[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a prepper, the real question you should be asking yourself is why shouldn’t you raise rabbits? They are a great investment for anybody looking to stockpile large quantities of meat, fur, fiber, or fertilizer.
If you live in a small apartment, it can be difficult to raise most livestock due to the noise and smell most species create. Rabbits, however, are incredibly easy to care and clean for. They produce little to no noise and don’t require a great deal of money to begin raising.
However, make sure you do your research first. Although rabbits are incredibly easy and beneficial to raise, you need to make sure you have enough space for them to move, live, eat, and sleep comfortably. Below are some considerations to make when deciding to raise rabbits in your apartment.
Selecting and Purchasing
There are several questions to consider before purchasing your rabbits. First, what is your overall goal? Do you plan on raising the critters for meat, fur, fiber, or just for fun? Second, do you plan on raising these animals solely inside? What kind of containment system (if any) do you plan to use?
As a general rule, you should always select rabbits that are strong and appear to be in good health. Don’t select rabbits that have odd body formation or buck teeth, as this can indicate poor genetics. Ask to see the records of the parents, if available.
If you plan on raising multiple generations of rabbits—as is recommended—choose breeding stock from does and bucks that have been reproducing for a long time. This longevity indicates good health and genetics and indicates that your generation of rabbits will also reproduce productively.
Do you plan on raising the critters for meat, fur, fiber, or fun?
Because over thirty varieties of rabbits exist, it can be difficult to choose the right variety for your apartment. Rabbits can be categorized as meat, fur, or combination breeds. One of the most popular meat breeds is the New Zealand White. At maturity, this breed can reach up to twelve pounds! Another popular breed is the Flemish Giant, which can weigh up to twenty pounds. Other popular meat breeds include the:
- Silver Fox
- Flemish Giant.
If fur is your main goal, the French Angora is highly recommended. It produces massive quantities of fur and reaches maturity rather quickly.
Combination breeds also exist that allow you to breed for both meat and fur. A popular combination breed is the American chinchilla. This breed produces up to nine pounds of delicious meat as well as luscious fur. Other popular breeds are the Palomino, Rex, and Dutch.
Of course, you can also raise a rabbit just for the enjoyment factor (or the fun of it). Rabbits make a great apartment pet for any prepper because they are so quiet and easy to transport. In the event of a disaster, it will be easy to take your pet along with you. They make virtually no noise and don’t require much luggage.
Rabbits should eat a highly varied, healthy diet. It should be comprised of quality pellets, fresh hay, water, twigs, leaves, and vegetables. They can be fed other materials in moderation as well.
Pellets should contain at least 18% fiber. It spoils relatively quickly (about six weeks later) so it’s important to only purchase small quantities. Pellets, whether made of alfalfa or timothy hay, should be available free-choice to your rabbits at all times.
Rabbits also need hay to prevent blockages and hairballs. About 80% of a rabbit’s diet should be grass or hay.
Vegetable scraps can and also should be fed to your rabbits. Almost any type of vegetable is safe for rabbit consumption, with the exception of beans and rhubarb. They love leafy greens in particular. Other items you can feed your rabbit include:
- Herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill, mint, and parsley
- Bok choy
- Broccoli leaves
- Carrot tops
- Grass clippings
- Timothy hay
- Collard greens and dandelion leaves
- Mustard greens
- Water cress
Baby rabbits will only need mother’s milk (with limited access to alfalfa or pellets) until about seven weeks of age. They should not be fed vegetables until twelve weeks of age, to ensure they are fully matured.
Failing to feed your rabbits the right combination and quantity of foods can cause a few specific health problems. One of these is “sticky bottom,” which is the build-up of excess droppings in the fur around the tail. Another is stasis, in which the material in a rabbit’s gut stops moving about the digestive tract. This can be deadly and should be avoided at all costs.
Did you know rabbits are also prone to dental problems and obesity? If you don’t provide your rabbit with enough roughage, their teeth can grow too long and cause problems such as cuts, overgrown roots, and abscesses. Being obese can also be detrimental to a developing rabbit, as it puts extra pressure on a rabbit’s body. Make sure your rabbit has constant access to food, but also allow them time out of the cage for activity.
Like food, rabbits should also have constant access to water. They will generally drink around 1 to 3 fluid ounces of water a day. If you raise rabbits outside or feed them high amounts of fresh food, this quantity may be less.
Monitor your rabbits for signs of dehydration or heat exhaustion. In very hot weather, they may require more water. Don’t add vitamins or minerals to your rabbit’s water as this can encourage excessive drinking.
You can provide water to your rabbits in a water bottle or bowl. One six fluid ounce water bottle can provide adequate water for two rabbits for twenty-four hours. Multiple bottles can be added for more or larger rabbits. You can attach these to the side of the cage.
Some rabbits prefer water bowls over water bottles because they provide a more natural way to drink. However, they can be easily knocked over. Place them far enough away from loose bedding or food.
In all likelihood, if you’re reading this article, you plan on keeping your rabbit(s) within the confines of your apartment. If this is the case, read on. However, if you are planning on keeping your rabbit outside, keep in mind that this may require some extra work in terms of sheltering your rabbits.
Outdoor rabbits need slightly more insulation and protection from the elements than indoor rabbits. Do not, under any circumstances, allow your rabbit to free-range outdoors, whether on a balcony, veranda, or other area, no matter how contained it might seem. Not only will your bunny be more apt to run off, there is a high likelihood of a stray cat, hawk, or other predatory species coming after him.
Make sure you build a sturdy, large hutch out of weather resistant materials. Building an outdoor hutch may mean that it is less portable and more challenging to move under times of duress. Keep in mind that you will also need to pad the hutch with some sort of additional bedding so that your rabbits have proper insulation during the colder months. They will also need more water during the heat of summer.
What kind of containment system do you plan to use?
If you’re planning on raising rabbits in your apartment, you obviously will still need to create some sort of indoor housing system, but it can be less complex. Although rabbits can be allowed to free range inside of your apartment, you still need some sort of place in which they can rest. Generally speaking, a rabbit needs a minimum of twelve square feet, plus an additional thirty-two square feet for exercise space.
The size and quality of your cage will depend on how much time you plan to keep your rabbit confined within it. You can purchase or build a small rabbit cage or hutch, but these tend to be rather small. Alternatively, you can repurpose an old dog crate or build your own larger, custom box.
Keep in mind that if you are raising rabbits inside, that doesn’t mean they’ll need less exercise than outdoor rabbits. Again, too little exercise can cause obesity and other health ailments. Rabbits can be allowed to free range, but make sure you remove anything your rabbit can chew. Protect cables and other low-hanging wires or hazardous items. Provide your bunny with inexpensive, safe toys like cardboard tubes or balls of fabric.
If you don’t free range your rabbits inside your apartment, an alternative is providing them with an indoor playpen. This pen can be constructed within their cage or as an adjacent structure but will provide toys and tools to allow the rabbit to exercise inside. They can also be walked on a leash if you have the time and interest in training them.
Regardless of whether you choose to free range your rabbit or confine them within the cage, it will also need a sleeping box or other enclosed area. Rabbits like to hide when they feel threatened and will be prone to stress if such an area is not provided.
Rabbits can be litter trained like a cat. This is a great option if you choose to free-range your rabbits so that you don’t find yourself picking up poop several times a day. They like to do their business in corners, so you should try to set up their litter box accordingly.
You can also include a litter tray in the cage so that it isn’t necessary to clean and replace bedding as often. An added bonus of using a litter box system is that it provides an easy collection receptacle if you plan on using the rabbit droppings as fertilizer or compost material.
If you choose to build your own rabbit hutch or cage, make sure you use materials that will not be toxic to your rabbit. Most untreated wood works fine, but avoid MDF as rabbits will chew it and the dust can be poisonous. Wire mesh or plastic are also safe options.
For bedding, avoid newspaper or softwood. Both can be harmful to the rabbit if ingested. Many people use shavings or dust as a cheap, easy-to-find bedding material, but it’s not recommended in most cases. Pine shavings or sawdust, in particular, can affect a rabbit’s respiratory system and cause breathing problems.
Instead, consider paper pellets, shredded cardboard, hay, or straw. These all provide good insulation to your rabbit and are also relatively cheap. Although the rabbits may eat some of the hay or straw, this is not harmful to them at all.
Rabbits are notorious for their proclivity towards reproduction! A male rabbit, or a buck, is referred to as a “sire” for breeding purposes. A female rabbit, or a doe, is referred to as a “dam”. A small doe is generally ready to breed at five months old, while a buck is ready at six.
Generally, you should try to mate rabbits that are of the same breed. This is especially true if you plan to sell your rabbits. There isn’t much of a market for mixed genetics. It may become necessary for you to breed rabbit relatives. This is generally safe, as long as you don’t breed brothers and sisters together. This can cause some issues in genetics.
When you’re ready to breed your doe, you should take her to the buck’s cage. Avoid bringing the buck to the doe’s cage, because he will be too busy sniffing and examining his new surroundings to do any actual breeding. Leave them there overnight, or for twelve hours, to increase the likelihood of pregnancy.
You can test the doe for pregnancy about two weeks after the initial breeding. Use your thumb and forefinger to check for small nodules on her lower abdomen. If she’s pregnant, do not, under any circumstances, bring her back to the buck. A doe has two uterine horns. If both horns become fertilized, it can cause hormonal imbalances that can kill all of the babies and the mother.
About twenty-nine days after breeding, you should place a nest box in the doe’s cage. This will allow her to “kindle her litter,” or give birth on day thirty or thirty one. The doe can be re-bred six weeks later, when the litter has weaned. On average, a doe can produce kits for four years. Like chickens laying eggs, rabbits do require proper light to breed, so make sure you give them ample sun or artificial light.
If you plan on raising rabbits for meat, you’re making a wise choice. Rabbit is low in fat and one of the highest quality white meats available. It is low in calories, sodium, and cholesterol. It contains high amounts of important nutrients like phosphorus and calcium, and some evidence has suggested that eating rabbit meat can be beneficial for cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.
Rabbit meat also provides more bang for your buck. It is possible to raise up to 180 pounds of rabbit meat in one year with just two does and a buck.
At six weeks, once the young rabbits have finished weaning, they should be placed in a separate hutch from their mother. They can be eaten any time up to twelve weeks old (after which their feed conversion ratio lowers and the meat becomes tougher). Make sure you separate the bucks from the does at three months unless you want more baby rabbits!
When you’re ready to butcher, it’s important that you do so ethically. Any stress experienced by the rabbit during the butchering process releases adrenaline in the meat and can cause a tough texture or poor taste. They can be butchered either by causing an arterial bleed or a fatal blow.
An arterial bleed basically consists of slitting the rabbit’s throat, being sure to slice through both jugulars. The rabbit typically dies and enters death throes within a minute. Immediately following this you should hang the rabbit by its feet and cut its head off to allow the blood to drain.
If done correctly, a sharp blow to the head can kill a rabbit more quickly (usually instantly), but there is more room for error. Hold the rabbit upside down and strike the rabbit immediately behind the ears. Then, immediately cut off the head and hang the rabbit to drain.
If you’re doing this in an apartment, be sure to have plenty of towels, buckets, and cleaning supplies handy. This is optimally done outside, but often is not possible for preppers raising meat rabbits indoors. There will be mess, so be prepared to do some cleaning afterwards.
After butchering, rabbit meat can be frozen for an indefinite period of time. It is useful in a variety of recipes, from roasted rabbit to hasenpfeffer (a traditional German recipe). The meat is nutritious and versatile, and because rabbits reproduce so frequently, you’ll never be in short supply!
Although some rabbits can’t provide fur until they’re butchered and skin, there are breeds that can produce harvestable fur. Angora rabbits, in particular, produce a soft, downy fiber that dries quickly and is ideal for knitting or weaving. Most angoras shed regularly and the hair can be combed or gently plucked. Others can be sheared like a sheep.
If you choose to raise hair rabbits (like angoras), keep in mind that they will require slightly more upkeep than meat rabbits. Fur breeds need to be groomed regularly to prevent health problems. They also have a tendency to overheat more quickly.
Rabbit manure is a great fertilizing material for large or small gardens (or even container gardening inside an apartment). It is a “cool” manure which means that it will not burn your plants when fresh, like chicken or horse manure might.
You can gather your rabbit droppings either manually, or set up a collection system underneath the cage. If you have a suspended cage, you can place a collection bin or even worm or traditional compost box underneath.
Rabbits do require some work to maintain, so if you’re away from home for long periods of time, you may want to weigh your decision carefully. They live for up to ten years, and as such are a serious commitment. They can chew on items around your apartment, so if you are renting your space, make sure you research the details of your lease very carefully.
At the end of the day, rabbits are a great choice for any indoor prepper. They are sustainable and have a small ecological footprint. They don’t take up space or damage land like other, larger livestock, and live on a grain-free diet.
If you for whatever reason need to get out of Dodge, you should try to make your rabbit shelter portable. Utilizing an old dog crate or other lightweight structure will allow you to do this. If you decide to allow your rabbit to free range and only have a small sleeping area, that will suffice as well. Don’t affix your rabbit cage to any structure within your apartment. Not only will this make it more difficult to move, your landlord might be less than thrilled as well.
Have a supply bag ready to go for your bunny in the event of a bug out. This should be stored in an easily accessible area and contain an ample supply of pellets, water bottles, and alfalfa.
Besides the additional benefits of fur and fertilizer, the meat produced by a rabbit is healthy, delicious, and can be produced very quickly. With minimal upkeep and investment, rabbits are a great choice for anybody looking to maximize their prepping abilities in a small urban space.
Although I teach high school English by day, I’m also the proud co-owner of a small, twenty-two acre property in New York (my second job and favorite pastime). We raise chickens, pigs, bees, and vegetables on our “homestead” and are proud to call our little slice of heaven home! When I’m not wrangling chickens or harvesting massive quantities of zucchini, I enjoy writing about common homesteading topics and other subjects.