Looking for a healthy and tasty source of protein for the family, but can’t afford the high prices of grass fed beef? You can always settle for the cellophane wrapped salmonella at the super market, but come on, that crappy cage raise meat bird CANNOT be good for you. I may have the answer you’re looking for. Let us do some math together. I know, math isn’t everyone’s favorite topic, but when it illustrates potential self sufficiency and affordable sustainability, it’s worth the trip back to one’s 5th grade math classroom. How does a little addition and division illustrate all that? Bunnies. That’s how.
All the hype about raising rabbits on the homestead exists for a reason. They don’t take much space, they poop out garden gold, are fairly clean, quiet, and easy to care for, and they are efficient at cranking out delicious, high protein white-meat. Not only do they have all that going for them, but they can be produced at an extremely low price. I’d like to take a stab at illustrating just how affordably they can be produced at home, especially with the aid of fodder, an age old technology that is really catching on these days. In case you are unaware, fodder is basically just sprouted grains fed whole (sprout, seed, and root) to livestock. It transforms one lb of barley into 3 to 6 lbs of feed depending on the design of the system and sprouting rate. By examining the live weight of a litter of rabbits, plus their mother’s weight, in relation to what they ought to be fed for the time it takes to raise them, we can figure the price per pound to produce this delicious meat. I prefer to use the adult weight when doing my math, and to use the growing out or nursing body weight feed percentage so that I overestimate costs by default. This way I get the worst-case-scenario numbers, and am never disappointed in real life. What can I say? It’s the skeptical pessimist in me.
So let’s guestimate that the rabbits would be about 6 lbs a piece for the slaughter-ready litter, times 8 rabbits in the litter, giving us 48 lbs at slaughter. Add to that their mum’s 11 or so lbs since she counts an expense as well, and that makes it 59 lbs total which is the number I will be using to figure out how much feed will be required every day. Now one simply multiplies the weight of the rabbits, with the appropriate percentage of feed to body weight and the number you end up with represents their daily rations. According to David A. Mangione, Associate Professor at Ohio State University, a rabbit requires .5 oz of pellet feed per lb of body weight daily for maintenance, and 1 oz of feed per lb for growing out. That’s roughly 3% for maintenance and 6% for growth. Luckily, the numbers are close to the same when feeding fodder, which is what we intend to start doing with our rabbits within the month. If we take the 59 lbs of body weight, and multiply it by .06 (6%) it comes out to about 3 lbs of fodder a day, or slightly less. Multiply that by 7 days a week, and that by 10 weeks, and you get 210 lbs of fodder total, to raise the litter. Since we are getting roughly 3 lbs of fodder per 1 lb of grain right now, and the grain costs $0.22 per lb, it makes the math easy in figuring that it costs about $0.22 a day to feed them, and just $15.40 for the 10 weeks of feed. Hopefully with improvements and adjustments to our fodder system we will be increasing the lbs of feed per seed, and subsequently our profitability.
The last step in the mathematical madness is to figure the price per lb. At 6 lbs per rabbit, with the dressed out weight being around 58% of the live weight, one should get roughly 3 and 1/2 lbs of meat from each rabbit. All together the litter would produce 28 lbs of meat, and if you divide the $15.40 spent on feed by the 28, the price per lb comes out to $0.55 per lb. Given that rabbit goes for between $3.00 and $7.00 per lb depending on the local market, I’d say there’s a pretty good profit there for one’s homestead. If you intend to use rabbit as dog food, which we will be doing with our livestock guardian dogs, one simply feeds them the entire rabbit; pelt, guts, and bones included. Since you can then do the math with live weight, instead of hanging weight, this brings your price of dog food down to $0.32 a lb. That is pretty darn good for high quality dog food!
I replicated the math with the prices of pelleted feed, and the feed costs came out to about$73.00 to raise up those rabbits instead of $15.40. This brings your price per lb up from $0.55 to $2.60 per lb! While it still may be worth it for some people, the enormous difference in profit speaks volumes for the use of fodder. Of course, if you measured out what a doe and her litter actually ate over their 10 week grow out period, it would probably be significantly less than how I did my math. If I doe on her own was eating 3 lbs of fodder every day when her kits were still little, she would get quite obese.
There is anecdotal information out there, on forums and such, that states that rabbit can be raised for about a $1.00 per lb, in the conventional way, which I feel reflects the inaccuracy of my math. But all this doesn’t change the fact that rabbits raised on fodder are vastly more affordable. Whether the price is $0.55, $0.35, $2.60, or $1.00, rabbit turns a profit any way you spin it. Plus, their quick turn over helps alleviate my tendency to get attached to our meat animals, a struggle you may be familiar with if you have read some of my previous work. While I don’t think we’ll be eating all rabbit all the time, I do believe that they are a cost effective and fairly easy to manage stock that can be used to supplement nearly anyone’s diet.