My take on “Rabbit starvation”

Stumbling around, I came across a very nice website called The Wannabe Homesteader, and found some great info about starting tomatoes. The next day’s post was about rabbits, specifically, . The author raised the question,

“..should a person include rabbit meat as a back-up plan for survival situations? “

The blog author, Stephanie goes on to state that due to the possibility of rabbit starvation, they wouldn’t, preferring to raise chickens instead  …And not to be antagonistic (I NOT trying to upset anyone thinking about raising their own food)…but I couldn’t leave it alone.

Rabbit starvation is a real disorder. But it requires a certain set of circumstances that, as a homesteader raising domestic rabbits, you just cannot duplicate without effort.

First, you must subsist on nothing BUT rabbits….nothing else. This is unlikely in any but a wilderness survival situation.

Second, you must be in “starvation mode”. Your body must have burnt off most of your fat reserves before this starts to become an issue. The typical American has quite a bit of fat stores, myself included.

Finally, the rabbits being consumed must also be in a similar state of starvation, barely subsisting. The rabbit will also have burnt all fat stores, causing the body to start to burn lean muscle in order to continue.

This collection of circumstances isn’t unusual………in a snowy climate in the dead of a harsh winter.

Rabbit kidneys covered in FAT

Rabbit starvation is can also be combated by simply eating the brains, liver, and kidneys – an excellent source of fats required by the body. And this is assuming the rabbits you are eating have ZERO fat on them. I never saw a zero fat rabbit when I hunted them as a kid in WV.

As to domestic rabbits, I’ve raised rabbits for years, and have NEVER harvested one of my rabbits and not ended up having to trim off fat. Domestic rabbit is NOT a wild creature. Domestic rabbit doesn’t have to move to find food, or run from enemies. They eat, sleep, grow, and get harvested. Plenty of time and lack of exercise to develop a nice layer of fat, particularly around the kidneys. (BTW, the best lard comes from the kidney fat of pigs – YUM!)

As to the rabbit vs chickens argument:

With chickens you have the eggs, meat, liver, bones, and feet (for a nutrition-packed broth) all at your fingertips!

Meanwhile with rabbits, you get dangerously-lean meat and the livers.

Rabbit Fat

I’ve refuted the “dangerously lean meat” part already. In addition to the livers, we also eat the kidneys and brains. This increased the fat intake. We also take whatever fat we get (see picture) from each carcass and add it to the organ meats along with whatever meat trimmings we have left over after quartering, grind it all together, add spices, and call it “breakfast sausage”, or as my 9 year old daughter says it, “Liver sausage -my favorite!”.

My biggest issue of chickens vs rabbits is time. Let me elaborate by creating a virtual backyard with a theoretical collection of animals.

Lets start our theoretical homestead with a meat rabbit trio (a buck and two does), along with a 6 bird chicken flock (a rooster and 5 hens). All of them are 6 months old, just reaching maturity. We need the buck and rooster to allow for breeding to produce meat.

Depending on the breed, a chicken lays about 5 eggs per week average, more in the summer, less in the winter based on the amount of daylight hours per day. Egg laying breeds are rarely broody, thus requiring an incubator. Incubation is 21 days. A chicken from a day old chick, takes 4-6 months to start laying eggs, or about 4-5 months to harvest weight. So from the day the egg is laid, you have a minimum of 15 weeks until the optimum size to harvest for meat, and about the same for egg production.

For rabbits, breeding stimulates the female rabbit to ovulate so that she is constantly ready to mate, no need to wait. In fact they can be re-bred the same day they have a litter. (I don’t recommend it, it will wear a doe out pretty fast if you do it too often. A two to four week break is far easier on a breeding doe, in my opinion.) Gestation is 28-31 days. Harvest weight can be achieved in as little as 7 weeks from birth. This gives a yield in as little as 11 weeks.

If you put eggs in an incubator the same day you bred your rabbits, you would be harvesting rabbit a month before you could harvest the chickens, or expect to start getting eggs.

(On a side note, if you are set on getting eggs, try coturnix quail. Incubation is 17 days, harvest size is achieved in 7 weeks, and egg production starts about the same time. Also, they have a better ratio of feed-to-egg weight than chickens. They also take up FAR less room – a rabbit cage can house as many as 25 birds! And their eggs taste like….eggs! And their males make very little noise, and the neighbors will never know what that noise actually was.)

The other issue I have is the rooster, that sucker is gonna crow, I promise you. I’ve never heard a rabbit make any noise that a neighbor would hear. I like to keep a low profile in my neighborhood. (This blog doesn’t count :P)

Don’t let the myth of rabbit starvation keep you from raising them. If your rabbits are so lean that you are suffering from this malady, you aren’t feeding them enough. Assuming you are using nothing but natural forage to feed, if you don’t have enough to feed rabbits, odds are you won’t have enough to feed chickens either. Personally, I free range my chickens and supplement with later pellets and some grain. For my rabbits, they too are on pellets, with additional hay and forage from my yard and surrounding areas.

If you have room enough for chickens, you probably have room enough for both rabbits and chickens. Build your coop with the chickens below and hang the rabbit cages over the coop. The chickens will keep the rabbit pellets turned, making the manure even better for your garden. Personally, I raise both on my quarter acre town lot. I also have a pen of quail, and run ducks in with my chickens.

And if your rabbits ARE a bit lean…cook `em in lard! :)

In truth, simply adding a bit of oil of some sort is all you need, our diets are chock full of fats to offset a little lean meat. We will probably never see rabbit starvation in Florida, particularly if we are eating well cared for domesticated rabbits.

Rabbit should be a part of every self-sufficent family’s setup. I emphasize “part” since I think we should have chickens. And ducks. And quail. And goats and pigs and..and..and… Variety in our diets is a healthy thing. And in the event of some sort of system failure in the rabbitry, or hen house (illness DOES happen), you will have an alternate source for protein.

Peace,

db

 

17 comments:

  1. Awesome Article DB. I tried to tell her that rabbit starvation would only come from the situations you listed above. But I’m her husband, she doesn’t listen to me…LOL

    Any chance you do a post on the sausage? I’d love to see that!!!

    Since you started.. do you have a guesstimate of how many lbs of meat you have harvested?

    1. Thanks…I feel your pain :( Not only do I get no respect from my wife, but my daughters rarely listen to ME either…I’m such an outcast in my home 😛

      It’s a pretty simple recipe, hearts livers, kidneys and whatever meat is “scrap” after quartering the rabbit and removing the loins (the whole reason for harvesting rabbits is for the loins…so tender I can cut it with a fork…rabbits should be one giant loin, no bones! Sorry, tangent!)

      So I take the rib meat and other trimmings, doing my best to get it all, I hate to waste any for both frugal and moral reasons. Run it through my KitchenAid grinder attachment and mix in season salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powder, and some sage. Mix well, then fry a sample in butter or lard (see MORE added fat!) to taste test. Adjust seasoning if needed. Then pop it in the fridge, never tried to long-term store it. Would probably freeze well though.

      Oh my gosh tasty! And since I never follow a recipe, its always a little different.

      I harvest about 2-3 pounds of meat per animal when I keep the harvest pace about the same as the breeding rate. I tend to breed too many litters, and have an oversupply of harvest weight (good for raising cash, selling on Craigslist, btw!) and due to fridge space, can only process 4 at a time without getting yelled at by the wife. I harvest twice a week when needed, and time available. With three breeding does I can have as many as two dozen rabbits waiting to be harvested, with more litters coming in behind them. This means they get more time to grow, making them even larger. So harvest live weight can be as much as 8 pounds, meat/fat yield somewhere around 4-5 pounds. I REALLY try to not go that long though, but it has happened. Also, when I do let them get a little older, they get MUCH more fat on them. My total for the year, from Jan til now is probably over 250 lb, conservatively. Crazy, isn’t it?

      1. 250….Damn. That’s probably enough meat for us in a year.

        the Kitchen aid mixer. That’s funny because I was telling Steph I wanted the grinder attachment when she picked up the mixer. I love sausage but can’t eat most of the store bought stuff because of the MSG. That stuff sends me running to the toilet…lol

        Cant wait to make my own sausage.

        1. Keep in mind its an add-on grinder, not a fabulous one, but ok for small batches. I works out well for us, we don’t grind more than a few pound of anything at a time.
          I hit up my buddy, BlueTang, if I need a large amount of stuff ground up. He has the equipment to open his own butcher shop if he wanted…plus the schooling and experience. A VERY good friend to have….

          Get to it, making sausage is EASY.

    2. Though in a different field, I am a Bronze certified bowling coach, and was pretty proficient when I was active. One of the first things they say in the lowest level class is you can never coach your own family. Also one of the kids uncle had beem an airline pilot for a couple of decades and was a training pilot for one of the major airlines. His wife would not fly with him because she said, “How can I trust him, I know the goofball he is at home”

  2. We have some rabbit in our deep freezer that needs to be eaten. What’s your favorite way to cook it or best rabbit recipe (other than rabbit jerky since our dehydrator broke on us)? I don’t think we’ll ever raise rabbits. Hunt them, yes. As for chickens, that’s definitely in our future. We’re also going to build a green house at our garden before next spring season so I’m going to watch the video that’s in the tomato start link that you wrote about. Thanks for all the info and entertainment :)

    1. My favorite for a whole rabbit is crock pot it with some vinegar and onions in the bottom. Then after about 4-5 hours, pull it all off the bone, and use it like pulled pork, adding in taco seasoning.

      Sometimes I take that and fry it in butter to give it a tasty crust. MMmmMMMMmmmmmmm yummmmy!

      And why not raise rabbits? Tim can handle the ugly parts..and Jaime can only benefit from the quality protein, though I know how Tim provides, I’ll admit she’ll be fine without domesticated rabbits.

    1. Wasn’t meant as a shot at you…I just wanted you husband to get a chance to raise some rabbits! They really can be fat when raised domestically…

      Wild ones, not so much…

  3. Thank you for this post. I just found WBH, and I cringed a little at the rabbit post (I will still continue to read that blog, too. I do like it). We raised rabbits when we lived in Wyoming & a few things come to mind, many which you’ve already listed here.

    My other thought is that when starting a homestead in an urban setting, rabbits are definitely the way to go. Granted, no one will care should it become a means of necessary survival, but by then the damage is done, and you may not get a hold of a rooster. Most urban areas outlaw roosters. In order to have the ongoing “self-sustaining” food supply, rabbits fit the bill.

    I hope urban homesteaders aren’t swayed by the “rabbit starvation” mode. As has been mentioned- if you raise them yourself, they are fattier than believed & if you CAN have chickens AND you store a good share of good fats, you definitely won’t starve.

  4. As a late reply to Michaela’s concern re not being able to locate a rooster if necessary, just track down people outside the city limits who raise chickens NOW, and keep your eyes open as time passes. It’s a guarantee that they will always have too many cockerels (young male roosters). So even if CL goes down, you’ll know where to find one or two.

    Also keep in mind that not all chicken breeds lay well, or are even good at brooding or raising chicks for that matter. Most chickens purchased through a hatchery have breed that ability right out of them in order to keep egg production up. When a hen goes broody, she stops laying, and that’s the last thing they want. Do research now and find heritage chickens, and find out from the breeder if they go broody. Those are the bloodlines you want, even if the birds are a mix of several breeds.

    My best advice is to start now, meaning get your pen and coop going, find the chickens with the qualities you need, and start caring for your own flock. Get the experience you need before you really, really need it.

    1. I agree with everything you said, except for this:

      “Most chickens purchased through a hatchery have breed that ability right out of them in order to keep egg production up.”

      I completely disagree with this, as most hatcheries I’ve dealt with offer a wide range of breeds, from the CornishX (I have one that is over a year old and lays an egg a day…but don’t expect it to jump more than 2 inches off the ground..not sure HOW it has lived this long…) to many heritage breeds.

      What I would say along your statement is there are far more specialty breeds available than their are heritage or multipurpose breeds.

      And your advice is spot on for ANY endeavor – start now…. before you really, really need it.

  5. I completely agree with article. I started raising “pet” coturnix quail because our city didn’t allow chickens on less than 3 acres. They are relatively quiet and lay almost daily. Easy to care for and require very little space. They are also a good meat source, but you would have to have an incubator, they have had the broodiness breed right out of them. The 17 days and another 7-9 weeks make for a fast turn around.

    We have moved along to rabbits and thanks to a change in the city code, also now this year have chickens (but no rooster). We built the exact coop you described, it has a center coop section with rabbit cages hanging off the sides where the chickens have access to under the cages. So far it is working great!

    Now if I can only convince my wife I need some ducks! :)

  6. I am very pleased that you have shed some facts on the likely hood of rabbit starvation. I was raised on a rabbit farm, we had about 300 of the critters in various breeds. My parents taught organic farming and self sufficiency back in the 1970’s. We had a small 5 acre farm, with chickens, milk goats, garden etc. We ate chicken eggs, but very rarely ate the birds as they were so much harder to butcher than rabbits. We ate rabbit probably 25 days of the month, sometimes we had a vegetarian dinner. We made sausage and burger too from the rabbit, my folks made just about everything except bacon out of rabbit, liver pate’ was their favorite, but not mine. Anyhow, it was the exception that we got anything other than rabbit, and then it wasn’t something you normally wanted to eat, like cow tongue with the fuzz still on it, but usually we were so hungry we ate whatever. Dad said “If you don’t like it, you just have to eat it.” All this to say that we didn’t die of scurvy, we weren’t overweight, but had lots of lean muscle that could work all darn day. Rabbit was about the only meat we ate, lots of vegetables & fruit, which we canned for the winter. We had potatoes from the garden and sometimes we would have rice or even beans. Mom didn’t use too much butter as it was expensive, but did use vegetable oil sometimes. Guess we got enough fat from somewhere to keep or joints lubed.

    Now, I have a small farm. Garden, 11 Chickens & a rooster, 8 St. Croix hair sheep & a Ram, 4 does and 2 buck satin rabbits. Trying not to over do it, but being prepared in case of whatever…

    1. Glad to hear… thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share…and I wholeheartedly agree rabbits are FAR easier to butcher than chickens.

      “.. in case of whatever”…the story of my life…and a GREAT reason for prepping.

      Thanks!
      db

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