originalpair of geese for 28 years. If they tasted a green that wasn’t in their memory, they left it alone. Well, almost. One day our senior goose bit into a strawberry and soon we had to fence theberries to have any. Fern went into the yard with a dress print with a strawberry pattern and the goosetried to eat the berries from her dress. Any way, we try to feed the young bunnies chopped-up weeds, grass, or greens that we maywant to feed them later. If they had tasted the weed as a baby, they would eat it later withouthesitation. In order to switch pellet brands, or go to a new supplier, mix the old and new pellets together,with a gradual increase of the new ones. It will not upset the rabbits this way.Balancing A Diet of Greens The rabbits would just as soon eat the same greens all the time. Our garden is planned morefor garden survival, so it has variety, so they get a variety of greens. A list is provided elsewhere thatshows vegetables ordered by decreasing protein content. This gives you some selection of what toplant in your garden as rabbit feed.Hay Manger We always try to have a manger-full of hay or alfalfa available to the rabbits. The feeder shownin the drawings had a built-in manger for hay. Its main benefit is that much of what would usually passthrough a cage floor and down onto the earth is kept available to the rabbits.Perennials We try to grow greens that are perennial so that we have some greens all the time: Swiss Chard New Zealand Spinach Collards These are all winter hardy and the Swiss Chard will provide greens even when it snows. Generally, we avoid feeding greens, especially weeds, that have milky liquid within, such as lettuce. In addition we will provide hay or alfalfa as long as it is available and Timothy grass that hasbeen harvested and dried. We have also cut and dried grassy weeds for winter feed.Feed For Babies We add hay and the leafy part of the alfalfa to the wood chips we place in a new nest box. Ofcourse, mother rabbit does this also when she is close to birthing and she begins to collect anythingsuch as straw to carry into the nest when she starts working in the nest box, before she begins pullingfur off of her body for the nest. She will especially pull fur from around her teats. The finely chopped greens are added to the nest when the young are old enough to begincrawling around in the nest. Soon enough, they will begin sampling anything edible that they find. Thisis when we begin adding samples of all the greens we may feed them later, including weeds. 7.3
  38. 38. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie When they are lively, but still too young to climb out of the high-walled nest, we toss in a young,tender leaf when we are feeding all the rabbits. We have never experienced bad effects from thispractice. When they can climb from the nest box, we place a two-inch thick, piece of wood under thefeeder tray. They can climb up on this board to reach the feed. If you do not do this, they will climb upinto the feeder tray and eat anyway. You can tell they have started climbing into the feeder by thepresence of those little, dark balls that show up amongst the feed pellets.The Sustainable Garden It is debatable as to which comes first: Ether the rabbits are making fertilizer for the garden sothat the garden can make more rabbit feed, or the reverse. It is a partnership that requires a mutualcontribution for both in order to survive. I have not found data on how much the volume of fertilizer, say, from chickens, diminishesduring the time required for composting. This would have a great influence on whether a sustainablegarden can be achieved with chickens, alone. The fact that rabbit fertilizer does not require composting eliminates consideration of loss due tocomposting.7.4
  39. 39. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 8 MarketingRabbits To Eat of Barter? If, as we anticipate, what with the economy plus Peak Oil influence, the meat you grow maybecome your only meat supply, marketing may be a negligible problem. Unless there are some thingsyou need more than meat. At that point, rabbits become barter goods. If you expect to barter them, begin early to develop a market for your supply. You cannot waituntil they reach their weight. Everything, selling or butchering, must happen THEN. Be ready toprocess them at the time, not hold them while you get around to it. Besides, you don’t have enoughcages to delay what you must do. One litter equals eight rabbits; held over, that means eight cages. Barter live or as cut-up meat. See the caution, below. The real advantage to selling liverabbits, and chickens too, is that refrigeration is not needed when the animal is killed and cleaned justbefore cookingA Story When I was a kid, we would stop at the Butcher Shop for a chicken. At the back door, outsidewere cages. Mom would pick out the chicken, either to carry home in a bag or to have the butcherclean and de-feather it, right then. I used to watch the speed and ease with which the butcher did theentire task in a few minutes.Live Sales Live sales - minimal refrigeration, no preparation or butchering costs. They aren’t likely to spoilon the way to the purchaser’s home. In earlier times, there was a cage for the chicken on the backporch to keep it until just before the meal preparation.BY-Products ( also provided elsewhere in the book ) Ears as pet reward / treats. They are dried and seasoned. Feet as good luck, key chain charms. They are dried and capped to fit on a key chain. Worms and worm castings for gardeners and fishermen. Fertilizer for your own garden, then barter the excess, if any. Pelts. Either go into tanning yourself, or sell them to a taxidermist who tans them. In either case, the pelts are stretched to dry when they are removed.CAUTION about selling any food stuff: If you advertize meat for human consumption, you are exposing yourself to any number ofgovernment public health restrictions or personal lawsuits, if anyone gets sick and can blame it on yourrabbits. 8.1
  40. 40. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Either sell them as meat, for whatever purpose the buyer intends to use them, or make specialnote that they are primarily for use as pet food or for pets, whatever. It is best to have a Lawyer draw up a disclaimer that every customer signs– and you keep filed. The best test is to be consuming them yourself as proof of their quality.Marketing OptionA Story After we were recognized as a commercial rabbitry, we were classed as having “select” rabbits.That is: nearly perfect, without blemishes, healthy- disease free, and white ( a requirement becauseanything negative shows up easily on white rabbits), we could sell them as lab rabbits. Let me say, at the beginning, all medicines, makeup, soaps- anything that is placed in thehuman body, are first tested for allergenic reactions on a live rabbit. So, ladies, if you wear lipstick orshampoo your hair, the rabbit got it first. Not just once, but every production batch. Then, there are allthe medical students who learn from using live rabbits. In high school, it was frogs. Why would I, or any grower do this? They sell at three to five times the price of meatrabbits. The Broker, who bought our product, also supplied pigs or any other “select” animals tomedical schools. They could specify sex, age, even a pregnant sow, and he would supply the animal. This was when you declared your rabbitry off limits to visitors, so that nothing could be carriedinto the rabbitry by guests. We kept the doors locked at all times. I even challenged the visits of ourBroker and he chose to stop at our place first on his collection route. There was a time when pregnancy tests for women involved “sacrificing” a rabbit for the test.One test, one rabbit. You do not need to worry about this, Your location must be in proximity to cosmeticmanufacturers and university medical schools in the first place. The second consideration is that whatever you sell changes ownership and control the instantyou take the money and wave goodbye. The only control you have over a buyer is not to sell tothem: if the thought of one of your bunnies being stalked and swallowed whole by a snake, don’t sell topeople who have snakes. Why do you think that rabbits can naturally have offspring so frequently? They are a commonfood source for many animals higher on the food chain.Pet Stores One place to get rid of your rabbits are Pet Stores. They are always searching for a new feedsource. In earlier times when I was a student at the University in Santa Barbara, The town’s populationwas mostly wealthy people and those who worked for them. The student population multiplied with theG.I. Bill, after WWII. There was a pet store that had a meat counter filled with horse meat for thosewho wanted fresh meat for their pets. The student population bought meat there, too. We married students got $105.00 per month to live on. Horse meat was a survival factor, alongwith a part-time job.8.2
  41. 41. Back Yard Rabbits – RitchieThe IRS If you have read our Barter Handbook, you already know that Uncle Sugar treats every barterlike a CASH SALE. There is a place to report barters and exchanges on Form 1040. You mustreport barters and pay income taxes on them, according to Law. But what about the costs of producingthose rabbits, and your capital investment in cages, etc. ? They can only be deducted in the year theyoccur. That means that your costs will be heavy that first year, even if you do not do any bartering. Ifyou do not wish to do this, those expenses are lost forever- you cannot go back, unless you choose tofile an amended return for a previous year. The plus side is that new businesses rarely make a profiton start up.Rabbits Are A Business Treat your rabbits as a business and keep a journal of expenses and any income from rabbitsor fertilizer. Keep all receipts as part of the paper trail. Oh, dead rabbits are a business loss. Rabbitrecord cards become part of your paper trail. Fortunately, the meat you eat is not taxable- yet. If your family is large enough that you can eat all of the meat produced, should you forget aboutthis? It may be that you need something more than you need meat for a meal, and rabbit meat may bethe barter item that the other party needs. Keep the records from the onset. You are likely to needthem, sooner or later. If you intend to barter garden produce, your entire garden should have a business journal. It isa fact of life. As government income from other taxes diminish, they are going to look for other sources, andbarter is likely to become more important as a taxable income, plan on it. It will not require a new law, itis already there, all they need to do is get out a magnifying glass. 8.3
  42. 42. Back Yard Rabbits – Ritchie Chapter 9 FertilizerSustainable Gardening Fertilizer is the vital rabbit contribution to the sustainability loop between animal-feed-fertilizerthat makes year after year gardening possible. Without the animal contribution to growing plants, sustainability cannot be achieved. Plantingwithout fertilizer will soon deplete the soil nutrients and plants will no longer grow in that location. Thetable below explains why we chose rabbits as that part of the sustainability link.Animal Fertilizer Comparison Table Fertilizer N P2 O5 K2 O Minerals Rabbit * 2.3 - 2.4 1.4 0.6 - 0.8 5 - 18 Poultry 1.1 - 6.0 0.5 - 4. 0.4 - 3 Mo*** Cow 0.5 - 2. 0.2 - 0.9 0.5 - 1.5 Dried Blood 12 - 14.5 0.4 - 2 0.6 - 1 Steer 0.7 0.3 0.4 Worm Castings ** 0.5 0.5 0.3* Need not be composted. Most concentrated plant nutrition of animal manures.** 50% organic, plus 11 trace minerals. Will not burn. No composting required. Data not found for othermanures.*** Molybdenum is found in most organic fertilizers. The trace minerals, boron, chlorine, manganese,iron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, play an important part in plant growth. Most trace minerals are notfound in inorganic fertilizers and must be added separately.Keep in mind that the nutrient availability to plants of these ingredients is governed by soil pH. Youcan have rich soil, but with the wrong pH, the plants will starve. This pH level varies from plant type toplant type.Estimate the amount of fertilizer produced by multiplying the amount, by weight, of feed consumed bythe rabbits by 1.5 - 2, to obtain the total dry matter produced.Figures in the table are a percentage of unit dry measure for all manures.This data is average, consensus, figures from over a dozen sources. 9.1