Thursday, February 26, 2009

On raising rabbits and homesteading frugally

We've been raising rabbits for several years now. Some are pets and some are food/fur. I mentioned on a forum that we grow our own rabbit food and received several pm's asking about how it's done. Though I've probably blogged about it in the past, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the subject.

We discovered that raising a lot of rabbits on commercial rabbit food is simply not frugal. Pellets were expensive, and if they got wet and dissolved, the rabbits wouldn't eat them, so that was money down the drain.

So, what are the pellets made of? Hay! Which, as it happens, doesn't dissolve when it gets wet. And, if wild rabbits can live on green stuff, why not ours?

I did a bit of research, and made a trip (my first) to the RFD for hay seed. I got a nice compliment from the RFD guy when he said that I knew more about hay than most of the guys that had been farming for years. He was very helpful with figuring amounts of seed per acre for over-seeding, though everyone in the store was shocked that I was growing this for rabbits.

The over seeding was to help choke out the weeds that had taken up residence in the field. Mostly non-native plants. We mowed the field as short as possible, broadcast the seed with a hand crank grass seed spreader (or whatever you call that thingie), and let the kids run around like little monkeys over the seeds, which helped work them a bit into the ground. Rainy weeks are the best time for this sort of planting.

We planted our hayfield in alfalfa, timothy, and clover. This year, we are reclaiming another weedy piece of property, so we will add oats to the mixture.

During the summer, we feed the rabbits fresh cuttings from other areas of our property. (Not lawnmower clippings, though, because it's all smushed together and they can't pick out what may make them sick.) We also tractor some rabbits (movable pen where they can eat the grass underneath).

Our rabbits also don't live in cages. We have a huge pen where they can run around, dig burrows, etc. Every few years, we build a new pen in another area. We cleared our first garden spot this way, first letting the chickens roam there, then letting the rabbits clean up after the first year's garden. The burrows made great carrot beds for the next year, and the soil was well fertilized.

Anyway, back to the hay. We cut ours with a scythe, let it dry, toss it into a container where we compress it, wrap it with twine, and ta da! baled hay! The bales are small, of course, but since we do everything by hand, it works for us. We store the hay for winter and continue to feed fresh green stuff during the growing season.

This year, we'll be growing our own chicken food as well. The chickens tractor during the summer, so we use very little feed then. They also eat kitchen and garden scraps. You can feed them just about anything but potato peelings. Even egg shells are good for them, providing extra calcium. Just remember to crush them, otherwise, they'll quickly figure out that those things they are laying are quite tasty.

My favorite thing about chickens? Nothing goes to waste. If I mess up a recipe or we have leftovers that didn't get eaten, it gets recycled into eggs.

As I said in a previous post, we only recently discovered that chickens love hay. We'll be putting some up for them for the winter. We plan to grow sunflower seeds, corn, oats, and a variety of other seeds and grains for winter use for the chicks. More on that as it happens.

The point of the forum post was that homesteading doesn't have to be expensive. We don't use tractors, tillers, or anything more complex than a chainsaw.

No tractor means no tractor payment and no expensive parts to replace or gas to buy. Ditto for the tiller.

When gardening, I use a garden fork and black plastic, rugs, newspapers, etc. This is not only better for the soil, but it also keeps the weeds down in the long run. True, purchasing black plastic can be expensive, but it will last for several years, is portable, helps warm the soil, and saves labor by keeping the weeds down, something a tiller can't do. You can pick up old carpets and rugs just about anywhere for free, and they work just as well.

Sure, we get a few snide comments and snickers when people find out we do so much by hand. One farmer I know likes to chuckle when he sees us out with the scythe and pitchfork working in the hay field. We like to chuckle as his belly jiggles and he gets winded climbing onto his tractor.

Most of our tools are hand tools: garden fork, axe, scythe, pitchfork, wheelbarrow, etc. The most expensive tool we own would probably have to be the chainsaw and DH takes excellent care of it to see that it lasts. Our scythes were picked up for about a buck each at the flea market.

I can't see how so many people claim that homesteading is expensive. Sure, it can be, if you let it. But if you are willing to put in some work, you don't need a lot of money. Land does cost money, but we don't spend any more to live here than we would to live in the city. Yes, our house payment is a tad higher, but we actually come out ahead in that we don't have to buy natural gas or pay for water or sidewalk assessments or any of the other wonderful things that bog down city life. Not to mention the reduction in our grocery bills. We also got lucky and ended up with less expensive electricity and a more reliable company. Go figure.

The simple life really is simple. If you need something done, you do it. Simple as that.


Chance said...

Great post! Don't the bunnies dig out of their huge pen? A by hand homestead has always seemed most sensible to me, unless you are doing commercial production. Anyway, I look forward to future rabbit recipes. This was a very informative post.

MoonMedic on HT said...

Thank You!! We were looking for feed plot ideas... more for deer, but with 5 acres, I think we could work a bit of this in! I also enjoy simple, though DH may be hard to convince!

Country Wife said...

Chance, yes, we do sometimes have an escape. We have a chicken wire 'apron' that runs around the inside of the pen on the ground to help control digging, but sometimes one manages to get out anyway. Most of the time we find the escapee trying to get back into the pen.

As for recipes, we use rabbit as as substitute for chicken in recipes. But DH is building a smoke house, so I'm hoping to have some smoked rabbit soon. yum!

Moon, the deer around here really love alfalfa. I think it's because not a lot of people in our area grow it.

Good luck with your rabbits!